Since “sodomize the weak” has become the unofficial motto of this site, and we rarely make such things official because formalization leads to accelerated decrepitude, it makes sense to explain why these three words encompass the single bit of philosophy that every sane person needs.
The first batch of bands for the Fall of Summer 2017 festival in France were announced in an overenthusiastic press release for a decent but not great lineup. Blasphemy, Demolition Hammer, and Bulldozer are playing along with a bunch of dumb hipster bullshitters and stoner doom idiots. Check it out if you’re nearby and want to deal with a bunch of drunken beer metallers.
The unicorn of the wine world is an undiscovered, low cost but high quality wine that you can pick up (easily) on the way to a convivial gathering and have people say, after the lights are low, “What the heck was that?” This wine comes very close to unicorn status when you consider the price.
Continue reading Trader Joe’s – Petit Reserve Paso Robles Merlot (2013)
Floga Records is releasing a box set of Septic Flesh’s first era in cassette format. While this box-set is limited to 300 copies and the format is somewhat obscure, much of the content included is of high quality, as Septic Flesh’s early discography is one of the high points of Greek underground metal, measuring up to such luminaries as Rotting Christ, Varathron, and Necromantia.
Septic Flesh began their career playing rough death metal, but even on their earliest demo (Forgotten Path) showed signs of the melodic, atmospheric sound that would become their signature. The abrasive death metal elements would remain for some years, but the band’s heavy keyboard presence, an emphasis on consonant guitar leads, and elaborate compositions make for a a more contemplative experience than, for instance, the generally more aggressive American metal acts. Septic Flesh’s first full-lengths admittedly suffer from flaws in their production that detract from the possible intensity they could reach (like the use of a weak drum machine), but they still capitalize on the band’s ability to create ethereal soundscapes in the context of metal. Mystic Places of Dawn and Esoptron in particular are masterpieces of this style, effortlessly integrating this into the admittedly declining quantities of death metal that this era showcases.
Later albums in this collection showcase the band reaching simultaneously towards higher heights of orchestration and problematically trying to secure some gothic metal money. This niche became enormously popular in the mid-90s despite being so wide as to encompass similar acreage of musical ground. Septic Flesh never discarded their ability to write melodic hooks, but after 1995, they were quick to simplify their style and write more accessible, less cavernous songs. These changes become strikingly obvious on Revolution DNA, which trades in the mythological and occult themes of previous works for sleek, shining futurism. That the band manages to retain their melodic prowess makes it serve as a functional and adequate work of pop music, but it is truly a low point of the compilation. The band’s previous overtures towards the mainstream (primarily in the form of operatic vocalists) were spun off into their own project (Chaostar), and Septic Flesh was arguably sundered. In recent years, partially represented on this compilation’s finale, Sumerian Daemons, the band has embraced the great simplification of their past, albeit overlaid and decorated with modern metal technique and an orchestral presence, creating music that in its strengths resembles that of mainstream film music filtered through the extreme metal mold. The new Septic Flesh is a much louder and brutish beast, separated from the atmospheric voice it was born with, but hints of the past permeate even the band’s latest releases to give it strength in its darkest hours.
1991-2003 is excellent as a historical archive and a collector’s item, at least for those few who value compact cassettes. It is probably entirely useless outside that niche, although it’s always possible that a similar box set may come out in a more accessible format. In addition, like other comprehensive box sets, it comes with its share of chaff and filler. Individual albums by Septic Flesh should not be too difficult to find, though, and some of them have even been reissued with new artwork and bonus rarities. The early full lengths are certainly worth the listener’s time.
Flooding publishing news, the waves of garbage promos present an ecological problem that can only be dealt with extreme measures. A swift bombardment of napalm would suit all these studios producing garbage albums every day. Even those with high quality production are only hiding behind it. Having a crispy sound, good double bass rendering and perfect sound engineering does not make the music better when it is the equivalent of rat feces, it only makes the odor stronger and more difficult to bear.
Blunt Knife Idol – (2015)
Grindcore is the most misunderstood underground genre after black metal. The simpler something appears on the surface. Blunt Knife Idol things that if they play a groovy or a brutal riff with blast beats or racing double bass drums a grindcore song is automatically produced. Music for empty-headed “headbangers” who want to show their friends how “brutal” and “extreme” they are. Fucking rad, man.
