Interview: Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites (Until the Light Takes Us documentary)

Over the last half-decade, metal documentaries have proliferated — there are now a handful, which is several fingers more than before. One of the more unique ones is Until the Light Takes Us, a look at the Norwegian black metal scene of the early 1990s, in that it attempts to understand not a phenomenon but the reasons it came about. We were fortunate to get a chance to chat with filmmakers Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites, who answered these questions in a single voice through collaborative writing, as they took a break from a busy schedule of promoting the film so that it can achieve the crucial next stage of distribution.

What first attracted you to black metal as a subject? Are/were you a listener?

A lot of people seem interested in the fact that we don’t come from a metal background, and that’s certainly true. Neither of us were ever particularly into a lot of metal before (except for doom/stoner rock – things like Sleep, Sunn O))), Earth etc). But we do come from a background of obscure experimental lo-fidelity noise rock. I mean, the leap from something like Harry Pussy or The Dead C to Norwegian black metal isn’t exactly a gaping chasm. (In case you don’t already know this, a lot of the musicians in our film are also into stuff like this — Enslaved have even collaborated with Merzbow). It’s not like we were reaching for a Sting record and accidentally grabbed a Stigma Diabolicum demo. The driving similarity in all the music we love is that it’s intelligent in some way, and psychically or culturally relevant and usually extreme in nature. Whether by way of insanity, artistry, ideology, invention or what have you.

We were introduced to black metal by a friend (Andee Conners who owns Aquarius Records in San Francisco) who knew that it was something we were going to be into. We both really care about music, we had gotten into black metal, and we both just wanted to see a good film on the subject. That’s really how it started. We were looking for a good documentary on the subject and couldn’t find one. So it really just started as a way to find the answers to our questions, and to explore a genre that had deeply moved and surprised us, and which described an experience of being alive on this planet that had not before existed in this way.

What kind of research did you do for the film?

We researched extensively for a year. First, we bought every Norwegian black metal record we could find (as well as all of the precursor bands like Bathory Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Venom etc.). We listened to everything, read all the lyrics, went over liner notes. Luckily, we’re pretty obsessive so that part was fun. Next, we sought out every magazine, fanzine, blog, book, newspaper and anything else we could find and compiled giant bound books of interviews of every musician that we wanted to talk to. These books were massive, they were like telephone books consisting solely of interviews by Norwegian black metal musicians. We also spent a lot of time on review sites like Markus Karlsson’s site, do you remember that? We loved his reviews, if you know how to reach him please put us in touch, we’d love to have him to do something for the DVD.

Did you prepare a project abstract first and shop around for funds in order to make the film?

Yes. Before we filmed, we went to Norway and wrote a fifty page proposal, a thesis essentially, of what the film would be. This took a lot of time. It was actually helpful in that it forced us to refine our ideas, to take into account what we saw around us and to plot the trajectory of the film, of which we had a very clear vision by the time we started shooting. It also forced us to do a second round of research, because in order to explore the ideas of globalization, postmodernism and dissent (ideas that we have thought from day one were relevant to black metal), we had to read up and be sure that our ideas were intellectually sound. One of the big resources for us was a book called Jihad Versus McWorld by Benjamin Barber. Another was The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas L. Friedman. These guys are both cultural theorists and economists, who come at things from a markedly different perspective, but both deal with the struggles of retaining cultural identity within a globalized society, and the tension this creates.

The other big reference point was post-modernism and theories of simulation and simulacra, essentially the idea that a thing can be transformed out of existence if it is copied inaccurately enough times. That the sheer volume of incorrect copies can overwhelm the original truth, until the original truth becomes a sidenote in history, and the degraded or even just altered copy becomes the reality. People ask us all the time if we like current black metal bands. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a trick question. Yes. And no.

What kind of reactions did you get from people when you explained what you intended?

From people that we were trying to raise funds from, or from the musicians? Funders did not get behind this movie until we had done a substantial amount of filming. There were some amazing people who helped and supported us, but we spent a year trying to raise funding and it just didn’t work. Norway was willing to fund us but there was a catch: the movie would have to be about “American filmmakers who go to Norway to investigate black metal.” It would have to be as much about us as about black metal. Um, no thanks. So we scratched and scrambled, begged and borrowed, and ran up our credit cards to get to the point where we could raise finishing funds. We turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars because we weren’t interested in making the movie that they wanted us to make.

With the musicians, it differed. We clicked with Gylve instantly, and he agreed to be in it right away. He was the first person we approached, and I think that helped to establish that we hadn’t just read Lords of Chaos and hopped on a plane.

It would seem to go without saying that a film about Norwegian black metal has to have Gylve, Varg, and hopefully Hellhammer. Just, period. Or it’s just fatally flawed. Gylve and Varg, with Euronmyous, CREATED Norwegian black metal. It would not exist were it not for the three of them each playing a distinct and crucial part in the formation, codification, and dissemination of the genre. There are certainly other great musicians who have contributed a ton to the genre, but it was the originators that we knew we needed to talk to.

We clicked with Gylve immediately, we spent less time with Hellhammer but have great affection and respect for him, and we were prepared to stop at any time, fold up, go home if we weren’t able to get Varg’s participation. We knew it would be very hard. We were relieved when, after eight months of correspondence with him, he finally agreed to meet Aaron. We were pretty confident that if we were given that opportunity we would be able to get his participation, and we did. I admit though, it was a relief, because by the time that happened, we’d been in Norway for eight months and had spent an awful lot of time and money on the film. He used to write us letters that stated that even if we made exactly the movie that he himself would make, he STILL wouldn’t be in our movie. Those were hard letters to get. But we kept on with it, and finally he agreed. Once he actually met Aaron and talked with him and was able to see where we were coming from, it was not at all difficult. He was very open and forthcoming, except in cases where for legal reasons he couldn’t say certain things on camera. Obviously, we can’t and won’t repeat any of that either. But even when he couldn’t state things, he would allude to them. He was very open with us. Of course you can’t blame him for being initially wary. He felt that he had been burned (no pun intended) by the international media circus that erupted in the early 90’s. But we were able to convey to him what our intentions were, and once he realized that we were not there to make a quickie hype piece, and that we’d actually researched the hell out of everything, and I think just based on who we are, he agreed to participate. And we think that he would agree that the film is fair, and most importantly, honest.

Is it expensive to make a film of this nature?

Of this nature — yes. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. A big part of the expense was just the day-to-day cost of living in Norway for two years. But that was necessary. We had to spend time with the people, establish trust, etc. It wasn’t interesting to us to make a film that skimmed the surface. We wanted the film to be from the perspective of the musicians looking out from the inside. For that to be possible, we had to be inside.

Were metal fans and bands cooperative, for the most part?

We didn’t talk to many fans for the purposes of making the film. This isn’t like other movies about metal. But, literally everyone we met was extremely helpful.

The eye may be said to owe its existence to light, which calls forth, as it were, a sense that is akin to itself; the eye, in short, is formed with reference to light, to be fit for the action of light; the light it contains corresponding with the light without.

We are here reminded of a significant adage in constant use with the ancient Ionian school — “Like is only known by Like”; and again, of the words of an old mystic writer, which may be thus rendered, “If the eye were not sunny, how could we perceive light? If God’s own strength lived not in us, how could we delight in Divine things?” This immediate affinity between light and the eye will be denied by none; to consider them as identical in substance is less easy to comprehend. It will be more intelligible to assert that a dormant light resides in the eye, and that it may be excited by the slightest cause from within or from without. In darkness we can, by an effort of imagination, call up the brightest images; in dreams objects appear to us as in broad daylight; awake, the slightest external action of light is perceptible, and if the organ suffers an actual shock, light and colours spring forth.

– Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colors (1810)

What equipment did you use — were you shooting direct to digital, using film, etc? How did you edit?

We shot on 35mm and PAL minidv and edited on AVID (telecine to tape for the film parts), eventually outputting an HD D5 master, from which we make copies in other formats as necessary. Our original intention was to end up with a 35mm print, but expenses were too great, we couldn’t do it. The film industry imploded a few weeks after our festival premiere in LA 8 months ago. The pressures of the economy, combined with some industry specific factors, drove it into the ground. Six of the top independent film distributors went out of business nearly overnight. Ripples went far and wide, those that were left became extremely conservative in what they would fund or distribute. So the money to transfer to film just wasn’t there anymore.

How long did the whole project take?

Many years. I don’t like to talk about how many. It disturbs me. A lot of my life has gone into this. Aaron got very sick as well and we had to take a year off while he had surgery and recovered. We also had to spend over a year raising finishing funds when we got back from Norway. Luckily, we found that in two great companies who have been very supportive of us and of the film, even in this horrible climate for independent documentaries. We would not have finished without their (continued) support. And we found an editor, Michael Dimmitt, who loved the project and agreed to work for deferred pay. He also made it possible for us to finish the film. He actually hasn’t been paid yet, and that sucks and we feel crappy about that, but he knows we’re good for it. It takes a lot of dedicated people to make a film like this. And we’re so grateful to everyone who has helped us.

What were some barriers you ran into?

Money, health, equipment problems, time. I’ve had a job consistently since a few months after we got back from Norway. Aaron was ill and I was trying to support us, as well as raise money to finish the film. That was a horrible time. It lasted for over a year, and it is a very dark period in my life. I was extremely depressed, as was Aaron, and it felt like we were never going to be able to finish the film. We finally found the funding and support we needed in two companies, Artists Public Domain and The Group Entertainment, and were able to start editing. It took six months just to digitize and log our 350+ hours of footage. Finally, moving forward! Then our system crashed. We lost it all. That was so disheartening. We took a break, regrouped, got a new editing system and editor, and started over, half a year’s work down the drain. It took about two years to edit the film, we had so much material and even though we knew what we wanted, it was difficult to achieve. We were both working at this point, so our free time was very limited, and it all went into the film. I’m not complaining, but there are years of my life dedicated solely to surviving and making this film.

Is it expensive to distribute a film so that the DVD is available on Amazon and in stores? Do you have other options to pursue for distribution?

Well, if you make a quickie movie with a small budget and don’t invest that much into it, you can do things like release it straight away on Amazon and platforms like that. If however, you do what we did, which requires a huge investment of time, money and work, then you can’t and don’t want to do that unless you have no other option. We are currently hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt on the film. We have investors and co-production partners who did not give us nor loan us the money, they invested it in our film. So that’s one aspect of why we are committed to doing a proper release of the film. In order to legally be able to release a DVD, we have to first pay about $50,000 in outstanding expenses. So, that’s just a reality we’re dealing with.

The other reason is that this is a creation that we have made, and there is a certain way that we want it to be presented. The film is about black metal, but we also deal with wider issues and it is relevant to the larger culture, not just fans of the genre. I am a filmmaker before I’m a fan, and a person before I’m a filmmaker, so there are a few masters that I serve when I make something. This is a communication between us and the world, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from making this film, it’s that if you don’t control your creation to the utmost degree that you possibly can, you lose your ability to do so very quickly. We refuse to see this released in an exploitation context. This is an art film, and if people want to cheapen it, we will make that as hard as possible for them to do. Some people do, by the way, want to cheapen it, just like they want to cheapen metal in general.

Have reactions differed between metalheads and mainstream audiences?

It’s mostly metal fans who have seen it thus far. With our sneak peek screenings, what we have attempted to do is bring the film to places with interested metal scenes and give them a chance to check it out first and give us a chance to get feedback from them. And so far, the reaction from fans has been really great. 95% of them really like the film. Even the ones who thought they weren’t going to like it. You don’t know how many times we’ve heard “I was really worried that I was going to hate the movie, but I’m happy to say that I thought it was incredible.” Mainstream audiences are more mixed in their reactions. Some of them get angry that we don’t make the musicians look like complete assholes or lunatics. But the reactions from non-metal fans has been mostly positive as well. Especially from those who like dark underground films.

What are your hopes for this movie: what should it accomplish, who will see it, where will it fit in our pantheon of culture?

I think it is the best documentary about a music scene ever made. You can quote me on that. It isn’t like anything else. It is not a balls to the walls expose of youth gone wild. It is not sensationalized, nor exploitative. It is elliptical. It is a contemplative look at the evolution of the creators of a scene that has all but morphed out of existence, at the forces in the culture that brought it into being, and the forces of culture that take it into a different place in the culture’s conscious (or unconscious). It’s about mechanisms in society that eradicate authorship, identity, intent. It’s about black metal, a scene and genre of music that deserves to be accurately recorded, once and for all, for whatever place in history it will take.

Beyond that, as filmmakers, we want it to be a work that resonates with the audience. The filmmaker who has had perhaps the biggest influence on me is Chris Marker. While our film deals pretty solidly with a story and characters and a time and a place, it also borrows from Marker the notion that a film can be more than the sum of its parts and that you can weave together seemingly disparate elements and timelines in a traditionally clear-cut documentary mold and create something that will hopefully resonate on levels beyond a linear re-telling. That was our goal anyway, or at least part of it. Hitting the tone that we wanted and striking the balance between telling the story of real people but also getting at the truth at the center of the story, while also exploring the other themes that we see as part and parcel of the story, was always going to be a challenge.

We also know that the contemplative tone and elliptical structure is going to piss off people who think that a documentary about metal should be a certain way, or done in a certain style. Our film isn’t like other works that people would superficially be tempted to lump us in with. I hope that eventually the film will be perceived as a unique work of cinema, valuable as a document of a music movement and a moment in time, but also valuable as a creative work in its own right.

Well, you can’t be objective when you’re dealing with passionate situations, politics and so forth. I guess you can, I never have. For instance if you were objective about Richard Nixon, you would never get him or understand him. You had to be subjective to understand Nixon. You have to be subjective to understand the Hells Angels.

– Hunter S. Thompson, interview with Freezerbox magazine (2003)

Do you think black metal is a subculture in itself, or solely a genre of music? An ideology?

All of the above. It is a subculture, sort of, but one made up of individuals if that makes any sense.

What kind of audience response is required for a distributor to be interested?

We have to reach a wider audience to make the expense of making it make sense to a distributor. And we want to reach a wider audience, because it is a smart and moving and relevant film that deserves to be seen. Due to the collapse of the indie film industry, we’ve had to really think about a way to make this all work. Our current plan is to show the film theatrically at these sneak peek screenings and festivals that we’re currently doing. This does a couple things: 1) Lets the theater bookers know that the film does have an audience, and that they won’t lose money if they book it. 2) Lets DVD distributors know that we will work like that crazy to make it worth their while, and again to prove that there is an audience. And 3) to get a break from all these people writing us all the time telling us to release the film or bring it to their town already!

We get A LOT of requests to bring it to places all over, we plan on bringing the film around the US for special engagements through September, then we’re going to Europe in October, premiering in London at the Raindance Film Festival in October, then bringing it to a few more countries before we head back to the states to finish our theatrical run in the fall. A lot of people have been asking us to bring the film to various countries, and we’re trying, but some are very hard. Like France, they basically won’t screen the film without French subtitles, and we don’t have the money to have it subtitled. But we’re working on these things! We actually listen to the people who write to us and we try to set up screenings wherever we can. I’m actually slightly terrified by some of the ones we’ve set up, I mean is anyone going to go see the film in Atlanta? I really don’t know. But a couple people wrote and asked us to do it, so we set it up. So, I hope so. It’s a gamble. Failure at any screening is very damaging, this is a truly stressful process.

