(Join DMU Legend Johan Pettersson for what may be the most expansive analysis of power metal ever presented in the first of a 3 part series. Listen to the accompanying suggested listening here)
Of all the subgenres and styles that fall within the metal spectrum (hence excluding unmitigated relapses into rock such as death’n’roll, stoner, nu- and indie metal), power metal most definitely counts as the one that has received the highest amount of scorn and ridicule from critics, fans and outsiders alike. (more…)
The last two decades has witnessed an exponential growth of studies devoted to popular music, coupled with a re-evaluation of past theories and models for interpretation and analysis. This paradigm shift has sparked interest in music “at the fringes” which in turn has led to the unlikely emergence of “metal studies”: a multi-disciplinary field of research centered around all things related to metal music.
Among internet metal sites, Metal-Rules.com has a unique niche as being both popular with newer fans and proud of classic metal. During the last few melees over censorship, I encountered the Managing Editor there, a relaxed fellow by the name of Joshua Wood. Since we are both metal nerds, it seemed an interview was in order, and to his credit, it ended up being more interesting and more metal than people might suspect. Give a big hand in welcoming Joshua Wood, and read on…
What first attracted you to heavy metal?
Easy! Kiss Destroyer, 1976. The excitement, the fire, the blood, the power and the electric energy of it all. The top mainstream bands of the time were all soft rock and disco and along came…Kiss! They just totally blew everyone away.
What first attracted you to writing?
It’s funny, I don’t really consider myself a ‘writer.’ I’m just a guy with lots of strong opinions about metal! My main goal always was, and I suspect always will be, to support the underground and ‘real’ Metal bands, as per our site’s tagline, ‘Supporting Real Metal’ since 1995.” I’m not a critic; I want to support a band I enjoy and feel could use the support and or exposure. I don’t waste my time criticizing bands I don’t like, why bother? Live and let die, they can find their own audience. I’d rather write a positive review of a band and help them instead of slagging one of many, many crappy bands. As a result I write very, very few negative type reviews, whereas some mean-spirited critics seem to revel in finding new and amusing ways to insult bands. Those reviews are funny to read though!
How did you get involved with Metal-Rules.com? Today, as I understand it, you are the Managing Editor. How did you get into this job?
I started as a ‘Guest Writer’ (like all of our staff) back in 2001. Overtime I contributed and showed I was reliable, could meet simple deadlines, brought some creativity to the table and generally showed a passion to support the site. Back then there were very few website dedicated to metal, especially the metal I loved, not the nu-metal that was infecting the scene at the time and it was the perfect forum to show that there were still killer new bands out there besides the crappy/trendy sub-genres. Over time, I became the Managing Editor. It is strictly volunteer.
Sometimes when some crappy rap-rock and mallcore band sends me stuff or is asking for help I feel like saying, “Dude! Do you even LOOK at our site? We are so against the kind of music you make, why did you waste your time contacting us?”
What does the job entail? What are the fun parts, and the harder parts?
I tend to oversee our writers/photographers, give people encouragement, support and direction. I contact labels, agents, bands promoters on behalf of the site, give out assignments and of course add and edit the content to the site. It’s always fun talking to fellow like-minded metal heads about metal and I suppose doing the book and DVD reviews is my favourite part. I’ve written over 1000 reviews for the site over the years! We have a private Metal-Rules Staff Facebook page where we discuss the months assignments, who is covering or reviewing what so we keep it all straight.
The least fun part is having to reject bands or labels that just don’t fit our mandate or interest, but I always try to be supportive and suggest they try other avenues. Sometimes when some crappy rap-rock and mallcore band sends me stuff or is asking for help I feel like saying, “Dude! Do you even LOOK at our site? We are so against the kind of music you make, why did you waste your time contacting us?” lol. Sometimes fixing the countless little mistakes of submissions can get laborious, but I just put on an album and type away!
What sort of metal do you like? Do you distinguish by genre, quality of bands or some other traits that they have?
I’m a fan of many forms/styles/sub-genres of hard rock and metal. It’s almost easier to say what I don’t like which are:
I’ve been actively buying and collecting metal since the late 70s so I have a substantial personal collection of just over 10,000 items, albums, books, DVDs, cassettes, magazines, etc, including a decent stock of rarities, and I love it all! If you include authorized digital promo copies my collection swells to 15,000 items. Thrash, Death, Black, Doom, Power, etc have lots of every style to suit my mood. I do distinguish between genres but I try to keep it to a dozen or so broader genres, but I also enjoy micro-analyzing the subtle differences in bands styles, scenes and sounds.
I’m also the co-chair of the Heavy Metal committee for CARAS (Canadian Academy of Recording Arts And Sciences) the group who host/present Canada’s national music award program, the Juno awards…the equivalent to the Grammys. I tend to use those analytical skills in that role to see what really qualifies as ‘metal’ when it comes time to screen submissions for the awards program. You would be surprised the amount of crap that people consider ‘metal’ and submit to us!
What do you think distinguishes heavy metal from rock music?
That is a tough question! I think Metal has a bit more aggression, speed, power attitude, rebelliousness, negativity, skill, dynamics, sincerity, than the ‘average’ rock band.
Can you name the metal bands that have influenced you most, as well as the writers and other non-musical influences who shape what you do?
The bands that influence me the most are some old favourites, W.A.S.P., Manowar, Thor, Anvil, Raven, and Yngwie Malmsteen. These guys get it. The never bow to trends, they never break, they are all underdogs, survivors, productive and reliable! Many younger fans make fun of those bands but they could learn a lesson or two on how it done to persevere and survive to create real metal art. I doubt many of the new, trendy bands will ever have a 15-20 album, 30-40 year career like the above list.
