According to The Daily Dot, 1970s heavy dark rock with metal influences band Dream Machine has been dropped by its label, Castle Face Records, for “controversial” statements regarding feminism and immigration.10 Comments
Article by Johan P.
The creation of this brief introduction to some of the more prominent bands of 70s progressive rock was directly inspired by David Rosales’ shooting down of late-60s/early-70s Pink Floyd. My article should not be viewed as a polemic against the conclusions drawn from ”A Sadistic Dissection of Classic Pink Floyd”. On the contrary, many of Floyd’s recordings – not least in a prog rock for hessians context – fall short in several respects compared to fellow prog rock groups of that era. The first section of my article (”Background”) serves as a necessary bridge between David’s article and what will follow below.
To keep the potential reader in mind, Pink Floyd might not be the most compatible progressive rock band for someone whose tastes run along the lines of the music promoted by the Death Metal Underground. Therefore, I will in this series offer a brief introductory piece on the genre, followed by a presentation of classics of progressive rock in an attempt to light a spark of interest among metal enthusiasts may become acquainted with this genre that developed in parallel with heavy metal. The focus will inevitably be on artists with British heritage, since most of the more prolific bands were English. Of course this doesn’t mean that prog rock was solely a UK phenomenon. There were loads of bands hailing from all over the globe; many good enough to reach the heights of the established British bands.
Before moving on to the presentation mentioned above, it might be a good idea to study the music of Pink Floyd with the purpose to discover why this band may not be the best entry point to the genre. There are at least three major reasons that could cause disappointment when listening to even the “best” (that is, the records closest to the more adventurous and ambitious side of prog rock and metal music) of Pink Floyd: shortcomings and discrepancies regarding song structuring, musical style and concept:
First, although some Floyd tracks (e.g. “Echoes”, one of their better numbers) features extended song structures or long compositions of an episodic character, they often lack the coherent narrative present in some of the more accomplished epics of progressive rock. For example, a composition featuring an “extended song structure” could be an ordinary rock song built around the usual verse/chorus/bridge components with the addition of one or more elongated parts that are to varying degrees connected to the main song. With “compositions of an episodic character” I refer to songs that are made up of several discrete musical events that are joined into one composition. Extended song structures is more frequently used by Pink Floyd than episodic compositions, although the latter method is very common in progressive rock in general (side note: an example of episodic song structuring gone wrong in metal is Satyricon’s first album, Dark Medieval Times). Quite a few Pink Floyd songs are long alright, but they are often built around roughly three extended song structure sections: first an introduction where the band presents a main theme, followed by a middle section with (often instrumental) excursions and some experimentation (creating atmosphere through electronic effects, guitar solos which builds up tension followed by a potential release, juxtaposition of found sounds, etc.), and finally a closing part, where the main theme returns. Or, if a long Floyd track follow the episodic song template, the compositional method appears to be taking several unrelated songs/ideas and forcing them together into one piece. This last method seems to be applied most carelessly on a larger scale in whole Pink Floyd albums as well. Several of their albums contain contrasting songs placed in an apparently random order, resulting in the works at large sounding both irrational and inconsistent.
The song writing procedure described above doesn’t necessarily count as a bad compositional method, but one of the bigger pitfalls of which the Floyd succumbs to all too often is that if done without enough finesse and thoroughness, these compositions end up with not much development or connection between the different parts. In many cases not just isolated to Pink Floyd, songs of this type end up being flawed by an arbitrary and fragmentary character. It could be the case that Pink Floyd did not have any sort of epic narrative, lyrical or musical, in mind when writing many of their longer tracks – or maybe they did, but just couldn’t pull it through. But why then did they chose to record such long, meandering songs then? Maybe it was more a question of shady conceptual ideas. Parts of the psychedelic/progressive rock ideology appears to have gravitated more towards the whimsical, escapist side of romantic art. Such an outlook shouldn’t be completely dismissed as inappropriate for a progressive rock band but it can pose problems if this attitude to romanticism isn’t backed up by adequate ideas of making a coherent statement. Especially in their earlier years, Pink Floyd made several peculiar attempts at playful and dreamlike tunes, which more than once failed because they turned out to possess an unfinished and pointless character. The reason these songs didn’t turn out so well is that they suffer from a lack of adequate compositional ideas suitable for creating the intended moods and visions.
When it comes to style, Pink Floyd were an early bird among late 60s prog rockers, even pioneering some techniques in a rock music context (experimental use of synthesizers), exploring multisensorial experiences through psychedelic music, live light-shows, and drugs. As Rosales’s Pink Floyd article correctly points out, it often led to nothing but “interesting”, fragmentary, and meaningless ideas. While the band members’ lack of virtuosity doesn’t necessarily pose a problem, it’s a disadvantage that throughout their career they never dared to step too much outside the boundaries of the blues-derived rock style like so many other progressive bands did.
