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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Nex Carnis – Obscure Visions of Dark

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Iranian band Nex Carnis plays death metal in the old school vein with flashes of what they describe as experimentation. The actual state of affairs is a little different. The old school differences are pretty clear as one can hear the spirit of Morbid Angel and Sinister in the music.  But there is also a tendency towards phrasings and sound paintings that would be completely at home with more surreptitiously mainstream acts like Sylosis or Goatwhore. Regarding the descriptive term experimental there is much to be said.

To begin with, every time the word experimental is used to describe any album, it causes cautious eyebrows to be raised. Here is a wiki-description of what is  experimental music:

Elements of experimental music include indeterminate music in which the composer introduces the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance. There are many ideas broadly utilized by experimental musicians which are not, however, strictly experimental music concepts, having seen significant application prior to the advent of experimental music, particularly by the avant garde. Examples include: extended techniques (Instrumental or vocal performance techniques that step outside (often far outside) conventional performance techniques) and graphic notation (music which is written in the form of diagrams or drawings. Other elements include “Prepared” instruments—ordinary instruments modified in their tuning or sound-producing characteristics; using instruments, tunings, rhythms or scales from non-Western musical traditions; using sound sources other than conventional musical instruments, such as trash cans, telephone ringers, or doors slamming; creating experimental musical instruments for enhancing the timbre of compositions and exploring new techniques or possibilities; using a tape loop to create a tape phase; and removing perceived barriers of traditional concert settings by putting performers scattered among the audience.

In other words, mostly gimmicky music. Music that intends to attract through the use of unconventional techniques. The very nature of experimental music, it has huge pitfalls, a dangerous land which only the most visionary and steadfast artists tread safely. One of these treks was successfully undertaken by the Candian band Gorguts and  the result was Obscura. Incredibly aware and well-constructed, but also conventional and even orthodox death metal which could only be described as experimental in regards to the guitar techniques, pitches and noises they used in their improvisation-born riffs.

Obscure Visions of Dark, however, are more in line with the experimentation as exemplified by Deathspell Omega. Although not going to the extreme that band went to, Nex Carnis’ music is characterized by digressions and branch-outs from the main ideas in the songs. These often take the form of atmospheric interludes. Nex Carnis will appeal to Deathspell Omega fans looking for something slightly more conventional and inconspicuous.

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Is Progressive Metal Progressive?

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I got thinking about this while reading through some of the stuff on The Gabriel Construct’s webpage. He said he wants to make progressive metal progressive again. After thinking about this, I realized that this really strikes a chord with me. It is probably one of the reasons I’ve felt so uninspired by the stuff I’ve been listening to.

Let’s take as a case study: HeavyBlog’s top 12 of 2013 so far list (restricting to 2013 will not influence this discussion at all, since the best prog of 2012 falls into the same tropes) and pull the albums that can be labelled as “prog.” I actually like a lot of prog metal. You should remember this, because it is going to sound like a post in which I slam prog metal. Instead, this should be read as a sadness that such a promising genre has hit a stasis.

This is going to get hairy with putting bands into certain boxes, but as I see it the list is Tesseract (should djent actually count as a form of prog?), Persefone (is symphonic metal a form of prog?), Coheed and Cambria, Intronaut, Extol (OK, I haven’t actually listened to this one, but the list says it’s prog), Leprous, and The Ocean.

What do these bands have in common that makes them prog? They tend to have technical playing with technique that derives from classical skills of fast arpeggios and scale patterns than more traditional metal/rock techniques. The chord progressions tend to be less straightforward. This can mean jazz influenced or excessive chromaticism. The time signatures tend to be less straightforward and can even involve alternating time signatures and metric modulations. Lastly, the songs tend to be longer and more thoroughly developed and tied together with a common theme.

So what’s the problem? Well, at one point in time doing these things within metal was a progressive thing to do. They weren’t being done. It was interesting and new. It was moving the genre forward. Now it seems that these things that define the genre have become tropes. You have to have x number of time changes, y number of chromatic patterns, and z number of songs over 8 minutes long. Oh yeah, and we’ll praise you mindlessly if you make these numbers without actually doing anything original.

Instead of being truly progressive and trying to bring in new influences to make interesting and new music, it all ends up sounding similar. Just because you came up with a way to arpeggiate faster, using a “new” pattern, and you do more chromatic steps doesn’t mean you’re “more progressive” or even more interesting. It is more of the same pretending to be different.

Maybe I’m reacting to an over-saturation of prog lately, and I won’t feel this way after a break from it, but sometimes when listening to prog it sounds like a joke. It sounds like the band is stringing together a bunch of tropes in mockery of how derivative it all has become. Scale the Summit is unfortunately going to get my wrath, but I can’t listen that new album. It has such high praise all over the place, but I’m so bored by it. I mean listen to this. It is pretty, and quite impressive technically at parts, but how many times have you heard this?

No offense to Scale the Summit, I could have picked something off literally any of the bands listed above and some of those albums might even make my top 10 of the year. It is just a feature of the current prog scene. It has become static. There are the occasional minor details that are new, but overall, it isn’t progressing.

Progressive metal can become progressive again. To some people it may seem shocking. What more do I want? They are already employing all of the complexity you would find in any fully trained classical composer. I’d reply, well, yes, any trained composer through the 19th century. But this stuff is more than a century old now. You could incorporate tons of modern developments. You don’t have to write atonally, but you can incorporate interesting post-tonal techniques to make something progressive without losing your band’s characteristic sound.

Other than tonality, there have been tons of other innovations from play style (stop with the incessant arpeggios, please), to modern electronic filtering of sound in new ways, to how your band layers together its pieces texturally, to instruments used (thank you Hybrid for showing us clarinet can be used in metal), to more original genre crossover, and on and on. You shouldn’t have to be an Animals as Leaders or Dream Theater clone to be prog. I bet I could write a fugue a la Hindemith that would sound really good by a metal band. How about someone tries that for originality?