Martin Popoff is a big influence, we have become personal friends over the years which is cool. Non-musical influences would be the normal day to day stuff, playing sports (soccer) my career, family, hobbies and volunteer work. It all keeps me busy, I wish I had more time to dedicate to the site as you can tell by how long it took me to respond to your kind request for an interview!
I recently wrote that modern metal — nu-metal, post-metal, metalcore and indie-metal — have one thing in common, which is that they are composed like rock bands but use metal riffs sometimes. What do you think distinguishes older heavy metal, underground metal and modern metal from each other?
I think I would agree! I feel much of the younger modern Metal bands confuse ‘heaviness’ with volume and screaming. I understand that there is a natural extension of Metal to want to go after, louder, more extreme etc but often they loose site of some of the key elements that attracted me to Metal…the riffs, technicality, proficiency, speed, power all that stuff. Some bands are so busy trying too hard to look or sound what they think Metal is, that they miss the point.
I’ve seen groups like the PMRC or MTV come and go and after waging deliberate anti-metal campaigns (and losing) so I lumped the SJW into that category.
How important is technicality to you in assessing bands? What about production?
To me technicality is extremely important. I love bands like Dragonforce, Immortal Guardian, Joe Stump, Pathfinder, Dream Theater. I love guitar heroes; I have dozens of guitar/instrumental shred albums so that ranks very highly for my enjoyment. As for production, I don’t feel like I have a very refined ear. It amuses me that some people can say, “The production ruined the album or made it unlistenable”, but that is pretty subjective. I’ve never heard a truly horrible production job that radically diminishes my enjoyment of an album. I listen to two-track Death Metal demos from 30 years ago and I listen to full-on, 120 digital track albums from Prog Metal bands with orchestras and infinite layers of sound (like Devin Townsend for example) and I enjoy each for what they are.
Of all the things that you have written, what are your favourites?
I have a few editorials (and or rants) I have done that are more for my own amusement to point out trends or odd facts. One recent one I did was a piece that stated Slayer has copied W.A.S.P. their entire career. Of course, most people in their right mind would disagree but it was fun to find 10 or so interesting little facts and coincidences about the two bands and do a creative piece. Again, the book reviews are really fun to write. I’ve written close to 300 now. Film/DVD reviews are great as well, they can be more in-depth than just another CD review that ten other websites have already reviewed that month as well. Our site we believe has the largest collection of metal DVD and book reviews on the web, with the exception of the big (not-metal) sales portals like Amazon.
A few years back I was contacted by Dr. Niall Scott of the University of Central Lancashire in England. He is the Chair for the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) and he said he uses my book review section for a reference which I thought was very nice, so the book reviews is probably my #1 fave for now. It’s nice, as the only site that really does many metal themed book reviews people constantly send me books to review which is an awesome perk.
What do you think of #MetalGate? Does metal have its own response to these issues, and not need an outsider view, or should it take influence from other rock genres and consider the SJW agenda?
I have to admit I was not knee deep in that battle. For one, I’m not heavily involved in social media, I don’t do Twitter or any of that stuff so it sort of went under my radar. Secondly, I really don’t care about or put stock into people who criticize Metal. People, the music industry, the church, the government, academics, parents, the media, watchdog groups and even (so-called) fans have been attacking metal from the beginning so I tend to ignore those ignorant fools. I was like, ‘Yup, another bunch of clueless morons with nothing better to do taking aim at Metal’. It was almost a non-issue for me. I’ve seen groups like the PMRC or MTV come and go and after waging deliberate anti-metal campaigns (and losing) so I lumped the SJW into that category. There are but a vocal minority seeking attention by using music (or art, or literature etc) to promote a specific social agenda…it’s like buzzing housefly or yapping little dog, you just ignore it even though you have the power to crush it. I would not want to dignify the SJW clan with a response because the wolf does not concern himself with the opinion of the sheep. Like Jack Black and Tenacious D said, “You cannot kill the metal!” However…. I do admire and support the warriors who picked up the sword and went into battle in the name of metal!
To directly answer your question: No, metal should never compromise and consider the agenda of others; that would be the polar opposite of Metal is. Metal is not about compromise, friendship, or trying to be some happy, all-inclusive, friendly, hippy, group-hug, drum-circle (despite what Sepultura did on Roots!) It never has been and never will be. Embracing that agenda would be one of the worst possible outcomes and it would dilute the purity and beauty of the genre. I think Alice Cooper said it best. He said, (roughly paraphrased) “Metal is not about politics. It is about sex, money and violence. Leave the politics to the punks.”
Can you tell us more about “Metal Mental Meltdown”? Is it true that you’re planning a digital version?
That is a whole other story. The brief version is that I created a heavy metal board game back in 1999. I sold it around the world and it was my full-time job for a short while. Overtime the game ran its course and I returned to the real world of work. I had written some genre-based extension packs but time, energy and money were the enemy. I have often flirted with ideas of some sort of digital version, an app, an on-line game but have yet to put it in motion. The hard copies are still for sale.
What is your radio show, Megawatt Mayhem, like? How do you pick bands to be on the show?
Megawatt Mayhem is one of the world’s longest running metal radio shows. We have been on air for over 29 years every Saturday night on CJSW 90.9FM in the city of Calgary, here in Western Canada. We are a two-hour magazine style show with news, views, reviews, interviews, concert listings and local bands. We have an open door policy for local bands, if a Calgary or area band wants to visit, as long as they have some recorded product of a minimal level of quality we invite them on. The host of the show champions local acts, I am more selective, but it is part of our mandate as a local station to support local artists. We have interviewed tons of bands from the brand new local band in the garage to Metallica.
