Jazz, Jazz-metal and the future of a hybrid

Our society is fascinated by outsiderness. This neurosis comes from the fact that we exist by the support of a civilization we see as going down a bad path, if we think about things at all. Our outsiders look more askance at this society than we who must maintain it, but they also do so from within it, so they are both critical of and dependent upon it. This creates a need for not a new civilization, but a new psychology of civilization, and it is mostly commonly engendered by song: poetry, jazz, prose or violence.

Jazz is “America’s music.” A hybrid of the blues and public-school training in European classical harmony, it nonetheless is not unique, because it has existed on every continent at some time in their growths. It is a universal language, the free and open jam, and appeals less to theory — despite being heavy on theory — than it does to an impulse of the soul which wants to start playing first, and then figure out how to cram the symbolism of emotions into song. Even so, when we speak of jazz we speak of the American variety.

Because jazz is extreme compared to pop music, and both in its day and today an outsider music, and because it went through a ring cycle from innocent complex pop music to nearly total psychoacoustic noise with the extremes of free jazz, we see it is parallel to heavy metal and hardcore punk. Both of those as well are falling from grace, exiling themselves from a comfortable modern existence to be extremes. Both of those totally reject society. Where jazz is cool alienation, and an attempt to find itself through degrees of emotion, metal and punk are a rejection of human emotion and a hot alienation that points to the hard, cold historical record — the abstract. Jazz is earth and metal is sky.

As metal expanded through its own cycle of growth and decay, its growth mirrored the process jazz underwent. At first, metal was just a heavier form of rock with more phrasal composition as evidenced by the long melodic riffs of Black Sabbath, but then it became a “serious” art form with speed metal, after the 70s stadium metal wrecked its credibility but good. When that “serious” social consciousness art wasn’t enough, it became crypto-symbolic art with death metal, with an extensive philosophical interpretation required to get from “only death is real” to a philosophy of abstraction to rival Plato.

When death metal got itself established after a painful birth from fragments of thrash/hardcore punk and speed metal, it found itself as an art form embracing simplicity and yet structure, shying away from mainstream consonance or even harmonic structure. Its structure came entirely from worship of the riff, or rather the way death metal bands would string together seemingly unconnected riffs that made sense as the piece culminated, like poetry unifying disparate symbolism. Death metal was unlike the harmonies of heavy metal, or the rhythmic culmination of speed metal, but it was pure structure in arrangement of complex riffs, and the distinct phrasing that made each one both evocative and complementary to others.

Because these riffs operated independently of scalar or chordal structures, death metal was compared to free jazz by the savvier elements of the music press. Much of this comparison occurred before death metal was fully defined, when the more jam-friendly elements in hardcore (Black Flag’s “The Process of Weeding Out” most notably) and more dissonant, theoretically detached elements of grindcore (Napalm Death’s opus of microsong disrhythmic chaos, “Scum”) were noticed by bored, underpaid and desperate writers looking for a story. Death metal being half-hardcore, half-heavy metal, the genre rotated to face jazz for a golden period of about five years.

The first real salvo in this battle was fired by Atheist on their first and second albums, “Piece of Time” and “Unquestionable Presence.” The increasing mixture of jazz crept outward from the rhythm section to the point where the second album embraced much of the aesthetic of jazz, especially the fusion-tinged variety that used intense dynamic variation to resemble a soundtrack, more like Al DiMeola’s “Cielo E Terra.” Atheist embraced the same jazz direction, but added to jazz what punk and hardcore had, what made them “hot” and not “cool”: that inhuman, abstract, theoretical structure that allowed them to stitch riffs together on the basis of phrasing and melody alone, leaving behind the artifacts of tonal context needed by most people to orient themselves in the composition.

If emotional is cool, abstract is hot, and it fits better with the raw anger of death metal, because rage without some idea of how it might manifest itself to soothe its source of irritation becomes impotent and self-serving. What makes jazz cool is its acqueous descent into pure organic emotion, a casting aside of all structure that lets the psyche move with total freedom, given a few rules to keep its motion consonant — like a morality of sound, it throws out conceptions of hierarchy and shared goals and lets the individual freestyle it, but imposes some rigid rules. What makes metal hot is that it throws out that coolness, and imposes an order that transcends human limitations, giving rise to speculation about the motion of empires and epic ideas in collision, like a heavenly war of symbols.

