Every generation lives as a continuation of what came before, but people today live in the shadow of the 1960s. Our culture, politics and society all changed during that time and we have not changed it back or found anything different. So we circle, repeating the same tired tropes as if they were new or insightful.
The music industry lives in thrall to The Beatles. Those lads were their biggest success, both breaking out rock as a mainstream product, and utterly dominating the charts to this day. Whenever they can, they praise The Beatles.
We are all in the thrall of journalists who like anything that sounds like The Beatles and other 1960s rock despite that music being relevant fifty years ago. From the top down, the whole industry wanks on the bands that were hip then. If you want to get ahead, you have to mention The Beatles at least once in your interviews.
Even though Baby Boomers are now decrepit and old in the “get off my lawn” years, they still want to control us with the image of their music. That image is: no one was better than the 1960s rockers, no one was a bigger rebel than us, and nothing better will ever be made. This nonsense needs to end even if violence must be employed for that purpose.
1960s rock bands stood out in their day only because the music around them was so horribly insipid that it compares to… well, pop today, actually. It was basically the same stuff: standard chord progressions, love and sex topics, pop song format. Nothing has changed there. We all know Nirvana is better than Shakira, but we forget that both can be just as fake but in different ways.
The Beatles wrote their songs around a melody line that unraveled progressively as the song went on. They used key in non-standard ways. They spent a lot of time in the studio figuring out new sounds. They were our first shy-looking, wimpy, sensitive guy superstars. For that we are supposed to praise them into the grave.
In retrospect, what they did was switch audiences. 1950s pop wanted to pitch itself to normal kids who would then go on to have lives in which music served a lesser role. 1960s pop wanted to make its audience identify with it for life, so that even now tedious old fossils will whip out The Beatles LPs like they were a revelation from God.
But many of us do not need weak-looking hipsters to make us accept music. We are comfortable with who we are, whether that is weightlifter or nerd. We just like music for being good. And that part has two components: talent on the surface, and having something of value to contribute beneath.
No one doubts that The Beatles and other 1960s bands had talent on the surface. What they lacked was something of value to communicate. They came up with the image first, and back-wrote the political and social opinions to support that image. Their idea was to be iconoclasts who turned their backs on everything their parents believed. That’s great, if you’re 14. The following year it’s already old.
Instead our music industry remains stuck in perpetual adolescence, repeating these same tired words and ideas, churning out new versions of the same image and music, because the Baby Boomer mentality will simply not die. And so we all repeat the cycle again, hating it but unable to escape.
Welp, another school shooting is in the books, and this means we begin the cycle of another nationwide emotional meltdown of reactionary liberals over a founding pillar of our “evil” American culture. Since metal heads and metal journalists everywhere are weighing in on this, and since most (all?) of them are too dumb to say anything logical or researched, it once again has fallen on the staff of DMU to be the sole voice of high-IQ reason in the metal world. For despite guns being legal in America for over 200 years (with over 200 being free of school shootings), despite automatics/machine guns being loose on the streets since at least the 1920s (with 70 of those years being free of school shootings), and despite gun ownership being in steep decline the last few decades (despite school shootings being on the rise), liberals everywhere continue to fall for the totalitarian “give up the gun” scam and blame our second amendment for the mass murder of innocent children. While stats clearly prove otherwise, many miss the true root of this tragedy: the individualism our society has been embracing since the cultural revolution of the 1960s.
Twas the 5th day before Christmas, and all through the house, the creatures stared concerned and suddenly in need of psychiatric therapy. My wife said I have that crazy look in my eye, as my boss had jipped me on my Christmas bonus- the holiest thing of the American middle class baby boomer. The urge to kill left me trembling, barely able to stand, and I frantically raced to the garage and grabbed my chainsaw and son’s hockey mask. As the voices got louder, I found myself speaking in tongues- vocalizing a string of obscenities as if possessed by otherworldly entities. In an attempt to quiet the deafening commands to kill, I remembered that death metal was an outlet that had saved me years before. But it was 2017, and I did not know what the new death metal sounded like. But I had heard that Bandcamp were going to save the world with their social justice, so I thought I would listen to the top selling death metal bands on the first page of Bandcamp. Surely they had the most sales, and therefore were the most trustworthy, and true to the old death metal sound. I decided to download all 8 albums and burn to CD to listen to on my Walkman CD player. But when I heard…. when I heard… when I heard…
Idealizing the darkest edge of the first wave of 1960s rock that carried the true stamp of the counter-culture revolution that was forming, the Doors hit in 1991 just as the first Generation X kids — the children of the 1960s generation — were graduating from high school. At the time, it was perceived as glorifying the culture of the 1960s and the legend of Jim Morrison, but on seeing it many years later, it seems more a revelation of the emptiness of that time.
To understand the 1960s, one must first understand why the counter-culture was so influential. Rock music gripped the American mind because it had both messianic and commercial possibilities. As Sam Huntington observed in his epic American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, the lack of unity in American thinking arising from its democratization causes periodic mass movements with the ecstatic character of a tent revival — like witch hunts, civil wars, moral panics — called “creedal passions” in which Americans buzz like a hive to clarify their own values. The 1960s were one such time, a generation removed from the Second World War when it became apparent that not only did society lack direction, but it seemed to be sinking further into the 1950s commercial morass at the same time its social and cultural aspects deteriorated.
As part of a youth movement that re-interpreted the American vision to be far more universal through lowering standards for entry, rock music created a democratic mass hysteria in addition to making many people very rich. Into this fertile environment that The Doors dropped their first musical salvos, adapting the fantasy, hobo, dropout, hippie and beatnik themes of early 1960s rock into music with a darker edge. This was three years before Black Sabbath and other bands dropped the common viewpoint of “peace, love, (drugs) and acceptance” to issue forth Nietzschean warnings of doom.