Impurity – Into the Ritual Chamber (2015)
Hard rock with croaking vocals. Not particularly good hard rock at that. Just flat-sounding and never actually doing anything besides existing. Not as distinctive as Sarcófago, but just as bad and far blander. Sometimes, Impurity tries to give songs a twist by inserting a completely random and unrelated blasting section only to finish it with a stadium rock move… or a flute. Other songs start off with the minimalist “black metal” style and then transition into hard rock riffs. Structure-wise it is pretty unpredictable, but it’s only because there is no particular plan behind this. It does not feel like it even makes any sense, parts are just pasted to continue. Stay away from this old turd.
Khors – Night Falls Onto the Fronts of Ours (2015)
Starting out as a light, slavic-styled black rock band, Khors now play depressive alternative rock with double bass drums and black metal vocals in a manner similar to that of Swedish band Katatonia. The difference is that in Cold Khors lacked the content that Katatonia present time-efficiently in their pop-structured songs. Khors pretends to deliver little content inside long-drawn structures in the black metal manner. This makes for ambient rock that is only “atmospheric” but little else. Now they went all the way and became one more alternative-rock-with-harsh-vocals band like the previously mentioned Swedish band or like the Finnish Amorphis. Despite this, Night Falls onto the Fronts of Ours seems to reach its goal within its mainstream constraints. It does not fail, it is just rubbish mainstream music.
My Silent Wake – Damnatio Memoriae (2015)
Funny, confused, tough-guy music for fans of Sludge and the Pink Frothy AIDS approach to songwriting in “diverse” styles stitched together in self-indulgent manner. Each song here is meaningless but has a strong “attitude”. This satisfies most of the Homer Simpsons among metalheads, which is why this will have enough impact. This stretches from the idiotic to the simple music that pretends to be more refined or sensitive. My Silent Wake are a sure commercial bet for labels and a sure formula for artistic failure.
Possession – 1585-1646 (2015)
When you try to make black metal with a punk mentality, you will end up with a very long and repetitive punk song. This is NOT what primitive black metal is, folks. Like most music of its kind, and like most extreme music, this is 80% posturing, 15% music and 5% of something to say. The only reason this sort of band is given any chance is that with the commercial long tail effect the internet provides, niche tastes can be offered a product. Statistically, some clueless idiot is bound to like this heap of messy punk riffs put together by a talentless band.
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.
Tengger Cavalry is a band from Mongolia whose main selling point is that they make extensive use of Mongolian traditional instruments in a metal context. Now, it may be that I am prejudiced both towards East Asian metal and the prominent use of folkloric music in metal, but there are statistical reasons for that. East Asians are not known for their originality in metal (not only…). And very often, when a band sells itself mainly because it uses traditional instruments we can smell the stink of gimmick all over it. Some kind of prejudice is based on the probability of an event given our experience. Sometimes enough experience justifies the validity of this probability. And sometimes we may find ourselves erring in our prejudice. But Tengger Cavalry are not the exception, they are the rule.
The “metal” element in this music is provided through a Rammstein-styled modern stadium heavy rock, a little ala Rob Zombie. The rest is comprised of simple, repetitive melodies played on folk instruments that are never developed . Decorations are provided by different kinds of instruments, while the Rammstein element is used as a backbone. This would work very well as a soundtrack for Arcade machine slasher games, providing a momentary sugar-high with no lasting nutritional value.
The production value here is necessarily very high quality. The music is incredibly catchy and all the same irrelevant, placing Blood Sacrifice Shaman in the same category of embarrassingly cartoonish party-rock-pretending-to-be-metal as late Chthonic and Babymetal. Recommended as T.V. commercial jingles for on-line games and such.
The Basic Needs compilation of New England metal and hardcore punk bands can be heard online and purchased on cassette for those who wish to own a physical copy. Promoted by the shadowy forces behind Codex Obscurum zine, Basic Needs contains fourteen tracks of varied material from almost as many different bands, so it makes sense to review them by track.
