Interview: Omid (Fearless Iranians From Hell)

Some artists like to tell you what to think, and others make you meet them halfway. These provocateurs are both more artistic and more realistic than the others, who are usually using those bold political opinions to mask a lack of direction otherwise. Of the metal-influenced genres to exist, thrash (crossover between hardcore punk and metal) was the most playfull provocative, and of all the thrash bands, the Fearless Iranians From Hell were the arch-jesters of making people think. During their reign in the 1980s, America freshly smarting from the OPEC debacle of the 1970s was convinced its next big enemy was Islamic fundamentalism while at the same time becoming more politically fundamentalist itself; it took some balls to tweak that self-righteous outlook by the nose, and even more to do so by mocking the American vision of democracy, justice and history — by appearing to endorse Islamic fundamentalism from within America’s borders. We were fortunate enough to catch Omid (drums, guitar, art direction, producer, and co-writer of both music and lyrics) while he was cleaning his gold-plated AK-47 in San Antonio, Texas.

Rumor has it that members of the Fearless Iranians From Hell were in an early thrash band called The Marching Plague. Was your interest always in thrash and extreme hardcore, or did you get introduced to music through other genres?

Check out the Texas hardcore compilation that Gibby Haynes (Butthole Surfers) released in the 80’s called Cottage Cheese from the Lips of Death, and the harder-to-find punk compilation on Matako Mazuri Records that Jeff Smith (The Hickoids) released called Metal Moo Cow. You’ll find all of Fearless Iranians From Hell’s members previous bands there: The first Fearless Iranians From Hell line-up consisted of members of The Marching Plague and the future lead guitarist for the band Toejam (on bass). The Fearless Iranians From Hell line-up that recorded for Boner Records was comprised of ex-members of The Marching Plague, The Butthole Surfers, Prenatal Lust, and Toejam.

The members of Fearless Iranians From Hell grew up listening to all kinds of music: pop, punk, synth, industrial, avant-garde, reggae, rap, classical, and especially disco. Many a disco party was held at Fearless Iranians From Hell headquarters. In fact, Fearless Iranians From Hell recorded, but never officially released a disco record called Dance for Allah. It’s pretty hard to find, though there are a few warbly cassette copies of it floating around out there. Although Fearless Iranians From Hell’s guitars are loud and often out of tune, and the vocals are shouted, you can still hear that pop sensibility in the songs.

In politics, we usually hear about The Other of some form or another being a threat to our way of life. Rock music has traditionally grasped for “authenticity” by identifying itself with an other, whether African-Americans, drug users, gender-ambiguous individuals or criminality/gangsters. The Fearless Iranians From Hell seem to have inverted this formula, by embracing a larger-than-life vision of The Other in order to show us more about ourselves. How did you hit on this doubly ironic technique?

We were influenced by The Martial Arts. Seriously. It was a Judo strategy: Turning your enemies’ power against themselves.

How do you feel when you turn on CNN or your favorite news service, and see headlines that could well have come straight from Fearless Iranians From Hell lyrics?

Not suprised, unfortunately. While the band was still together, we had the ultimate punk PR man: The Ayatollah Khomeini. Every time you opened the paper, or turned on the news, there he was, stirring up the shit. World News doubled as advertisments for our band.

You were appearing to endorse the Ayatollah Khomeini, radical Islam and jihad against Americans during the Reagan 1980s in the heart of Texas. How did people react? Were there differences based on their alignment in the political spectrum? Do people still react the same way?

How do you think they reacted? Hahahaha! They HATED us. Especially in the South. The more intelligent people figured out it was political satire, and that what we were doing was ridiculously over-the-top. But we were banking on the more thick-headed ones getting it wrong, being offended, thus drawing more attention to the band. We were attacked by police, protesters, skinheads, right-wing radio hosts, left-wing college boy bands who were too caught up in their seriousness to get what we were doing, gangs, religious organizations, promoters…hell, Fearless Iranians From Hell album covers were even featured in PTA slide-shows portraying the evils of rock ‘n’ roll. Mission accomplished.

Political views varied between our band members, but Fearless Iranians From Hell didn’t have a specific political agenda. We did however have a common creative agenda. We purposefully garbled political rhetoric, so it was confusing to all ends of the spectrum. The band refused to do interviews at the time, which helped further the misinformation and confusion + there was no internet, so it was a lot harder for people to get the facts straight about who we were and where we were coming from.

We eventually went on tour, and did a few radio interviews in ’88 and ’89, and thought we had let the cat out of the bag. However, it appears many have remained uninformed. For instance, just a couple of years ago, some idiot posted a bounty on the heads of the band members on his web page. One of our lawyers had the site removed.

How did the fearless Iranians in your mythos (the world of characters created by your lyrics and cover art) end up being hash-smoking maniacs? Is this part of a satire of American artists who endorse drugs in their music?

The song “Iranian Hash” is a reference to Hassan-i Sabbah, who founded a group known as the Hashshashin. Hassan-i Sabbah was a Persian Nizari Isma’ili missionary who converted a northern Iran community in the late 11th century. Part of his indoctrination technique was to keep his young assassins stoned out of their minds on hashish. Of course, it’s also a jab at Reagan’s “War on Drugs”…a turn-of-the phrase, as the Hashshashin literally went to war on drugs.

You had four releases: a self-titled EP, the Die For Allah LP, Holy War LP and Foolish Americans LP. What were the differences between them, how did they “progress” if at all, and which is your favorite?

The 7″ EP was more mid-tempo punk. Lyrically, it was an almost rap-like introduction to the band, and featured the horrifyingly prophetic “Blow up the Embassy.” The first album, Die For Allah, was like a soundtrack to a movie. Much harder hitting, and faster-paced. The second album, Holy War, was the most raw and explosive. Having played live together for a couple of years at that point, the band were at the top of our game and were pushing everything to its extreme both musically and lyrically.

The third album was more studio-fied, verged on heavy metal at times, and along with the usual outrageous lyrics, contains some “serious” non-tongue-and cheek songs like “A Martyr in Every Home.” The band went into the recording studio knowing it was going to be our last album, planning to break up before we started repeating ourselves. Amir’s Farsi-spoken vocals on the last song, “Decade” were decidedly our final words to the world. No favorites. I look at all the albums as one single body of work, to be listened to in order.

Evolution of life, and the emergence of man, is a natural process in which chance, failure, waste, disorder and death will ultimately prevail. The entire destiny of the upsurge of life and all of its efforts have been enshrouded, from the beginning, by a cloak of “heat-death,” which, one day, will cut off the source of life — the sun. The very air we breathe is drawn from a thin film of atmosphere which hovers precariously over the seas and mountains and praises that have been pushed up for us to stand on.

– Raymond Nogar, The Lord of the Absurd (1966)

In an interview, you talked about an important concept — not “taking music at face value.” Face value, we assume, is what the music projects; are you saying that little in this world matches up to what it projects, or that its actual causes are different than what it tells you are its causes?

Americans, as a whole, have an underdeveloped sense of irony.

How did you get involved in playing and writing music?

We all came from different levels of musical appreciation and education. Our lead guitarist always had to tune our rhythm guitarist’s axe, because he never learned how. But that didn’t matter, because the music we were into at the time favored creative ideas over virtuousity. The Sex Pistols playing in our hometown, San Antonio, and the DIY punk aesthetic are what brought it all together.

How did the members of the Fearless Iranians From Hell meet?

Fearless Iranians From Hell’s first singer, Amir, moved to Texas with his family after the fall of the Shah of Iran, to flee the reign of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Amir made friends with the other outcasts in his American high-school, punk rockers who were in a band called The Plague. The Plague rotated lead vocalists a few times ( Amir may have even been the singer for a show or two ) before settling on a line-up and changing their name to The Marching Plague. The lead singer for The Marching Plague appeared as the voice of Anus Presley on the first Butthole Surfers EP ( the tracks “The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave” and “The Revenge of Anus Presley” ) and, after joking with Amir that he should have his own punk band, wrote the first Fearless Iranians From Hell songs.