In the Doors, Oliver Stone approaches a figure who remains influential in rock music and through it, the counterculture and American politics, which are now still in the hands of the Baby Boomers and will soon pass to millennials (Generation X having all but dropped out). Rock music idealizes its heroes with the kind of reverence that only a circus covered in rhinestones and dreamcatchers can create, and Jim Morrison represents one of this millionaire trailer park’s attempt at legitimacy. He was a poet. He read, you know, Nietzsche and stuff. He went to college and could have graduated. He was deep, therefore we are deep, because we are part of the same activity that he was in. And in that thought we see the essence of mass movements: people want to believe that participation conveys upon them the attributes they desire, when really they are just cosplaying as people of significance. It is a revolt of the nobodies. Naturally this has its dark side for performers, and the Doors is the story of that negative side to the feedback loop.
Stone captured the transition from 1980s to 1990s cinema with fast cuts, lots of background detail, and longer shots which move through complex sets. A good deal of attention to detail went into the Doors and it shows not through the kind of detail a viewer might revisit to notice new aspects, but a kind of gestalt of each scene where it appears both perfectly realistic and as cartoonishly articulate as writers need their subjects to be. The movie follows a linear path after introducing the so-called pivotal event in Morrison’s life, which although disputed by his family he found meaningful, in which he saw a group of Navajo laborers dying after experiencing a brutal automobile accident. At first, the movie follows a biographical path. We see Jim going to UCLA film school only to drop out, meeting up with Pamela Courson in a method that in our current society would be identified as “stalkery” and “rapey,” then singing his songs to the one person who believed in his films and forming a band with him. From that point on, the movie becomes a rockumentary showing events of significance from a brief biography of the doors, including controversial performances in New Haven and Miami Beach that later led to arrests and prosecutions. During this process, it works in the American Indian theme — Baby Boomers love nothing more than new groups to universalize, and Indians (Free Leonard Peltier!) were high on their list — to show Morrison gradually colliding with his inevitable fate, just to show that this rock god was made of legend and mysticism not drug and alcohol addiction.
While Stone takes a gentle view of his subject, he also keeps a fair and balanced outlook which requires removing the pink-tinted sunglasses and seeing the 1960s for what it was: a hairy, sweaty, flabby and filthy mob united only on wanting to be part of something really big, man, behaving with the decorum of those at a carnival not a cultural revival. The concert shots and interactions between Morrison and those “closest” to him increasingly show the selfishness and self-importance of the people attracted to this scene, which remains consistent to this day as anyone in the funderground can demonstrate. On the surface, we see the tragedy of Morrison the misunderstood poet; beneath the surface, we see how the whole thing was a farce from the beginning and the audience came not for enlightenment, and cared not a whit about his Dionysiac rantings, but was there for the spectacle and the hopes that it might convey the strength of the ritual onto its individual members, like some primitive superstitious mystic rite conducted by people wearing grass skirts and holding spears. Morrison was an egotist confined to what he allowed himself to notice, and aided by drugs/alcohol in that regard, and his audience were narcissists locked into him through a BDSM reaction where they wanted to see him self-destruct and feel important for having “been there.”
Like many before and after him, Morrison became trapped by the paradox of mass culture: in order for something to be popular, it must confirm what the crowd already wants so they can project themselves onto it, and by that process it becomes unrecognizably adulterated. The public then approves of this neutered version, turns it into a herd trope, and then wonders why its magic is gone. Like carnival-goers, they then shrug and rush on to the next “new” delight, finding no importance there either because through the process of popularity, anything important in it got filtered out beforehand. This leaves guys like Morrison and Kurt Cobain in a bad light. They lack the greatness of their influences, whether the brew of William Blake, Aldous Huxley and Friedrich Nietzsche that Morrison cooked up or the cloning of hardore greats in a grunge setting that put Cobain on the map, and that leaves them as merely cheerleaders for an audience that exercises its ultimate power in not wanting to hear or understand the cheer. This drives the anti-hero leader to self-destruction as they he has become irrelevant, but delights the audience, who have a sadomasochistic relationship to celebrities where they both want to be them and want to see them fall for being the chosen ones. When Morrison ultimately self-destructs, it is as anticlimax and late arrival to the party, like a misdirected package arriving sufficiently after the holiday that no one remembers at first what it is for.
Stone wisely does not explore the various mysteries of Doors lore, such as whether Morrison died of a heroin overdose in a nearby nightclub during a flirtation with the drug in retaliation for Courson’s extensive use of it, or the various mythologies that contribute to the idyllic picture of the band’s founding and culture. He covers all the bases needed to make a big-budget high-grossing profile of Morrison, but introduces a hearty amount of artistic skepticism as well. He portrays rock as “entertainment” in the oldest sense, or people using other people to amuse themselves with no concern for the end result. He shows self-destruction and the cult of the anti-hero as a kind of egomania, where the anti-hero cannot conceive of anything beyond himself and so concocts the ultimate narcissistic act of shutting out the world permanently. Finally, he reveals the loneliness of someone who — having made his way to the top of the rock crowd — realizes that no one understands or cares who he is, or what he thinks, because their only concern is their own participation in the mass phenomenon. Probably a movie best watched twice in life, once as a teenager to pick up on the mythos, and once as an adult to see how cheap, tawdry and pointless all of it was.
Hippies can’t play metal. Black Sabbath kicked off the metal movement because they wanted to make dark rock in contrast to the “peace, love and happiness” movement that had swept rock music into conformity. In this they joined other acts, like The Doors and Jethro Tull, who warned that good intentions would not save the world.
Since the 1990s, hippies are no longer the opposition to our evil conservative overlords… hippies are the Establishment, and they have become just as conservative and evil as anything before, except that now that have a mantle of moral superiority to use as a weapon like grandmothers use guilt. Not only have the hippies aged into their 60s, but they have adopted the view that they are right and anyone who deviates must be quashed. So much for the summer of love.
For that reason it’s natural that much as metal fought the suburban mom censors and Christian fundamentalists back in the 1980s, from the 1990s onward it has been fighting hippie fundamentalists who believe that peace, love, inclusiveness, happiness and political correctness are the only topics one can sing about, and if not, one is the enemy. This follows the path other ideological fanatics took, as in the Soviet Union, where their revolution for equality ended in mass executions.