I also host a more melodic Metal show called Attention Surplus Overdrive which features the more melodic side of the genres; guitar heroes, Prog Metal, symphonic Metal, Melodic Metal etc… it runs for three hours late at night so I can play entire albums by Nightwish or Steve Vai or whoever. I’ve been doing it for almost two years now. It is on the same station, right after Megawatt Mayhem, so I do a really fun five-hour stint every Saturday night/Sunday morning!
If people are interested in what you do, where do they go to find more information and keep up with the latest from you?
Anyone can drop me a line via one of my five (!) Facebook pages! lol. I’d be glad to discuss my involvement in the Metal industry over the last 20 years, from being a promoter, an Assistant Producer of a huge Metal festival, a hosting a Metal nights, and countless small metal-themed projects with anyone who wants to chat!
US. heavy metal band Obsession will be releasing a re-issue of their album Carnival of Lies (a reunion album originally released in 2006 that is now out of print) through Inner Wound Recordings. Carnival of Lies is set to be released on July 27th in Europe and on Jul 24th in the U.S.
Carnival of Lies
In for the Kill
I Don’t Belong
Written in Blood
Guilty as Charged
Panic in the Streets
Obsession “Carnival of Lies” line-up:
Michael Vescera [Animetal USA, ex Loudness, Yngwie Malmsteen] – Vocals
Jay Mezias – Drums
Scott Boland [MVP] – Guitars
John Bruno [X Factor X] – Guitars
Chris Mccarvill [House of Lords, ex Dokken, Jeff Scott Soto] – Bass
As part of our exploration of academia in metal, we meet all sorts of interesting academics with different relationships to metal. Some are more on the academic side, some on the musical, and some in-between. Ross Hagen straddles both extremes by being both a musician and an academic with a focus on teaching metal. As a result, he brings both personal experience and delight in the genre to the otherwise more abstract academic view. We were lucky to get in a few questions with this interesting person and teacher.
You’ve got two degrees in music and one in musicology. What launched you along this direction? Did you intend to become an academic, or did the music lead you there?
I think this career path resulted from my love of music coupled with the fact that I didn’t really have the discipline for seriously practicing a musical instrument so I could play professionally. I’d much rather spend six hours a day in the library. Graduate school was also a nice way to extend my adolescence and avoid adult responsibilities for a few years after college. But when I think about it, I suppose that academia was always an intention of mine, whether I thought about it consciously or not. Both of my parents were educators, so I guess I’m something of a poster child for following the path laid out by my upbringing.
What got you involved with heavy metal? Were you a fan before you studied it? What appeals about it to you, both as a research subject and as a personal listening experience?
I was definitely a fan before I began pursuing it as a topic of study. My father was a college professor and his students would occasionally loan him tapes and CDs so I was listening to a lot of college rock and industrial music (well, NIN anyway) in my early teens. At one point he had a student who loaned him some of the early albums by Amorphis, Samael, Tiamat, and My Dying Bride and I dug them a lot. It wasn’t until college that I found other people who liked that kind of stuff and expanded my listening though. I feel like I’m still playing catch-up on a lot of older material from the 70s and 80s especially. I also got into musicology as an undergraduate and began including metal in my studies there.
…blast beats and tremolo picking seem to suspend rhythmic momentum and time in black metal when coupled with more slowly changing harmonies and hazy-sounding production. I also related the use of full chord voicings and the use of parallel minor 3rds and 6ths (in Emperor’s music especially) to an interest in chaotic sorts of sounds…
From a personal standpoint, I suppose I find it empowering in some respects, but I also like that black metal especially is a style where it’s easy to just get lost in the sound. As a bassist and composer I like that metal is challenging to perform and that it’s a style that is quite malleable in some respects even as its fundamental ingredients remain relatively stable. I think that’s part of what I like about it as a researcher as well; the tension between the metal’s core attributes and its desire to evolve and change.
You’ve contributed a piece, “Musical Style, Ideology, and Mythology in Norwegian Black Metal,” in the compilation Metal Rules the Globe. Can you tell us about this writing, and what your thesis generally was?
This was a version of my 2005 Master’s degree thesis where I wrote about some of the key elements of the “second wave” black metal musical style and related them to the genre’s interest in the supernatural and mythical. In particular I looked into the way that blast beats and tremolo picking seem to suspend rhythmic momentum and time in black metal when coupled with more slowly changing harmonies and hazy-sounding production.
I also related the use of full chord voicings and the use of parallel minor 3rds and 6ths (in Emperor’s music especially) to an interest in chaotic sorts of sounds since those types of chords are much less focused and resonant than the typical metal power chord when played with lots of distortion. I considered these musical conventions as evocations of trance experiences because they create a sense of stasis and timelessness (in a literal sense) by obscuring rhythmic propulsion and harmonic clarity.
I was at the time interested in connecting these musical devices to the sort of Norse revivalist rhetoric that was regularly coming from people like Varg Vikernes and that also underpins Michael Moynihan’s Lords of Chaos, especially mythical figures like the berserker…that black metal seems to reward an ideal of virtuosity based on physical endurance rather than dexterity and nimbleness, things like that. I do think that there was a certain aesthetic affinity with these mythical ideals for some black metallers, that they envisioned themselves as warriors or as part of a charivari tradition trying to bring back a romanticized ideal of pre-modern Europe. However, I think that the chapter’s main contribution is the articulation of the musical style…or at least when I go back and read it those are the parts that I think hold up the best.