- Sagnus – “Gaspipe”
This track starts off in a death metal vein but rapidly descends into bluesy heavy metal with updated technique like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul. Nicely compact with no surprises but also no random or pointless bits, it fades out into noise.
- Human Bodies – “Stygian Reverie”
Very much in the tradition of older hardcore but with black metal styled vocals, this Human Bodies track puts a new face on a familiar riff style and adds a Discharge-like chaotic solo, but otherwise sticks to fairly standard song form but keeps energy high.
- PanzerBastard – “Workhorse”
Essentially d-beat hardcore, complete with broken rhythms and surging double-hit riffs, this song showcases high energy with emphasis on vocalizations.
- Sexcrement – “Chemical Handcuffs”
This track starts off as pounding death metal but detours into a hard rock/heavy metal number that shows the band setting up a groove and more internal harmony, which actually makes the chromatic passages seem less intense.
- Suffer on Acid – “Ride the Light”
Raging high-intensity hardcore from the “blurcore” style that emerged when the punk stalwarts confronted the horror of post-hardcore, Suffer on Acid creates music from fast simple riffs with exasperated shouting over the top. This track begins with a Black Sabbath style introduction riff that sets a mood to be destroyed which it is, amiably, by a thrash-style burst of collisive riffing and a classic hardcore punk extended chorus riff.
- Living Void – “Auxiliary Conspiracy”
Writing in the fast style of death metal that bands like Deteriorate and Nokturnel pioneered before Angelcorpse, Living Void charge ahead with a series of quality riffs but then slow things up for a trudge/groove passage. The former strikes more than the latter.
- Suffer on Acid – “Terminal”
Much in the style of the former track, “Terminal” relies more on vocal rhythmic hook and uses a standoffish groove more than burst but fits in lots of vocal rage and fast classic hardcore riffs to match.
- Living Void – “Categorizing Woe”
This track starts with a doom metal promenade, then drops into trope of muted downstroke before bursting into high energy speeding death metal complete with blast beats and ripping choruses, the detouring into a darker and more black metal styled cycle.
- Ramlord – “Distant/Detach”
At its heart, this track is older speed metal updated with death metal stylings to give it energy and more fluid transitions, but falls back into trope rhythm of vocals/drums in which the guitars drop like an interchangeable part. Some interesting black metal styled melodic work later in the track.
- Grue – “All Mortal Greatness is Disease”
Beginning as a sentimental heavy metal/melodic black metal track in the Eucharist or Dawn variety, but then diverges into a chanted delivery of later Bathory-styled vocals over trudging rhythm riffs alternated with fast melodic hardcore riffing.
- Word of Unmaking – “In the Crypt of Dead Values”
A Tangerine Dream style dronescape peppered with acoustic guitars and vocal samples, this track develops from linear into cyclic and recedes, leaving behind a homeostatic hint of atmosphere, then expands into a funeral doom track with articulated riffs like those from early Ceremonium.
- Fórn – “Dasein”
What’s with all the Heidegger worship recently? This sludgy doom metal track follows the Winter model of slong grinding chord progressions with lots of fills from noise and vocals, changing riffs relatively frequently over this nine-minute track.
- Morne – “Coming of Winter”
Sounding like a heavier version of Pelican, this band creates droning indie-influenced doom metal with heavy stoner doom elements and a hoarse plaintive vocal.
Of unusually high quality for a local compilation, Basic Needs shows a wide variety of the more promising bands in New England. Living Void, Word of Unmaking and Suffer on Acid strike me as the standouts which interest me in investigating further but there were no complete dead moments.
This re-issue gives a classic black metal treatment to this underground powerhouse, which previously was heard as being more of a death metal album owing to its production more resembling that of the Incantation/Revenant vein of metal, in addition to many of its riffs fitting within the same form. With more spacious sound, the album sounds more distant and less loud which gives it a background resembling that of the Norse black metal which inspired the first wave of black metal. This more resonant sound brings out more of the tone in these songs and allows the melodic sense to shine, giving the album as a whole less abrasion but more atmosphere. As if to underscore this choice, the re-issue includes “The Ode to Eternal Darkness,” a nine-minute song which emphasizes the building of mood through repetition with internal melody in the style of black metal bands recognized more for their melodic sensibility. Although I am a sentimental bastard prone to like what I know, I prefer this mix to the original or the intermediate re-issue and hope the same treatment is given to other Demoncy albums which remain under-recognized despite their high quality.