This is a turf war. Hippies have wanted to take over metal since we challenged them (and their insipid rock) in the 1960s. They took over hardcore in the 1980s and songs went from rants about the imminent decline of our society to cute ditties about how the singer is outraged that people are not more accepting of everyone and everything. They transferred all that boring late hardcore into metal and threw some metal and jazz riffs on the top and called it a new genre, “modern metal.” The problem with it is that it is boring. Every single band of this type is random because the message it endorses is the anti-message: stand for nothing except going along with the hippies. This means writing transparent songs about SJW-topics that never really go anywhere since they all have the same meaning, “join the revolution!”
If you listen to enough modern metal, you will notice a pattern emerges. On the surface, this music is diverse and exciting. Jazz riffs, metal riffs, punk riffs and indie rock tropes compete for surface space. But then if you look at the heart of it, these songs really do not have much going for them. There is no melody or theme uniting them, just a loop of verse-chorus to which the band tacks on the randomness. This is because these are not songs about anything but are new and not very exciting ways of saying the exact same thing over and over again. Like a loudspeaker blaring in Moscow square, SJW-metal repeats the same propaganda in lockstep in hopes of reducing your brain to sludge so you go along with it. There is a reason it is all boring, and it relates to the purpose behind the music. Just like pop is annoying because its only purpose is to be catchy and vapid, SJW-metal is boring because its only purpose is to bleat propaganda while trying to be “unique” by making new surface variations of the same tired 1960s-1980s rock.
When hippies invaded rock, they destroyed it. When they invaded punk, they neutered it. If they successfully invade heavy metal, they will turn the last comfort of the rebellious soul into the dogma of the boring 1960s revolutionary left. SJWs are zombies who preach the same stuff that baby boomers were wailing on about in the 1960s, forgetting that all that stuff got debunked when the USSR fell in ruins and we got to see the SJW paradise: everyone was equal, and anyone who disagreed got shot, so no one did much of anything and it all fell apart. Hippies would bring us to the same end. They are essentially apologists for the decay of our society. Where metalheads want to look at reality and come up with solutions, hippies want us to space out with happy feelings and ignore the fact that we are in free fall as a society and soon to bottom out. This is why industry and government eventually embraced hippies: they do not threaten the power structure. Metal does, and that is why today’s hippies are trying to invade it, and why we must refute, resist and reject them.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Most humans understand reality through social definitions because this flatters their pretense of being important in cold and empty universe. Others prefer to find meaning through bonding with reality in all of its darkness. For noticing the difference, we get called sadists.
Algebra – Feed the Ego
Late 1980s speed metal gets a strong infusion of Slayer-styled energy and tempo. If you can imagine second-tier speed metal bands using the riff patterns and rhythmic shifts from Reign in Blood, you grasp the basic idea here. This makes for fun listening but underneath the surface, an ugly hard rock influence shows, and the derivative nature of the riffing makes it hard to take seriously.
Cradle of Filth – Total Fucking Darkness
They released the demo of the band that initiated the downfall of black metal. Like Opeth, Cannibal Corpse, Meshuggah and Pantera, Cradle of Filth made a name for itself by taking a new style and dumbing it down for an audience that wanted spoon feeding. Notice the idiotic hipster trend of inserting the word “fucking” to make an otherwise recombinant title seem edgy. What you will hear on this lengthy demo is basic deathgrind verses with melodic heavy metal choruses kicked into high speed and aggression with borrowed technique. Oh wait, there are keyboards so you can feel more profound than your friends for listening to such an open-minded band. This entire thing is transparent and shows how from an early date, this band was scheming to make a vapid but “profound” (like dreamcatchers, Ansel Adams posters and Eckhart Tolle) sound. While it is not explicitly terrible it also fails to make any lasting connection to the inner layers of being, like higher brain functions or what we sometimes call a soul.
Ending Quest – The Summoning
In my dream, I was in a vast house by the seaside. In the east wing, the hallway had endless doors. I opened one and immediately recoiled. I was in the retro-Swedish death metal room again! Ending Quest provides a better than average take on the retro style but does not achieve any level of impact such that it must be listened to. Imagine mixing a melodic Necrophobic-style lead rhythm riff into a more rock ‘n’ roll version of Entombed Left Hand Path in the riff department. Then work in elements of the death ‘n’ roll that came a generation later: abrupt cuts, bouncy grooves, relatively standard song format and lots of melodic hooks. The problem is that after a while it starts to sound like sonic wallpaper because it uses roughly the same approach and template to writing each song. Thus what emerges is a dozen songs that feature familiar motifs and all run together into a blur of Swedish-tasting death metal with hard rock undertones.
Final Conflict – Ashes to Ashes
I always enjoyed this late hardcore offering but never found it as hard-hitting as the Cro-Mags, Amebix or Discharge. There’s a good reason: if Descendents decided to make a hardcore, it might sound like this. Riffs fit the patterns of basic California hardcore adapted to the stream of powerchords attack of the Exploited or Cro-Mags. But ultimately, this is melodic punk. Vocal melodies predominate with heavy focus on chorus and riffs work in enough melody to be predominantly hook-driven. Add to this lyrics that span a gamut from radical anarchistic sentiment to mainstream right-wing moderate calls for defense of rights and freedoms, and you sense a movement looking for a purpose. However Final Conflict create an album without filler that hits hard and keeps riding that violent energy which makes this a hardcore album you can appreciate without descending into total alienation. It’s probably a great workout album.
Greenleaf – Trails and Passes
Do they ever tire of peddling the same hackneyed crap? This sounds like early 1960s angry rock, with a heavy MC5 influence. Bluesy, with extended rhythmic breaks and emphasis on a hippie vocal, this band might think they are related to metal but this is purely on the aesthetic basis that they use distortion pedals. Baby Boomers love this stuff because it lets them revisit their ancient pointless youth in the free love and whatever-stupid-shit-you-think-is-OK-man 1960s, but for the rest of us this retro detour is a dead end.