You teach courses on popular music, music appreciation, and music history at Utah Valley University. Does this include metal? How do students respond to it? Does their response change depending on whether they are metalheads or not?
Most of them seem to respond fairly positively to it when I do teach it, which usually only happens in the course specifically centered around popular music. I do include bits of Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen in my schtick on musical virtuosity in the music appreciation classes, but more as a side comparison. Students in the popular music courses seem to respond well to it even if they aren’t fans, since by the time we get into it most of the students understand that “liking” a genre of music is not a prerequisite for investigating its musical style and influence. Metalheads or former metalheads (I actually hear that a lot here…metal is something they used to like as teenagers) tend get a little more into it, but I’m often pleasantly surprised as well when students who have no personal affinity with the style offer thoughtful considerations of it.
I find it interesting that you’ve composed music for the production of two ancient Greek plays at UVU. Are these going to be released? Is there any overlap between ancient Greco-Roman music and heavy metal?
Actually only one of them (Antigone) was an ancient Greek play. The other one, Eurydice, was a modern play by Sarah Ruhl that is built around the myth but definitely takes its own path (and was directed by my very talented and lovely wife Lisa). Oddly enough, my music cues for Eurydice actually did include a bit of Rammstein-ish heavy metal…the script called for it when the Lord of the Underworld enters dressed like a child and riding a tricycle.
I’m not planning to release recordings of Eurydice‘s music cues themselves since they wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense on their own (15 seconds of heavy metal, 45 seconds of lounge music, etc.) but I did put together a suite of sorts called gravity is very compelling out of the soundscapes from Eurydice. The Antigone score is likewise kind of boring out of context, but I’ve repurposed parts of it in other works here and there.
Regarding ancient Greek and Roman music, I can say with some certainty (even though ancient music isn’t a specialty of mine) that there’s not any overlap with heavy metal in terms of musical content. A lot of the theoretical ideas and writings helped lay the foundations for the European art music tradition in the medieval period, though. Plato’s famous concerns about the dangerous moral and social effects of “disordered” music also echo through the centuries to inform the various moral panics around heavy metal and other musical styles.
According to your biography, you’ve participated in more than a dozen album releases on various American and European labels, and perform in the ambient bands encomiast and Schrei aus Stein as well as two local metal bands. Can you tell us a bit about your musical history?
I started making ambient music with encomiast in the late 1990s, when I had access to a proper electronic music studio at college. That sort of whetted my appetite for it and I’ve continued recording stuff like it ever since, often drawing my friends into the mix as well. Most of the catalog from that project is available at encomiast.bandcamp.com, although I think my favorite is the 139 Nevada 2xCD that grew out of an attempt to record ghostly voices at a haunted theater. I started Schrei aus Stein when I wanted to do something that mixed drones and noise with more of a black metal aesthetic. Beyond those projects, in the last decade I’ve played in the absurdist metal duo Spawn of the Matriarch, the stoner metal band Governors, a krautrock/free jazz trio, a one-off Mortician-worship solo project named Immensite, and a couple of cover bands.
Currently I play bass in Burn Your World, a band that mixes extreme metal styles with some hardcore punk influence. We also have a side project called Curseworship in which I play bass and compose a lot of harsh noise and analog synth freakouts. Both of those bands have recordings coming out soonish.
What do you think is the role of music? Is it to communicate ideas, express emotions, or make an aesthetic object for others to appreciate? Or none of the above?
I’d probably say it’s more like all of the above in my view, depending on the context and the person who is experiencing it. Your last role (aesthetic object) is probably closest to the way I think about the music I create — I tend to think structurally rather than in emotional or rhetorical terms.
Do you think metal is a subject that should be taught in schools? There’s two viewpoints to this: from academia’s point of view, and from metal’s point of view.
I think that from an academic point of view it’s as valid a subject as any, and to my mind it provides a rich musical and cultural well for all sorts of areas of study. I’d also be lying if I denied that it gives me a lot of pleasure to teach and write about music I love, so there’s a selfish end too I guess! I certainly also understand why some metalheads might not appreciate it because sometimes it does seem like once something has the stamp of approval from the ivory tower it loses a lot of its countercultural credentials.
Some might see it (possibly correctly!) as a misguided attempt to validate metal as an art form…or perhaps to validate academia by borrowing some of metal’s coolness. I personally try to avoid giving that impression in my classes, but my position as an academic may make it impossible for me dodge those bullets entirely. So I suppose my ultimate answer is “yes,” but with acknowledgement of some pitfalls.
You taught a couple of metal-centric classes at CU-Boulder while you were finishing your degree. What were these like? How did you “teach metal”?
One of them was a single Saturday course done through Continuing Education that was sort of a quick trip through some various issues (musical style, censorship, etc.). The longer course was a version of a course on Rock Music that I team-taught with Joel Burcham. In that one my idea was to use metal as a way to explore various aspects of popular music, including recording, performance, fandom, authenticity, etc. My goal was less to teach metal and more to allow metal to teach us, if that makes sense.
You’re an ethnomusicologist; those seem like a cross between music historian and music analyst. How does understanding metal at a musical level help you understand it at a culture level? Are there correlations between the two dimensions of metal?
I sometimes feel like the primary thing my musical training provides me with is a vocabulary with which to work. I do find it helpful in terms of articulating aspects of metal music and production that encourage particular responses and experiences among listeners. As I mentioned in my summary of the “Metal Rules the Globe” article, I do think that some musical ideas can evoke particular experiences and reflect certain values. I would stop short of saying that they necessarily correspond to the values of the performer and the audience though. Sometimes that might certainly be the case, but I’ve come to be skeptical of sweeping correlations, mostly because I want to avoid misrepresenting the culture of metal as a monolithic entity. The more time I spend with metal and with other metalheads, the more I appreciate the diversity of experience within it.