With art by Chris Moyen and this powerful new sound, the Forever Plagued Records re-issue of Joined in Darkness stands poised to introduce a new generation of fans to one of the top handful of black metal releases to come from the New World.
The Atlantic’s CityLab writes how [heavy metal, the] music of disillusion and despair is, strangely, biggest in countries with very high quality of life:
Heavy metal is a strange case, then. The music sprouted originally from working-class kids in economically ravaged, deindustrialized places like Birmingham, England. Even today, it seems to be most popular among disadvantaged, alienated, working-class kids.
But take a look at the map below, which I wrote about two years ago, and have been thinking again about over the past couple of months. It tracks the number of heavy metal bands per 100,000 residents using data from the Encyclopaedia Metallum. The genre holds less sway in the ravaged postindustrial places of its birth, but remains insanely popular in Scandinavian countries known for their relative wealth, robust social safety nets, and incredibly high quality of life.
This should surprise no one. Heavy metal is not a reaction to external physical challenges like poverty, but a reaction to cultural decay. It exclusively arises in industrial societies, as did punk, because our problem is not that we do not have options but that we — in the view of these artists — picked the wrong options. Heavy metal is music of internal criticism of a society that believes it has lost sight of life itself in the midst of its own opinions, economics and other proxies.
As written in The Heavy Metal FAQ:
Heavy metal inherited all of this through a modern form because of its desire to escape the cognitive dissonance reaction to modern life. In part, this impulse comes from the metalhead who realizes that he or she is basically powerless, except in a future time when predictions about the negative nature of modern society will come true. Of course, in the now, parents brush that aside and go shopping, stockpiling retirement funds so they can carelessly wish their children a good life before disappearing into managed care facilities with 24-hour cable movie channels. A more fundamental part of this dissident realism is creative. People who see most of society going into denial because they cannot handle their low social status, the dire future of human overpopulation and industrialization, and the negative motivations hiding beneath social pretense, aka “cognitive dissonance,” will often mourn most for the opportunities lost when people value putting their heads in the sand more than finding beauty in life. It is the convergence of these ideas that creates the violent and masculine but sensitive, Romantic side to metal: it is a genre of finding beauty in darkness, order in chaos, wisdom in horror, and restoring humanity to a path of sanity — by paying attention to the “heavy” things in life that, because they are socially denied, are left out of the discussion but continue to shape it through most people’s desire to avoid mentioning them.
This same principle underlies classic European and Greco-Roman art and music, the idea of an aggressive and warlike but wise and sensitive motivation that is both religious and scientific, peaceful and belligerent, because it understands a principle of order to the universe and asserts it because it is beautiful in that it is a “meta-good,” or the harmonious result of darkness and light in conflict. For this reason, it is not moral in the sense of judging as good or evil, and neither fits into the hippie “peace, love and hedonism” approach nor the conservative, market- bound ignorance-is-bliss smoke and mirrors of mainstream music and bourgeois art. Unlike any other musical principle, the one thing that unites the varied borrowings from baroque, rock, jazz, blues, folk, country, classical and electronic music that form heavy metal is this Romantic principle of doing what is right not in a moral sense to the individual, but in a sense of the larger questions of human adaptation to the universe, the conceptual root of “heavy” in metal and what throughout history has been called by a simple syllable: “vir,” the root of virtue in a sense older than a modern moral interpretation as chastity. Vir is doing what is right by the order of the universe discerned by asking the “heavy” questions, and speaks to an abstract structure of right as opposed to an aesthetic one, where the individual picks the non- threatening as an option to the threatening.
The point behind heavy metal is to discover the life that is denied. That is the “heavy,” or that which acknowledges existential doubts and fears instead of burying them behind socially popular ideas. This is why heavy metal is such outsider music: it sees most people as delusional because they deny the mechanics of life itself because those mechanics are dark, so it embraces the darkness to show us the wisdom found within.