Humut Tabal – The Dark Emperor ov the Shadow Realm
Some of our writers here think highly of the Texas scene but it seems to me that much like Texas itself, the scene there is composed of odds and ends. Such is the case with Humut Tabal who are jack of all trades and master of none. The basis of this album is promising melodic black metal with too much influence from the ersatz article like Watain, but the band know how to write some songs that verge on the beautiful. Then they drop in some idiotic riff straight off a Pantera album and reduce the IQ in the room to Juggalo levels. While their melodic approach, reminiscent of Dawn and Sacramentum, is basically really good, the band overplay it and end up with an album that disappears into its own sound. On the plus side, these songs remain distinctive enough to tell the difference, which suggests this band has the ability to have a bright future if it wants it. But maybe drop the two-word trendy name and the ridiculous “ov” style spelling, get more of a purpose, and stop trying to please everyone at once. You can’t do it because it should never be done.
Mordbrand – Imago
As a genre descends, it improves in attention to details including basic musicality but fails at its center where meaning lies. This Swedish death metal revival band bash out a formula at either fast or slow speeds, but the effect is the same. It is focused on chorus as hook like the later Sodom records and never really develops past having a cool melodic idea for a riff; songs are essentially in standard format and take huge influence from later crustpunk which was by definition formulaic. There are parts of this to admire but the whole adds up to less than the parts.
Steel Prophet – Omniscient
Middle 1980s style speed metal picks up a few stylistic flourishes from power metal but basically stays in the great quest for a catchy chorus that can be backed by lots of muted downstroke strumming. Melodically, it closest resembles Judas Priest but adds some Manowar-like touches. Songs fit more into the rock ‘n’ roll mold of building everything as a support structure for the vocals, and drums, bass and lead guitars generate a backgrond that is too busy to make this anything but the kind of sonic assault waged by a fast-sell commercial. The vocalist exhibits quite a bit of talent and none of the players are bad, but the way they choose to combine this material resembles the frenetic activity at a shopping mall in that for all that it is busy, it never gets anywhere.
Dawn – Nær Solen Gar Niþer For Evogher
This re-issue tempted me but ultimately I have decided it lives in a duality: it has great melodic ideas and riffs, but insists on the type of semi-random songwriting that later became famous with metalcore. Riffs shift into other riffs without any real sense to the arrangement; by rock theory, this is OK since they’re in the same key. But in metal, the riffs talk to each other. Sometimes this band tends to like to bash out fast repetitive melodies on a plodding rhythm until the audience shoots itself. But scattered throughout this album in abundance are good melodic ideas and some really great riff pairs. If the band had worked on song structure and arrangement more, this could have been an A-level black metal album.
When future history is written, either on the scraps of a dead civilization or the new frontiers of a restored one, it may include a mention of Generation X as a precipice between old and new. In 1989, waves of thought were already concentrating on the idea Francis Fukuyama would express a few years later, which was that history was pretty much over and a final human form had been found. Now, the thought ran, we only had to figure out the parts of life that were not government or economics.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure dropped into this fertile climate like a bomb of pleasant discomfiture. Its ostensibly pleasant message resonated with a nation caught in indecision. The 1960s had legitimized every behavior, but lacking the comforting direction of the 1940s, it felt adrift. It was somewhat clear the Cold War was winding down and change would happen soon. It would arrive in a void of purpose that unsettled Americans. We had prosperity, relative peace and working social institutions, but life still echoed with a basic emptiness.
The plot involves two Southern California kids who, coming from unstable families, have decided to chuck everything and be in a hard rock band. Their challenge awaiting them is that, being disengaged from public reality entirely, they are about to fail history and with it, a year of high school, which will lead to their separation and the death of the band. With the help of a visitor from the future (George Carlin) the two set off to explore history in order to learn what school could not teach them.
Science-fiction nerds will note rather cruelly that this movie may have borrowed its basic plot device from a British series of the 1960s, Dr. Who. Where the Doctor ventured in a call box, American time travelers got a phone booth. Otherwise, the devices resemble each other to a great degree. The plot follows a simple course of introducing the dilemma, then a series of essentially short skits involving a mockery of different historical periods, followed by a somewhat complex confrontation between historical characters and the 1989 world and then a pleasant and satisfying conclusion.
It would be a mistake to write this movie off as shallow, however. Bill and Ted are two of the most wounded characters to occupy the screen during the 1980s. Both have shattered family origins, low self-esteem, and are perplexed by a world that seems like commercials projected onto screens behind which people wallow in insecurity, doubt and meaninglessness. As many did during the 1980s, they hide behind idiocy as a way of shielding themselves from expectations. They find adults hard to take seriously because adults are focused on methods and results, but not quality of experience. Bill and Ted delineate themselves as characters by their pursuit of something above what they know as life, starting with actually having purpose, even if they have no idea how to go about it.
They launch into their adventure with a jovial carefree attitude that dramatically contrasts the adults of the day. Where 1980s authority figures are rigid and demanding, Bill and Ted look to the value of a given experience in itself. As they go through history, this makes them able to adapt to many different circumstances from which they borrow historical personages. On being brought to the setting of the movie in San Dimas, CA, these figures interact with modern locals and quickly show themselves to be far more competent than your average citizen of the modern era. This movie makes contemporary people look like blockheads who depend on rules and rigid social order to keep themselves from drifting into oblivion, and quickly show a kinship between Bill, Ted and their historical counterparts: all of them dream not only bigger, but of something better, even when simply pursuing their own pleasures. In contrast to the spraypaint color and fake tans of Southern California, the historical humans are a flash of brightness like lightning.
Most of us will find the ending to this film somewhat cheesy, but there is no way to avoid it with a plot that completes itself with a finite achievement; emotional closure does not occur, so the filmmakers allow us a few moments of comedic absurdity with one exception. Look for psychoanalysis to make an appearance and underline a vital plot point in the final few minutes of the film. As always, this movie shows a clash between Baby Boomers, who grew up in a world with order and assume it still exists, and Bill and Ted — symbols for Generation X — who awoke in a world that made no sense, was vapid and had no sense of its own history.