Atheist fused these two outlooks, and in doing so, unleashed a revolution in metal. First, the clones came, but since metal is hot and not cool we pay no attention to them. Next, other bands picked up on this revolution and put it to good use. The two remaining explicitly jazzy death metal albums came from the Netherlands and Florida, respectively, and further advanced the science of jazz-metal. Longstanding death metal/speed metal hybrid legends Pestilence had been growing increasingly toward a greater display of musical skill, including conventional means such as harmony, and after going halfway on their third album created a jazz/metal fusion for their fourth, “Spheres.”

Spheres split a room full of metalheads into people who hated it, and people who loved it. With guitars plugged into MIDI samplers outputting in a range of voices, and offtime tempos marching past with unpredictable variations, Spheres was difficult to grasp as a listening experience much less a piece of art, but many did enjoy it so much that fifteen years after its release, it has been re-released with new live tracks. Metalheads at the time were fascinated that one of their own, from a genre so alienated it was not listed on any mainstream music reporting or labels, could go toe-to-toe with the progressive and jazz bands of its day. Others were appalled at what they saw as an attempt to reduce what made metal unique, and make it more like the conformist music of the mainstream.

Cynic’s “Focus” came out the following year and further divided the community. It did not enwrap its guitars in synthetic sounds, but chose to do that for the vocals, creating an otherworldly but rarely forceful effect that jarred with the assertive psychology of death metal. That coupled with Buddhist-influenced positive lyrics, a tendency toward light interludes, and lush keyboards backing guitars made the album rejectable by most metalheads. Riffs resembled those of the first Atheist album, making many jazz-metal diehards wonder if it was an evolution in artform or production.

While these four albums were the most evident manifestations of the jazz aesthetic, jazz influences abounded in works from other bands. Morbid Angel, known for their otherwordly seizure of souls through intense music, showed a familiarity with jazz technique especially in percussion, but without being jazzy. Demilich created a monstrosity of lead-picked intricate riffs that resembled the most avantgarde of jazz fusion, but with the subtler rhythmic introductions of death metal. Gorguts showed more of a classical influence, but balanced with lessons from avantgarde jazz.

As the death metal experiment with jazz ended, many reflected on the similarities and impossibilities of the two genres. Jazz and metal are both outsider music; both reflect a perception of persecution by society at large, it being supposed to be ignorant of some principle, and offer up radically different solutions. Jazz, it might be said, is a nurturer; death metal, it might be said, is a reality check. While the two overlap somewhat, ultimately they don’t overlap in ideas, and this carries over to aesthetic. Death metal sounds abstract; jazz sounds emotional. Death metal builds a tension for dynamic release through structuring of phrase, where jazz develops phrase to emphasize an underlying harmonic pattern.

Much as Ornette Coleman rebelled against jazz and created free jazz, metal (through hardcore, most notably Discharge) rebelled against the structure of pop songs and created through its new freedom of abstraction a language of expression. Ultimately, its rebellion was that in a world of humans singing about individual fascinations and neurosis, it would be an expression of the structures of the whole. A pattern language of ideas and consequences, death metal is intensely structured music in the way classical is, using narrative composition to unite disparate elements in a storyline, like a poem. Jazz is more like the visual arts, showing exactly what occurs and winding details together in an anti-narrative.

Since the death metal flirtation with jazz, two paths have been taken to resolve this paradox. The first recognizes that death metal’s structure is closer to progressive rock, and incorporates jazz into progressive rock with death metal riffing, as Gordian Knot (featuring Cynic members) or grindcore-influenced acts like Dillinger Escape Plan have done. The second recognizes that jazz’s rhythm can be used to wrap heavy metal-styled riffs into the jaunty, bouncy aesthetic of jazz/funk based music, and this has exploded forth in bands from Candiria to Mordred to The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The problem with both of these approaches is that they must distill death metal to rock in order to proceed.

It may be that a fusion never happens because the genres are too different. Jazz is inherently aesthetic-heavy, because it lacks structure to differentiate its songs; metal exclusively differentiates its songs through structure, and is uniform in aesthetic. Where metal is structured music, jazz is unstructured to permit wide-open jams, but the result is that sets tend to run together and, outside of aesthetic innovations like switching instruments or making the musical elements more bizarre, it has nowhere to evolve, where metal as an inherently storytelling format still has room to expand. But by the same token, metal is pulled downward by its attachment to an audience shared with rock, who will often try to make it into something more like the mainstream even as its most intelligent creators pull in the opposite direction.