By the way, one thing I should point out. Probably a lot of your readers, who are immersed in the metal culture, look at our film and think “this thing will sell a lot” but believe me, distributors etc. look at it and say “what the fuck is this?” The metal market is a small one by film standards, and not large enough to justify the expense alone (for distributors). Even people who like the film tell us that the film is great, but they have no idea how to market it. So we have to show them that we do. So, that’s the plan. Time will tell if it worked.

Would you want them to show this film on prime time cable?

I want people to have the option of seeing the film in a theater first. Magic and ritual and mysticism is all but gone from the world already, but there is something of that surviving in the ritual of seeing a film in a darkened room with a bunch of people there with the same purpose. Maybe you think that’s dumb, but you don’t become a filmmaker if you don’t respect the power of the medium. And no, that doesn’t apply to all films. A lot of films can be appreciated just fine on DVD only! But my hope is that people take something from the experience of seeing the film in a theater, and leave thinking about it, or talking to their friends, because the film is not as straightforward as some might think before seeing it. We tried to make it multi-layered, and I think we did. It’s meant to be watchable more than once, because there are things that might not be apparent on the first viewing. And that’s true of all my favorite films. But, then, I truly love film! I’ve seen some of my favorite movies countless times, and will see them countless more! And as I change, I see different things in them. A film can function as a statement, as a record, as a cipher, as a puzzle, as an experience, or as a mirror. Or all of them.

Did your attitudes toward metal bands and fans change?

Not really. We are fans ourselves. All fans are different. The film is very specific to Norwegian black metal. It isn’t about the fans. We’ve found the fans, by and large, to be really engaged, smart, and generous. There are always a few people who say that they will never see this film no matter what because they can’t conceive of the possibility that it just doesn’t suck. And that’s fine. There are about half a million movies that come out every year that you couldn’t force me to watch. Then there are a few who say that we should be punished for not releasing it on DVD sooner. That’s retarded. Let them go put their entire life, all of their money, all of their time, and make their own movie and then we can talk.

Anyway, this is like people who get upset because we didn’t include certain bands or certain people, or that there aren’t American bands in the movie, and I just can’t relate to that mindset. Usually I just tell them that sounds like a really great idea for a movie, go make it. What are we supposed to say to this? Did people get angry at Spielberg when he didn’t put giant squids, barracudas, piranhas and sea-snakes in Jaws? This isn’t an encyclopedia. It isn’t journalism. It’s a movie. It’s OUR movie. It’s what we combined to make. There are an infinite number of possibilities, people create what they are moved to create. We were moved to make this, and we’re happy with the film that we made. Most people who see it are happy with it too. And if they’re not, that’s fine too, I like that some people hate the movie, I think that’s healthy. Love it or hate it, a strong response is a victory. Of course, I can say that because so far, most people have loved it. I might feel differently if more people hated it!

Do you see comparisons to other genres and black metal?

You can compare anything to anything else. You can compare a grape to a Ford Taurus. You can compare Einstein to the A-Team. Of course you can compare other genres to black metal. And of course, being a huge fan of black metal and other kinds of music, I see comparisons. But that’s entirely subjective and totally irrelevant. We aren’t doing that. We don’t talk in the film. The idea of the film is that the musicians themselves are the ones who are talking about it. Not cops, not priests, not fans, not musicians of other genres, and not us. Some metal fans call us hipsters (only on blogs mind you) because we like more than metal. That’s absurd.

Do you think black metal was a moment in time, or will it continue to exist like other heavy metal?

Both. Things change. There was certainly a lot of music that inspired the Norwegians and they in turn inspire others.

What other films have you done, and do you plan to do?

Our next film is a thriller that takes place on a commune. I was born on a commune. They can be a bit cultie. Some are stranger than others. Our film will have some supernatural elements as well. We want to call it Possesion, but there is already a great film from the 70’s with that name. So its working title is The Living Day.

You seem remarkably gentle when handling metalheads. What do you think is the psychology of the average metalhead?

I don’t really put people into different categories like that. A lot of my friends are “metalheads.” To a lot of mainstream people, I’m a “metalhead.” To others, I’m a hippie. I don’t believe that there is a generalized psychology to any subculture. There are so many factors in making a person like one thing over another, and so many differences within subcultures. If there is a similarity amongst people we’ve met in the scene it’s a certain interest in looking past the surface of things. Always a good idea.

What would you advise a first-time watcher to do as they see your movie?

Let the movie’s logic do its thing, don’t come with expectations or an agenda.

Art is a creative act. Paul Klee said that art does not simply render nature, it renders it visible. The artist sees something that others do not see, and by seeing it and putting it on canvas, he makes it visible to others. Recognition art. A particle physicist at the University of Texas named John Wheeler has developed something that he calls “recognition physics.” Wheeler says that nothing exists until it is observed. Well, the artist as observer is like that. The observer creates by observing, and the observer observes by creating. In other words, observation is a creative act. By observing something and putting it onto canvas, the artist makes something visible to others that did not exist until he observed it.

– William S. Burroughs, interview in Contemporanea (1990)

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Aaron Aites (Until The Light Takes Us) has cancer

aaronaites

Aaron Aites, best known for his documentary work on black metal (the aforementioned Until the Light Takes Us) was recently diagnosed with kidney cancer. He and his partner Audrey Ewell have put up a GoFundMe page in order to raise money in order to treat it. If you’ve found any value in Aites’ work, like several of the contributors to DMU have, then you might want to contribute some money. Besides the aforementioned Until the Light Takes Us, Aites has also produced some other documentaries and films, and released lo-fi pop music through a band named Iran. Furthermore, you can read DMU’s interview with Aaron and Audrey here.

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“Until the Light Takes Us” holiday sale

Hi Everyone, we’ve got some North American DVD’s and Blu-rays, so if you want one of those (can be signed) for Xmas for anyone, order it soon! DVDs are $28 including shipping to US, Canada or Mexico. Order one by sending that amount via paypal to untilaudrey -at- yahoo.com – include a note if you want it signed. Note* We have to remove the cellophane to sign them.

We’re now down to our last batch of International DVDs, so put in your order double-quick if you want one of those. They’re $35.49 including shipping to Europe (ask about other countries). Order those at: http://www.blackmetalmovie.com/.

We only sell the double disc/blu-ray with the extended special features (4 hours) so yes- that’s what you’d get.

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“The Egg” horror/sci-fi from “Until the Light Takes Us” team

the_egg-audrey_ewell_aaron_aites.jpg

A team of graduate students is working in an experimental science facility when the world goes silent. The people outside are either dead, or have vanished. The students and advisers have to figure out what’s happening before it’s too late. The longer it takes, the worse things get. The students are safe for now. But that’s about to change. Because something new has shown up, and it wants in.

http://www.kickstarter.com/profile/egg

Audrey and Aaron’s collaborative videos and installations have shown in galleries and museums in New York, Tokyo, and Europe. Their award-winning documentary about the black metal underground, “Until the Light Takes Us,” comes out on DVD this September:

http://www.blackmetalmovie.com/

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Until the Light Takes Us: Review

This long-awaited independent film documentary finally hit London as part of the Raindance film festival, as metalheads and indie pricks alike filled the seats to watch what has been promoted as the least sensationalist take on the all too familiar events surrounding the Inner Circle and that Scandinavian wave of Black Metal. ‘Until the Light Takes Us’ presents the story through the thoughts of some important figures from that scene, most notably Burzum’s Varg Vikernes and Fenriz of Darkthrone, who are able to articulate more of what constituted the worldview of that movement, from two very different perspectives – Varg as the idealist finding himself trapped within his surroundings and Fenriz as a former idealist now trapped within himself. For example, the Count Grishnackh likens his experience in prison to being in a monastery, as it imposes a strong sense of discipline on him, conducive to self-development, engaging with reality at the level of ‘ideas’ and the eternal quest for ‘Truth’. Fenriz, on the other hand, looks pretty directionless and resentful of the events that culminated in his loss of spirit to the extent that he describes his current music with Darkthrone as like petting dogs (the fans) and inspiring them to share his misery, possibly offing themselves as a result.