The confused, fragmentary, and unfinished nature of many Pink Floyd songs stems from lack of conceptual substance. Many of their compositions leave the listener with promising impressions left unfulfilled or worse bored with the bads subtly ironic stance working as a defense against such accusations. Few were probably surprised to watch the band (especially band dictator Roger Waters) growing more and more cynical in relation to their own work, their fans, and the music industry as the years passed after their massive public and critical success with Dark Side Of The Moon.
However it would be unfortunate to end the story of progressive rock here. Even Pink Floyd managed to put worthwhile compositions together once in a while. I have a soft spot for the space-rocking live concert part of the double LP Ummagumma, where, surprisingly, there is less trace of whimsy. These compositions are allowed to breathe and linger on to reach the conclusions missing on less adventurous Floyd records. The four tracks on the first disc of Ummagumma are actually live re-workings of older songs performed with a possibly more refined sense of dynamics and texture than in their original studio forms.
If you take a look at the more established narratives of rock history, you will learn of a horrible aberration of 70s rock called “Progressive Rock”. Presented by many rock critics as a genre made up of spoiled middle-class kids trying to impress others of the same ilk with their pseudo-high-art, when all they really produced was kitsch. These musicians’ attempts to become accepted as members of the cultural elite (or the cultural underground for that matter) were, according to “rock history”, crushed with the arrival of punk in the mid-70s. After a dark century of both stadium spectacle and general pretentiousness, people could resume enjoying down to earth authentic rock once more. Some of this might sound reasonable but in several respects, this tale doesn’t live up to reality.
First, although the creative momentum of the original movement had started to wane considerably by the mid-70s, progressive rock bands were more popular than ever among the public in this period. This is an indicator of the survival of progressive music in the aftermath of punk’s simplicity. Furthermore, as the 1980s dawned, a new generation of underground progressive groups set about revitalizing the genre. Although I would say that not much prog rock produced post-1970s can compete with the original wave, the assumption that Sex Pistols and their ilk obliterated progressive music is plain ignorant. The legacy and influence of the progressive old guard may be heard and seen in much contemporary popular music, including metal.
Critics pointing at the corporate selling out and stadium rock syndrome of the bigger progressive groups but a defense may be raised for the accused. Progressive rock interestingly differs in one important respect from most rock music. With prog it is not just a matter of smaller, more worthy bands getting overshadowed by the larger established ones, even if this surely happened. Some of the biggest bands of the genre,somehow managed to perform grand stage productions that still carried meaningful art. The established critical narrative may be a result of the situation of the music industry at the time: record labels, fat and rich thanks to the decades of explosive growth in post-war media consumption, were convinced that obscure groups playing this new form of rock music were highly marketable. Parallels may be drawn to the various metal sub-genres. Those lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time could get considerable production budgets, granting a creative freedom never experienced before in the music business.
Pinning down the characteristics of progressive rock (or any musical genre for that matter) is not the most grateful of task. Neither is this the purpose of this series. Instead, it will contain rather brief background information and descriptions of the featured bands, giving more space to the musical and conceptual content of the selected albums. Hopefully this approach will make sense and awaken an interest of discovery of a genre that I believe has a lot to offer, not least for fans of extreme metal. Some sort of framework might be needed so let’s go back to the infancy of the movement to see where it started off.
Like hard rock and heavy metal, progressive rock stems largely from the late 1960s psychedelic milieu. This was a time of experimentation with not only drugs and alternative lifestyles, but new sounds, musical ideas and approaches. With the aid of mind-altering substances, younger artists took pleasure in finding new meaning in pushing the frontiers of the staling and commodified art forms of rock ‘n’ roll and jazz. These psychedelic explorers (primarily males of European descent from an upper middle-class background, although counterexamples abound) founded groups that in the late 1960s lingered ever closer to becoming progressive rock. In addition to rock and jazz, they also brought into their bands an interest in classical, choral and folk music. However as with any historical narrative, there are of course other factors that could be addressed as well as contradictory and arbitrary information. Take Yes for example, one of the most prominent prog bands to promote virtuosic musicianship and toss classical music topes into the stew. Contrary to common assumption, their guitarist Steve Howe is a self-thought musician who never bothered with learning notes or formal music theory while their ethereal singer Jon Anderson came from a working class background.
There is another facet of progressive rock with a notable parallel in heavy metal music and culture that needs to be addressed: it’s relation to the Romantic Era. This connection is thoroughly stressed and analyzed by Edward Macan in his excellent book on progressive rock, Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture. Macan explores not only the ideological roots of progressive rock, but manages to highlight the more crucial musical influences that helped create and crystallize the genre. He shows progressive rock’s origin in late 1960s psychedelia and what caused the music to take its particular form. As a tribute to Macan’s groundbreaking work, I will conclude this introduction with two interwove quotes from the aforementioned book:
Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with progressive rock is usually aware that it represents an attempt to harness classical forms into a rock framework, to combine the classical tradition’s sense of space and monumental scope with rock’s raw power and energy. Understanding the role classical forms have played in progressive rock, then, is essential to understanding the genre as a musical style.