The first Fearless Iranians From Hell line-up, comprised mainly of Marching Plague members, would wear ski masks to both enhance the terror-rock concept, and so they could open for The Marching Plague without the audience knowing they were watching the same band twice. This line-up recorded “Burn the Books” for the “Metal Moo Cow” compilation, with Amir on lead vocals. Around this time, The Marching Plague, having released an EP chock full of notorius, made-to-offend lyrics, took an about-face, and influenced by the more positive DC scene, headed in an emo direction. Shortly thereafter, the Marching Plague’s lead singer left the band, devoting his full attention to Fearless Iranians From Hell, calling on ex-members of Prenatal Lust and Toejam to fill out the roles of his ex-bandmates.

Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll magazine’s Tim Yohannan, who hated The Marching Plague’s un-PC lyrics, actually loved the live Fearless Iranians From Hell demo sent to him for review and recommended, “Get thee to a studio, or off with thy hands”. Fearless Iranians From Hell obliged, securing a record deal with the California label, Boner Records, home of Fang, The Melvins, Tales of Terror, etc. Before Fearless Iranians From Hell entered the studio, Amir suggested he be replaced by a more capable lead vocalist. Amir stayed on board as a songwriter, manager, information source, and spokesman. Amir also contributed vocals (the ones that were sung in Farsi) to the 1st and 3rd album. Before recording our debut album, the bassist who played on the Fearless Iranians From Hell 7″ was replaced by the Butthole Surfer’s first bass player.

How do you think our society uses icons like the Ayatollah Khomeini to make us live in fear, how does it benefit from that, and how does using those icons in over-the-top satire (like Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal) change how things are done?

It’s the age-old cult tactic of making people feel that they are in imminent danger. It’s an instrument of control, and an insult to our intelligence. The Ayatollah Khomeini was bad news. No doubt about it. But the danger is in mimicking his behavior in our own free country, villianizing an entire race, and simplifying complex issues into a battle between “good” and “evil.” I’m not quite sure if “A Modest Proposal” or Die For Allah actually changed anything, or if we were just preaching to, and entertaining, the choir. You’ll have to find some Fearless converts out there to answer that one.

Do you feel genre is important, and that specific genres have specific conventions that make them distinct from others? What genre would you identify as that which encloses the Fearless Iranians From Hell? Did you call yourselves skatethrash, thrash, crossover punk or punk hardcore, or something else?

Conforming to a particular genre can be a good starting point…taking advantage of a popular movement to get people’s initial attention, but from that point you have to carve out your own identity, and leave the genre behind. When Fearless Iranians From Hell emerged, the flavor-of-the-day was hardcore punk. It’s arguable that we were an art-rock band, but we definitely wouldn’t have classified ourselves as that at the time.

Though I didn’t consider us skatethrash, half of the band were actually skateboarders, and our record label worked out a deal with Thrasher Magazine where you’d get a free Fearless Iranians From Hell album when you bought a subscription. We thought that was pretty funny: Fearless Iranians coming to America, getting infected by capitalism and selling out. It added to the confusion.

Did thrash music, which is what I’m calling the metal/punk hybrids like DRI and CRYPTIC SLAUGHTER, have its own style and val, ues that were separate from its “ingredients,” both metal and punk?

Living in San Antonio, which is known as “The Heavy Metal Capital of the World”, there was no escaping the influence of Heavy Metal. Being fairly isolated, the Texas punks took whatever info we could get on punk rock and often played it using the Metal musical vocabulary we were raised on, quite often parodying metal at the same time ( as on the Marching Plague EP, “Rock and Roll Asshole”). So it was kind of a love-hate thing.

Early Fearless Iranians From Hell, much like early DRI (circa The Dirty Rotten EP) didn’t have as much an obvious metal influence, but the Judas Priest-style riffing is still there. At the outset of Texas punk, the Punks, the Jocks and the Metalheads were all opposed to each other. I’m not sure if the fusion of the two genres/audiences was a good or bad thing. Maybe a bit of both, as Crossover brought people together, but resulted in a generic, cookie-cutter playing style for many bands.

What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

Funny you should mention that. At the time of the band, I was getting my degree in fine art, and approached Fearless Iranians From Hell as a work of art, so here’s the party line: Art can be entertainment, and entertainment can be art, but ultimately, art serves a greater purpose…well, at least that’s what the artist will tell you!

Do you believe music should be mimetic, or reflect what’s found in life, or ludic, and show a playfulness with life that encourages us to experience it in depth? Do the two ever cross over?

All of the above. Music should have no boundries in purpose, style, or subject matter. No rules.

In one interview, you say your goal is to insult every last person and every nation on earth; what do you hope to achieve with this act?

We did it for our own amusement.

The modern propaganda of commodities and the good life has sanctioned impulse gratification and made it unncessary for the id to apologize for its wishes or disguise their grandiose proportions. But this same propaganda has made failure and loss unsupportable. When it finally occurs to the new Narcissus that he can “live not only without fame but without self, live and die without ever having had one’s fellows conscious of the microscopic space one occupies upon this planet,” he experiences this discovery not merely as a disappointment but as a shattering blow to his sense of selfhood. “The thought almost overcame me,” Exley writes, “and I could not dwell upon it without becoming unutterably depressed.

– Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (1979)

Should people be less ready to get offended? Are you trying to innoculate them against being offended?

Good point. Maybe so. Perhaps people should become more aware of their “buttons,” and how easily they can be pushed, so they won’t be manipulated by the button pushers.

Do you think Muslims and Westerners share any values, and are they misunderstanding each other? Is fundamentalism more of a religion than the specific religion it inhabits, or is it just another way of saying “conservative interpretation”?

Though there are obvious differences, I think we share more values than we’re often led to believe, however, it is convenient for many, particularly those seeking some kind of power, to perpetuate our misunderstanding of each other.

Did you ever study music theory or take lessons? Did this help you or slow you down in achieving your musical goals?

Our lead guitarist was taking Music Theory in college at the time. I had some formal training on guitar, but was a self-taught drummer. Our singer had piano training. The rest of the band were 100% self-taught. Since Fearless Iranians From Hell had both trained and self-taught musicians, there was always a tug-of-war between being a bit brainy, and keeping it simple. I think that yielded interesting results. Our basic concept was that any kid who picked up a guitar for the first time should be able to bang out one of our songs. The idea being that if you could play one of our songs on your guitar, you instantly related to our band, and felt like an insider.

Some have said that rock music is about individualism, or escaping the rules of society and nature to do whatever the individual wants to do. However, some have also said that heavy metal breaks with that tradition with its “epic” and impersonal view of life. Where do you fit on the scale?

Our goal was to tip the scale over on both sides.

Will Fearless Iranians From Hell ever re-unite to play shows, tour or write more material?

Do we really need to re-unite? I’ve received emails from several modern punk groups with 100% Iranian-American membership who claim that we inspired them to start their own hardcore bands. Some of them even cover our songs. But, hey…you never know! We’ve been offered some pretty good money to re-unite, but at the moment, we really don’t need the money. We’ve become business owners (you’d NEVER guess which businesses), teachers (That’s right, PTA, the Fearless Iranians From Hell have now infiltrated your educational system and are directly influencing YOUR children), and doctors (hey, our lyrics still hold true: Your life IS in our hands!).