One of your research interests is ritualism. Are there ritual aspects to heavy metal, especially the black metal variety?
I tend to think that almost every musical activity has some sort of a ritual component to it, using the term broadly. With black metal, though, I’m particularly interested in the deployment of Ritual “with a capital R” as a conscious effort to connect the music and performance with some archaic imagined past. In some respects, I think the past black metal invokes is the past of black metal itself, a retro recycling and recreation that is common to all music in some degree, but which has perhaps increased lately (Simon Reynold’s recent book deals with this better than I).
Rather than celebrating the protean side of 21st century identity, metal seems to demand a higher level of “identity essentialism” in that respect. It promises some measure of stability.
Invoking ritual also feels like an appeal to an authoritative kind of authenticity, an assertion that black metal is not entertainment or theater, but instead that it is a stable and “timeless” tradition and (importantly) not beholden to the vagaries of taste or fashion. The use of a fairly standard and narrow set of musical gestures and sounds, deindividualizing costumes and pseudonyms, and staged evocations of sacrificial death all work to this end. Of course, the “appeal to ritual” is also in some ways merely a marketing term and a performance conceit. It might go hand-in-hand with the increased visibility of black metal over the past decade or so.
I’m currently working with these ideas as part of a research project on musical ritualism as an authenticating tactic in popular music…possibly with a parallel trajectory in musical representations of monstrosity and supernatural forces. I’m still gathering my dogs together to see if they hunt though.
How important do you think heavy metal is as a cultural indicator? What does it tell us about our society?
I think it certainly has a role there, although I think that what it says varies a lot depending on who is involved in it. Actually, I think that if we look at metal around the globe, I might consider a lack of metal in a society to be more significant. It seems to be an almost ubiquitous presence, even under circumstances of war and deprivation.
I do think that the value so much metal discourse seems to place on trueness and authenticity is perhaps symptomatic of a larger sense of uprootedness in (American?) society. Rather than celebrating the protean side of 21st century identity, metal seems to demand a higher level of “identity essentialism” in that respect. It promises some measure of stability.
In your view, why is metal such a distinctive genre, with such strong rules and boundaries (trueness, cultness)?
It seems that being embattled or marginalized is an integral part of the way metal views itself, even if in some cases we might consider that metalheads doth protest too much. This sense of being outside the mainstream probably creates this sense of cohesion and belonging, as well as a bit of suspicion and distrust of outsiders and “un-metal” musical influences.
I think that the boundaries have actually gotten more stringent over the past decade or so in underground metal, although it’s probably more likely that I’ve just become more aware of them. I might suggest that as the artifacts and symbols of insider-ness in metal have become more readily available, the concern with maintaining boundaries has risen accordingly. As it becomes easier and easier to amass knowledge about the most obscure bands, along with their recordings, that obscurity loses its power.
Patch jackets don’t seem to carry the same weight if you can purchase a whole collection of rare kvlt “merit badges” in 20 minutes on eBay. This situation makes metal’s system of cultural signifiers less trustworthy in terms of judging someone’s commitment to the genre, so it seems like the boundaries need more strict enforcement. It’s only exacerbated in cyberspace. But of course the best way to be kvlt is to deny that it matters if you’re kvlt or not…it’s square to be hip, right?
You’re on the editorial board of the journal Metal Music Studies. How has metal in academia expanded during the time you’ve been observing, and where do you see it going in the future?
To be totally accurate, I’m actually just on the editorial advisory board, which just means I’ll be on-call as a peer reviewer once we’re totally underway. I hope to continue my involvement in the future, however.
When I first began writing about heavy metal as a graduate student in the early/mid 2000s, it seemed that there was precious little academic writing about metal beyond Walser, Weinstein, and sociological studies beating the dead horse connecting metal and crime/delinquency. Over the following decade it’s just blossomed as a field of study, and I think it’s impressively diverse. I mean, we’ve got people from sociology, ethnomusicology, historical musicology, fan studies, philosophy, and interested practitioners all in the mix. I’ve been trying (and failing) to keep up with all the publications. It’s an exciting and inspiring field.
I think that we’re going to see more studies that question the conceptions of locality and place in metal, since the increasing digital networks around the world are making physical geography less relevant in some respects. I know some scholars are working on the exoticism in metal, which seems especially interesting because it binds together questions of intent (patriotism? parody?) with issues of reception. It also seems that Metal Studies has focused a lot on the more extreme and underground subgenres, so I hope we might see more people begin to explore the intersections between metal and mainstream pop culture, both currently and in the past.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? We think heavy metal has artistic value. Advertisers want heavy metal to be the token rebellion of future generations of consumers. We have truth and cruelty on our side, but they’ve got the money. Read between the screams for the rare non-failures…
Ghost – If You Have Ghost
Stop. When you hear the name Ghost (or Ghost B.C., since they got sued for unoriginality) don’t think “metal band.” Think hipster product. Ghost create yet another social status pandering musical widget for frappuccino enthusiasts to feel superior to the rest of us. If you go look at your local independent coffee haven, they are there raising their left fists above their foreheads whilst tilting a pinky finger outward and staring down their noses at the rest of us who aren’t as pop-culture savvy as their enlightened Adult Swim-watching kind are. Ghost added a Roky Erickson cover to have “street cred” amongst the garage/psych-rock crowd that hipsters associate with (because it’s rock music, but different…), but then play a series of pop songs from ABBA, Army of Lovers, and Depeche Mode to feign a sense of “open minded-ness” which reveals the true money-grubbing ways that motivate the constant churn of vapid media products. Sure to be a talking point amongst latte experts, this EP culminates in a live take of an original song which sounds like a bad excuse for carnival music.