For musicians of the late 1960s who wished to continue with instrumental music – and these were increasingly drawn to the emerging progressive rock, jazz-rock, and heavy metal styles – the question became how to bring a sense of organization, variety, and climax to the music without completely destroying the spontaneity and sense of timelessness which characterized the best psychedelic jams.
The musicians who pioneered progressive rock found their answer in limiting the role of improvisation to one or two sections of a piece, and carefully organizing the rest of the material along the lines of nineteenth-century symphonic forms. […] Nineteenth-century music and psychedelic music are both Romantic in the fullest sense of the word, sharing the same cosmic outlook, the same preoccupation with the infinite and otherwordly, the same fondness for monumental statement (often conveyed through very long pieces), and the concern with expressing epic conflicts.
Stay tuned to this series for the successive revelation and discussion of some of the best and genre defining albums of progressive rock!23 Comments
According to Wikipedia and internet sages, David Parland (Necrophobic, Dark Funeral, Infernal) has died at the age of 42 on March 19, 2013.
Parland was a founding member of Swedish melodic death metal band Necrophobic whose album The Nocturnal Silence proved that death metal could be both musically erudite and intense, and opened the doors to many others who wanted to make elegant music in a time when most wanted chromatic brutality.
From Necrophobic, Parland went on to start Dark Funeral and make a melodic and essentialist version of black metal that later worked more occult heavy metal into the mix. After that, he joined Infernal and developed their unique style of intensely violent music.
With the passing of Mr. Parland, death metal loses a talented musician and someone whose forward momentum launched more vital projects than most can dream of. It is hope that his legacy will not be forgotten.20 Comments
“Neptune Towers” is a song from Darkthrone’s death metal album, Soulside Journey. In this song the artist’s goal is to paint an alien landscape and tell a story, by intertwining riffs and lyrics until they reach an eldritch keyboard climax, which leaves the listener with a sense of awe for the unknown.13 Comments
One of the greatest challenges of art linked to mystical practices its concern with being able to codify pathways to the inner experience that is intended to be facilated or transmitted. Nameless Therein have taken a reserved yet thematically rich path towards the accomplishment of such a feat by creating sinister musical vignettes. The compositions in question consist in arrangements for three clean-sound electric guitars, and which arrangements focus on enriching textures surrounding a clear thematic line. The character of the music is one that flirts with different sentiments, with its only constant being a vague sensation of weirdness that is accentuated by the quick evaporation of single pieces. The full effect can only be felt as they are played in succession, allowing their similarities, contrasts and particularities to accumulate in the short term memory, the unconscious and the body’s chemistry.
Codification refers to the placing into intelligible patterns a message that will be decoded and transformed by its receiving agent. The efficacy of art as a portal, as a catalyst, is rooted in its artistry, in its effective deepening or altering of the world. Relation to technique and craft is direct, but the evaluation of its efficacy is its totality, since it will be probably found that the most efficacious experiences are based on craft effectively codifying —thus channeling— the intended experience. Nameless Therein is heard here using each and every ounce of technique and craft of instrumentality and composition to this end, and there are no loose strings in this respect.
What at first seems like a limitation is indeed the source of efficacy as a retainer for evocative suggestions in aural form. Very short pieces form pictures in a stream that allows them their own personality while restraining from elaborating excessively, and so avoiding confinement of the listener’s individual experience. Like beautiful entrances to secluded roads in an enchantingly dark, pastoral setting, enticing first and bewitching after as the path grows beyond the composition, yet within the designs of the composer’s manipulative schemes. Sympathetic strings are pulled, and one hovers above, or is shifted out of position, but incompletely. Perception is rent asunder, but in wild streaks, singaling marks seen by a now disturbed awareness. These are doors opened for journeys that can only be taken in solitary, and which no art can complete: art is always a portal, never the experience.
The dense guitar arrangements here make very natural use of the properties of the instrument. Rather than strumming incessantly, or attempting to emulate usages that are more suited to bowed instruments, we hear craftful arpeggiations supporting the passage of melodies that glide over string activity. The last is the proper use of a clear or acoustic guitar-like instruments, whose sonority lends itself to constant vibrations that form a pool over which appears a face: that of the spirit of the melody. That is the germ that infects the mind, and it is a daemon of possession as well, one that invades and lives in the listener.