No Comments

Sadistic Metal Reviews: Flavor of the Week Metal Pt 2: Death Metal

Last month we ran the first  of a two part series on flavor of the week metal subgenres, focusing soley on black metal. The plan was to release a second edition a week later, but the Tulio Baars DDOS attacks prevented that from happening. That is, until now…

Death metal has existed for over 30 years now but the storied genre may finally have seen the climax of its success. Along the way it has been riddled with ridiculous spinoffs that saw tons of low-IQ normies mark out only to promptly discard them into the trash once public consensus realized how outrageous it was. Featuring all kinds of ridiculousness ranging from sideways hat wearing wiggers to throat tatted white trash scene kids, the grand scope of death metal has seen some of the dumbest music ever recorded. Sometimes replicating nu metal and rap, other times mimicking Europeon dance pop, death metal has been degraded and molested in every possible way imaginable. When considering all the horrendous demonization of the genre it’s incredible to think it has survived for so long (despite not seeing may works of relevance since 1994).

It’s the article the basement dwelling Dreipfeil losers did not want you to see, the Sadistic Genre Reviews of death metal’s worst offenders.

(more…)

6 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Concert Review: Metalmania 2018

On  7th  April, another edition of a long standing Polish festival Metalmania took place. One day, two stages, twenty four bands. It was the second one organized after a recent reactivation. The original Metalmania was an early big metal event in that part of the Europe – quite a feat given Polish Communist and post-Communist realities. Then, due to various reasons, the festival was gradually losing its relevance, dwindling and finally went into hiatus for 8 years. There is no sense, however, to cling to its bygone local importance or whatever glorious past. So how does it look now? 

While too much reliance on more mainstream gothic and heavy contributed to a collapse of previous incarnation of the festival, and now it was death and black oriented, the music on the big scene is rather consistently aimed at straight metal through all of its generations and styles, ending with bands like Dead Congregation or Blaze of Perdition and with some of the more modern sounds on a small scene. On a downside, the fest resurfacing mainly as a stage for classic bands may be reflecting the actual state of metal, indicating that the newer bands are unable to fill the void with something equally strong to their predecessors. 

The festival was obviously rough around the edges (and surprisingly violent – I almost got caught into two different fights just from where I was standing) and the sound was uneven and average overall. It was organized better than in the past, but still perceptibly within Polish standards, that is crudely and with lack of imagination or simply negligence in some areas (although Martin van Drunen said on stage that the organization was great!). Perhaps a very fortunate by-product of these characteristics, which may contribute to the positive reception of this festival, is how – I dare to say – conservative it is, both in terms of lineup and general spirit. With Napalm Death and (I suppose) liberal speed metallers on one side and sort of crypto-nazis on the other, who always find a way to show up in some form, the fest also covered broadest ideological spectrum that is possible for a mainstream event. 

As of 2018 this festival is yet to experience types of modern degeneracy, often coming from outside, which can be seen on festivals elsewhere. There were some obligatory side attractions, like exhibition of works of Christophe Szpajdel (who actually speaks Polish fluently), meet-up with the bands and lots of merch, but nothing delving too much into a fan idiocy or really not related to metal. Very few freaks, zero exotic people, no random participants, just fairly traditional metalheads, mostly in the 90s style, as it should be, world without end. However, those spoiled by abundance of propositions and by big festivals in Germany or Czech Republic will probably miss out on some of these modest qualities. 

And then there’s the surreal, sci-fi sight at the arrival – a monumental, Communistic “The Saucer” occupied by nothing but a tribe of long haired, black clad drunks… 

(more…)

18 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Analysis of Demilich’s “When the Sun Drank the Weight of Water”

[Sections of this article by Jerry Hauppa].

The Finnish scene has spawned an impressive number of death metal giants, possibly the strongest overall scene with no band searching for shallow fame or popularity and each band exploring their own sound in complete artistic integrity and more often than not achieving powerful results. Though all these bands have captured the hearts and the imaginations of Hessians everywhere, one four-piece has managed to completely change the face of death metal. Releasing one album that elevated metal into being recognized as an intellectual genre in the eyes of the mainstream, so much so that the mainstream metal media fled from this album as no one could commercialize and democratize what was being played here, Demilich were unfairly pushed back into the underground when they deserved adoration from the masses.