Crystal Age – Far Beyond Divine Horizon
With their seasoned membership which includes former Liers in Wait personnel, a Necrolord cover and an overblown concept, this “seems” like a death metal gem, but it isn’t. Coming off like Liers in Wait after hearing too much Yngwie Malmsteen and Nocturnus’ Thresholds, Crystal Age play an unfocused form of late 80s Forbidden style melodic speed metal with “extreme” updates in the form of raspy vocals, Egyptian themed tremolo riffs, and blast beats aplenty. Considering the scatter brained riff salad nature of these songs, it’s a surprise these guys would even have the aptitude for writing commercially viable AOR power metal later on in Hammerfall. Nothing too offensive, but at the same time random and uninspiring, this band could best be described as “spectacularly mundane.”
Bat – Primitive Age
This is a NWOBHM with the rhythms of an American punk band playing in honky tonks. Riffs are less ornate than most NWOBHM except for the fills which are classic early Iron Maiden and the like. It has a local band vibe and as a high-energy act fits more in a live bar setting than being heard on record. Songs vary between having the punk side win out and the metal side win out. On the whole, it’s above average quality with good energy, and songs that develop in very simple but not inept ways. Why is it here among the sadism, then? I like it, but I wouldn’t want to hear it often. It would be a great local bar band, A+. For listening in the world beyond, it’s not yet ready. Most reviewers won’t tell you this, because most reviewers go through a 2.5′ pile of CDs at three minutes each and like anything that they recognize as being like the other stuff they like.
Ceremonial Oath – The Book of Truth
A Tampa death metal influenced project that made compromises to fit in better with the Gothenburg crowd of their scene at the time, Ceremonial Oath manage to wear their influences on their sleeves without living up to the promise of any one single influence, much less the hope that adding them together would make a better teen rebellion sonic product. There are some well developed counterpoint riffs and some of the tracks have interesting structures but, aside from the awesome artwork provided by former At the Gates guitarist Alf Svensson, this doesn’t hold up well over time or when compared to other releases from it’s era. Like a less worthwhile and stadium rock cheese infused Swedish counterpart to Shadows of the Past by Sentenced, but with more rhythm riffs, The Book of Truth is best judged by its cover and recycled early.
Abramelin – Transgressing The Afterlife – The Complete Recordings 1988-2002
This box set, lovingly released by Century Media on 3 CDs or 5 LPs, is a boon — if you like Abramelin. I am totally divided on this band, since they have many great ideas for song construction, but can’t get over the hurdle of writing obvious and somewhat painfully blunt and directionless riffs, which leaves the end result as a lot of potential left in the hands of implements too crude to realize it. This seems to be a national characteristic of Australian metal which often has great ideas for songs but doesn’t have the technical power of the Americans or the melodic flair of the Europeans that enables it to reach those goals. The production on these restored demos, 7″ records, live tracks and album grooves is amazing and this set does great credit to Abramelin. I just can’t see myself listening to it again.
Solefald – Pills Against the Ageless Ills
Let me tell you something about the term “avant-garde”: it works when other people use it to describe you. When you use it to describe yourself, it sounds like an excuse for low quality. Claiming to be “avant-garde”, Solefald play a style of black metal that uses the raspy vocals, thin guitar tone, and fast playing typical of the genre, but nothing else from black metal persists here. Especially not, you know, coherent songwriting, melodic development or atmosphere that isn’t a mile wide and an inch deep. Like Opeth, Solefald use “metal” sections in juxtaposition to “outside” elements in order to create “contrast” which is apparently the opposite of writing a song. This results in a compilation of new wave, rock, and synthpop elements superficially dressed up as black metal, but it’s like a bag of puppies and snakes fighting it, i.e. visible from a mile away as not being in any way unified. Listening to this, one can imagine Ulver, Enslaved, Opeth, and Dimmu Borgir sitting around a conference table and patting each other on the back to see how, like AIDS, their muzak has spread its “influence” which will ensure the ruining of metal beyond them. After us, nothing but pop brain-death, as far as the eye can see…
Cadaver Inc. – Discipline
Discipline is not too bad for a late model black metal aesthetic-ized theatre of blasturbation. The problem is the songs are way too similar for their own good and it gets grating, not because of style, but because of monotonously linear songcraft. Considering guitarist Anders Odden’s (playing here under the “Neddo” alias) imaginative and exploratory playing on Cadaver’s In Pains album, Cadaver Inc. seems like a waste of talent as he tries to make a more popular style that is literally too simple for his brain to do well. The music is worthier than Marduk or Dark Funeral, more heavily favoring a grindcore heritage than throwing pop jingles under blasts. Still, this band will perhaps be remembered more for its bringing of underground cynicism and morbidity into the “.com” era in the form of a satirical website than its music.
Arvas – Into the Realm of the Occult.
Good riffs, random order. Combine Bathory Blood Fire Death with Ancient The Cainian Chronicle. The result is black metal with a heavy metal feel and while it can build atmosphere, it can’t develop it, thus feels incomplete and deflated like early Satyricon, both in melody and song structure. This is too bad because there are some quality riffs on here, nothing groundbreaking but clearly showing a fair amount of thought. There are also some borrowed riffs which when used too blatantly without being in a new context can crush the atmosphere achieved. Still, the feeling here is that this band has a huge amount of potential but needs an editor to put the riffs in the right order to develop the moods so adroitly evoked.