The underhanded disalignment induced by the music makes portals of such narrow openings into secretive, wide spaces. The effects can be dizzying, even sickening, submerging us in a vaporous twilight that is neither here or there. As the short pieces pass almost unnoticed, a slow but clear altering of one’s biology seems to take place by virtue of the effective completeness of the “circular motion” that they do possess despite their limited length. Each one moves the eye’s mind, the humors in the chest, and the emotions in differing directions, miniscule in individual magnitude, yet hardly negligible as fifty-six spirits create a vortex at the center of which is the bewildered listener.7 Comments
Osi and the Jupiter play a mostly acoustic ambient with synthetic overtones that borrows heavily from ancestral Nordic cultural remnants for its conceptual, and musical, orientation. In Uthuling Hyl, this takes the form of what we could call a European Pagan Drone music, with all that each of these words could imply by themselves and together. As European, it seeks that connection in instrumentation and tone to pre-traditionalist roots. As a Pagan affair, it is based on a numinous connection to surroundings, contemplative and wordless reflection, and an unfolding wyrd presencing a quality that has come to be known as ‘honor’. As all ambient, the music depends entirely upon its ability to very explicitly maintain a continuous flow of sounds that are not allowed the minimal digression. Thereby is a more esoteric teaching concealed in the construction and balance of the music itself, which is as all art should be. For in trying to bring to bear a connection human beings can have to nature when they place themselves within it with respect and devotion, the music also reflects how delicate this affair is, and how quickly it can all be burnt down by our hubris. In truth, it would take a mundane simpletone —or an utter imbecile— to relegate the experience presented in Uthuling Hyl to a debased utilitarian function such as serving as soundtrack to some ill-advised television show.
The hidden drone component here dictates that the variation of the elements must be done ever so slightly, taking care that texture and tone are gauged with due attention to craft. Texture is sustained while introducing and remaining particulars, relying on relatively abrupt changes in pacing or timbre only in very specifc cases and with a very specifc aim in mind. In general, and above all, the delicate fullness in unity that marks this work serves as a mantle for a whole cosmos in which organisms live a precarious existence but whose essence eternally flows. The patterns of said fabric are sewn by the threads of individual musical voices, surviving as they do mindlessly, but doing so only because their actions fit the pacing and balance of the whole. The endings of those existences are timely and waste not energy nor leave space unmarked. Sounds of worship and numinous contemplation permeate this summoned spiritual world. The cello parts by Kakophonix do not overimpose nor indulge, but enhance ekstasis, bringing an energetic waves that travel the landscape across darkened wood, mountain and sky. In the midst of this interpretation, the mournful, pleading vocalizations stand out as the human presence submerged, wailing, unnoticed in a sinisterly-numinous ocean of flowing forces in colossal dimensions perhaps quantified by some physicist, but ultimately undreamable by our daytime minds.
While all manifestation is One, we can highlight aspects or levels of it as they come to the fore of our impressions. In the case of Uthuling Hyl, this would be more unconscious vaporous tension, the watery flow of emotions that lie below reason and will. The humid web that holds things together here is ever so vulnerable, our transgressions the probable cause of dissolutions that are no crimes but mere effects to causes. The listener, the conscious human, intrudes upon this space, and a decision must be taken to coalesce or see it all dry up, and waste into cold —or perhaps burn up into merciless hatred and ambition. Such is the picture that Osi and the Jupiter reveal in pattern and spirit. As numinous worship, the present work calls for our knowing our place, and seeking our destiny; for our seeking a voice and power, for our evolutive ascendance, in a picture of our cosmos that finds beauty in bleakness.4 Comments
Written by Merlin Lemasters
Hailing from Finland, Mørketida present us their debut album which, unlike most of the festering horde laying claimant to the precipitous banner of black metal this year, has some actual merit. Perhaps what is most impressive about this release is that, despite its utter reliance on the most elementary of black metal chord and note progressions, there is such a wealth of depth in the interplay between elements that the essential lethargy and entropy prototypical of the modern form of this threadbare genre is fully exceeded. Verily —and in traditional, true black metal fashion— they have made the utmost out of rudiments. Every section here is wrung out, thoroughly, meticulously and by means of layering, coalesced into a microcosm of sound. This is aided by the production’s overlaid murk, an intensely atmospheric affair; manifold veils reveal obscured information upon close inspection, in this way taking its cues from early Burzum. Indeed, most parts of this album can be traced back quite easily enough to the cornerstones of the genre. As mentioned before, the language that makes up the barest essence of this genre is present here in full force and yet that language has been twisted to fit its needs, to create an experience. There is no concession to vanity here, all is arranged in service to a pervading darkness and this puts the craft of this album above most. In this way, it is true, it has not simply regurgitated the requirements of the genre but used them in expression. Traces of Darkthrone, Gorgoroth, Graveland, Ancient and Burzum, all make appearances here, though not in imitation by any means. These classic bands have indeed scribed the language but the arrangement and order of its morphemes is fully Mørketida’s own.