Personally, I’m not a big fan of reunions. Especially punk band reunions. Who wants to see a punk “oldies-but-goodies show”? To me, it’s a contradiction of the punk aesthetic. Reunions are for bands like The Eagles. Fearless Iranians From Hell are a band from a certain time of history, about a certain time of history, but as you hinted at earlier, history keeps repeating itself, so our albums are still relevant today. Maybe even moreso than when they came out. Also, even though they deal with serious subject matter, the records have a sense of humor, and that has kept fans coming back to them over the years, as well as creating new fans.

Are you going to release the Fearless Iranians From Hell EP as well? Will the compilation of the 3 LPs stay in print?

Although Boner Records has not been putting out any new albums by new artists, it has continued to re-issue several of its top-sellers, so our first three albums can still be purchased on CD. For how long? — I guess as long as they keep selling. All three albums and the Fearless Iranians From Hell EP can be purchased in MP3 format from iTunes, etc. Also an album of Fearless Iranians From Hell demos and outtakes called Peace Through Power has just been released, and is now available from CD Baby and iTunes. Although there’s no talk of writing or recording any new material at the moment, there have been discussions about starting up an official Fearless Iranians From Hell website and selling t-shirts and other merch online.

Any plans to write books or articles about your experiences as the Fearless Iranians From Hell?

We’re being approached more and more often these days about doing interviews and telling our story, so who knows, if there’s enough interest maybe someday there’ll be an “I Was a Fearless Iranian” tell-all book…available at Wal-Mart! Stranger things have happened.

Open your chest welcoming death in the path of God and utter your prayer seconds before you go to your target. Let your last words be, “There is no God but God and Mohammad is His messenger.” Then, inshallah, you will be in heavens.

– Osama bin Laden

We are grateful to the Fearless Iranians From Hell for this interview. From the internet archives, we’ve pulled fragments of other interviews to keep alive the spirit of this iconic band. The text of those interviews follows.

SOUNDS magazine April 23, 1988

“Sam King talks terrorism with hardcore fanatics, FEARLESS IRANIANS FROM HELL”

The pop prophets of Fleet Street, ever anxious for a true story, appear to have found a new bete noire.

Fearless Iranians From Hell, an aggressive American hardcore band from San Antonio, are the latest victims of the Street’s pop pundits, having tastefully titled their debut LP “Die For Allah” and released it just in time for the recent hijack.

The band aren’t doing themselves any favours. Song titles include the title track, ‘Ultraviolence’, and ‘Blow Up The Embassy’. Lyrically, too, it’s hot, with lines like, “You will see that terrorism is the key” and “I’m going to hijack a plane / Won’t do it for glory or fame / when they catch me they’ll say I’m insane.”

Are FIFH provocateurs or just plain insensitive? Amir Mamori, an Iranian exile and the band’s singer, explains

“We want to show the Americans just how foolish they are. They want to see Iranians in a specific way and we’re taking their bigotry and stupidity and spitting it back in their faces.

“We may inadvertently be doing a lot of harm to the image of ordinary Iranians, by sticking so closely to the American stereotypical vision of them, but I’m not that worried. I have higher goals to consider.”

Do you feel driven to this?

“Definitely, I’m driven in the sense that there are points which I have to make. The funny thing is that people seem to think that we’re not really serious. In fact, we could hardly be more serious. At the moment there’s no bigotry in America that comes close to their feelings about Iran. Americans can’t understand or cope with the Iranian fanaticism and so they’re afraid of it.”

What about lines like “Terrorism is the key”?

“I don’t think terrorism is the answer, but I would say that I think it goes on on both sides. Innocent people are killed all the time.

“But if all people believe that all Iranians are beasts, then we will give them their ridiculous stereotypes and sit back and watch them make fools of themselves.”

NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS magazine April 30, 1988

“Gulf Balls”

NME kinda wondered if there’s anything you can do to help us with regard to Mr Terry Waite’s continued captivity in the Lebanon?

“I suppose”, muses the slightly foreign accent across the transatlantic phone-static, “We could do a benefit gig for him…in Beirut.”

Whaaaat??

Something’s gone sadly awry here. I rang Amir (main mullah of San Antonio’s FEARLESS IRANIANS FROM HELL) fully expecting to be scorched by a Koran – crazed, hostage eating psycho-child of the Ayatollah – and now the bugger’s gurgling about bloody charity shows!…

The source of this confusion is the Fearless Iranians’ LP which Big Takeover Records have just released on an unsuspecting Europe. Its cover is dominated by the glowering features of the Khomeini-monster and the unambiguous command / title ‘Die For Allah’.

The record itself — a procession of hardcore grunges with names like ‘Deathwish’, ‘Iranians On Bikes’, ‘Ultraviolence’ and ‘Blow Up The Embassy’ — crystallizes the worst nightmares of Ronnie’s America; wave upon relentless wave of death-defying Iranians traversing the USA (on bikes and in “Turbo Trans-Ams”), exploding in a ceaseless orgy of fanatical hatred and terrorism. It’s both mad and hilarious.

Could these guys, I trembled after a single hearing, be serious? Amir, Iran-born but US-educated, hoses down my wilder imaginings:

“Our stuff is not to be taken at face value. It’s designed to let an audience react in the predictable ways, to make fools of themselves.”

So you’re not the mad-eyed blood-caked Yank-slayers suggested by the record? Not even a teeny bit?

“No, not at all. We love what we do, but we don’t take it too seriously.”

Other people, however, most certainly do. A brief over-the-phone recitation of some of some of the choicer Fearless Iranian lyrics ( “Nuke the people / Kill’em dead / Come on, Ronnie / Give me head !” ) elicited a frothing reaction from Tory MP Harry Greenway : “They’re sick!…It’s an obscenity!…We don’t want them spreading their filth in Britain…”

Same story with something called the National Movement Of The Iranian Resistance: “To find a so-called pop group promoting terrorism is just appalling and revolting. If they were ever allowed into this country, we’d seriously consider picketing concert venues.”

Amir sniggers sheepishly down the phone: “So it sticks up people’s ass – that’s good. We have trouble over here, too – Americans are just so stupid. The Marine-types think we’re insulting their country and their president: the liberals think we’re insulting Iranians!”

So what’s the point of it all?

“Our ultimate aim is to insult every last person, and nation, in the world.”

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Black Flames of Blasphemy VI review

bflames 6
Review by “Blackcat”

A swirling miasma of ethanol greeted us upon the last Black Flames of Blasphemy, a festival held this past November in the picture perfect setting of Helsinki. The night before the scheduled Warmup event, I flew into town and made a beeline for Bar PRKL, a space named for the Finnish profanity likely exposed to most readers of this site from the comedy album released by the quirky Impaled Nazarene.

Those of us who live in less utopian societies than Finland often wonder why the idyllic nations in this area are able to produce such incredible music. “Finnish people can’t admit that they have goodness,” chuckled ApeX lead guitarist Arttu, an incredibly young thrash band who were in the process of violating the few revelers in attendance at PRKL that night. Indeed, as such documentaries as Until the Light Takes Us strove to illustrate, perfection has cast a pall on everything in much of the remaining non-disintegrating portions of the globe. It is almost as if the human condition is predisposed to strife, and that ostensibly perfect societies lead the average citizen to turn to perversion to bring balance into life – thus possibly explaining why places like Germany and Japan end up with penchants for coprophilia and bestiality.

Also present at PRKL were two members of Sammath, who descended upon Helsinki specifically for a dose of damage to tympanic membranes and liver. Hundreds of euros worth of alcohol consumed before the festival even started explains the reduced quality of the writing herein. Any complaints may be directed towards those two for rendering me quasi-unable to write let alone think. The fact that the screed was written on a tortured local keyboard and the reviewer is used to a U.S. issued one didn’t help a whit either.