Karmatik – Humani-T
When something gets trendy, like metal, everyone else starts trying to shoehorn their own genre into it. Karmatik is basically a lite progressive band that like guitary riffs, but has nothing in common with metal other than a few moments of speed metal riff before the band gets back to the real business, which is extended space jams. They do a good job of this, although its somewhat personal nature will probably appear a bit cheesy to a metalhead. The hard rock riffs here are, for all that this band likes to be progressive, of extremely well-known types and so there’s not much to listen to there. Like other bands who have become metal when they wanted to be prog, this band shines when they’re doing what they enjoy, which is the space jam parts. This should probably be referred to a prog-rock audience, but their criticism will probably be most severe for the metal parts as well, since they are the weakest link here.
Bones – Sons of Sleaze
One of these comes along every few years. In the late 1990s, it was Driller Killer. Remember them? ME NEITHER. Bones is late-model grindcore set up to have the energy and listening appeal of a late hardcore band. The embrace of sleaze/perversity is almost always a red flag that a band has zero in terms of ideas about life, thus zero in terms of musical ideas that aren’t based on what another band did. In this case, it’s a crying shame because these guys are good songwriters who can pump out quality (but not groundbreaking) grinding riffs. These songs hold together, have emotional content and are memorable, for the most part. The problem is that like Hollywood stars they don’t connect to anything but themselves.
Reverted – Sputter the Worms
Despite attempts to appear otherwise, this is LA strip styled hair metal re-shaped with modern sludge/metalcore drumming and a few aesthetic touches such as an alt-rock influence in the vocals. However, it’s the hard rock riffs from the late 1970s with just enough groove to slide into the vocals and the decadent simplicity mated with period touches of guitar virtuosity, as if showing a once-vital civilization under the collapsed ruin. It’s not bad but there’s no real reason to listen to it either. I am always repulsed when bands try to disguise their inner nature, and also, when metal bands try to dumb it down to the point of appealing to a rock audience. Just be a damn rock band. And unleash that guitarist. There’s a lot of talent here in mating up these riffs, keeping up with the drums, and making the whole thing work. Unleash some solos, go Van Halen and play more of those epic riffs that sneak in toward the end of the songs. The vocalist is too dominant, as is the giddy slaphappy shuffle drumming, which detracts from any attention span the listener might have had. Then again, if you’re marketing to morons, that’s a good bet.
Originating from Kansas in 1998, Origin contrive unprecedented mastery of musicianship and merge cosmic and horror concepts to differentiate themselves from the slew of other technical death metal bands.
Their debut album Origin established a well-rounded sound that would cater to casual death metal listeners, as well as those who approach the genre looking for the most technically proficient of brutal wizardry. Since then, Origin have released four more albums and are in the process writing the next one.
We are fortunate to have virtuosic guitarist Paul Ryan reveal the happenings of Origin.
You’re currently writing material for your next album. What do you hope to accomplish with your next release? Will there be new elements that Origin hasn’t expressed yet?
A continuation in the development in the sound of the band. I guess that the thing for me is that I am a old metalhead who enjoys a lot of different styles of metal which in the early days of the band I only presented a more straight-forward stylistic approach… I am using a couple of ideas from the past in technique and in dynamics to not present the same album again… I hope to keep both old and new listeners entertained by something fresh on every Origin album… During our live shows while playing I kept asking myself what can we bring to our live set that we don’t have yet… I feel that is what influenced my writing the most!
You’ve been ranked as one of the best guitarists in metal by several publications. Do you have any advice for guitar players that hope to advance their technical abilities?
Well I must say it comes with practice, practice, practice. There wasn’t Youtube or professional lessons online when I was growing up & now there are so many resources out there today to assist a young emerging guitarist to get very good, very fast. Something that I’ve noticed in today’s generation is that it isn’t always about composition on a computer, but being in the garage with other musicians brainstorming ideas & grinding it out (some of the funnest moments as a musician I’ve ever had). I spent many days of my life going to shows/practices just learning about how other bands worked as well.
A lot of Origin’s lyrics and titles encompass how small and minuscule our existence is. Is there a philosophical standpoint behind the band or is this something that’s derived from general contemplation?
Prior to Origin I played Death metal with typical Death Metal lyrics. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to kill anyone (unfortunately a few friends of mine did), I wanted to find something to write about that wasn’t so singularly based. Sci-fi & Horror always entertained me & Music took me away from the hell that I heard in my head. It was a positive release of negative energy. I was just looking for something that was endless that could be written about… The unknown.
So, Origin’s listeners can assume that you desire to reach a more broad scope to what the band wants to convey? Not just about blasphemy, blood and guts, but about a more meaningful or challenging way to look at life as a whole? Something that each individual ponders about, but may have a different take on?
When i’m listening to music & reading the lyrics I want to go on a Cerebral Journey. I hope that in some way my music can take someone out of the moment of their own personal life & just sit back & listen to music. I dunno if there is personal enlightenment in our message other than I hope we are conveying some new topics to think about.
What bands have inspired you over the years? Which are your favorites? Can you pinpoint any musicians that have had a profound influence on you?
Well in the very beginning of my playing it was Slayer, Celtic Frost, Cryptic Slaughter, & Yngwie Malmsteen. These bands influenced my early playing style & eventually crafted what I am today. Death, Napalm Death, Suffocation, Early Carcass, Early Deicide, and Bolt Thrower had a lot to do with it as well.