In undertaking their journey through greatness of the past, Bill and Ted in many ways summarize their own time. It struggled with literal threats like the Wild West, political instability, invasions, religious wars and neurosis, but now returns back to its roots in the Socratic questions about the value in life itself. This alludes to what Fukuyama wrote about, which is the question before humanity: become mere materialists, or rise above? Bill and Ted answer with a resounding Be excellent to each other, a message that resonated with many back at the end of the Cold War in its transformative formula for a quantitative world to improve itself instead of stagnating.
Ara drop into a difficult niche of the metal market, trying to be a fusion between modern metal or “technical death metal” like later Gorguts and contemporary Unique Leader bands who incorporate a mix of old death metal and new deathcore styles. The result causes a necessary re-examination of the difference between death metal and modern metal.
In music, composition can take roughly three approaches which can result in nearly infinite forms. In the first approach, the main urge gratified is the need for repetition and so verse-chorus patterns provide the basis with a possible “ironic” or “bittersweet” contrasting turn-around, transition or bridge. This is the most common song format, which like common tempi and common keys is chosen for the convenience of cognition both by composer and audience. The second approach takes a different view which places form in the control of the song instead of the other way around. In structure dominant songwriting of this type, melody or phrases fit together into a narrative, and this narrative — representative of content — dictates form. The problem with this form is that it is difficult, because each piece must relate to all others, instead of a reduced external standard like merely being in the same key. The third form avoids the problems of the first two by being novelty-based and requiring very little commonality between parts of a song arrangement, and generally arose from the fusion of punk rock and progressive rock, which produced more complex punk rock that often had little relation to its parts beyond rhythm. This brings us to the present time, where the structure-based and novelty-based approaches war it out in metal.
During the 1960s, rock fragmented into multiple forms. One of these, starting with experiments by The Beatles and other big pop acts, was the progressive form in which song arrangement was dictated by the needs of a narrative to the music itself; not surprisingly, many of these works were built around literature, mythology or an intricate story arc of their own. This in turn spawned the most ambitious experiments with structure which came from the space ambient bands like Tangerine Dream who did away with drums and any of the fixed aspects of progressive rock that made their songs at least initially represent standard song form. The parents who bought this material were Baby Boomers, whose music buying years of 18-28 occurred mostly between 1964-1984, and their children — who generally hit maturity from 1984-1994 — were the Generation X musicians who created death metal and black metal, and many of them inherited their parents’ albums, which since underground metal seemed to attract a fairly intelligent crop, represented the more interesting music from the previous generation. Much of the influence of progressive rock and space ambient or cosmic music came through in this generation of metal, much like the influence of aggro-prog bands like King Crimson and Jethro Tull emerged in Black Sabbath the generation before. In addition, the instrumentals from Metallica such as “Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth)” and “Orion” as well as the lengthy “epic” compositions of some late-1970s progressive-tinged heavy metal and guitar rock influenced the new generation. For this reason, when proto-underground metal combined heavy metal with hardcore punk, it also added the type of composition used in progressive rock, from which came the process by which Asphyx calls “riff-glueing” where riffs are mated to each other on the basis of a dialogue between the phrases used in them, discarding harmony as the sole basis of compatibility along with the late-1980s “progressive punk” idea of novelty-based composition. This gave death metal its most unique aspect: prismatic composition, or the ability for riffs to be repeated in successively different contexts, such that each new iteration reveals a new interpretation based on what came before, much as in a poem that uses the same technique with repeated lines like a villanelle. While this is often a relatively minor influence, as with Morbid Angel, it remains an influence on all death metal and the dividing line between it and the imitators.
The most significant influences on Ara look to be the post-Suffocation thread of percussive death metal culminating in Unique Leader bands like Deeds of Flesh through a more complex interpretation of late-90s bands like Internal Bleeding and Dying Fetus, the 2010s interpretation of that as hybrid indie-rock known as “technical death metal” or modern metal, and old school progressive death metal like Gorguts Obscura and Demilich Nespithe. These influence style, not necessarily content, although when bands lose direction they reverse the compositional process and have style determine content, as opposed to the better method of having content select style. Ara show an insight into both riffcraft, or the act of writing riffs themselves, and the type of transitions in song that give meaning to previous riffs by shifting context. Unfortunately, they attempt to make music within the novelty-based style which interrupts itself to provide contrast instead of relying on the inherent contrast produced by such transitional moments. Bassy vocals ride herd on a stream of relatively unrelated riffs, sometimes culminating in a moment of parallax transferrence where a new riff makes the past seem to mean something entirely different, over precision technical drums. Riff forms borrow from “technical death metal,” itself a fusion of post-hardcore and lite jazz with the degraded simplified forms of late-90s death metal, and so a great variety of technique serves as the basis of these riffs, but unfortunately often this makes the riff a function of the technique and not vice-versa. If someone were to give this band good advice, it would be to look to those transitional moments and the riffs that really define each song and make all of the other riffs lead up to and support that moment even through opposing themes, which is a better method of contrast than attempting to shock the ear with radically difference or irony to the previous riff through technique alone. They have clearly mastered technique, as flourishes and fills which show influence from Gorguts and Demilich as well as a host of other metal and non-metal influences reveal, but it is the underlying structure of a song in such a way that evokes meaning which eludes them.