We older, more cynical types were delighted to find youth as enthusiastic about all things metal as ApeX, and though 17 year olds themselves were unusual in their devotion, Helsinki was remarkable for having metal and punk culture literally everywhere one went. Taxis, restaurants, public toilets, airport shuttles and hotels all had a notably worthwhile theme of fine harder music. This trend did display its cellulitic underbelly in billboards featuring nerdwank outfit, Nightwish, hawking air-brushed, wet-dream-inducing Caucasian female thighs and an exorbitantly expensive line of bling suitable for teenagers in wealthy northern countries with too much pocket money for their age.

But I digress. Our focus should be on the festival, and that was one thing that the festival organizers seemed to have done quite well over the years. Black Flames of Blasphemy has been a fairly well attended sub-underground festival, running on and off for the last six years. The early years were vomited forth in a now rededicated cathedral in central Helsinki, and whilst the festival has moved on to less atmospheric surrounds, the organizers’ devotion to only the most rabidly necrotic bands is no small feat. Originally launched by Kold Reso Kult, the festival seems to have taken on a raison d’etre of its own over the years and drawn numerous acts known for playing a very limited number of shows such as Antaeus and Blasphemy. The scarcity of many of the acts led to a non-trite sense of novelty that led to a triangulated feeling somewhere between reverence, arrogance and pride for having been one of the few to have seen such veritable narwhals of the musical world.

This year was allegedly the last, and whilst threats of this sort are often made in the world of underground metal (only 120 copies to be made in hymen blood, and then no more ever again NO CORE, NO TRENDS, . . . until we release it in vinyl again in a few months on an even more ridiculously limited run), there seemed to be little threat that the crowd did not lend it a credence as evidenced by the flagrant hedonism on display at virtually every level of the setting. Nosturi, as the venue was called, must have some connection to vile ‘rhoidrock band HIM, as their logo appears in the lighting-rig and several other locations in the building; but detestable associations aside, the venue was actually quite accommodating.

The "HIM" logo, allegedly tattoo'ed on Steve-O

This tattoo is not completely and utterly unrelated to the HIM logo.

The staff at Nosturi were kind and courteous, putting up with the sort of reprehensible behavior that one would expect from a down syndrome five-year-old on amphetamines. Indeed, this seemed to be true for most Helsinkians, who were never seen to act heavy-handedly despite the questionable behavior of many of our associates. The drinks were of course ridiculously expensive, as are all things in Finland, (3 euro for the coatroom, 1 euro to retrieve said coat!?!?) but that did not stop the cohort from literally drinking the place into oblivion every single bloody evening.

Black Flames of Blasphemy VI should be noted to have featured the most solid lineup in the history of the festival. Indeed, more than a few have been solidly praised on this site amongst others for their solid contributions to the overall gestalt of extreme metal achievement in the prime years of the scene. Still, it was uneven. As has been reiterated time and again on this site, 99% of metal is absolute shit, and bands like Blackwinged embodied the nadir of human endeavor. The silver lining to this is that more time was made for sightseeing / mind abusing opportunities.

On then to the reviews as they were penned by this reviewer in the classic manner: via sweat, ink and beer soaked notebook clutched between pumping fists, and the contributions of the stalwart brood of iniquitous, abusive pundits who wandered in and out of the fuzzy borders of the violence ringing in his ears.

DAY 1: WARMUP – Grunt / Bizarre Uproar / Ride for Revenge / Obscure Burial / Deströyer 666

Grunt

Grunt in concert

Grunt: Said to be a side project of Clandestine Blaze / Northern Heritage sociopath, Mikko Aspa, Grunt kicked off the “Warmup” to the festival by doing quite the opposite. Monotonous, repetitive pulses punctuated by amateur feedback made me wonder why people are still drawn to artrock. Images of highly disturbing matter lent the show a more tolerable air, but pudgy white guys in bondage masks barking at random made me conscious of guarding my asshole too much to enjoy the show. Over all, Grunt in concert were a bit like listening to your fey roommate having an orgy whilst listening to Godflesh on a broken turntable next door. The playing of the belt sander on the thunder machine was an interesting flare, but with all due respect, Mr. Aspa should keep his day job.

Bizarre Uproar

Bizarre Uproar

Bizarre Uproar: Seems like Grunt just changed into their street clothes and got fatter. A Dutchman near me noted that this band gave him earAIDS. This drove us back to the bar as it wasn’t nearly so interesting as twenty well executed shots of salmiakki licorice alcohol. Cirrhosis is always preferable to aural loss. Look not for the successors to the great Throbbing Gristle here.

Ride for Revenge

Ride for Revenge

Ride For Revenge: Repetitive, sludgy, and coming off like Goatlord, but not quite as inspired, RfR still brought the focus of the show more firmly in a metal direction. The band’s stage presence was directionless, and at times reminiscent of one of those hunting dioramas at a second rate sporting goods store.

Obscure Burial: The writing in my notebook point is smeared by unknown fluids for this act. What is legible bleeds through as follows: “A triple barbed fishhook – much more focused than any other band thus far. An Australian nearby wrote this:

“We walked up to the upstairs area and there were cocks everywhere. It was gay as shit! It was like listening to Kreator in 99! Fuck that shit.”

Another picture of Ride for Revenge, if you're into that sort of thing.

Another picture of Ride for Revenge, in case you’re into that sort of thing.

This was followed by multiple images of genitalia with wings.

Deströyer 666

Deströyer 666

Deströyer 666: Maligned in some quadrants for playing in a thrashy, hook-flaying style that may have contributed to the formation of “war metal,” and in others for K.K. Warslut’s obnoxious attitude, Deströyer 666 were a true joy to behold. Filled out by an entirely new band, K.K. and the boys managed to finally shake the torpid audience out of their inertia. Tracks such as the shocking “Raped” gave the listener the same queasy pleasure that one derives from listening to the Fearless Iranians from Hell’s “Blow up the Embassy.” “I am the Wargod,” and “Black City,” were played with more chin-jutted pride and beauty than on the vinyl, whilst the ethereal “Trialed by Fire” raised the hair on necks and the spirits of the dejected. Deströyer even launched a kerosene-soaked rendition of Motörhead’s “Iron Fist,” tipping their chrome-studded hats to Phil “Philthy” Taylor’s passing earlier in the day. All in all, Deströyer 666 certainly made showing up to the festival a night early well worth it, purging our ears of much of the fluff which preceded them.

Day 2: FRIDAY 13th – Blackwinged / Vampire / Hell Militia / Xibalba / Mayhemic Truth / Midnight / Blasphemy

Blackwinged: Guest reviewer – Vlad, Russian virus and vodka enthusiast, and general psychopath: “Blackwinged? FUCK THEM ALL! Suck my fucking wrinkled dick.” It may be said that they weren’t a favorite amongst the crowd.

Vampire

Vampire

Vampire: Concho belted, pretty boy Aerosmith antics of the lead vocalist Command aside, it has to be said that Vampire were one of the big surprises of the show. With an approach akin to Kreator’s “Extreme Aggression,” Vampire managed to transcend the Italian horror-film shtick of their stage set, album art and, yes, band name to actually convey the attraction of mortification. Although I was unfamiliar with the tracks, the music whelmed in a not untasteful rock format that seared themes presumably of the undead into the conscious. Channeling Riccardo Freda in the best ways possible, Vampire delivered an entertaining show that was only slightly marred by the less-cocksure presence of the string section.

Hell Militia: 666 – no report – 666

Xiblaba

Xibalba (Editor’s note: It’s a toss-up as to whether “Sac Ibteelob Cab” or “Sign of Eastern War” is the better song. One of the more trivial debates in this world, though.)