What are your hobbies outside of music?
Music is my life. I work in a music store. Other than playing music I enjoy exercise & spending time with my girl, going to shows & MORE GUITAR!
Origin has extensively toured over the years and has succeeded in reaching a very broad metalhead fanbase. Which shows have been the most memorable?
Oh man there are too many to name… You always remember your first & last I guess… Every show has HAD ITS MOMENTS OF INSANITY!!! Always playing a new venue, city, or country is a pleasure. My mentality has been this..
Every show. Every Fan. Every City. Every State. Every Country. Every Time…
I try to give it my all every time. I want people to enjoy a show they paid for no matter the turnout whether its a 100 or a 1000.
You’ve enlisted Lonegoat from Goatcraft to aid with some synthesizer work for the next album. How did this come to be?
Basically as a musician on the road you get guys handed cds by many other musicians… I try to listen to everything that I get…. Once you get something good you don’t forget it. One night of driving all night to the next gig I popped in a cd that took me on a journey!!! I listened to the album all night on repeat!!! Basically I just contacted him directly & said I really enjoy your work & I have a piece of music that fits what you do perfectly!!! Hopefully we can put something else together as well!!!
Many guitarists treasure their gear and guitars. What’s your current setup like? What will you use on the next album?
I use a Jackson Warrior w Emgs
Mesa Boogie Stereo 100 power amp
RecPre Dbx166xl compressor-limiter-noise-gate
a bbe Sonic Maximizer 882e
Mesa Boogie cabs
Do you think your sound is evolving? If so, from what and to what?
Yeah to the outside world. I am very private & most of my music isn’t ever heard by Origin fans…I have literally hundreds of riffs that didn’t make it to a Origin album that I enjoy playing; it’s just that the Death Metal scene is very singular in what they want to hear on a album. I think I have learned a lot about the guitar since the beginning of this band & feel that most fans only enjoy what they hear first from a band… To say that my earlier work is stronger than my latter is comical as a musician.
What genre is Origin’s music? What are the primary influences on that genre as a whole?
I hear a lot Origin’s influence in the Death/Grind/Core scene today… I am very humbled by that.
A lot of your earlier music had themes to it. Are you going to continue along that direction, or relax a little and get more down-to-earth?
Well we are still in the writing process for the next album, so I can’t give you a correct answer to that. We are very excited to see & hear what this lineup can bring with Jason Keyser contributing to this album vocally & lyricaly… It will be Origin, but even in just the new demoing of the material Jason has a different approach which I feel will add another dimension to the music!!
Entering the studio for the next album in January so expect a spring/summer release on Nuclear Blast Records in 2014
Also in the mix is re-releasing A Coming Into Existence with Bonus material of the bands I was in before Origin & the DVD is slowly becoming a reality!!!
Instrumental skill may be one of the attributes of metal that most attracts the attention of outsiders to the genre. It’s something that immediately jumps to the eye, the technical display of instrumental virtuosism that makes one go: “wow, that guy can really play!”. For better or for worse, it’s the truth. Most non-metalheads aren’t attracted to the esotericism of black metal, the other-wordly morbidness of death metal or the tales of heroism of heavy and speed metal bands. Only the fireworks matter at first.
Still, guitar solo expertise cannot be easily disposed of. There are exceptions but, for the most part, metal has technical competence and skill deeply implanted into its DNA. So do certain rock, jazz and classical. Now, the choice for us is that virtuosism can be used either as an end (masturbatory fiddling with a simple rock’n roll background) or as a means towards a greater expression of an idea or emotion (classical, baroque guitar music and other examples).
Virtuoso guitar players like Eddie van Halen, Uli Jon Roth, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker and the like, despite being all tremendously competent and classically influenced in their playing, were also extremely one-dimensional because, despite their background, they all played in rock bands, and in rock, the “one-trick pony” is the law. You don’t want to make your sound complex like classical music is, you want to make it easy for the masses to consume.
In order to make guitar skill a useful and integral part of metal music, we need to think about it as a means and not as an end. Certain forms of extreme metal are already transcending the rock style of one-dimensional neo-classical music and it can further evolve if we lay down the fear of complexity, and add things like subtlety, context, pattern shaping and the like. Guitar solos shouldn’t be tracks to put on top of songs because we’re obligated to do so by the un-written Sacred Laws of How to Make Heavy Metal. They should have the same function as riffs do, a narrative, pattern-like succession that, on top of another layer (a riff or a similar structure), makes a defined construction that without the solo would make less of a clear sense.
For pointers on how this hypothetical future would be, I’d give you an example of some of the best in classic guitar: Francisco Tarrega guitar adaptation of Allard’s Violin study in A Major.
Now that’s how you are supposed to shred on guitar (and play cricket). Why going fast as all hell when you can play a piece that says something and still be technically proficient, but as a means of enhancing the original message of the song? Most classically influenced mainstream “shredders” take popular bits of classical music and use it as a means to display their technical skill. See how different it is when you focus more on composition and less on showing off?
Of course, it requieres discipline and hours of practice to be just as good as Julian Bream. Metal guitarists like Mike Torrao and Trey Azagthoth also took their time and sweat to perfect their technique and it shows on how their solos are complicated, yet structured to complement the riffs under it and make greater sense of them. Malmsteen also practiced a lot, yet to play a style of music that didn’t really demand much talent. Playing fast isn’t that complicated. Playing a coherent piece that really grabs you and evokes one or many emotions at once, that requieres effort and talent, not just with soloing, but with musical composition in general. And I think that’s where the future of lead guitar in metal is.