A deliberate brooding pace sets the tone for much of this album, at times finding brief resolution in well-worn, thrumming tremolo bursts, hallmark of the Norwegians. Drums too, are played in the classic way, wisely devoid of any clutter they rumble, blast and accentuate without syncopation, pure in that they do not attempt to suffer arbitraries upon the listener. Vocals chant in intonations obscure, oft buried in the umbrage and at times barely discernible, only made known by their echo, like chanting heard from a cave some distance away. Some brief sections of keys, emphasize moments of power or ambience, they are present in much of this album however, usually as another layer in the foggy production. In its most fervent moments, there is force of passion here, etched out as sharp contrasts between the meandering stride. The brunt of this work appears uniform with its slow chords and droning arpeggios but sections are arranged in repetition only with the greatest patience, never failing to end that which has dwelt too long. In fact, this album is utterly untouched by the inertia of lingering thought-forms past their day; all sections have been measured diligently and like the ancients they shift when it is time, never after or before.
This organic sense of composition is much missed in these days of note clamor, where the essential power of the black metal language is roiled by the entropy of an unnecessary, incessant changing of riffs, vomited out with little application of artistry. Songs are well wrought, there are no loose ends to composition and another impressive facet of this release, there is no excess of vanity, no flirtations with extraneous influence. The uniformity of this approach, with just enough discernible waymarks to keep the listener guided throughout its realm, lends a rare strength to this release. Very few parts make any attempt to be seen as indelible, and of these, the title track in particular sets itself apart by letting the bass wander, exploring different trails and in one glorious moment lets it solo, a longing sonority against the melancholic scratching of the guitars. Moments like this one are rare and with good reason, this is the type of black metal that longs to dwell in worlds away from modernity, it crushes the ego, it spurns the trappings of the mundane. The goal of a permeating, consuming, crepuscule is always in mind and with it; the apprehension of an atmosphere pure, reveling in its fealty to an ultimate darkness. A mature and conservative work in all aspects, what may at cursory glance appear to be contrived or unremarkable will soon prove itself well worthy of study.
Experience it as a whole and experience it with headphones!
Very few works that presume to connect human beings with energies or entities come across as applicable. More often than not, a lack of honesty would appear to be disguised behind impractical demands that defeat the purpose of a magical working as a shortcut. Despite what detractors have had to say on the matter, Martinent Press has excelled in its publishing of books that the reader can take as they come. A reader can survey a relatively cheap copy of any of the titles and judge the contents therein by what they propose, the author’s revealed character in words and style, and whatever insights they are revealing. Interestingly, Martinet Press leaves it to the public to do their own sifting, allowing no-nonsense heavy-weights like Tempel ov Blood Liber 333 lie on a bookshelf beside the more compilatory and derivative works like A.A. Morain Scithain. In the case of the present booklet, keywords that come to mind upon ‘meeting’ the writer(s)’ character on paper are sincere and honest, energetic and powerful, juvenile and wasteful, obsessive and unstable. But this is only a sympathetic, literary and psychological appreciation, of course, and nothing else.
We find that sincerity and directness is, in fact, at the forefront of the authors’ concerns here, the main concern being the quick leading of the interested individual to the right state of mind: towards at least an aural and psychic clarity regarding alien expectations. As is common within the grimoire tradition, The Deplorable World juxtaposes different literary genres without any transitioning device. The only criteria to the inclusion of each of these parts is what they may bring the reader in terms of an apprehension of the topic at hand. The progression from one section to the next shows a plan designed to implicitly (secretly) address diverse mental requirements in the minds of those seeking after content. However, those looking for fetish antiquary items or page after page of turgid and inconsequential “lore,” with no relevance or substance other than the mirage of words, will have to invest at least several hundred dollars more.
And so, the work opens up with a rather tepid work of light fiction the only value of which is providing a verbal illustration of the situations and atmosphere . Fortunately, the fiction is the first and the weakest section of this publication. The authors proceed from there to references of the Abyss in ancient lore, in a compact section with more substance and referential value than entire books by other, more prominent “occult authors.” Towards the middle, we are presented with plain and simple descriptions of the relevant cosmos and entities, doing away with poetics or any of the masturbatory word diarrhea that is the staple of prominent “occult publications.” Finally come the procedures themselves, starting from simple meditation techniques, advancing towards libations and communion, on to astral exploration and full-out, blood-sacrifice portal opening.
“Magically relevant or GTFO!”
Symbols and procedures lean towards stupor or frenzy, without necessarily naming them so. To those who would get discouraged by the rather unnecessary —even detrimental— opening work of fiction, the rest of the booklet provides concrete working after concrete working, the requirements of which are mainly the capacity for mental focus and a willingness to bend a conventional grasp of sanity in thought and action. The mental investment demanded demands energy, energy that is directed and consumed. Some may leer at the prospect, but they are also those who would not see beyond the intermittent purposelessness that plagues the path of any discipline which develops practical abilities before intellectual understanding or “knowledge.” In this way, we may see in The Deplorable World a potent handbook to develop a raw, focused connection to a cosmic darkness that is ultimately, despite our poetic allusions, beyond explainations.