Xibalba: Undeniably shitty drum solos and crude corpse-paint aside, Xibalba stood as one of the zeniths of the festival. These heroes of the second wave of black metal came on with a garage band sincerity that outshone the more highly polished acts throughout the rest of the evening. Thank Satan for this eager aural feast! Tracks like “Sign of Eastern War” and “Sac Ibteeloob Cab” were executed with a grim clarity that were occasionally missed on the original disc. Young new band members injected an off-kilter virility into the music that is essential for such an ambitious project.

Mayhemic Truth: Best known for changing monikers as often as John “Cougar” Mellancamp, and for many of the same shitty dishonest reasons, Morrigan were cut from the same overrated Kraut-tripe, kvlt-as-fvck cheesecloth as their vacuous countrymen Moonblood. In the 90s before MP3s made the obscure-kvlt fad obsolete, I was of the brood vainly attempting to find releases by this act . . . only to be astonished by how over-hyped they were when I finally heard them. Jeffemic Truthship did not fail to disappoint by disappointing with hackneyed black metal cliché after hackneyed black metal cliché. Stay obscure, White Stripes of kvltmetal, so that the rest of us don’t have to hear your sorry excuse for music.

Midnight: This reviewer was looking forward to some sort of decent blackened speed akin to Sodom, and was bouncing off the walls for some old school headbanging. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much impressed, so gave the job of review again to the ruthless peanut gallery around me: “nice thrash. ßit’s not, so fk off! Cheap ass trash. Fucking bollocks!!! Boring. It’s not even midnight assholes. They started at 11:45 – midnight my arse!! Midshite!!”

Blasphemy performs?

Blasphemy performs?

Blasphemy: Blasphemy’s terrifying Cro-Magnon antics delineated why the genre of black metal flourished for one brief, outstanding moment back at the fall of the Soviet Empire. The Canadian masters of knuckle-dragging avant-garde horror imprecisely dissected the audience as a claw hammer muddles and pulverizes the veiny membranes of a victim’s genitals. While the Ross Bay maniacs may never have quite reached the spacey brilliance of their Finnish protégés, Beherit, the “organized chaos” of their technique was matched that night only by the gunfire lighting up stadiums in Paris 2,000 kms away. Tracks such as “Goddess of Perversity” were executed with an intensity reminiscent of some of the more hyperactive Discharge tracks, and intros were faithfully inserted without a hint of humor. Photos attempted at short range during this show mostly consisted of purple blurs and the back of brutarian ham-hock elbows. The show also illustrated again why Blasphemy have only ever put out two real efforts (yes, I know that there are technically three, but come on – they’re basically fifteen minute punk affairs). The band made their contracted dynamo statement of grunted, jack-booted hate in a blood-clot of chains, crudely applied paint and beer-gutted belches. After forty insanely punishing minutes, the Helsinki authorities carted them off to their respective cells in solitary confinement where they belong.

Blasphemy performing, this time with a more competent photo.

Blasphemy performing, this time with a more competent photo.

DAY 3: Satanic Warmaster / Infernal War / Irkallian Oracle / Funeral Winds / Goat Semen / Varathron / Mysticum

Satanic Warmaster: Written by a drunk Finn: HAISTA VITTU VITUN HUORA KUSIPĀĀ, IME MUNAA JA KUOLE! SAATANA LLINEN SOTA HERRA NY LOPPU SAHTI. PRIEKĀ, NO LATVIHAE. LAI TEV LABA DZIVE PRIEKS TEVI SATIKT. Actually, those last couple of phrases might be in Latvian.

Infernal War: 666 – No report – 666

Ikrallian

Ikrallian Oracle. Check out the tambourine.

Irkallian Oracle: I really wanted to hate this band. They are so phenomenally over the top. A bunch of ring-wraiths holding sparkly tambourines and bells. Faces masked by silver sheets. The kind of accouterments and flashy hocus-pocus that one would expect from a second-rate Ed Wood movie. And yet, the band was enigmatic. Themes held together throughout the whole concept of a track, cycling back from start to finish to start again, alpha and omega encompassing a solid core. The mystery behind the act was far more compelling than with more gimmicky acts that have been abused on these pages. This band is what GHOST wishes it was. I will be interested to pick up the album to see whether the whole disc sounds as good as it did live.

Funeral Winds: See: Mayhemic Truth. Or just about any Xerox copy black metal.

Goat Semen: Came off as a kind of second rate bully boy Blasphemy. Sure, they have cleaner riffs from time to time, but do they convey the same core of absolute spinning disgust and pummeling loathing? Perhaps it’s just that Blasphemy are so much more familiar from having been played time and again . . . or that they developed this genre, and that anything else emulating it is just that: a plastic reproduction, no matter how faithfully copied.

More Blasphemy. This time, their crumpled setlist.

More Blasphemy. This time, their crumpled set list.

Varathron: For almost three decades these innovative masters of crawling necrotic horror have forged timeless odes to their Hellenic ancestors. Rivaled in their excellence and originality in Greece perhaps only by the great Necromantia, Varathron have been criminally overlooked by basement-dwelling pseudonymed fanboys more interested in the likes of obscure releases by Moëvöt than incredibly well developed music that perfectly emotes the Dionysian strophe and anti-strophe of ancient cultic form. Varathron took the stage with more presence than could have been imagined from some of the cheesier rock mantras that they fell prey to in the early 2000s, and launched into a barrage of tracks from across their storied career. Recent(ish) drummer Haris is an amazing addition to the band, and one that this reviewer wishes had been present on classics such as “His Majesty at the Swamp,” which suffered from drummachineitis. Guitarist Achilleas decimated the audience much like his warrior-hero namesake, along with twin slayer in savagery Sotiris and recently added bassist, Stratos. Varathron reached their climax with the amazing “Kabalistic Invocation of Solomon,” where band high priest Necroabyssius read from Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, in a huge tome edition, green lights all ablaze, magnificence all ablaze. Incidentally, the entire band are really nice blokes too.

We at DMU like Varathron too. Even their new stuff has merit.

We at DMU like Varathron too. Even their new stuff has merit.

Toxicology report: Mysticum: *Journalist’s disclaimer – order of events may have played out slightly differently than reported – notes were not taken during the actual performance, but recalled from cottony memory* Twin streams of quicksilver lashed the crowd as the techno triumvirate of Cerastes, Prime Evil, and Dr. Best took to the stage. Nineteen years elapsed since this dystopian nightmare last synthesized an audience into freebased crystallized human waste. I had grave doubts about whether this band would be anything interesting live. Idols are often deflating in situ, and although their demos and first album were good, the production levels often made the backtrack sound like bubble paper being stomped on by Japanese girls in platforms. All fears were allayed as the thumping horror of “Black Magic Mushrooms” battered the audience and surreal monochromatic strobewar of lights blistered our retinas. The light show and visuals were truly unique throughout a performance interestingly heavy on tracks from the new “Planet Satan” release, including “Lucifer in the Sky with Demons,” “All Must End,” and my personal favorite, “The Ether.” On the screen, forms morphed from chemical compounds of LSD and other intoxicants, to Nazi soldiers, to skulls and swirling maelstroms of insanity. A paralyzing early intermezzo left the crowd confused and disoriented, after which “Crypt of Fear’s” ominous intro shook them into hysteria. Mysticum left no room for error: they are back to stay, and dominate. 100% pure satanic peyote!

Epilogue: Starting at a flat line

The shuttle bus at the airport is rooted to the ground. Won’t move anywhere. The heater is up way too high. I’m roasting in morkkis, a Finnish term for a kind of hideous hangover defined by creeping dread and a sense of, well, mortification. One poor soul we interviewed might best sum up the atmosphere of the entire festival. He was hobbling around on crutches. When asked what transpired, he confided that early on in the show, he and some colleagues had taken a few doses of LSD. Having come down into a troubled, drug addled sleep he was jolted awake by a fellow reveler, who had hallucinated that the police were raiding their dwelling. His immediate reaction was to jump from the upper story window down to a painful and humiliating full stop below. Morkkis. The human condition is low indeed. Yet I am buoyed by the knowledge that even if most of what moved this reporter was music penned two decades ago, it was a zenith of human achievement, and which could have only been commemorated by the bacchanalian Black Flames of Blasphemy.