This film is clearly a chance for those involved to speak about such things after the initial media attention and exposure had long ago infected the exclusivist purity of Norwegian Black Metal. As such, it is not really a film about Black Metal. No clear picture is put together as to be able to explain what Black Metal is, although larger conclusions can be drawn as streams of dialogue intersect and are placed alongside appropriate imagery and Nordic scenery. The anti-Judeo-Christian sentiments of church burnings and the anti-consumerist, anti-westernisation implications of Helvete’s radical ideology are explored with reasonable depth, but there is nothing much said about what they affirmed and found beauty in, which is the real impulse behind many classic Black Metal albums. Combined with what seemed to be the ultimate fate of these artists as some form of social ostracisation and self-destruction (captured by Satyricon’s Frost and his throat-slitting public art display, and Dead’s suicide), Black Metal – whatever it is – comes off as a dark curiosity ultimately yielding fatalistic results. Fair enough, that’s not the purpose of the movie, but for a Black Metal initiate, this film offers little more than surplus interview material. It’s interesting as a documentary, exploring the detrimental effects of media bullshit super-imposed on an ideological and artistic movement that stood well outside of what the media can express in it’s limited lexicon, and provides content for those interested to further research this cryptic genre.

– Written by ObscuraHessian

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Until the Light Takes Us

(Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites, 2008, 93 min, $16)

If we ask why instead of how an event happened, we find out what made the humans behind it do as they did. “Until the Light Takes Us” explores the why of early 1990s Norwegian black metal. Designed for people with no knowledge of that subculture, the film explains the black metal movement while making its actors emotionally accessible so we feel an urge to understand it. In a time of a sudden interest in metal documentaries, this film stands out by exploring the personalities and ideals that made people invent the music; other films look at the facts of how the music was invented but never the why. We don’t need another documentary telling us millions of people worldwide go crazy for heavy metal so it’s OK if we want to as well. We need to figure out what makes people pick this genre over every other. “Until the Light Takes Us” gets into the why of black metal and the church arsons, murder and media circus that followed. Through fragments of media footage, interviews, and footage of black metal musician Fenriz as he prepares to visit an art exhibit about black metal, this film explores the clash between fantasy and utilitarian modernity that sparked the radicalization of heavy metal. At its culmination, the documentary shows past colliding with present, and a fervent ideal of being against the modern world and believing in a mythic life full of fantasy, adventurous violence and conflict. It is both poignant and literal, like black metal a collision of alienated punk gumption and epic dreams. Like black metal, this film is a study of moods, overlapping in translucent layers, which as they are pulled away show us a simple shape of truth. Although some have bemoaned the inclusion of too much Varg or Fenriz, it became clear from other interviews that musicians are not an articulate bunch and the two who get the most screen time do so in part because they can explain themselves coherently. In the case of Varg, he’s easy to watch: he’s funny, sharp, friendly and his logic is lucid. Fenriz is moodier but his dark sense of absurdist humor commands the film. At the core of this genre, Ewell and Aites find a revolution against consumerism, equality, uniformity, utilitarianism and all other modern concepts by 35-year-old teenagers who never gave up on the idea that life should have adventure, constant discovery and a sense of meaning that unites the entire experience. Unlike most people, these individuals are fully aware of what death means, and when contrasted with the robotic plastic surroundings of the modern world, a parallax shift occurs: we go from seeing them as out of place to seeing their surroundings as out of place or perhaps, irrelevant. This film is a cipher, in that it gives us many entry points to a questioning of modern society and exploration of the ideas of black metal. Among other things, it is obsessed with the erasure of memory and culture, an inspection of the culture of convenience and the isolation it brings, and a hint that we should explore what Joseph Campbell calls “mythic imagination” and Varg calls “fantasy.” Without being socially critical, it is an exploration through the eyes of those who made black metal, and then saw it erased as it became a product with the passage of time.

Metal has been crying out for a movie like this for decades. “Until the Light Takes Us” does what even metalheads cannot do most of the time: it takes the genre seriously as an art form, and peers behind the outlandish behavior and image to try to understand what motivates people to cast aside society for evil metal. For this alone this film should be praised, but it very quietly exposes metal like a blueprint, all while showing us the emotions of the people involved. It is compelling. Clearly these filmmakers knew how to ask the right questions and patiently wait for their subjects to articulate their points of view, then snatch the moments of greatest clarity and present them with impact. Scenes of industrial desolation follow the impact of strident words, and fires of ancient churches melt into shots of the memorabilia and essential moments of a developing genre. Each fan will probably have a wishlist for changing this film, but that only shows how much it seizes the imagination. I would enjoy seeing a comparison between black metal and the European Romantic literature, theatre and music of two centuries ago. Others have commented that less Frost (of Satyricon) might accelerate the latter half, but this reviewer was not troubled by either detail. While much of the material in the movie is well-known in the form that leaked out through the media, rediscovering it through this artfully told history is a dream come true. The documentarians hide themselves and let the characters tell their own side of it. What makes it a dream to which we’d like to return is that it explores the why of this music, and in doing so shows us the fans why we found so much hope and possibility in black metal.

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Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

Chthe’ilist’s debut has been expected by underground death metal fans for some time.  To them, it seems like a promising project faithful to the ideals of atmospheric technical bands such as Demilich and Timeghoul, from whom it takes unmistakable cues. Less fortunate are the influences of popular (in the underground) but ultimately less effective acts Rippikoulu and Crematory. The first two lend a constructive helping hand while Crematory’s contribution distracts with purely technical and empty nonsense detached from clear evocation, and the unimpressive Rippikoulu lends its spacious approach that suffers from the blunders of Wagnerian operas: sparsely located treasures in a sea of boredom. Worth mentioning are a couple of very Voivodesque moments that are surprisingly integrated in a way that they do not seem out of place.

There are several reasons why this release is worth taking a close look at independently of how close we consider it to come to a masterpiece. Existing reviews come awfully short of a real musical insight, opting instead to spend a huge chunk of the time in talking about how cool the guys in the band are, or how ‘awesome’ the vibe is. They are utterly useless when they reach their faux attempts at providing any meaningful observations on the technical side of things. At most, they manage a colorful picture of the mental impressions that the music gives them; this at least is inspiring. Chthe’ilist’s album gives us so much more to discuss not only from its plentiful contents but what they relate to as descendants and composers.

In the interest of a well-rounded critique, Le Dernier Crépuscule should be observed from two different vantage points. The first is to place it within its historical context, and keep present whatever musical influences it appears to have. The second is to ignore everything but our intuition (which is dependent on past experience and understanding, in any case), so that we allow it to articulate and speak out for itself as it draws energy from predecessors we take notice only as an afterthought.