(more…)

14 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Soymetal Dies As True Metal Rises

As predicted here, the takeover of underground metal by late hardcore tinged substitutes has failed. This music, which we might call “soymetal” because it appeals more to the emo hardcore audience than the feral and realistic traditional metal one, took over because after the underground fizzled in the hands of NWN/FMP impersonators, labels found a new audience in whiny millennial SJWs. (more…)

11 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Not Digging the New Cynic Single

Received a transmission of a new single by Cynic. Feeling a bit disappointed in this tune, called ‘Humanoid’. While it has the great active warm fretless sounding bass-lines, and Y. Malmsteen styled solos, the vocals are a completely different style than on Focus and Traced in Air. Normally their vocals have the flanged-out robo. voice. On this new track, the vocals don’t sound metal enough. They are too Pink Floyd or Lincoln Park-ish for me. The guitars have tons of solos, but leave the bass to carry the rhythm, and this doesn’t work. It makes it too light. The whole thing comes off sounding funky rather than heavy. I would like them to go back and at least out a flanger on the vocals and add another heavier rhythm guitar tracking along with the bass.

(more…)

20 Comments

Tags: , , , ,

ANALYSIS: DEMIGOD’S “AS I BEHOLD I DESPISE”

Hailing from Finland and one of the leaders of the short lived Finnish scene that delivered some of the greatest music to ever grace the twentieth century and that genuinely scared most “metalheads” as this was truly an intellectual movement that retained the essence of metal while completely deviating from the norm musically. It is very hard to regroup these bands into a specific style but the closest connection between them is their ability to complete deform common scales and patterns with strategically chromatic notes.

Demigod had a strong understanding of how to make songs with a limited set of complex ideas and how to convey themes of apocalypse and human decay and the role a strong individual within that apocalypse. “As I Behold I Despise” is the first track after the intro and sets the frame of mind of what’s to come after through it’s use of a recursive melody that is always changing, blistering tremolo riffs and hyper active drums that don’t steal attention but empower the guitars.

(more…)

36 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , ,

CASE STUDY: DEATH METAL POSITIVE, BUT ONLY FOR SELECT PERSONALITY TYPES

A trio of Australian PhD researchers recently shared the results of an ambitious case study on death metal listeners.  The project, titled “Who Enjoys Listening to Violent Music and Why?” (Thompson et al., 2018), aimed to determine if there were personality differences in fans who enjoyed death metal and if lyrical content that involved inducing harm or death to individuals had any effect on the listener’s experience.  Examined were possible differences in emotional stimuli between death metal fans and non fans, genders, and participants who either were or weren’t given a lyric sheet.  The publication indicates findings similar to earlier studies that measured emotional reaction of music and personality bias as stated:

These findings are consistent with evidence that personality mediates preferences for music (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003; Vuoskoski & Eerola, 2011a, 2011b) and that, conversely, music preferences communicate information about one’s personality (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2006). Rentfrow and Gosling (2003) examined the structure of music preferences, as well as the association between personality and music preferences. They used exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis to reveal that music preferences revolved around four major types of music: Reflective and complex (classical, jazz, blues); intense and rebellious (alternative, rock, heavy metal), upbeat and conventional (country, pop, religious), and energetic and rhythmic (hip-hop, rap, soul, funk, electronic, dance). Preferences were also dependent on personality variables. For example, people who preferred intense and rebellious music – including heavy metal – tended to be open to new experiences, considered themselves to be intelligent and athletic, and showed no signs of neuroticism or disagreeableness.

(more…)

20 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Godflesh – Post Self (2018)

If someone goes on this tour, make sure to hand Justin Broadrick a telephone to signify that this album has been phoned in. As the term implies, when content creators are no longer focused on making their work significant, an “it’ll do” mentality results. This fits within what Godflesh and related Broadrick-acts have done through their careers.

(more…)

9 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

5 Slam Records that Won’t Insult Your Intelligence

Sometimes in between quests for the perfect transcendent meal, you wind up in the drive-thru.  There’s nothing wrong with that- not every action in life has to be one of self-discovery or grandiose vision- sometimes you just want to destroy yourself as a brief respite from analytical or introspective journeys, which actually provides a contrast that truly showcases the merit in the pursuit of depth but also gives an objective worth to consumables that are designed with much less substance in mind.  There is a place for what is now known as “slam” in the death metal pantheon, and as with any subgenre of course the progenitors are the best examples of it, as prior to its neanderthalic fall from grace it started as marriage of the percussive elements of Suffocation with the over-the-top imagery of gore-focused grind bands while limiting the use of humanistic elements like melody and cyclical structure.  This is a more than valid metal style as it does actually transcend a known formula through divorcing it from song archetypes and instead celebrates an ignorance that is mirrored perfectly in masochistic savagery. Given that is is more rhythmically focused than previous death metal styles is it natural that it would meet its downfall by travelling down an insultingly urban path that betrays the savagery it had once wielded, but it is still worth revisiting a few choice releases to analyze what may unfortunately be the last true movement in a dying genre at the turn of the century.

(more…)

10 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , ,