News article contributed to Death Metal Underground by Lucius Vorenus.
BLASPHAMAGOATCHRIST took down their Tyrannic Empire demo from Youtube. While it’s too soon to tell whether or not this has anything to do with the previous article, it bears repeating what we know at this point in time.
Kings and Demons: Francisco Goya [Scroll over each picture for information]
In this series I will be examining art and artists whose works have been used in metal band artwork or whose themes have been source for inspiration for metal musicians. The first artist is Francisco Goya of Spain, whose later works have been found on album covers for Anaal Nathrakh, Belsebub, Amon, Mortem, Torgeist and others.
I feel strongly that to truly appreciate art – visual or otherwise – that it is important to understand its context. Goya’s life and and the time period in which he lived made him one of the world’s most influential and important artists. It is said that he was the primary artist that ushered in the Romanticism era and it was his attention to detail, even in the most graphic of subject matter, that shocked his contemporaries.
Francisco Goya was born in the late 1700s in Spain, during a very tumultuous period of time artistically and politically. His talent for art was recognized at a young age and he traveled to Rome to learn his craft from the masters there. Upon returning to his hometown in Spain as a young man, he created quite a reputation for himself by drinking, whoring, and brawling. His reputation preceded him when he fled to Madrid after killing a man in a bar fight and being sought by the Inquisition for his crime.
Arriving in Madrid, Goya was greeted by a city full of newly-minted aristocrats being placated by lazy “masters” selling them poorly painted Baroque style cherubs and nature scenes to decorate their palaces. Goya’s more realistic and new Romanticist style was a breath of fresh air to the stagnant art scene of the time and he quickly earned himself a top position as the official painter for the Spanish Royal Family.
In 1792 Goya was afflicted with an unknown illness that left him completely deaf. There has been wide speculation that it was lead poisoning from his paints that caused his illness, but there has been no evidence to support this theory and it is genuinely not considered to be valid by historians. Following the recovery from his illness, Goya returned to work for the Spanish Royal Court, becoming named the director of the Royal Academy in 1795.
In the late 1790s in Spain and elsewhere in western Europe, political dissent and social unrest began to build. The French Revolution had reached its peak in 1789, and there the people revolted against the established monarchies and deposed of those in power. This dissent spread to Spain as well, and Goya, despite having been in the employ of the Monarchy, was well in tune with the plights of the common people.
In 1799 he released a series of 80 etchings known collectively as “Los Caprichos” (The Caprices), which is one of the first examples of Goya’s work turning darker. They were designed as social commentary against the rampant corruption, greed, and inequality he saw to draw attention to the struggles of the average Spaniard. These were published and then almost immediately withdrawn due to political pressure. The original printing plates and unsold prints were offered to the King to avoid the wrath of the Inquisition.
Goya’s political dissent began to creep into his “professional” works, as well. In 1800, he painted an official portrait of the Spanish royal family of King Charles IV.
It was well-known, but not publicly discussed, that the Queen was the true head of the household, and to nod to this, she is positioned in the center and larger than the rest of the family. Goya himself is in this portrait, off to the left in the shadows behind the canvas. The queen and her mother (pictured fourth from the left) are depicted as quite ugly, and the whole family has been described as looking like common people who just won the lottery: bewildered and uncomfortable.
In 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain and installed his brother, Joseph, as ruler. Goya, surprisingly, was not cast out with the rest of the royal family and their staff, and continued to paint under Joseph Bonaparte during his seven year rule, until Spanish nobility, under King Ferdinand VII, regained power. King Ferdinand famously quipped to Goya, “you deserve to be garroted, but you are a great artist so we forgive you” and let him keep his position as court painter. Goya was tortured by what he had seen during the fighting and the conditions that the Spanish people were subjected to during the Napoleonic invasion and subsequent retaking of Spain by King Ferdinand during the Peninsular War. Similar to his Los Caprichos series, he released another series of sketches called Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War) to depict these horrors with his characteristic sarcasm and cryptic descriptions. Others in this series depicted his dissatisfaction with Ferdinand’s rule, despite the great personal risk in doing so.
With the political climate only getting worse and his health in decline, Goya went into self-imposed exile in Bordeaux, France, in 1824 at the age of 72. He took with him only one servant and became a near recluse in the house that was known as Quinta del Sordo, or the Deaf Man’s Villa. Here he would paint his most famous paintings on the walls of his own house. Without titles and likely never intended for anyone to see, the works that are now known as The Black Paintings (for their technique as well as their subject matter) were never even titled by Goya; their names have all been given by historians. Exploring the subjects of the wars and the inquisitions, many of the Black Paintings had anti-clerical themes and were inspired by the fears brought out during the Inquisition.
One of the most famous of the Black Paintings is The Witches Sabbath, which depicts a goat-headed man wearing priest robes being feared and adored by a group of grotesque witches. At center is a woman wearing what appears to be a white nun’s habit. Mouths in particular are quite prominent in Goya’s works during this time; gaping, drooling, oversized and ugly, they are the center of expression on many of the faces in his scenes. To the right in this painting we see a woman seated in a chair, wearing black, seemingly uninterested and defiant. This painting represents what Goya felt was the cult of superstition whipped up during the Inquisition, the dangerous descent into medieval thinking and the suppression of scientific thought. The “he-goat” represents evil and the fawning witches represent the clerics and nuns in a frenzy over it. The lone dissenting woman represents the last bastion of reason, helplessly overlooking the fray.
Saturn Devouring One Of His Sons is a play on the Greek myth of the titan Saturn (Kronos) who, upon hearing a prophesy that he would be destroyed by one of his children, killed and devoured them as soon as they were born. Here, the eternal Titan represents royalty, and he – fearing his “children” (the common people) will ultimately turn on him, destroys them at their most vulnerable. Again in this piece we see Goya’s use of grotesque facial expressions in the oversized, gaping mouth rending the headless child to pieces.
Goya remained in Bordeaux until his death in 1828. His final works remained in his house for 50 years, until they were carefully removed and transferred to canvas. Works of his are still being discovered to this day, and can be viewed in museums and private collections around the world.
Returning from the brutality of a Bolt Thrower show to recollect the events that defined it brings to mind the task of Ernst Junger, depicting the graphic scenes of martial violence and destruction in his soldier’s memoirs, ‘Storm of Steel’. Not merely the sounds of war and chaos, but the philosophy of death is what one has to confront on such a stage, and this sums up the depth of the Bolt Thrower experience. The great elemental gods of Britannia fired the opening salvo of the evening, unleashing a torrential downpour on the troops to be in attendance once conscripted into the dismal but still functional ULU venue, around the University College London site and home of the un-elite Utilitarian philosophy. A single flash of lightning, probably striking the Cenotaph for the war dead a few minutes away in Whitehall, would indicate that this night belonged to only one elite group, and the slowly multiplying hordes as if signalled to the venue by this storm omen, proved that the headliners were in everybody’s iron sights.
In the meantime, some fairly well-known bands would run through comparitively uninteresting sets in order to plug new albums or just an association with Bolt Thrower on this Next Offensive European tour. For the one unknown band, clearly grateful to the Coventry squadron for being able to provide opening infantry support, Ancient Ascendant took to the stage with some confidence and raged through their set infront of the minimal crowd at this time. The sound was not good and the technical setup of the venue’s sonic equipment would be a recurring issue throughout the night, usually leaving bands with an unbalanced sound. Even less impressive was Ancient Ascendant’s music, which was practically educated by the newer schools of Death Metal exclusively, sounding like a more frivolously melodic version of Bloodbath. A lot of generic rhythmic business with some predictably inserted flourishes of lead guitar lines and none of the compositional sense that at the very least ripping-off the old school Death Metal formula would have imbued the songs with by default. Even the next band, The Rotted’s only listenable song was from the older generic Gorerotted project, which is not much less moronic than The Rotted who are really damn retarded in this incarnation, with their stripped down songs consisting of one riff from a later Cryptopsy song played out as blasting Punk music. It’s also quite strange and not recommended to watch old, drugged up men performing breakdowns.
Considered by many as nothing more than a brief distraction, this was soon forgotten as the once powerful entity of Promethean Greek Black Metal took to the stage and the floor swelled with eager hordes. For someone that reveres the older fraction of their catalogue as highly as the Nordic classics, the Rotting Christ set provided both frustrating disappointment but also possibly the biggest surprise of the evening (not the appearance of Diamanda Galas). The transition from ancient Heavy Metal-inflected compositions of blackened mysticism to a boring and cheap form of fast and extreme Rock music with pseudo-cultural embellishments that would make Vangelis either laugh hysterically or summon the wrath of Mars upon Sakis and company, was made quite some time ago when the band sold out to Century Media and although the recent jump to Season of Mist has only marginally improved the quality of their music, the bulk of their songs is blockheaded rhythmic work that wouldn’t sound out of place on a System of a Down joke and disembodied keyboards typical of mainstream Black Metal bands to accompany the minute flickerings of nostalgia that is the signature Rotting Christ melodic style, the same tactic used by fellow Greeks, Septicflesh. Within this disastrous but obviously crowd-pleasing selection of tracks was something quite unexpected given the current direction of the band and their most recent live performances. Almost as though the old spirit of Necromayhem broke free from his sealed confines, the band launched mercilessly into ‘Sign of Evil Existence’, flooding the crowd with a sea of beautiful, extended phrasal work, causing an absolute frenzy and evoking the first old school invocations of the night. Not content with such a brief introduction to arguably the pinnacle of their early discography, ‘Fgmenth, Thy Gift’ continued the magic of ‘Thy Mighty Contract’ with the folky but regal opening riff surging into those magestic, ascendant patterns of guitar. The higher register key of these older songs manipulated the flatness of the sound setup brilliantly, with every note perfectly audible and a memorable contender for song of the entire show.
Benediction were next on stage, an aging group of Death Metal punks fronted by Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh, Mistress and Never Mind the Buzzcocks fame, who nearly talks as much shit on stage as Barney Greenway, including an embarrassing appeasement of some girl’s sob story about a now deceased Benediction fan, thankfully met with a shout of ‘Only death is real’ from the front of the crowd. The set itself was a typically reliable collection of songs spanning most of their discography, better suiting the live environment than on CD, inducing as much violence from the crowd as their primitive, bouncy Death Metal can, like ‘Harmony Corruption’-era Napalm Death meeting ‘Tower of Spite’ by Cerebral Fix. It wasn’t much of a loss to have a guitar cut out during their stint, as the rest of the band seemed to push onwards, building up as much aggression as possible and justifying their placement on the bill, though it was huge relief to hear the end of Benediction at long last, for the lights to dim and the next offensive to commence proper.
Anticipation was immense for the legendary Grindcore/Death Metal ensemble and the battle hordes pushed forward like a scene from Braveheart, rivalling the force of a 90,000 strong audience gravitating towards the celebrity status of Metallica. Faint sounds of approaching war lingered from the amps over the field as Bolt Thrower finally took to the stage and launched straight into the sombre yet mammoth opening riff to ‘IVth Crusade’. The deliberate, sinister pacing of the double bass began to roll through and the crowd imploded into deadly chaos and aggressive force. As bodies began raining from the skies like mortar fire, crushing necks and leaving temporary indents of fallen victims, the atmosphere became thick with the smell of blood, sweat and the disturbing fragrances of shampoo. A large bulk of the set consisted of tracks from the last album but these were all delivered with enough power and rousing, anthemic vigour to blend seamlessly with the more skillful dynamics and evocative melodies of the older songs, from the brilliant rendition of ‘World Eater’ into ‘Cenotaph’ to the unforgettable lead guitars of ‘…For Victory’.
Bolt Thrower commanded the crowd, Karl Willets looked like a war-torn veteran but still yet to be tamed as the ferocity of his vocals didn’t let up for an instant. Jo-Anne Bench is undoubtedly the most menacing female presence in the entire Metal scene, and the poorly balanced sound worked well to render the songs with more bassy fury than can be heard on record. The subtle rhythmic variations of Baz’s guitars on the other hand were not as discernable, but for a seemingly undiscerning crowd, this did nothing to quell the primal violence that tore bones asunder in a ritual of combat replication. The signature riffs were also fairly muted but managed to somehow shine through like the sun between Afghan mountain peaks, and as the band returned for an encore, the perfect choice of songs scorched the stage like a vast napalm attack, with the ominous theme of ‘War’ transforming into ‘Remembrance’ as though the sorrows of Arjuna had been cast aside as he takes to the empty plains of Kurukshetra, seeing the world as it is.
Even as the band exited, the feelings of confrontation and pugilism reigned as brawls ensued and battered humans walked out to count their wounds. The show proved how bands such as Bolt Thrower who retain their integrity, remain possessed by this same eternal process of nature’s evolution and deliver like a well-trained soldier, with precision and consistency will rule for the longest time. We will remember them.
You may have noticed a metal orthodoxy forming over the years, but especially 1998 to the present. This orthodoxy emphasizes “trueness” to the concept (as well as the trappings, aesthetic, style, etc) of the original bands, and is paranoid wary of newcomers who do not embrace it.
Now that the official hipster central of the internet, The Onion, has published a metal list, we can demonstrate why metal orthodoxy exists: it’s designed to keep metal from being assimilated, or taken on by the larger genre of popular music as a style without ideas of its own.
Keeping it simple:
Ideas -> music -> genre of its own = metal orthodoxy
Just a style, any ideas = rock ‘n roll
See why there’s a distinct movement to metal orthodoxy? No one in a genre that is unique wants to be assimilated by what’s not unique, and in fact is the average of everything it has so far consumed. Rock music is like a large corporation, eating up small brands and removing what makes them unique, turning them into a label that can be stuck on just about any product in order to sell it.
Here’s The Onion’s list:
Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope (2002)
Amon Amarth, Twilight Of The Thunder God (2008)
Anaal Nathrakh, The Codex Necro (2001)
Baroness, Blue Record (2009)
Blut Aus Nord, The Work Which Transforms God (2003)
Boris, Pink (2005)
Converge, Jane Doe (2001)
Deftones, White Pony (2000)
The Dillinger Escape Plan, Ire Works (2007)
Earthless, Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky (2007)
Electric Wizard, Dopethrone (2000)
Goatwhore, Carving Out The Eyes Of God (2009)
Harvey Milk, Life… The Best Game In Town (2008)
High On Fire, Blessed Black Wings (2005)
Isis, Oceanic (2002)
The Mars Volta, Frances The Mute (2005)
Mastodon, Leviathan (2004)
Melechesh, Djinn (2001)
The Melvins, (A) Senile Animal (2006)
Meshuggah, Catch Thirtythree (2005)
Opeth, Watershed (2008)
Orthrelm, OV (2005)
Pelican, The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (2005)
Pig Destroyer, Phantom Limb (2007)
Queens Of The Stone Age, Songs For The Deaf (2002)
Skeletonwitch, Breathing The Fire (2009)
Slayer, Christ Illusion (2006)
Sleep, Dopesmoker (2003)
The Sword, Age Of Winters (2006)
System Of A Down, Toxicity (2001)
Why do they like these bands? Well, first and foremost — you, dear reader, are not naieve enough to think that there’s not a financial connection here. These are bands distributed by or signed to the labels that help support The Onion and may at this point be personal friends or just “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” type buddies.
But next, they’re bands that rock listeners can comprehend. Except Melechesh, which is there for a different reason. And that reason is next: each band is different, meaning that it doesn’t fit into a perceived orthodoxy. Each band is “different” by being not the perceived norm, as perceived by outsiders who cannot tell the difference between Incantation and Immolation even though that difference is immediately perceptible to anyone who likes, understands and most of all pays attention to the music.
The “different” plays into the psychology of the individual. You’re just a cog in the machine. You’d like to think differently, but every day you keep doing whatever a cog does. So you find some way to be the cog that’s a cog, but also has a little something else. Interpretive dance. A flute on your death metal album. Or you’re an oddity, the one thing of type X that isn’t like the others.
See this in action, with bonus points for adding a sense of victimization — all cogs are victims, because otherwise they’d be running the machine! — added in:
Long before The Sword, Boris was getting smeared as poseur metal. It’s unlikely that would have happened if the band wasn’t Japanese, and if lead guitarist Wata wasn’t a woman
That must be it.
Not that this band is indie rock dressed up with some metal stylings and has nothing in common with metal as an idea, as a genre, but everything in common with indie rock. After all, irony is a key way to be different.
Here’s another great dickslap in the face for metal:
Metal, more than most genres, rewards consistency; a lot of headbangers would just as soon their favorite bands keep making the same record over and over. As elsewhere, though, there’s always something to be said for progress, and Goatwhore’s most recent record is a great leap forward.
The same album over and over means “the album sounds the same aesthetically.” It doesn’t mean the notes are the same; it means the distortion, tempi, vocals, and concept are similar. So it’s not the same album, is it? But for people who cannot appreciate that album, it’s important to find a good put-down so they can feel better about their own CD rack. Yeah, it’s the same old stuff. Yeah, it’s just consistent. But this other band… they’ve (gush here) progressed, which means they added a flute to their grindcore. Did they progress? No, but all of us can tell that a flute is a change, where only a few of us can tell that composition gained depth, or new emotions, even if the aesthetic remained the same.
Indie rock is what happens when you have a bunch of people making music just as vapid as Madonna or Sting, but they want some way to appear not-a-cog so they trick it out in this superficial progress using irony to be different so we know they’re the unique cogs. But their problem is that every cog thinks it’s a unique cog, so then they’re in an arms race to both trick out their own music with weirdness, causing it be basically ugly trash (this has happened to all modern art), and put down any music which does have artistic content, because it threatens them.
And at the end of the day, that’s what this Onion article is about: the fear of masses of hipsters that they missed something within the music (e.g. not adding a flute) and therefore, that they are just cogs after all. Which as they go back to their hipster “it pays nothing but I feel educated or socially important” jobs, is a bitter consolation indeed.