I. Technical Overview

Le Dernier Crépuscule can be roughly divided into two sections, the first consisting of the first five tracks and the second of the remaining two. The first track itself should probably be excluded as it is little more than an intro. The structuring of the next four follows a certain pattern while the last two each follow a freer approach than the one preceding them. The first is Crematory-dominated, while the last increasingly shows a predominant Timeghoul presence. Throughout the record one finds Demilich’s riff style in about half of the individual riffs. This emulation ranges from almost outright shoplifting from Nespithe to more respectable yet still recognizable inspiration. The rest of the riffs also contain the less distinct (read as ‘more random’) but technically recognizable influence of Crematory and some war metal filler while the more creative and original single sections probably come from general Timeghoul influence, which allows for more open interpretation.

Tracks two to five follow a rough plan of riff variations1 lined up one after the other until the solo comes to mark a climax, after which there is a reiteration of previous material and the song ends. It is the “easy way out” of death metal structures, albeit expanded by a greater quantity of riffs. Le Dernier Crépuscule takes the most relaxed route when it comes to conceptualization as well, choosing to go for Crematory’s2 brand of strands of riff variations connected in riff salad manner. Now, Crematory’s style is marked by another particular aspect, and that is that it places technical flare and variety at the top of its priority list. Its choice of allowing runs of related riffs is more the following of what was in vogue at the time, since one can observe that songwise, there is very little keeping it all together but the general tag of the genre. Something similar happens to these first songs by Chthe’ilist.

The sixth and seventh tracks are clearly steeped in a more progressive mindset, allowing for creativity to bubble up as the band tries to craft a narrative. This is conducted with far more success on the last track, ‘Tales of the Majora Mythos Part 1″, than on the hybrid ‘Vecoiitn’aphnaat’smaala’. This emphasis on following a far-reaching narrative reaches formidable proportions in this last track where I would venture to call it a storyline. Variety in riff type is actually richer here than anywhere else in the album, yet through this story-telling technique (that is very much reminiscent of the dramatic flair of Timeghoul on Panaramic Twilight) Chthe’ilist achieves something beyond mere coherence — a smooth flow of ideas connected through careful considerations in texture and rhythmic contrast between sections. These considerations must reach further than adjacent riffs or mere riff-strands so that the song itself does not fall apart.

Unfortunately, although this last track shows us the brightest future for Chthe’ilist, Monsieur Tougas has yet to learn how to finish a song, and what could be an incredible opus is watered down by an unsure appendage after the coda following the solo, a four-minute long welling up of unnecessary nothingness. Content-wise, this adds nothing to the song except confusion, since it is mostly noise and blast beats, which we may presume is an ill-achieved attempt at creating ambience3. The rest of the song itself might be as clear-minded as Timeghoul’s best work, but it is still a work in progress.

I. Aural Impressions

Le Dernier Crépuscule is constantly touted as “Lovecraftian death metal”, and while I get the reference, it seems to me that the character of the music is much more cartoonish than even the original stories, which is saying a lot considering that Lovecraft’s work is already minimalist pulp horror. Taking only a chunk from this author’s work and making a concept album out of it becomes a bit redundant after 2 or 3 songs, and in this album I mostly hear At the Mountains of Madness with some more general references to the Cthulhu mythos towards the end. This limitation results in a bloated album with more words than actual things to say.

In fact, I’d say that for a Lovecraftian experience this is too limited. Timeghoul’s sound, for instance, is very appropriate for expanding on the whole range of cloudy feelings and visages that Lovecraft exposes, not only the mouth-tentacles of his famous monster-deity. Proof of this is that while a Demilich sound on a Crematory template can at most show entrails and guts and an in-your-face horror, the last track had me catching glimpses of R’lyeh through the oceanmist. In Lovecraft you find not only the gnarly gore of slimy and ghoulish creatures, but visitations to otherworldly views in a variety of dream states, alienation from reality expressed through either an increasingly horrifying vision of the world or just not knowing at which side of the sleep curtain it lies.

Lovecraft condenses the very essence of the death metal spirit in its several manifestations and a project with the gigantic potential of Chthe’ilist is surprisingly limited in its choice of evocation, while playing around withtoo many riffs than needed in what appears to be that Crematory-like bloating of content for its own sake with little reference to anything beyond it. Chthe’ilist has a potential of ‘epic proportions’, as the common saying goes. It could have us contemplating at Algol, wondering… it could take us on a bizarre journey through perilous Kadath, and it could make us doubt the very truthfulness of our material existence. In short, it could be the long-awaited metal Messiah that crystallizes the whole of Lovecraftian experience from the essence of the most meaningful obscure acts of the past. But it isn’t.

III. Integral Critique

Bringing together the last two discussions allows us to properly discuss the results Chthe’ilist has achieved. Most bands seem to create a division between music making and lyrical topics, which is not necessarily a bad decision if everything is flowing from a same wellspring of inspiration. The pitfall of this approach is that the sources could end up being distinct, even if compatible, so that the impact of either is dulled by even the slightest hint of cognitive dissonance. This dissonance may even occur in music that is supposedly unified with its lyrical content, and in the case of technically-oriented bands like Chthe’ilist it usually comes about in the form of what could be called ‘riff distraction’.

Riff distraction is a phenomenon that consists of the metal artist losing sight of perspective as he lies on the floor, dull-sensed on proverbial soma. This sends riff-writers off in a mythical quest for the perfect riff combination until they end up with a mass of exciting but ultimately meaningless mumbo jumbo. This is the plague that afflicts this release; its most obvious priority seems to be riff-making, and the clearest sign of a climax is the guitar solo. This album’s is very intentional and varied, but with no precise evocative purpose in mind, so that this huge ball of varied rhythms ends up being a uniform mass when seen from afar. The guitar solo, then, becomes the only way of bringing the song to a breaking point so that at least something in the landscape stands out as a signaling agent for the ending to come with at least a semblance of an excuse.

Alas, the limitation that is holding back Chthe’ilist lies in the mindset of Master Tougas: his towering talent and creative juices ooze with latent power, but his imagination appears to be held back by rationalist prejudices of modern thought that reduce a powerful mythos to mere cartoon. This results in tongue-in-cheek funny horror, which may be an overplaying of the purposely awkward feeling of Demilich that is often perceived simply as funny yet interesting. Timeghoul’s immense aural depth could be the answer here, as the flexibility of its approach lies in the dramatic expansion of predefined techniques within a limited (yet more varied, at the same time) vocabulary that makes even its most complex statements convincing and manifestly intelligible4.

IV. Final Remarks

As pretentious as the thousands of words I’ve already written might make me sound, I would still like to encourage Monsieur Tougas to continue this general line of thinking, while paying closer attention to composition and evocation aspects that lead to a stronger narrative in longer songs. These seem to possess, at least in their present state, the greatest potential of his technical and atmospheric style. His work can bring to reality not only what Timeghoul could have become, but something beyond it, with a long-awaited deftly and graciously applied riffcraft inspired by Demilich. Ditch the Crematory when it comes to structuring decisions, and refactor out any content that isn’t completely indispensable5.

Personally, when it comes to heavily-charged albums such as Le Dernier Crépuscule, I hold a 10-time listening policy: testing how well and in what manner a music album holds up after listening to it completely the first ten times in less than a few days. This has several interesting effects, the first of which is that initial shock effects fade away, technical flare appears more fixed to context, everything gains perspective. Sadly, this album only made it to six listens before losing its luster, and this is mainly because the overall structure of songs and the character they evoke fall into place as an integral whole, revealing the utter simplicity lying behind the tons of riffs and tasty guitar licks.

The reason why the most convincing underground metal has almost always come from the minds that are most “out there” is because their music flows from deeply-ingrained convictions, veritable nightmares that are as real as the sun’s burning sensation, or the excruciating pain of sincere longing for a different reality. While your metal remains “meta”, while it remains only a “fun” way of exploring “spooky” images that are “not real”, your metal will also remain a laughable cartoon.

In earlier ages, as instinctive concepts welled up in the mind of man, his conscious mind could no doubt integrate them into a coherent psychic pattern. But the “civilized” man is no longer able to do this. His “advanced” consciousness has deprived itself of the means by which the auxiliary contributions of the instincts and the unconscious can be assimilated. These organs of assimilation and integration were numinous symbols, held holy by common consent.

In earlier times, these principles were worshiped in all sorts of rituals, which at least showed the psychic significance they held for man. But now they have become mere abstract concepts.

— Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols

1 By riff variation, I mean a grouping of related riffs that arise as variations from a seminal idea.

2 When taking Crematory’s Denial as a point of reference, we can observe how Crematory cannot hold a mood and a line of thought for too long. The music is based on providing variation; for instance, it introduces contrasting ideas in rhythm in extreme fashion so that even very Latin African rhythms pop up right besides more grindy ones with no particular purpose. It may be more difficult to notice, but Demilich already contains such range of variation, but it is much better organized, so that it does not feel haphazard. Furthermore, Demilich is able to stamp their own seal on each section by delimiting certain combinations of rhythm and mode, while Crematory pretty much just throws whatever it can find in your face as it desperately clutches for more content to display a different drum technique.

It’s not that Crematory plays no positive role in the music of Chthe’ilist, but it should be used within its effective scope: the riff variation; and taking note from those who excel at long-range composition when organizing structure.

3 This is a distractor that infects the mentality of modern death metal musicians; it’s almost as if they feel that the music is not enough, that they need to add more “stuff”, whatever it is. This fools the less-focused sort of listeners (apparently, the majority), but not those who would listen to music from multiple angles so as to extract all it contains and more.

4 That is to say, although the difference between the opposite styles within Timeghoul’s vocabulary (from pounding, crowded gnarly riffs to clean-vocal lamentations) may be wider than Crematory’s, the consistency with which they are used imbues them with a more meaningful sense of purpose.

5 A lesson might be learned from Ludwig van Beethoven’s own methods. He is probably the most respectable of classical composers with an inclination for “wild progressive” ideas, since he did not slip into avant-garde stupidity. Beethoven’s music was shocking in its own time for its juxtaposition of apparently contrasting ideas, but he would not leave them there. They were justified, as it were, through their careful development and envelopment throughout the rest of the piece or even in later movements, creating an unprecedented technique in bringing together content in long-range fashion through a process of entanglement.

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For those of us who steadfastly refuse to follow the beard trend

the_gentlemans_art_of_wet_shaving

The Gentleman’s Art of Wet Shaving.

For those of us who steadfastly refuse to follow the beard trend (like it or not, beards are trendy — thanks hipster scum), shaving is an everyday routine that, at times, feels like a chore rather than a pleasurable experience. It doesn’t need to be this way. With a small investment of $40.00 – $50.00 you can turn your daily shave into a pleasurable ritual that takes you back to a simpler time, when gentlemen prided themselves on a clean, close shave. If this interests you, throw your disposable multi-blade razor and chemical filled shaving cream in the trash and embrace the gentleman’s art of wet shaving.

Wet shaving can best be described as “the kind of shaving your grandfather did.” It involves the use of a safety razor, a shaving brush, shaving soap, and a handful of other supplies.

GATHER YOUR TOOLS

The safety razor is the most important part of your shaving arsenal. Sadly when most think of them, the first thing that comes to mind is a bloody, nick filled face. I assure you this preconception is not true, and with proper technique using a safety razor is just as safe as shaving with the razor you are using now.

Safety razors are beautiful works of art crafted from a wide variety of metals and plastics, and choosing the one that’s right for you is simply a matter of personal choice. If you’re new to wet shaving, a great razor to begin with is the Edwin Jagger DE89811BL, it’s a gorgeous chrome plated razor that is weighty, easy to maneuver and not terribly aggressive.

Safety razors use a double-edged blade that fits into a receiver. The receiver allows only a small amount of the blade to protrude through it. That’s where the “safety” part of the razor comes into play. The blades cost about 10 cents a piece — far cheaper than those multi blade cartridges that you pay big bucks for, and range in sharpness from mild to deadly. For beginners, the Derby Extra is an excellent choice. For the more adventurous, the Feather is considered by many to be the king of the hill in sharpness.

Once you’ve chosen your razor and blades, it’s time to find the right brush and soap. Ideally, a badger hair shaving brush should be chosen because it balances stiffness and softness perfectly. A good brush is critical in helping you build a nice lather as well as raising your whiskers for a close shave, so choose wisely.

Choosing a shaving soap is a matter of personal choice, and there are literally hundreds of them in the market. Even the cheapest ones will be better than the chemically laced mass market shaving cream you’re using now. Most shaving soaps come in a tin, but if the one you choose doesn’t, you’ll have to purchase a shaving mug. I use a wide variety of soaps, depending on my mood in the morning. If you want an invigorating menthol zing to your face, try Proraso Green Label, if you want a spicy and warm feeling, try The Blades Grim “Smolder” (my personal favorite).

TIME TO SHAVE

Once you have your weapons together, it’s time for your first wet shave. Remember, if you savor the experience and embrace the ritual, you’ll never go back to modern day shaving again.

Step one: Wash your face with warm water — this helps open your pores, soften your whiskers and prepare your face for shaving. If you really want to go old school, put a warm damp towel on your face for a few minutes.

Step two: Wet your shaving brush thoroughly with warm water, shake it out and begin building lather with your soap. Using a light touch, go in a clockwise direction with the brush until it is coated with some lather. If you don’t have enough lather, wet the brush a little more. Once you have a nice lather, take the brush cover the entire shaving area of your face by using a circular motion. This will help increase lather as well as lift your whiskers. Let the lather sit on your face for a minute before proceeding to step three.

Step Three: Now it’s time to shave. You’ll want to hold the razor against your face at a 30-degree angle from the floor. This angle should just allow the edge of the blade to touch your skin.

When applying pressure, forget everything you know about using a disposable razor. Most of these use sub-standard blades that are grouped together, and you’re probably used to pushing against your skin. With wet shaving, little or no pressure is needed to achieve optimal results; you simply hold the razor gently against your skin and let the weight of the razor do the work for you.

In short, slow strokes, do a single pass with the grain of your hair growth. If you’re able to, pull the area you are shaving taught in order to get a truly close shave. Once you complete this first pass, re-lather with your brush and do a second pass against the grain. Patience is the key — take your time, and as stated before, enjoy the experience.

Step Four: Once you’re done, rinse your face with cold water to cool and tighten your skin. Don’t’ forget to clean your shaving gear thoroughly as well. If you like, follow up with a nice aftershave (not a cologne). If you want to stay in old school mode, try Pinaud Clubman. It smells absolutely hideous out of the bottle, but once it mixes it with your skin’s oils, you’ll instantly smell like a real man, not an effeminate metrosexual — think Patton, Eisenhower and Humprey Bogart here….you get the picture. As an added bonus, the Pinaud also cools your skin nicely.

The whole wet shaving process takes about 15 minutes, but in the end you’ll be richly rewarded with a superior shave, great skin and a new relaxing ritual that will certainly make your day a little bit brighter.

Once you’ve mastered the art of using a safety razor, you can really step up your game and try a straight razor. That’s where the serious fun begins.

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Invention versus novelty in metal

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There is an experience like deja vu which feels more like parallax motion. This sensation is that of seeing parallels between two things which, visually at least, seem to have nothing in common. And yet it also feels like racing over open ground in a landscape of discovery. Consider this observation from a pipe collecting writer:

Some innovations are not innovative at all. They are ideas that have been explored–and even made–long before. That the current experimenter is ignorant of previous attempts does not make the effort novel. It also does not make revising an idea or revisiting a solution unworthy. But don’t make untrue claims. Socrates’ observation that “There is nothing new under the sun” is almost always true.

Other “innovations” are transparent attempts at attention-getting. Putting products out there that exclaim “Look at me! I’m SO leading edge! I’m an artist!” might work for Miley Cyrus, but the average pipemaker’s target audience is somewhat less naïve nor impressionable, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at some of the work being touted on Facebook pipe groups these days.

What amazes me even more is that the work on the ridiculous end of the sublime-to-ridiculous continuum attracts its champions, and they seem eager to whoop and hurrah without engaging in any critical discourse at all. It’s hype, hype, hype. In my view, hyping isn’t helpful because it inhibits thoughtful conversations that might contribute to improving or at least refining the innovations being touted.

He draws a distinction between what we might call invention, or application of new ideas to a realistic use, as distinct from novelty, which is the creation of “new” ideas for newness’ sake. In metal terms, it takes some brains and guts to create a sublime form of a metal genre, but any idiot can add ska, jazz and rockabilly to Pantera and come up with something “new.”

Metalcore in particular is consumed by this view of novelty as a target. Since its songs are built in the post-hardcore random collage style, just about anything fits into a metalcore band, which is why it has aesthetically-diverse but musically-similar acts like Animals as Leaders, Obscura, Behemoth, The Haunted and The Red Chord under the same genre banner. Each riff is like a different act in a variety show. This is why it has the “carnival music” approach: its compositional structure is verse chorus with an extended musical appositive in which the random is prized more than the coherent, or that which flows from one point to another in a sensible narrative.

Some would say this is its artistic appeal, that metalcore expresses the randomness and purposeless directionless consumption of our time. That may be true, but the best art does not merely protest, but forms beauty out of sense and makes it compelling in a new way. Others might defend metalcore as “open-minded,” as was popular with bad gimmick death metal bands in the early 1990s, and even early mathcore experiments. Yet randomness is not open-mindedness; it is refusal to make up one’s mind, and by burying the audience under different elements, essentially hiding what one thinks and hedging one’s bests. How do you criticize a band that has a riff from every imaginable style in each song, except to note that greater randomness produces greater proximity to background noise? Andy Warhol might sell metalcore as an avant garde representation of the background noise of the city.

And yet, we had two-riffs plus breakdowns bands back in the day. Metalcore itself is an extension of post-hardcore, which was a late 1980s thing. None of this “innovation” is in fact new; it is merely recycling the same old sad elements, like the clichés in movies where every rebellious character has to ride a Harley, drink Jack Daniels, smoke Reds and listen to heavy metal. Generally the pattern for metalcore bands is that they find something that people want but do not understand, then make a simplified — in this case, random — version of it, and then pimp it out. Opeth for example made their career off the idea of being too deep for most people, but were basically a re-hash of what Cemetary and Tiamat did five years before. Meshuggah took what Exhorder and Vio-lence did with speed metal riffs but made it more obvious, simplified and put it to a jazz-style complex offbeat structure, but added nothing new musically, and in fact took away most of the musicality. Cradle of Filth figured out that if someone made a heavy metal band that sounded like black metal, it would outsell the original. And so on.

Here is a useful definition regarding metalcore:

A blend of hardcore and metal music that evolved in the mid-to-late 90’s with bands like Unbroken, Earth Crisis, Harvest, Endeavor, Poison The Well and Unearth. There is a liberal use of breakdowns in the music and the lyrical themes range from the political to the personal.

Compare to a similar definition for deathcore:

Deathcore is a style of extreme music often confused by its fans with death metal. Deathcore draws heavily from the “malcore” style of metalcore in the sense that elements of its sound, both in composition and production, are rejected by the more conservative metal culture (ex. death/black/thrash/sludge metal). Deathcore differs from metalcore in the sense that it is generally faster, more heavy, and tending toward darker themes such as are present in death metal. Deathcore is also notorious for the excessive use of breakdowns, an element also present (but less frequent) in death metal and other ‘true’ metal genres. Hardcore dancing, a dance style in which fans swing their arms and legs violently in rhythm, has become hugely popular among deathcore fans, and is a trademark of live deathcore shows.

Despite many fans’ beliefs, deathcore is vastly different from traditional death metal. Musically, the deathcore song structure is generally much more formulaic than that of death metal; songs tend to have one or two guitar riffs, several breakdowns, and possibly a chorus. Deathcore composition is also much less complex, many songs featuring doubled guitar parts or simple guitar harmonies, with the bass guitar being almost entirely indistinguishable.

Our normal impulse is to say “Well, you listen to what you like, and I will listen to what I like.” That is the socially correct answer at least which is one reason why it is wrong: social preference selects for the unreal because people prefer illusion. The problem is that when idiot music shows up, idiots show up, and they outnumber anyone competent. If they can appropriate the style of your genre and make a dumbed-down sugar, salt and fat added version of it, they will replace you. You will not keep listening to what you like because no new versions of it will come out because no musician will touch a genre infested by idiots unless he or she wants to profit from idiots. Your genre will be assimilated and replaced. That is exactly what happened to metal since 1994.

Some people moan any time a person wants to connect metal with social trends, history or other traditional forms of analysis. that is because those people want to keep metal as a hobby, a product and something special removed from everything else that is just there to be enjoyed. But on the other hand, many artists have given up more comfortable lives cranking out alt-country, indie rock or rap to spend their time trying to make quality metal, and it seems pointless to disrespect and ignore that. If we look at metal through the historical development of an artistic movement, it becomes clear that it offers not just another version of the same rock ‘n’ roll idea, but an entirely different idea. Rock is, like all post-Enlightenment thought, about the primacy of the individual. Metal rebels against that with hard realism.

Perhaps the hard realism is right. After all, this society is miserable — another one of those things that metal reminds us of daily — and besotted with lies, committing ecocide against nature, forcing people into miserable jobs, and specializes in tearing down beautiful things to replace them with strip malls and endless rules. I would go so far as to say this is the worst age of humanity, except for the mindlessly selfish, who sure love that 500-channel cable and easy jobs and fast credit that make them feel like kings in the tiny little fraction of the universe that they notice. Over time I have come to observe that the smarter someone is, the more aware they are not just of particular ideas or facts but of space, area, time and their own smallness. An idiot thinks he is the sole occupant of the planet; a medium-intelligence person is aware of his community; a genius is aware of the cosmos, the past and future of humanity as a whole, and the people even far from him. Metal rebels against our society both on the basis that it is formed of affectionate-sounding lies, and that it is ugly, pointless, boring and crass.

But that is “alternative history” to the majority of people. They believe — because they want to believe — that our time is the apex of humanity. And technologically, surely it is, although most of this stuff seems like fumbly-fidgety rehashes of 1970s inventions like UNIX and networking. They ignore the vast misery not just among the impoverished, but among the successful, and the utter boredom of the purposeless nature of modern life. Every generation, social order decays further and people become more like witches, of dishonest, selfish, petty, and oblivious character. Each generation can say to the one after, “Stuff’s worse than when I was a kid, so have an iPod and we’ll call it even, OK?” As long as we stick with official history there is nothing we can do with that. As others have noted, perhaps the root of invention as opposed to novelty is a willingness to leap off the platform of official history and look into other reasons, not new but realistic and truthful instead of merely socially popular ones.

