Classical and Pop Metal – Part 1 (Banishing of Preconceptions)

128298_1_ibanez_electric_guitar_grg270_black_metallic_with_case
Article by David Rosales, 1st installment of a 7 part series
The terms pop and classical get thrown around pretty carelessly, with little regard as to what they actually mean as foreign meanings are imposed on them. It can be shown that most of these distinctions are quite arbitrary, even if they are meaningful indeed. What we should be asking ourselves is which of the definitions may provide a useful distinction that goes beyond the plain appearances or superficial glances at structure.

Music works at so many more levels than bare form (which is only the means and not the music itself) that the analysis typical of academia which focuses on either what I would call brute-force complexity or what they may deem “innovative” is problematic. Music history has proved that mere innovation, which more often than not is little more than momentary novelty, does not bring about long-standing results in itself. It may certainly result in long-standing popularity, but one may see that in these cases the “novelty” in question, as a concept, antecedes any natural reactions and feelings people may have to it.

A good example of this is The Rite of Spring, by Stravinsky. Its fans are usually music majors, more often than not, or amateur posers who are merely shocked by its reputation and how strange it sounds – how “different” it makes them feel. In each of the cases, the most immediate arguments for the greatness of this music will come in the form of cold musical analyses that point out its innovations in rhythm, or how “shocking” the character is. Basically, bombast and syncopated hip movements.

The same is true of metal or any other genre. Innovations and novelty come and go, the former being absorbed into the background as useful processes to express the metaphysical concerns that the particular music has, while the latter makes an impression and is left behind. As we recognize this universal rule of human-made music, or art in general, we come to understand that we cannot base definitions strictly on whether or not innovation is taking place as this also tends to be confused with novelty. Only time — and long spans at that — can truly prove the difference.

Finally, the biggest preconception we must get rid off to properly start this discussion is that the terms we mentioned before are actually defined. There is no complete consensus regarding what “popular music” strictly consists of. Furthermore, the term “classical” seems to be used as meaning both a period in Western traditional music, and what is actually modern academic activity which appropriates the former for itself as if some kind of crowning ceremony had taken place in which Beethoven bestowed power upon Wagner, who in turn anointed the likes of Schönberg. Let’s get rid of all such popular (ha!) assertions and try to arrive at useful terms.

22 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Cirith Ungol reforming to play live shows

cirith ungol festival

The cult tradmetal band Cirith Ungol (not to be confused with the promising Dutch black metal band Cirith Gorgor) is stirring after decades of inactivity. The first sign of this was perhaps the original “Frost and Fire” festival they organized last year; now, they’re escalating their own participation by headlining the second one. In addition to Cirith Ungol, the festival will also feature many other traditional metal bands, as well as two other reunions that have yet to be announced. Cirith Ungol’s official forum claims that the extremely lengthy period in which tickets are on sale is a result of the original festival selling out despite two months’ availability. The resulting festival might be a interesting opportunity for anyone who lives in SoCal.

2 Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Borknagar – Winter Thrice (2016)

borknagar winter thrice

Winter Thrice would’ve ensnared me for some time, had it come out in 2009. In my youth, I was more receptive to pomp and circumstance in my music, and if there’s one thing Borknagar’s latest recording does especially wrong, it’s that it never relents from its apparent desire to be epic, even to the point of having its share of contrived quiet sections for obvious dynamic contrast. Restraint is not part of these musician’s repertoire, and it makes for yet another flat (albeit psychically draining) album that I can’t imagine even its most rabid fans having much patience for once the initial blitz of sales wears off.

At its core, Borknagar is descended from the same sort of ‘atmospheric’ black metal that their fellow scenesters and countrymen in Arcturus once made a living doling out to the masses. It’s probably a coincidence (at best, historical understandable in the context of Norway in the early ’90s) that both of those bands have some roots in especially unusual death metal oriented recordings. What degraded these bands (and similar ones) over time was their ever increasing addiction to sonic novelty. While Borknagar was quicker to unify a few elements they liked and streamline everything else into their signature sound (I described the teaser as “melodramatic, pseudo-progressive heavy rock music”), they’ve ended up so dependent on their own aesthetic that it interferes with their ability to develop their songs.

Now, Borknagar is technically proficient, as you might expect from any metal band that sells and isn’t deliberately ultra-primitive. However, only the vocalists’ contributions manage to rise to any sort of prominence. If I strain my ears, I can catch a glimpse of what the instrumentalists are attempting, and I’m sure it’s pleasant enough as a result of all the time that went into writing and recording it, but there’s very little of substance there beyond the ‘epic’ orientation of Borknagar’s songwriting. On top of that are a series of sung parts from three vocalists all scrambling for your attention. These are again skilled singers (and shriekers) to the point that their performance takes center stage, but when the arrangements they perform are so forgettable, does it really matter?

Ultimately, I found Winter Thrice to be so aggressively unmemorable, to the point that remembering just what it sounds like beyond a vague impression of 3/4 time and minor key progressions is difficult. At its best, it sounds good, but this stylish album is ultimately free of substance.

9 Comments

Tags: , , , , , ,

Conan’s Top 10 Underground Metal Songs

conan-the-barbarian-movie-poster-1982-1020200877

Growing up as a ruthless barbarian in a desolate and cruel world born made Conan the toughest around. He is the wet dream of every orthodox power metal fan and the unspoken desire of funderground war metal addicts. This is a list of the 10 underground metal songs that this head crusher chose for us:

10. Blood – Sodomize the Weak

Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.

9. Atrocity – Hold Out (To The End)

Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!

8. Cirith Ungol – Master of the Pit

The riddle… of steel.

7. Iron Maiden- The Duelist

For us, there is no spring. Just the wind that smells fresh before the storm.

6. Bathory – To Enter Your Mountain

He is strong! If I die, I have to go before him, and he will ask me, “What is the riddle of steel?” If I don’t know it, he will cast me out of Valhalla and laugh at me. That’s Crom, strong on his mountain!

5. Manowar – Pleasure Slave

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wA-tNjnecog

They’re all sluts! He’s dead already!

4. Rhapsody – Steelgods Of The Last Apocalypse

Crom laughs at your four winds. He laughs from his mountain.

3. Kreator – Carrion

Does it always smell like this? How does the wind ever get in here?

2. Candlemass – Demons Gate

CONAN: You killed my mother! You killed my father, you killed my people! You took my father’s sword!

1. Immortal – As the Eternity Opens

Adieu!

10 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Folteraar – Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw (2016)

folteraar_cover-e1453943147973

Article by David Rosales

Folteraar’s 2016 release comes to us with a proposal that is very much in vogue in the current metal underground. To any wary of the pitfalls of following trends, this might ring alarm bells almost automatically. But we must not be hasty in this judgement, since even though the establishment and spread of a method may really be, in fact, taken up by a large number of hands who are not up to the task and will undoubtedly produce subpar results, this does not mean that we won’t also find those out there who have focus and vision to make use of pre-defined rules with a sober mind. A clear example of this is Condemner’s Omens of Perdition.

As much as we all yearn for another quality release, however, Folteraar exemplify the rule and not the exception to the avalanche of high-spirited but poorly thought out metal albums that make up the bulk of releases nowadays. Since there is nothing in particular to point out about Folteraar, as it has no particular value or fault but just repeats every cliche of the underground war-metal-noise-garbage intersection, we won’t spend too much time pointing out flaws that have been pointed out once and again in the past in this site. The duty still falls on us to point out the very particular approach Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw brings to the table as a representative of the most blurry instantiations of this line of thinking.

This brings to mind several influences that served to furnish the raw materials for the formation of early ’90s underground metal. These are primarily heavy metal of the so-called ‘doom’ stripe and hardcore punk. It is easy to appreciate a deconstruction of these in this music which seems to be violent for violence’s sake. Worse than that, it seems to ape so much at the tropes it has learned from the past that the music does not seem to build anything else. Folteraar’s music is just a sequence of cliches that build up to no content. Themes do not build up, in either melody, harmony or rhythm. This is just a sequence of loud screams; a hysteric madman in a padded room would make more sense.

Do yourself and the “community” a service and do not put this aside but actively campaign for a distinction between its utter nonsense and the codified communication that is achieved by its betters. The author encourages (and will keep doing so while releases such as this keep coming) the reader to return time and again to Condemner and allow it to rise in his consciousness, as its structures become more familiar and its development thereby becomes evident. Throw most, if not all, war metal such as Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw in the trash bin.

12 Comments

Tags: , , , , , ,

Voivod releases title track from Post Society EP

Voivod recently released the title track from the upcoming Post Society EP. Its overall Voivodness (in the French-Canadian metal sense, as opposed to the Polish administrative one) supports my previous theory that the band is continuing with the approach that they outlined on Target Earth; in my own previous words, “…an accessible mixture of of their signature late ’80s sound with more modern alternative and progressive rock influences.” The EP is still scheduled for February 26th, and Voivod is still going on tour next month. The good track record so far bodes well for the quality of the involved content, although the fact so much of it having already been released piecemeal may cut into its overall sales.