Devourer of Worlds contains a good album waiting to get out, but as it stands now, it forms painful listening because of its internal disorganization and reliance on technique alone. That makes it so much like two aspects of modern society, marketing and ideology, which serve as denial of reality using the mechanism of language and image to convince people that there is a way around the obvious realities of life. One can either focus on reality and deal with its limitations and implications, or look to symbols as a form of reality and manipulate those and then claim the result is the same as one innate to reality itself. All marketing, including advertising and propaganda, and all ideology, which combines prescriptive reasoning with propaganda to make the recipient feel pleasure at the rightness of a decision instead of its likely positive results, fit within this range of form dictating content and not the other way around. If reality is content, the form we should admire is that which fits to reality; when form is content, reality becomes secondary and we retreat into a ghetto of the human mind and forget about implication for what will result. As with all art, in music when the surface becomes predominant over content, it requires the core of each song to simplify itself or become near-random, at which point the work loses any sense of being memorable or meaningful and must content itself with novelty. These songs tend toward circularity, or cycling between two or three ideas which serve as a backdrop for the main action which is expressed through technique. This quandary calls to mind the break between the third and fourth Pestilence albums: Testimony of the Ancients increased the technicality of each song, but this put more emphasis into technique of each riff and less into the riff itself, which caused the band to rely on anchored harmonic positions much as in rock and embellish those with fills, which created relatively static phrases and as a result, simplified songs. On the album that followed, Spheres, Pestilence attempted to correct this with more guitar/synth leads and riffier songs, both returning to their earliest work but still remaining stranded within the simple-core complex-surface approach that the outward-in method of using technique to compose creates.
What makes music great as opposed to passable or adequate for a few weeks’ listening is this ability to both reflect reality and give it meaning by showing a response to it that sings of its strengths and reveals purpose to its weaknesses. All songs are in actuality songs of praise for the existence which we lead, avoiding the reaction of the human being — a type of surface-level form instead of content — and looking toward the effects on our lives as they are. These can take the form of harsh criticism of that which is unrealistic, including methods of control like ideology and advertising, and can even indulge fantasy which is different from reality but reveals it through metaphor, but they rarely include the “Vote for me and all will be perfect forever!” and “This product will make you smart, sexy and successful!” that surface-level thinking promotes. Ara are caught forever between the two and are facing the mortal certainty of choice by which the individual goes down one path to the exclusion of all others, and thus defines their life as surely as death itself, and this buries their strengths among their least auspicious tendencies. While Devourer of Worlds shows vast improvement over 2013’s The Blessed Sleep, its tendencies toward what is called metalcore — which is either a hybrid of death metal and late hardcore, as I argue, or simply incompetent death metal as others have asserted — prevent it from reaching the heights possible for these songwriters.
Adam Bujny – Vocals
Jerry Hauppa – Guitars
James Becker – Bass/Vocals
Erik Stenglein – Drums
Why do most people lead lives of quiet desperation, obeying all that they must do, and then choose boring and pointless music on top of it? Nonsense music flatters the ego and requires nothing of the listener. No person of any quality lives that way, so it’s time to force people upward and not outward, with the sweet tears of poseurs, hipsters, scenesters and tryhards occasioned by these Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Moonblood – Blut and Krieg
When black metal died in 1994, it did so by losing sight of its direction. In art, direction takes the form of something which can be communicated only through metaphor, an idea in formation. In part, black metal had given its ideas to the world and was sitting back to watch them spread, but in another sense, the message — a copy of a copy of a copy at that point — simply got lost as bands imitated the form without the substance of those that inspired them. The Moonblood review exists in the last sentence, since this album represents all that is odious in music: an imitation of the surface configuration and emotional tropes of a genre not only while not understanding what the genre and its founders valued, but without even trying to make coherence out of the noise. Most people like this for the vocals which are like a hybrid between Varathron and old Mayhem, and maybe they enjoy the winding minor key riffs, but the fact remains that these songs go nowhere. They set up a sensation, loop through it, and then end with a convenient exit like a hipster suddenly realizing the people at his party not only do not eat quinoa exclusively, but cannot pronounce “artisanal.” Lack of direction is fortunate for Moonblood since these songs wander when attempting to extend themselves because they have no center and no purpose. It is not surprising that shoegaze took over from this weakened form of black metal because this is directionless atmosphere that apes the past but approaches none of its value or even ability to communicate. In comparison, this is incoherent posing.
Vital Remains – Horrors of Hell
If you see this in a sale or cut-out rack, you will perhaps feel it unjust. But compilations of demos tend to show a learning process, which means they start with the early attempts the band would rather forget (which is why bands tend to put boring covers on demo comps) and slowly work their way up to the ability level and hence material that you are accustomed to hearing. The demo that most are buying this for is “Reduced to Ashes” from 1989 which is the foundation of Vital Remains as a death metal band. This six-song offering shows the nascent death metal genre still emerging from a hybrid of speed metal (Metallica), thrash (DRI) and varied standout influences like Slayer, Sodom and early grindcore. In particular, large parts of this demo sound like they were heavily influenced by Repulsion, from riff style to the tendency to bring songs to a quick peak and then break away to a recapitulation that restates the main theme in coming and going perspectives. Vocals sound like the grim rant of Repulsion with all of its rhythmic power inherited from thrash, rather than the chant of speed metal or the full death metal growl. Riffs could fit on a Possessed or Dark Angel album, generally avoiding the muted down-strum of speed metal but not fully into constant tremolo of death metal, choosing some of the recursive open strumming of heavy metal. Rhythmically however this band does not fit into death metal. As in the first Possessed album, the drummer stays within the speed metal idea of aiming for concrete resolution at the end of each phrase, instead of recognizing that post-Discharge drums follow the guitar and thus must keep a continuous phrase. Although the band clearly knew more music than many of their contemporaries, it’s a stretch to call this “death metal.”
Bloodhunter – Bloodhunter
Imagine the melodic style of At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul that did not attempt to hide its roots in heavy metal and some speed metal, instead of death metal. Bloodhunter has the same strident emo death vocals that At the Gates and The Haunted put to good use, but the underlying music comes from the melodic heavy metal camp with some of the technique of speed metal filtered through power metal. This means for the most part that songs follow the intro-verse-chorus format but that the band will double riffs with a melodic guitar attack and break songs for lengthy solos or other classic heav metal tropes. As a result, this album flows easily and abandons much of the pretense of profundity that flows from the more metalcore offerings, preferring instead to be heavy metal with a few observations of life and a triumphant attitude. Nothing here will surprise the experienced heavy metal listener but most will appreciate its competent musicality and ear for songs that are enjoyable to listen to as well as hard-hitting within the range that this style can achieve. Riff diversity is high, spanning a wide range of tempi and styles including NWOBHM, all updated with the newer approach to rhythm that emphasizes constant forward motion in the speed metal style. Where this band falls down is in trying to distinguish itself with whispered vocals and (excruciating cliche of cliches) a sampled intro from a Tarantino movie. Bloodhunter does best when it sticks to its strengths. This album will not be varied enough internally for death metal fans but should delight power metal and classic heavy metal appreciators.