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5 thrash albums that you must hear

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Image from Thrasher Magazine.

Thrasher music deserves its own category. It spans three genres and gave its name to one. It also plays by entirely distinct rules that place it in both metal and punk camps, but not exclusively in either. Despite the attempts of both genres to claim it, it has weaseled free by refusing to fully adopt the conventions of either. It’s too punk for punk and too metal to be metal, but it lives on to this day through those who want a different path.

Hop on your board and skate back into 1985. Heart of the Reagan years, themselves a recovery period from the turbulent 1960s and somewhat crass and vapid 1970s. The suburbs had finally outpaced the city as everyone who could escape fled, which left millions of teenagers stranded in planned communities that were essentially marooned on anonymous patches of land connected by freeways. Divorce and latch-key kids were at epidemic height and most people barely had anything to call a family. To make things worse, Soviet missiles threatened the homeland and spread a kind of daily paranoia that people both accepted and in their quietest moments, feared to confront. No one knew if tomorrow would even come and if it did, whether it would be worth it.

Kids did what just about anyone would do: get out of the house, escape the conformist collective-consciousness zombie robot schools, avoid the television, and produce culture. Skateboards started as a fad but became a lifestyle because they provided a means of getting around, an activity, and most importantly, a type of place the activity could occur. Even more vitally they gave kids an identity and purpose outside of mainstream culture which as far as anyone could tell was a vapid disaster. Cyndi Lauper? Madonna? Bruce Springsteen? Music connected this culture but it evolved to fit it instead of the other way around. Thrasher music took its attributes from the thrasher lifestyle.

The one sin in thrasher culture was to fall into mainstream thinking. It defined itself in opposition to that entire vein of thought. Thrashers made the assumption that if someone with a position in society validated an idea, the idea was manipulation. This paranoia arose from disciplinarian schools, crafty public image creation by parents during divorces, and distrust of the kind of promises that advertised the suburbs. “Come to Shady Acres,” the sign would say, and you would find a house that was on nothing as big as an acre with no shade because all the trees had been planted during the last week when construction finished. And then your parents who spent too much time at their jobs would make all sorts of great promises about how school would be great, other kids would be great, and then those parents would disappear into jobs, divorces, swingers’ clubs, you name it, and you would be left alone. With nothing but your skateboard. Jump on and roll away… and never trust anything like those promises again.

Thrasher culture shaped the lyrics of its music. They show most of all a critique of a society that does not function. Imagine a broken microwave: you turn it on, and it flickers and makes noise but doesn’t really heat your food, or burns it to a crisp within ten seconds, or roasts the center and leaves the outside cold. This was the impression thrasher kids had of the society around them. It was on, but it was not working in the sense designed. Even worse, parents were oblivious and drugged on religion and money and social prestige and refused to notice at all when society didn’t work. Kids had to re-invent politics, society and philosophy from the ground up, and it had to fit between turns on the half-pipe.

While arguably the first music adopted by thrashers was punk, including a latent influence from the surf rock that may have inspired punk, and bands like Iron Maiden were perpetual favorites, the fusion of the three burst forth in the early 1980s as a genre called thrash. Avoiding dramatic titles like “5 thrash bands you must hear before you die,” where “die” could be defined as feeling that your job is more important than your soul, here are five thrash bands you must experience simply because they are amazing:

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1. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI) – Dealing With It

This album despite being the second release by DRI defined the archetypal thrash sound. Short songs used punk tempi and metal riffs, fit their song structures around the words to the song, worked in some oi/surf rock lead guitars, but mostly focused on raging bursts of concise energy. DRI packed a bookshelf worth of ideas into a single album which meant that if you were a kid with a skateboard and ten bucks a week to your name, this was the album you saved up for. In addition, DRI expanded the lyrical oeuvre of thrash to include not just “socially conscious” lyrics but lyrics critical of society itself, including the process of socializing with other people. These lyrics struck out for the lone Nietzschean person isolated from the herd by the complete vapidity and deceitfulness of mainstream tastes. In addition, DRI rebelled — using metal bands such as Iron Maiden as its guide — against the punk tendency to destroy melody. Both vocals and guitars carry an actual tune which combined with the unique rhythms and song structures makes each song stand out but also, makes the whole album work together. Some songs had nothing more to offer than 18 seconds of fury, others stitch a mood, and the whole of Dealing With It thus becomes a map of the emotions of a skater trying to survive the 1980s while observing that society was in a state of advanced collapse and headed for the end.

cryptic_slaughter-convicted

2. Cryptic Slaughter – Convicted

Convicted got less attention than it should have because of its rough production and refusal to stick to any one template. Riffs on this album range from raw punk to death metal, which is sort of difficult because that genre was barely in formation itself in 1985 when this was released. Songs follow more of a punk template and vary structure less often which makes this band shy over toward punk, but use of vocal rhythms and inventive riffing distinguishes each. Many of the concepts of the next decade of death metal came from this album as well as most of grindcore. The ragged intensity of its vocal and guitar assault made Cryptic Slaughter the fastest band on the planet, and while it leaned toward punk, its ability to make metal-style riffs that thundered with finality pushed it into the thrash genre.

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3. Corrosion of Conformity (COC) – Eye for an Eye + Six Songs With Mike Singing

Arguably the most popular band in thrash, Corrosion of Conformity combined Black Sabbath and hardcore punk and came up with short attacks of creative songwriting that used traditional pieces from both heavy metal and hardcore punk genres. Every thrasher back in the day owned the tshirt with the COC alien skull on it and combined with DRI, this band essentially defined the genre. Songs are tiny atmosphere pieces that use punk energy and abrupt delivery to sneak in metal riffs and bounding punk choruses. Unlike punks however COC strayed into the minor key and chromatic world of metal where energy is crushed and turned into dark opposition instead of keeping the last aspects of rock ‘n’ roll’s happy-go-lucky “good times” sound. Inside of the anthemic punk with metal riffing on this album lurks a deep inner despair for society and self that made Eye for an Eye the more melancholic and existential side of thrash.

fearless_iranians_from_hell-die_for_allah

4. Fearless Iranians From Hell – Die For Allah

Not as many people heard of this band because in the 1980s, when Beirut embassies exploded and the Iranian hostage situation was fresh in many minds, adopting even a satyrical pro-Iranian position struck most people as going too far, like endorsing Hitler or Stalin. Combining this potent imagery with marijuana humor and cynicism about the American war and money machine, Fearless Iranians From Hell bashed out fast punkish songs with metallic riffing that emphasized a constant turbulent, restless energy. In that way, this band put their finger on the utter abyss fermenting beneath the world of laws, dollars, numbers and hard data. This revealed the conflict between a culture of goody two-shoes and the underlying desire to put things right according to some absolute law not based in what suburban parents used to allay their fears. The humorous aspect of this band caused many to neglect the fusion of late hardcore and indie metal that powered this band.