No Comments

Tags: , , , ,

Master – An Epiphany of Hate (2016)

master_epiphany

Master, Autopsy, Motörhead –  what do they all have in common? They’re all long running bands that settled on a workable style relatively early and generally stuck with it for decades, gradually refining their craft while managing not to lose control of the forces that initially motivated them. Master is arguably the grandfather of this tradition within the realms of death metal, as they’re the approximate beginning of the constellation of Paul Speckmann projects (since War Cry is allegedly a far cry from most of his work). Given that Master sticks with tradition on An Epiphany of Hate, anyone who’s familiar with Master should know exactly what they’re going to get.

This album belongs to the more elaborate school of Mastercraft that’s come into being in the last few years; while Master has never written especially long or complicated songs, the level of musicianship and organization on display here is a definite improvement from the early days of the band. The production and mixing is also higher fidelity, but improving such is not nearly as difficult as becoming a better songwriter. I’d argue that Paul Masidval’s (protip: Cynic) contributions to Master during his brief mercenary period in the early 1990s must’ve resonated with Speckmann on some level and encouraged this elaboration. An Epiphany of Hate is still relatively sparse in its overall construction; the songs here are built out of comparatively few riffs; if not necessarily the three per song figure that comes up in older discussions. Monophony is still the band’s weapon of choice, but like many of the bands that have… mastered this sort of metal, Master’s musicians know when to keep it up and enjoy their freedom of melody and tonality and when they should instead use some sort of harmonic reinforcement. This expansion without overextension is something a lot of bands aren’t able to successfully pull off, so it does reflect pretty well on them.

I don’t know how much of an advance An Epiphany of Hate represents over 2013’s The Witchhunt, if any, but it’s still a good addition to Master’s legacy and a worthy addition to your 2016 collections.

2 Comments

Tags: , , , ,

Metalgate news – Phil Anselmo wavers on racist statements

Phil Anselmo put a sour taste into the mouth of Dimebag Darrell and Pantera worshipers worldwide by making some white supremacist signs at the end of Dimebash 2016. Much to my amusement, he immediately backpedaled and insisted that these remarks were his idea of a joke. Like most of these incidents, the importance is not so much in what Phil Anselmo actually believes, but in how the people around him react. As a general rule, you people have overreacted. For instance, the good folk at MetalSucks (always a bastion of… well… something) struggled to reconcile their simple belief that racism is bad with their other simple belief that Phil Anselmo’s musical efforts are worthy of their time and attention.

Here at DMU, we’ve learned to deal with the fallout of our idols’ actual, provable crimes, such as the arson and murder of the Norwegian black metal scene to the point that we’re perhaps desensitized to thoughtcrimes, especially since we can’t yet peer into Anselmo’s head and accurately determine whether he’s a racist, or trawling for attention, or some combination of both. What matters is that we don’t jump to conclusions based on the unknowable. Besides, we have enough evidence of Anselmo contributing to Pantera.

48 Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Avantasia streaming Ghostlights

tobiassammetavatasia2016solonew_638

Avantasia is arguably a notable power metal act and perhaps one of the EU’s most profitable exporters of cheese. Man can’t live on cheese alone, but DMU occasionally attracts fans of mainstream power metal, and sometimes for all its goofiness it’s less idiotic than whatever else is trendy. Ghostlights will officially release tomorrow, but the German entertainment news site Bild (at least I think it’s lightweight news; meine Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut) is currently offering a stream of the album for those who want to preview the album. As is typical for this band, Ghostlights will feature an all-star roster of power metal musicians, and is generally very accessible and poppy; saccharine even once listeners acclimate to the sound. We might give it a review someday; no guarantees.

3 Comments

Tags: , , , , , ,

Philadelphia councilman proposes registry of bands for “public safety”

Philadelphia_skyline_from_south_street_bridge

Mark Squilla, a city councilman from Philadelphia, recently proposed a bill that would create a police-accessible registry of entertainers who sought to perform in the city’s venues, with the intent of allowing the police to vet acts and have a voice in whether they would be given licenses to perform. It seems the citizens of Philadelphia weren’t too pleased about this; while Squilla soon claimed that “…this provision is NOT intended to restrict artistic expression or any kind of entertainment, but rather is aimed at addressing public safety and quality of life issues,” opponents of the bill cited various concerns, most notably their belief that the bill would not actually protect the public, and that law enforcement should not be given such wide ranging powers. This sort of legislation, in fact, seems to me like the sort of thing that would result in police trying to keep even slightly controversial entertainers out of their city, or even ones they simply didn’t like if corruption was particularly rampant. If the bill passes in any form resembling its current one, it may create a great deal of difficulty for metal musicians seeking to perform for their fans in the area.

5 Comments

Tags: , , , ,