Sargeist – Satanic Black Devotion
Experienced reviewers wince at tryhard titles like “Satanic Black Devotion” because they indicate advertising, not a coherent statement from the band. Satanic Black Devotion might as well be a can of pureed, processed, sugar and salt added, preservative enhanced black metalTM. Imitating the style of later Gorgoroth and droning melodic black metal like Ancient or Marduk but with the chaotic approach of the first Krieg album, Sargeist is long on vocals and short on song construction. They hit on a few good riffs here and there and deliver those like Christmas presents, then repeat them ad nauseam. Most riffs show a tendency to cycle between symmetrical extremes and so fall into the same boring tropes as later hardcore did. Plenty of sawing guitar adorns this album as do riff patterns from past black metal albums but these are arranged in pleasant repeating rings that do not develop in any particular direction, leading to the listener’s brain grasping a bunch of droning minimalist guitar with an occasional melodic hook. Songs express nothing other than participation, and the inclusion of local band B- riffs alongside more developed ones leads the reviewer to wonder if the band has cribbed its best moments. Several patterns are note-removed from essential parts of Gorgoroth songs, but without the strong buildup, the Christmas riff drops in as a sudden variation and not a culmination or enhancement. This album does better than most because the band keeps the energy high and is smart enough to use the same song structure again and again to present its few powerful riffs, but the result of this randomness is more of what black metal wanted to escape, not create.
Watain – Lawless Darkness
Pretense is the fundamental state of humankind. As apes with linguistic brains, we rage against our impotence and insignificance and come up with poses: “I am important because I am good, smart, rich, sexy, hip, unique, different, wise, etc.” For some, the pretense is more or less accurate. These we call arrogant instead of pretentious. For others, in fact for over 99.98% of humanity, the pretense is merely self-important vaingloriousness backed up by nothing other than some hipster friends, a few possessions, or maybe a claim to fame like having punched out a local celebrity. Watain launched themselves with Rabid Death’s Curse, a pop black metal album in the style of The Other Side from The Abyss which won fans for its simple direct melodic songs. Several albums later, it becomes clear these guys do better giving interviews on metal theory (where they exceed almost all others) than writing music. Lawless Darkness resembles the kids show at the circus where as soon as one act fades another takes its place in relatively random order with the goal being to distract the audience so they eat up more of that popcorn and cotton candy. The album opens with dramatic violin, but then drops into disorganized metal music where riffs are joined through energetic flourishes of drum and Pantera-style bounce riffs. These songs make “sense” in that they follow a basic rhythm but most of what is written here is closer to the technical speed/death riffing of Behemoth than black metal, and none of it serves to build an atmosphere other than constant distraction. It is in fact comically random and empty of message. Presumably the ringmaster coems out and doffs his top hat and juggles live frogs somewhere in here to keep our attention but the music utterly fails to do so.
The Cult of Light – The Cult of Light
Crafted in the style of Meshuggah rather than the metalcore it partially inspired, The Cult of Light creates rhythmic speed metal — similar to Prong, Exodus, Pantera and various proto-prog bands like Anacrusis and Supuration — which installs a jazzy bounce into the speed metal cadence. This approach creates problems in that it makes it difficult to pace together multiple riffs in the speed metal style because the rhythms either conflict or resemble each other too much to distinguish the riffs. On this album, the band chooses instead to have only two major riffs per song but numerous transitions/intros and budget riffs to distract, as if installing turnarounds at each segment of the song before restoring the normal loop order. Vocals are the post-At the Gates rant which aims to complete before the beat and then hold an open-throat growl like a ringing note. Underneath this album lies a heavy metal work pointed toward the art-rock sensibilities that graced the far edge of off-mainstream rock in the 1990s, which means that despite the monotonic growl vocals the aim here is ultimately to set up a dense harmonic space which serves as the hook of the song and provides a space for contrast by other instruments. Unlike most heavy metal bands, The Cult of Light prefer keyboards and what can only be described as aggro-mood-jazz leads which use repeated patterns to serve in more of a lead rhythm guitar role than pure lead. The band builds its songs in layers in order to create spaces for effect, then introduces dramatic changes led by vocals, resulting in a sense of a radio play unfolding before our ears. While this style seems overdone, even on this composition where the need to keep the rigorous bounce and “different” riff styles contorts song structures in several cases, the underlying gentle arty heavy metal is worth appreciating. At the moment of that realization however one begins to wonder why bother with the adornments of style at all, since there is a shortage of arty heavy metal and an audience waiting for it.
Necros Christos – Nine Graves
Southern fried, bluesy rock/metal hybrid with swinging beats and hookish choruses, the new Down album — oh wait, this is Necros Christos. How did this make it into the underground black metal pile? It has deathy vocals but everything else is a slightly sped up version of Pantera but with more dimestore Satanic cult chanting vocals. Some of the chants come straight out of NWOBHM and many of the melodic riffs resemble those from the technical metal period that lumped itself on top of speed metal, calling to mind Anacrusis or DBC. Songs hold up well but basically express nothing but a vague gesture toward a certain type of experience while drinking beer and feeling sleazy somewhere lost in the modern morass. This could easily be a Ratt side project. Musically competent, it nonetheless expresses no greater mood than confusion and a certain type of teenage grimness which could be summarized as “my French fries are cold, and I suffer for it.” The chanting vocals add a certain unreality to the whole thing but evoke more of a sense of Marilyn Manson trying to rile up the apathetic, bored and directionless than the summoning of evil forces. When the band does force radical change in song dynamics or structure it seems more of a transition to a different seat in the same room than a change in how life or the song is viewed. Doubtless reviewers praise this as a fusion of stoner doom and black metal, but what really emerges here is a careful camouflaging of the same old stuff as the latest evil thing, and the real victims here are those who had to listen to this without getting it for free. Ignore trends, focus on structure and meaning in music. Learn from what Necros Christos has failed to apprehend.