Speaking of alternative history, I encountered this passage today. You might call it Libertarians for Monarchy. It takes an economist’s view of the change in history, and shows how alternative history might have been right, after all, and how we might all just be living in denial and cruising on the wealth of the past (Hans-Hermann Hoppe via Outside In:

A king owned the territory and could hand it on to his son, and thus tried to preserve its value. A democratic ruler was and is a temporary caretaker and thus tries to maximize current government income of all sorts at the expense of capital values, and thus wastes. […] Here are some of the consequences: during the monarchical age before World War I, government expenditure as a percent of GNP was rarely higher than 5%. Since then it has typically risen to around 50%. Prior to World War I, government employment was typically less than 3% of total employment. Since then it has increased to between 15 and 20%. The monarchical age was characterized by a commodity money (gold) and the purchasing power of money gradually increased. In contrast, the democratic age is the age of paper money whose purchasing power has permanently decreased. […] Kings went deeper and deeper into debt, but at least during peacetime they typically reduced their debt load. During the democratic era government debt has increased in war and in peace to incredible heights. Real interest rates during the monarchical age had gradually fallen to somewhere around 2½%. Since then, real interest rates (nominal rates adjusted for inflation) have risen to somewhere around 5% — equal to 15th-century rates. Legislation virtually did not exist until the end of the 19th century. Today, in a single year, tens of thousands of laws and regulations are passed. Savings rates are declining instead of increasing with increasing incomes, and indicators of family disintegration and crime are moving constantly upward.

In a time when popularity determines success, appearance is more important than reality. This is what gives rise to novelty, or essentially — as our pipe smoker above reminded us — re-visiting of old ideas in bizarre new forms that entice the herd because they are different and unique, which is how all of those bonobos view themselves and want to assert as their reason for having importance. We call most of them hipsters, but the phenomenon is broader than that; we live in a time that is appearance-over-substance, and as long as metal panders to that demographic, its fortunes will not improve.

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Interview: Unaussprechlichen Kulten

unaussprechlichen-kulten-band_photo

We recently reviewed Unaussprechlichen Kulten Baphomet Pan Shub-Niggurath, a death metal album that knits together old school and newer styles of the underground metal art. We were lucky to get a few moments with Joseph Curwen, guitarist and composer, to explain the intricate secrets behind this dark cult act.

Do you identify with the “old school spirit” in the metal underground? If so, what is it and how does it emerge in your music?

Not really. “Old School” sounds like a “nostalgic trend” of “clone bands.” For us the Death Metal way is one style. It may have variants like brutal, old style or mixtures with other styles. But if the bands begin to clone all — the style, sound and even the graphics and pics — this really… sucks. Poorly made copies are not necessary! The “Sunlight” or “Tampa Florida” styles are wonderful and are always “inspiring,” I know it’s difficult to innovate in a “strict” style and with so many old bands as reference … but if a band does not have in its purpose something new, creative, original… anything in particular that distinguishes… why make that band?

The name “Unaussprechlichen Kulten” or “nameless cults” comes from the Cthulhu mythos, as do many of your song titles. How important is Lovecraft’s work to your art, and to metal in general? What other occult/romantic/fantasy writers influence you?

You are right about our name. Lovecraft’s literary legacy is rich in terminology and knowledge, therefore allows us to explain with his words the religious or spiritual concepts that otherwise we would be forced to use “Christian” or “common” terms so they can be understood. Lovecraft always publicly declared himself to be an atheist, but his erudition in the occult was something more than an amateur.
Therefore we are not only focused on the work of Lovecraft. We also include other topics, including Chilean mythology. The Necromancy is not unique to any particular culture, so what we do is explore in different subjects, always mystical and dark, but with the work of Lovecraft as a reference. Other interesting writers are Robert Bloch and Robert E. Howard, classics occultist like Blavatsky and Eliphas Levi, even contemporary Chilean writers as Oreste Plath and M. Serrano and others

Metal has always been influenced by the literature of Terror, and Lovecraft is the horror writer who made the most important revolution in the genre. He will always be a benchmark in the lyrics of Metal bands.

Baphomet Pan Shub-Niggurath sounds like it takes influence from both newer and older raditions in underground metal. What are your influences? Which of these did you find most useful in creating this album?

A lot of influences, you know mainly 80-90. Classic Swedish and American death Mmetal. Some from South American or Scandinavian… older? …mmm INCANTATION, NECRODEATH, GORGUTS, SHUB NIGGURATH, IMMOLATION, NECRODEATH, PENTAGRAM, MORBID ANGEL (old), MORTA SKULD, DISMEMBER, the mighty SADISTIC INTENT, DEMIGOD (old), MORTEM, and of course SLAYER, MERCYFUL FATE, SACRIFICE….. Newer? Throneum, Karnarium, Deathspell Omega, Godless, After Death, Dead Congregation, Hatespawn, Katharsis among many others.

In the early 1990s, there were few bands and not that many fans. Now there are more of both, and metal is accepted as normal in the mainstream press. How has this changed what it is to be a metal band? How has it not changed how it is to be a metal band?

Good question. It’s been over 20 years and society (worldwide) changed. We live in the information age; in the early 90s without internet, the bands depended on the promotion and diffusion that could be done through the “official” and monopolized media (radio, tv, zines Poser, label’s flyers, etc). Now every band can do their own promotion, also in these 20 years there was a “democratization” of recording technologies now make it possible to make music in a “Home Studio” way. More music available and easier to access it produces “the moment” in which we live.

This album embraces a dark and occult way of putting riffs in order and making songs of them. How do you know which riffs fit with each other? And how do you compose a song — do you start with a melody, a riff, an idea, an image?

From “People of the Monolith” onward our approach has always been the same way — to do riffs. I bring the riffs, arrangements and dis-harmonies of both guitars (I come with everything done and ready in accordance to what lyrics need like faster, slower or thicker parts, strange arrangements, etc.). It’s personal, a kind of trance. I only think in the “concept” and the lyrics, while I do an old trick: I move my fingers over the guitar until I’m no longer playing at random, but there is a “pattern” becoming a “riff.” Once I show the guitars to Butcher, drumming is 100% his responsibility. Then we adjust the structure and cuts together in the rehearsal room. When that base is settled, we incorporate the bass (based on drums). I used to do the bass but in this last record, NAMRU IMPETRADORUM MORTEM was integrated into the creative process of basses, all of them were 100% invented by him in Chapter VIII.

How did Unaussprechlichen Kulten form? Did you know each other from previous bands? Did you have a stated goal in coming together and forming the band?

In the beginning we was just two members, with no previous bands, the first name was “SPAWN.” With that name we just recorded 5 tracks of traditional Death Metal (never edited!). During that period of time I always felt unsettled about the name of the band so I decided to change it for a name in Spanish: “Culto Innombrable” was the one that came into my mind, it was a good name, we even made a logo. At that time I realize about the coincidence with the apocryphal Lovecraftian book: “UNAUSSPRECHLICHEN KULTEN”, diabolically whispered in my ear by Azathoth!

How well has the album been received so far? As more people hear your music, will your plans change? What comes next for Unaussprechlichen Kulten?

So far very good reviews, but our plans will not change. We are a “not popular” or “trendy” band. It has been more than ten years since it all began. So far we are a very unknown band out of Chile, we have been into the deep underground always, and I think will always be so because of our style. Death Metal is not a “trendy” style at this moment; now Death Metal is made by people who are stubborn and headstrong which maintains this “sectarian” behavior. It is true that more and more bands are appearing… on one hand this is good … the “scene” looks “healthy,” alive, which allows bands to exist and makes the media interested in promoting them (and of course in our case, more people hear our music), but on the other hand, also the “overpopulation” of bands is huge, generating a size of information unable to be processed. “A lot of bands” are not synonymous with “quality of bands.”

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