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5. Dead Horse – Horsecore

Another band that at first got little airplay, Dead Horse emerged in the late 1980s and got enmired in the Texas metal scene which tended to reward those who scratched everyone else’s back even if their bands were forgettable. The band finally broke out with their second album Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers in 1991 which turned more toward a progressive death metal direction alongside other acts of a similar nature like Disharmonic Orchestra and Demilich. The earlier material of this band used the same song structures shaped around the content of each song that DRI did but added more vicious, metal-infused riffs that had the hallmark of soundtrack style epic figurative melodies. Where other bands relied on humor of absurdity, Dead Horse fused its own internal language and riffed off that, pushing together a cynicism toward the adult world with a sense of breakaway culture.

suicidal_tendencies-suicidal_tendencies

6. Suicidal Tendencies – Suicidal Tendencies

The title says five albums, not six. Yes: official numbers lie. Suicidal Tendencies perfected a style of thrash that invoked more of the guitar traditions of 1970s metal and overlaid its longer songs with extensive lead guitar, including bluesy and melodic sections. It also adopted the habit of using slower sections to build up to the explosion of faster raging riffing, which gave the album space from which sudden attacks became even more powerful. Outright references to skateboarding and life as a suburban teenager colored the lyrics and outlook of this self-titled release which won over many fans for its essentially punk nature with the interesting instrumentalism of metal. That and its self-mocking and self-distrusting humor which saw the world exclusively from the experience of the individual lost within it made this release a cross-over between skaters, punks and metalheads.

Thrash created a generation of music that turned up the intensity of metal and gave punk new room to grow in. This drew extensive influence from later hardcore of the Discharge, Black Flag, Minor Threat, GBH, the Exploited and Cro-Mags variety and in turn influenced the first generation of grindcore such as Repulsion Horrified, Napalm Death Scum, Carcass Reek of Putrefaction and Blood Impulse to Destroy. Thrashers also took heavy influence from melodic punk bands like Misfits and eccentric acts such as the Minutemen, all the way through pop-punk like Descendents and Dayglo Abortions. With the rise of thrash, punk and metal both felt pressure to turn up the intensity, which drove metal into the cryptic realms of death metal and punk into its progressive years.

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Dead Horse releases Loaded Gun EP

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Following a reunion show last year in which most of the original lineup of Dead Horse took to the stage and the success of the Dead Horse/Dirty Rotten Imbeciles side project Pasadena Napalm Division, the Texas thrash band has released its latest work in an EP entitled Loaded Gun.

Dead Horse made a name for itself in the late 1980s by continuing the DRI/COC/Cryptic Slaughter/Fearless Iranians From Hell tradition of skateboarder punk/metal hybrid music called “thrash” but adding the surly growling vocals of death metal. With their debut album, Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That’s Time Consuming, the band launched itself to fame with short idiosyncratic songs that displayed more internal variation than most thrash of the era.

As the band ventured into the 1990s, it combined thrash with death metal possessing progressive overtones on the 1991 album Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers, which showed longer songs with bigger themes and more use of harmony. After that, the band released a series of EPs and then fizzled out in the late 1990s after the departure of founding member Mike Haaga.

Those who attended the reunion shows claimed a revitalized Dead Horse took the stage, finally sure of its mission without Haaga and in a new musical world order where the raw extremity of early Dead Horse might get it overlooked, not noticed. We look forward to seeing what this band might render in the future, starting with Loaded Gun.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QYUBNQA_dE

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The origin of all underground metal

discharge-hear_nothing_see_nothing_say_nothingSuppose that you’re a dying society (“the human race was dying out / no one left to scream and shout” – the Doors) and that you decide to give it one last hurrah. To try honesty instead of manipulation.

You might come up with punk music. It strips out everything that reeks of manipulation. The good production, gone; the complex chords, gone; any pretense of musicianship, out the window.

But then people realize that you’re going about it backward. You can’t change your methods to change your goal. You have to change your goal. That means you’re thinking about composing music in a new way, not just how you’re going to play differently with something rather familiar.

This lets loose the dogs of war.

No longer is music carved from a known pattern; the song is the pattern, and it obeys no rule other than its content. Face value is made secondary to internal value. Like it is in human, whether we have souls or not.

This is what Discharge did to the world of punk — and later, to metal:

Musically, punk’s first wave hadn’t been all that far removed from regular rock’n’roll. “God Save the Queen,” with its hummable melody and simplistic chord changes, is clearly a relation, albeit distant, of Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones. The difference is in the attitude, in Johnny Rotten’s adenoidal snarl.

Discharge’s revamped version of punk bore little resemblance to anything that had come before. It was faster, harsher, and often almost entirely lacking in melody. The riffs were generally three-chord affairs, but they were played at warp speed, accompanied by a rumbling bass and a merciless, galloping drumbeat. The songs rarely topped the two-minute mark. As Garry Maloney, who drummed on some of the band’s best recordings, explained to a ‘zine called Trakmarx, “We just embraced speed—the concept—not the drug—took it to its logical limit.”

Away went the blues scale, playing in uniform musical measures, and having pop song format work for you. Instead, the new vision was the lawless chromatic scale, a lack of key and thus of soaring bridge and chorus, or even any fixed song format. It was repetition made into its own undoing, a type of ambient music made from noise.

Rock ‘n’ roll died with Discharge. Others, like Amebix and The Exploited, followed. On US shores the Cro-Mags and thrash (DRI, COC, Cryptic Slaughter, Dead Horse, Fearless Iranians From Hell) further put metal into punk. With metal’s phrasal riffs and punk’s lack of structure, music got closer to ancient times.

Suddenly, the melody determined the song, and since the songs were topical, the melody was determined by the idea. Like ancient Greek dramas, where the chorus sang poetry as the story was acted out on stage, the new punk-metal hybrid entered the world of motifs and mimetic meaning, where art imitates life to tell the story of a journey or adventure and how it changed those who sallied forth.

The end of the second song, nearly eight minutes in, elicited a weak cheer, a few claps, and a robust chant of “D.R.I.”—a local thrash band on the rise, which had played earlier that night.

This was the new legion, thrash and underground metal (death metal and black metal), and it ushered in a new era. Where music was plain-spoken like punk, but mythological like metal. Where it took metal’s criticism of human behavior and used that to explain punk’s extreme political dissidence. Where people started looking at what they’d die for instead of what they’d live for.

Since that time, metal and punk have both gone through many generations. None have gotten very far from those originals who broke free however. They had to destroy before they could create and, when the dust of destruction and subsequent self-destruction finally settles, creation will begin anew.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DmSbqmJaig

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Dead Horse plotting its return

dead_horse-horsecore_revivalSuccess in life often comes down to timing. Some of metal’s best bands, by virtue of being ahead of the curve, simply get there too fast and go too far to be as noticed as the others who plod along and thus are right about where their audience expects them to be, thus understands them and thus can appreciate them.

It reminds me of the friend of mine who wrote an English paper in high school that the teacher dismissed as nonsense; when he handed it in at college, he got an A. He was just too far out ahead of the curve. In the same way, Houston’s Dead Horse were just too ahead in too many ways at once for most people to grasp. Thrash is a hybrid between punk songs and metal riffs, so named because of its popularity with thrashers or skaters. Thrash bands like DRI (also from Houston), COC, Cryptic Slaughter, MDC and Fearless Iranians From Hell (from San Antonio) were famous for short intense songs of social commentary that was more existential and practical than political. Dead Horse took it even further to a nearly literary level.

After producing a series of demos that were well-received in the underground and even among “normals,” Dead Horse recorded and self-released their first album, Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That’s Time Consuming. After that, they gigged like maniacs and finally got on a larger label to release their second album, Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers, at which time a death metal and progressive metal influence was flowering in their music. But after that, they never really got a handle on things again, despite releasing a pair of well-received EPs. As often happens in Texas, the local scene swallowed them, in equal parts of taking them for granted and resenting them for rising so far so fast.

Fast-forward to last year. Most of Dead Horse is now gallivanting around in Pasadena Napalm Division, while original frontman Mike Haaga makes his living making oddball soundtracks and performing live. Like many talented people in metal, he left it behind, probably outraged at the simple inability of metalheads to unite to do anything, a self-defeating practice that delights their detractors (what’s better than an opponent who commits suicide?). But the other band members have continued on and played a show in Houston which was memorialized in their Making a Dead Horse Live DVD.