Yob – Clearing the Path to Ascend
Someone made Trouble Psalm 9 for idiots, wrapping it up in the 1960s stylings that shows our commercial overlords that we, too, follow the one true path to the light. Because stupidity loves pretense, it contains Cynic-style statements about opening your mind and being a hip groovy 23 skiddoo cat… hasn’t anyone realized this crap is ancient? Other than the periodic death vocals and louder production, this stuff comes to us right from the hippie era. Musically it is not terrible but not terribly interesting either, since it essentially repeats tropes in circularity until ready for a linear withdrawal to equilibrium. The whining vocalist sounds like he is trying too hard to be pacifistic and profound under his patchouli and denim and the riffs fit more in line with jam bands of the 19670s than a heavy metal band. Yob count on the listener being lulled to sleep by the pace and the hypnotically boring vocals so that the person listening forgets what has happened and every riff is new like it fell right out of the sky and exploded. Instead riffs just kind of plod along, barely related to each other, in what might be filler songs on a Bruce Springsteen album if they sped them up and got rid of the posturing. This really has nothing to do with metal but it tries hard to fit in like a bear lost in the coatcheck room. Its pacing and wailing call to mind the albums from Confessor more than the Trouble works, but aesthetically it resembles the early heavy metal doom metal bands like Trouble, Pentagram, and Candlemass but made safe by turning them into warmed-over TV dinner hippie rock. Not surprisingly the music industry gave this a big thumbs up in a nod to the Baby Boomers.
Our minds quickly forget the vapidity of the 1990s amongst the greatest that some bands managed to achieve. In particular, its hangover from the 1980s was so unmemorable that the mind gratefully forgets it. That hangover was the attempt by industry and musicians to cash in on the notoriety of metal and the accessibility of rock by hybridizing the two.
In particular, this appealed to record execs. Why? They were all Baby Boomers. Their world defined itself through a search for the next Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. As a result they found death metal to be totally alien, black metal to be unlistenable, and even most punk to be incomprehensible. Why don’t they just throw in a flute solo?
Straight in the middle of this process Massacra release Sick in 1994. Everything about it screams middle-90s when computer technology hit the point where you really could do just about anything from a desktop, but not quite do it well. Thus everything hit the page in bold colors, funky font tricks, and so on. Looking back, it resembles the 1980s teased hair and bright colored clothing: technological convenience. Similarly, the style of speed metal erupting with Pantera represented technological convenience.
Recording studios finally grokked how to record heavy guitar sounds so that the precision of the muted palm technique could be heard, which encouraged bands to divide aggressive rhythms with internal syncopation and expanding recursion, so that one rhythm broke down into several internal rhythms all of which outlined a “bounce” or offbeat rhythm based on slightly delayed expectation. This mixed funk (arguably the roots of rap), rock and metal into an abomination uniquely suited for dumb obedient tools of the system who wanted to blow off some steam before another shift and another six-pack of watery beer.
Sick represents a higher intelligence approach to this tradition and cites freely from the speed metal world, including the album that almost every intelligent metalhead had in the early 1990s, Prong’s Beg to Differ (which along with Exhorder and Vio-Lence influenced the Pantera sound). The band make conscious attempts to be avant-garde, most of which consist piledriver series of riffs ending in non-distorted semi-classical passages. If you wondered, however, where Meshuggah got their sound starting at this time, Sick seems to be the place. The same polyrhythms, the same use of groove between aggressive passages. Sick came out in May, and None (the first EP where Meshuggah demonstrated its modern technique) in November. Even the production has similar coloring, but this tells you all you need to know the sound here: based on expectation, like dogs chasing laser pointers, lots of bounce, basically rock structures subdivided by a proliferation of related riffs using the same concepts.
Most modern metalheads will experience embarrassment upon hearing this record. Like most fads, the bounce-metal fad experienced only very narrow relevance within a certain time period, and now sounds dated and awkward. Worse still is that a band like Massacra, no matter what their record label thinks, possesses too much talent to successfully chase a trend. What you get instead is something split between the music that they are good at making, and the music that industry wishes they would make (rewarmed Hendrix and Zeppelin, themselves rewarmed blues, itself rewarmed country music, that in turn rewarmed European folk music).
The tragedy is that much of the innovation that late 1990s bands relied upon in connecting together musical passages of this nature came from Sick or the prior release. American fans may forget how influential Massacra was (and is) in Europe, and how many American musicians heard it even when fans couldn’t find it in stores or on MTV (then an important method for mainstream fans of finding metal). Among the riffs that our minds skip over because we have heard the archetype so many times, great riffs populate this album at a 1:3 ratio to the rest. Some of the soloing contains concepts we have not yet heard metal elaborate on, and clearly someone thought hard about how to structure these songs. Musicians might keep Sick around as part of their book of tricks.
As far as a listening experience goes, Sick falls short in the range somewhere between “fru-fru” and “embarrassing.” Most metalheads would not want to be caught dead listening to this album, which sounds like the underground finally adopting how the mainstream saw metal (i.e. angry groovy drunken rock ‘n roll). The irony of course is brutal. By the time 1994 rolled around, Shark Records had fixed its US distribution problems and was able to get a record into just about every store. This meant that American metalheads who had heard tape-traders raving about Massacra for years finally got a chance to buy some and found this turd of an album belching in their faces. This, and the thin production on the first two Massacra albums which bothered American metalheads more than Europeans who liked the mids-centric feel of Bathory’s Blood, Fire, Death, relegated Massacra to a ring outside the inner circle of famous underground metal bands. Hopefully that will change someday, but not through Sick it would seem.