There is here an unquestionable obsession with violence, that is at the same time juvenile and uninterested. In this, it at once complements and contrasts the involved insights that Georges Bataille derives from what he terms ‘sensuality’. And while this unthinking and ultimately self-defeating drive towards destruction, abandonment and forgetfulness constitutes the praxis, it could be argued that it will remain short of what an evolving human being can become psychologically, physiologically and psychically. For where it used to be a facilitator, there is a point where shock becomes a crutch. If instead of utilizing the capacity for self-shock and channeling towards increasingly potent and predictable results, the practitioner falls into a mindless and never-ending one-upmanship game of inner destruction beyond utility and for their own sake, these methods may instead become a glaring obstacle for the individual’s growth if not understood and assimilated. That such fixation with what the practitioner assumes to be the ultimate “preternatural” reality, and that such obsession with acts of cruelty and violence, can be experienced but transcended into a dynamic exploration and development of the totality of being, is perhaps a first key towards true attainment, or what some call adepthood.1 Comment
Death Metal Underground is glad to host an interview with Lou Ferrara of Sapremia, a true Hessian who has continued to develop his underground metal art throughout more than two decades while battling in real life beyond pretensions and illusions. So far, Death Metal Underground has published reviews of two of Sapremia’s works: Existence of Torture (1994), and With Winter Comes Despair (2008).
1. Sapremia released two demos back in the day, Subconscious Rot in 1992 and Existence of Torture in 1994. What brought about your return, and development of two full-length albums in 2008 and 2013?
Lou: We actually played until 1996, and had enough material for a third demo, but our drummer left and we could not find a suitable replacement. At the time, the decision was to “go to sleep” instead of putting out any inferior quality that we held ourselves to. Around 2005, we began to talk about “waking up” and we had found a drummer worthy of bringing our material to life. We brought back a few old songs, wrote a few new songs, and booked a bunch of gigs which were to begin in January 2007. At the very first gig, a rep from Open Grave Records approached us about releasing material and actually followed us around to the next few gigs to make sure of it. In Philly, the 4th show back in 10 years, we signed a deal with OGR for an EP and a full length. The EP, Hollow, came out in July 2007 and the full length came out early 2008. We had not planned on this, it just happened and we embraced it as the EP sold out in presale, and the full length went through four pressings. One guitarist left, bringing us back to a three piece, which is how we were from 93-96. We ambitiously gigged a ton in the next few years, which slowed the writing process down a bit. Autumn’s Moon was released July of 2013 on Butchered Records, as we had talked with them several times through touring about our next release. As of now, we are working on the final track for our next release, which with good fortune should be released 2019.
2. How does the playing of live performances feed into the creative process of Sapremia? Can the same potent effects and thought out structures we hear in With Winter Comes Despair (2008) be repeatedly accomplished without the experience of live performances?
Lou: Live performances feed into the process 110%! During our writing process, as the band molds each track, we generally will test them live. Audiences never realize that they hear a new song and may never hear it in that form again… there are only small changes, but they indeed happen, especially lyrics and vocal patterns as I become more comfortable singing and playing the songs. It is only through playing live that we truly find what each track needs and go forth from there. The only downside to this process is that the next album is always revealed to live audiences before it is ever recorded.
3. Testing each track live and modifying it until it feels ready explains why you take many years between albums. Do you think that those songs could be modified and improved even after the album has been released, perhaps indefinitely, or does the album ‘freeze’ them in time? How do you know when a composition is ready: does it depend on the audience or is it the composition itself revealing “its needs” to you? Could your best creations keep changing and ‘grow’ old together with you… until the end?
Lou: They most definitely still evolve after the album is completed and released. Nothing is ever frozen with us, we change things up often, especially my vocal delievery. Most of the time, we will just know when a track is ready for recording, even if it may change, we are comfortable with the way it is set at that time. As example, in “The Despair of Winter,” we recorded the fourth riff of the song straight through, as we play it now; the third time played has a bunch of stops in it to accentuate the notes and give it a feeling of being more tight. I would definitely say the songs are as much part of the band as the members themselves, so they can and probably always will be tweaked as we continue to play them.
4. When writing music, how do you approach song-writing / composition with respect to organization or structuring to achieve a result that makes sense and feels complete?