According to most recent reports, the band is returning for a live performance at Fitzgerald’s this Saturday, possibly with Kurt Brecht of DRI making an appearance. It’s good to see this legend rise again, and this time, perhaps stay in flight.

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Interview with Birth AD

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Whenever society gets too complacent and considers itself to be a success, Birth AD pops up out of a nearby container and reminds it that civilization is failing, most people are idiots and we’re probably all doomed. The difference is that Birth AD is funny and has good music, while just about anyone else criticizing society is a bore.

Coming to us from Austin, TX, Birth AD is a continuation of the crossover movement called thrash from back in the 1980s; if you remember how everyone and their brother wore a DRI shirt when they went to the skate park, you remember this movement. It was a cross between hardcore songs and metal riffs, and the result was unique and spoke clearly to the fears of the age.

While there have always been retro-bands looking back toward this style, Birth AD took up the style while looking forward, and have carried it into a new dimension of what it always could become. We’re very fortunate to have Jeff AD to speak with today.

What were your influences in formulating your style, and how did you update it without having it be assimilated by newer forms of music?

There aren’t any new entries that motivated me, it was all the classics. SOD, DRI, Dr. Know, Fearless Iranians From Hell, Cro-Mags, Nuclear Assault, and other usual suspects were touchstones. I willfully refused to let my material reflect any late-model sounds. Why would I? I was there when the sound was at its peak (admittedly I wasn’t even a teenager yet, but it still counts).

I felt like a lot of bands from that period had one really crucial album and then fizzled or stumbled. Bands like SOD and the Cro-Mags were effectively lightning in a bottle in that they each made one massively influential album and then fell apart. There was so much potential, so much more to be said, and I wanted to create something that was a direct continuation of those great releases, free from the adulterants of current conventions. Crossover is a very specific hybrid, and a band simply cannot invoke the term without cultivating a handful of necessary elements.

You’re about to launch your first full-length album, I Blame You, on Dark Descent sub-label Unspeakable Axe records. Can you tell us what’s going to be on the album?

We pulled a Dealin’ With It and re-recorded the entire EP, along with several new songs. Alex Perialas helmed the recording at his world-famous (and gold record laden) studio, Pyramid Sound in Ithaca, New York. We recorded in January 2012, so it has sat in stasis for a bit while we figured out where to put it. Part of this was because I wanted to work with Alex without exception, and January was the time he had available. It’s a good thing we did it when we did, as he subsequently got into a property battle with the city and the whole endeavor would have been shot to hell.

What do you think makes a great crossover thrash album or song?

It has to be memorable and catchy while communicating a coherent idea. DRI was my primary model because they were always good at writing clever lyrics that sent clear and pointed messages. It also helps to be succinct. If you make it past the four-minute mark, you’re doing it wrong.

Why do you think there’s so much interest now in older styles of metal?

It’s natural to look back on 40 years of metal and its variants and wanting to explore it all, especially if you were too young to take part the first time around. In a way, this phenomenon benefits Birth AD quite well, because we’re a new band with an old sound that younger fans can claim as their own. Outside of that, pretty much everything good in the genre has effectively been done, so it’s hard to re-invent the wheel. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to stick with the known quantities to ensure their money is well spent.

When are you guys going to finally dig up Cryptic Slaughter and Fearless Iranians From Hell, and do a tour with them and DRI?

We’ve played with DRI before, which was a massively good time. As for Fearless and Cryptic, I’ll get back to you on that once I get the time machine operational. Can you imagine what it would be like if hessians harnessed time travel? “We’ve got a Celtic Frost concert in 1986 to see, we’ll kill Hitler later!”

Why do you think “crossover” thrash arose when it did?

I think it was because so many metal band and hardcore bands liked each other’s stuff and it became imperative for a middle ground to be created. SOD was effectively a one-off tribute to bands like Dr. Know and Agnostic Front, but they ended up sparking a whole new phenomenon because their musicianship was so elevated and the production was so good. In any event, it needed to happen, but after that most bands involved went fully into the metal end of things and lost the punk and hardcore elements that made it qualify as crossover. Birth AD was created in the name of preserving that rarefied sound without the inevitable departures made by our forebears.

How influential do you think “crossover” thrash was on genres like death metal and black metal?

That’s a revealing question in that I don’t think it had much impact at all. Death metal bands were more influenced by proper speed metal like Slayer and Dark Angel, while Black Metal was influenced by the European groups like Celtic Frost, Venom, Bathory, et al. Those bands deal in fantasy and the abstract, while thrash is steeped in the rigors of daily life. Crossover is something of a specialized entry, much like a cheetah in that it really gets the job done in one very specific way.

What’s next for Birth AD?

I’m going to be a grandstanding pain in the ass about this album and see where it takes us. I want to tour and spread the word. I think the time is right. In the meantime, I’ll be causing problems and beating up on hipsters as usual. I urge everyone to do the same.

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Birth A.D. – I Blame You to see release in 2013

birth_a_d-i_blame_youDark Descent Records has formed a new sub-label called Unspeakable Axe Records which will release thrash band Birth A.D.‘s first full-length, I Blame You.

Birth A.D. formed in 2008 and released their first EP named Stillbirth of a Nation in 2009, creating their music in a continuation of the original 1980s thrash style pioneered by DRI, COC, DBC, Cryptic Slaughter, MDC and Fearless Iranians From Hell.

Produced by legendary thrash-era knob-twister Alex Perialas, I Blame You shows the band at their most vitriolic and powerful. The band has this to say: “Joining forces with Unspeakable Axe and Dark Descent proved to be the best choice for Birth A.D., as they are about the bands, the music, and doing things the old way (that is, the right way). We plan to cause even more problems with their support!”

I Blame You is scheduled to be released late spring/early summer 2013.

Evil Army/Birth AD live dates, 2013:

Thursday, April 4 – O’Briens Pub, Allston, NY
Friday, April 5 – The Acheron, Brooklyn, NY
Saturday, April 6 – Kung Fu Necktie, Philadelphia, PA
Sunday, April 7 – The Sidebar, Baltimore, MD

For more information, check out the Birth A.D. website and Facebook page.

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Birth A.D. releases title track from new album “I Blame You”

Thrash band Birth A.D., who seem to be a continuation of later 1980s thrash like SOD and DRI, have released a streaming track from their new album, I Blame You.

The new album has been recorded with 80s metal guru producer Alex Perialas and includes re-recorded tracks from the first Birth A.D. release, Stillbirth of a Nation. Much like early DRI albums, this will give fans the band’s entire oeuvre in an updated form.

According to Blistering.com, the new album is “angry, fast, catchy as hell.” Should be a contender for album of the year if nothing else.

Thrash was a hybrid between extreme hardcore and extreme metal that arose in the early 1980s with bands like DRI, MDC, COC, Cryptic Slaughter, Fearless Iranians From Hell and Suicidal Tendencies making short, fast, punk-structure songs with metal riffs.

Currently most people refer to the genre as “crossover thrash” in order to differentiate the term from “thrash metal,” which was a 1980s teen metal name for “speed metal,” and comprises the range of music from Metallica through Destruction.

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Thrash

Thrash combined the short, fast songs of hardcore punk bands with the more structured, architected and melodic aspects of metal riffing. Deriving its name from the skaters who listened to it, called “thrashers,” thrash was a true crossover genre in that it was not purely metal and not purely punk, which both caused it trouble finding an initial audience and made it almost universally accessible. Its songs, often under thirty seconds, blasted away at society not so much from ideological principles but to mock and criticize the end result of ideology, which was a numb utilitarian society oblivious to the passage of time or the possibility of meaning to human existence.

House recommendations: Cryptic Slaughter, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, dead horse and Fearless Iranians From Hell.

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