Lou: I do almost all of the initial writing for each track. It usually starts with an idea or two floating in my mind and I begin to hash them out on guitar (though I play bass for the band). I usually like to weave similar note patterns into each riff of a single track, as it seems to make that particular track flow better within itself. When we were young and writing those demos, this was definitely not our approach at all, and it was only as I got older that I started to do this in an attempt to make songs less jerky and all over the place, giving them more of a flow and essence to themselves. I am not sure if anyone has ever picked up on my patterns, but most people, musician and non musician will say that our songs are memorable and engaging. That’s all I really am looking for: to take the listener on a ride with each track. When we all get together to play the songs out, little things will change here and there, and the songs become complete with a group effort.
5. We can personally attest to the fact that attentive listeners can consciously pick up on such patterns. It is also fair to say that even when the listener is not fully aware of them, such logical patterns play an important psychological role in the overall feeling of cohesion of the song. Do you usually start with one of those patterns (motifs) as pure sensations of flow and movement, or do you think more in terms of trying to make a guitar/bass riff?
Lou: I definitely have them start out more as sensations or feels. My intent while writing is never to write a riff, but to fiddle around with whatever concepts flow from my subconscious until I have something that I enjoy listening to. Usually this concept becomes the focal point to a track, it will mold and change, but it has started there. As I being to entwine other riffs into a track, then I may be more concerned with actually writing a riff, again using notes and structures from the original concept to make it flow to the attentive and casual listener alike.
6. Do you think that, besides the sense of enjoyment that one has for one kind of music or other, different kinds of music open ‘windows’ to different ‘dimensions’ inside us? So that, no matter what words are forcefully pasted on or appended to the music, the music has its own character, its own nature, and is a kind of key that opens specific doors in the mind?
Lou: Absolutely! Sapremia by no stretch of any imagination has invented any kind of wheel in the DM world, but I feel that we do have a certain sound that is unique to us. Part of that is because our drummer, Ryan Hill, basically comes from a hardcore / thrash background, and our guitarist, Brian Rulli, has not really listened to much newer styles of death metal since the 90’s. I personally listen to many different styles of music and it helps to not just be stuck into writing “a death metal song.” We came from an area in the early 90’s that has the NY Brutal DM label attached to most bands that are our peers, we tended to play more of the Scandinavian stlye of DM, with grooves and hooks, Ry added a lot of the off tempo and d beat drumming from his background to make it complete.
7. Is death metal a way to visualize powerful forces beyond human control that show us our place in reality, or is death metal only a way to fantasize and escape reality?
Lou: I believe that it can be both. Death metal is a juggernaut when done in the proper way, something that is colossal and has a life force unto itself. When I hear death metal in its true form, I am definitely swayed to feel it is unstoppable and beyond normal human understanding. I also feel that not all death metal encompasses this, and not saying this death metal is inferior in any way, just saying that it can help to escape reality if only for a few fleeting moments, but is not life altering. I know when I hear it, what I mean; I’m sure others do as well…
8. We share your opinion that not all death metal encompasses this, and that we know when we hear the ‘life-altering’ effects of more involved death metal of deeper consequences. What, in your opinion, is the nature or effects of mental bending or warping that (true) death metal can cause in the focused listener? Is it a removal of the petty, ignorant human vision that sets us as the center of the universe? Does (true) death metal help us not only understand, but to feel in our gut and deepest corners of the mind, that the universe is shaped by marvelous forces that neither care about —nor are aware of— our feelings and desires?
Lou: This is a truly deep question, and I am not sure the any one answer would be the same for everyone. I only know what I hear and feel when a death metal phenomena occurs. For me, usually it occurs during a live performance, as outside forces and happenings will change each scenario. There are times when I am experiencing such a thing, and when it is completed, I really am not sure where I was, what I did, or what happened, other than the death metal experience itself. I have found this occur, and immediately need to leave the venue even though other performers are still to come, because nothing can touch what I just experienced.
9. Have you been able to find equivalent experiences through other media, such as literature or film? If so, how do those experiences differ to those had with music?
Lou: Oh yes, mostly with literature, as I am an avid reader. A lot of my lyrical ideas come from books and movies in which I adore. It is different than listening to music, as being at a show or listening to a favorite album brings out more raw emotion, that will leave me physically spent. Books and/or film take me on a journey that I can leave reality behind for a little while, but not have me as physically attached. If I’m locked into a good book, i can read for hours and come out of it not realizing what time it is or what has happened around me. A good film can have that same effect, though I would venture to say that it usually will only happen at the cinema and not at home from the couch,
10. We often talk about ‘narrative’ in music, as the way in which musical structure tells a story with a beginning, a middle and an end with a significant climax somewhere in there. Do you see any other parallels between music as a form of structured communication, and literature as organized thoughts?
Lou: Music and literature go hand in hand in these regards. The biggest of differences to me, are that even literature, while not visual, has description and direction that the author tries to steer their own audience to ‘see’. Musical landscapes are more open to the individual interpretation of one’s mind. I am not speaking of lyrics, just the music itself, every listener will hear it in a different way than the next. So while there are definite parallels between music and literature as far as structure, they also differ from one another in the uniqueness of the delivery.
11. What literature in particular, and why, would you recommend? Do any of these relate to some aspect of underground metal or what it points to?
Lou: This is a very individual response, anything can relate to underground metal depending on any persons perspective. Personally, I am all horror and fantasy, which is sort of cliche in our genre but definitely a driving force behind it. Tolkien, Brooks, Thompson are among my favorite fantasy authors, and I have definitely borrowed from each in certain aspects of lyrical motivation. Barker, King, Lovecraft, Stoker, are among the horror that I enjoy.
12. A lot of the less respectable metal has little value except for shock value. To what extent should an authentic underground metal artist strive to reflect in deeds what he in art praises, condemns or generally reflects as an interpretation of reality?
Lou: I really feel that that should be left up to the individual, as far as they want to pursue alternative means for which to get their perspective across. Personally, I am a fan of letting the music do all the talking, I do not need visual stimulation from an act to aid in the enjoyment of what they are trying to provide musically. This is not to say that any one approach is right or wrong, it is up to the individual performs to find what works the best for themselves.
Released in 1999, Unholy Extreme Black is the second of two demos released by the transitory Finnish black metal project Helwetti. Here, Helwetti provides richness through depth in the reach of its rather brief material by making constrained technique malleable to the natural requirements of a flow aimed at bringing in new ideas in a coherent yet always evolving stream. The secret of the elite, almost non-existent underground to producing rare minimalist music of such sublety is a rather bestial and ritualistique effort fueled by dark spiritual ideas founded on enacted reclusiveness. Within this darkness embraced, the true artist manages to bring a powerful invocation of infernal —lower-world, unconscious to the uninitiated— forces in a way that most of the later, allegedly more mature, projects have never reached by a long. The racing melodies of Helwetti’s music in traditional black metal dissonances arranged through percussive changes, opportune breaks and vocal overlays raise its minimalist expression to the best that could possibly be achieved while remaining so simple. The vocals on this recording are an incredible delight to listen to as they express a nuanced wealth of emotions, within this limited framework as the rest of the instruments, greatly adding to the overall atmosphere. The necro sound resulting from the tampering with the original sound gives it a veiled that is certainly not a detriment to the sound of the instruments. Thereby, the clarity of the instruments is not only maintained throughout, but it actually attenuates distractions typical to the metal genre, allowing the merit of the musical arrangements to come to the foreground.
In the matter of technique, guitars do not go beyond softly strummed power chords, not quite fast downstrokes and “tremolo picking” on one string. The bass serves as a proper low frequency holder that does not get in the way but noticeably reinforces the texture of the music. Drums vary between laid back, standard rock patterns in duple time, sometimes with triplet feels, that go on smooth crescendos of double-bass runs; these patterns are then alternated with “d-beats” at different speeds, depending on the location within the pieces. These are all very standard and quite basic techniques, but what raises this demo in musical, rather than technical quality, is arrangement of the parts. Logic is not enough, but a sense of naturality must be expressed that can only be correctly represented by the use of intuition. Black metal in general prides itself in placing intuition before mere logic or the debasing —often clownish and overbearing— technique flaunting of death metal. However, intuition depends entirely on an inwardly developed or innately inherited talent of the individual that is not produced by the application of logic. Also, under close inspection, music resulting from the application of logic (structure-oriented death metal, for instance) is quite different from music prominently steeped in the application of intuition (like the best of black metal). Which means that a lot is outside the normally conscious, calculable control of the individual composing. It is just in this trap that the elitism of black metal lies.
Within the seemingly narrow constraints of raw black metal, we can appreciate how Helwetti creates a rich variety of fluxions which overflow one into the next. Without leaving any question regarding the soundness of their transformations, adjacent patterns are related by transitions that flow smoothly as water downstream. More interestingly, the four different pieces in this demo act as movements within one work. Arguably, many underground demos were compounded in this way. And without there necessarily being a conscious intent in relating it to the classical tradition, the effect is somewhat similar when a release of the stature of Unholy Extreme Black manages to present variety of texture and theme within a coherent and consistent style, bringing interrelated pieces together further under an hidden phantasm grasped by the artist’s senses. It is in communion with “Satan,” “satans,” or “dead things,” and in their consistent, focused sensations thereof, that the black metal musician brings a stream of riffs directed at channeling patterns which vibrate with what is perceived in altered states. The extent to which such a communion is attained, and perhaps the authenticity or the quality of the experience, is what makes the results vary —not to mention actual musical talent. This is precisely the “ritual” to which many a wordless black metal acolytes (For who is truly an adept in this inherently left-handed path?) refer when attempting to describe what this music is as opposed to other kinds of “music” that are aimed at entertainment or technical exercise or narcissistic indulgence.