I know there are actually lots of bands out there doing this, but they immediately get labelled as avant garde and pushed out of the prog scene. As I pointed out last time, this term should probably be reserved for the really, really out there stuff. Incorporating these techniques subtly into your standard prog sound should still count as prog metal. We should embrace more experimentation to finally get out of this stasis.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HKeuXQg5-Y

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Stargazer – A Merging to the Boundless

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One of the great divides in metal music separates those who approach album making as holistic artworks in the tradition of European classical music, and those who view an album as a collection of songs in the tradition of old and new popular musics. If one takes the former route a certain artistic liberty is acquired that allows the artist to leave songs that occur in the middle of the album open to the possibility of continuation through incomplete conclusions.

Great Death Metal albums with work-oriented organizations like At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours and Morbid Angel Blessed are the Sick strategically position songs early in the album to serve as introductions to the album as a whole. An excellent and illustrative example outside metal is Ludwig van Beethoven‘s String Quartet Opus 132. Conceptual works also require a strong topical orientation, often including different styles or even wholly different genres which can be united under a topic that is not only general (music has no direct mappings to our mundane world) but also specific (music can evoke precise moods and auras that some might say lie in the world of ideal forms) and clear (so that it is apparent to the listener). Undefeated masterworks in this area are Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Mass in B Minor and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. This can be seen in the barely satisfactory conceptual realization of the otherwise great and inspiring The Voice of Steel by Nokturnal Mortum, more effectively (and miraculously, given the wildly different genres associated) solidified in Peste Noire’s L’Ordure à l’Etat Pur and more recently in the young Colombian effort of a more poetic nature and epic proportions Nadia by Cóndor.

If a band chooses the more simple song-collection method, it must again abide certain rules in order to maintain any semblance of reason because proper music, inspired, must go through the filters of reason to attain their greatest expression. These are born out of the whole of the mind, not just uncontrolled emotion, but rather harnessed emotion. Songs must be self-sufficient. Each song must be brought to satisfactory conclusion by both harmonic and rhythmic means appropriate for the nature of the song and of proportionate dimensions in relation to the rest of the song so that it wraps up the musical content as the ending of an essay brings the topic to a rational resolve. The song must have a parallel relation to that of the holistic conceptual artwork. The simplest way of attaining this independence is by simple Rondo form, or popular verse-chorus song as Iron Maiden does in unforgettable albums such as Powerslave or Slayer in South of Heaven. Epic Power Metal sometimes chooses to borrow a little of the concept-album emphasis of the former approach and effectively come to one type of middle-road arrangement; a good example of this is Rhapsody’s Power of the Dragonflame.

Despite all their technical competence, like many other modern metal bands StarGazer takes neither of these paths and instead attempts to aggregate random elements without linear order. Stylistically within the metal universe, A Merging to the Boundless draws from the old school technical death metal such as Atheist (especially in the way the bass is handled within the jazz-metal framework, although they let it get out of hand into more explicitly jazz-like outbursts) and pre-Covenant Morbid Angel (a stark reference to Morbid Angel’s Brainstorm can be found in the fourth track of this album, Merging to the Boundless). Under the guise of Avant Garde, which is essentially a claimed right to disavow any of the conventions of the genres from which they derive their music, StarGazer use these genres as a container for unrelated, distracted riffing.

What this and other modern bands fail to realize is that certain conventions are in place as essential part of the genre and are inextricably related to the aesthetics that superficially define it, and when you forcefully rip the latter from the former, you end up with a non-functional husk that can only serve as wallpaper. StarGazer still shows much more local-level coherence and sense than most in its neighborhood and certain structuralist conventions of old school death metal are followed, such as the use of a motif to unite a song, although this occurs only in the first two tracks with looser instantiations in other tracks. The band can be credited with generally being able to fuse influences into the the particular Avant-Garde sound they want to reflect, even if to a connoisseur of the genre the influences are a little too obvious, with the jazz and post rock limbs sticking clearly out amidst the clear and separate death metal ones like a Frankenstein monster whose stitches are clearly visible.

The other major genre that surfaces in this album is a form of lite jazz that results from bringing jazz into post-rock/metal. This is unified under the pretense of making progressive music. This progressive element is sometimes pulled out with a hint of the old (late sixties and early seventies, peaking in bands from England) real prog-rock art of smooth, logical transitions and clear progression (as in track five, “The Great Equalizer”) at least in some stretches of the songs. Unlike the old prog-rock art and the classical music it emulates, StarGazer does not make a clear enough division of main and subsidiary material and thus it sometimes feel like it is lost and wandering in its own compositions. “The Great Equalizer” stacks random ideas and unnecessary out-of-hand variations within the post-rock-sludge territory in lieu of composition, joining a long line of poorly realized music that purports to be progressive. A Merging to the Boundless crosses the line into pure jazz with metal overtones in sections of tracks (“Old Tea” features soloing jazz bass), and in this same thought goes beyond that and into post-rock ambiance which consists of strumming or picking chords once and again. In this same spirit the opening of “An Earth Rides its Endless Carous” is very reminiscent of Animals as Leaders in its plain and unrefined yet very affected obvious use of scales and arpeggios in a way that barely describes theme and melody but rather just runs up and down like a kid playing on a flight of stairs. In the last three songs, the more prog-attempted side of the album are rather inconclusive and feel overextended arising from what I can only judge is sloppy high-level design. After the fifth track, a return to simple, late Morbid Angel-style Death Metal with a pseudo prog twist brought on by interpolating Sinister-style riffs feels like going back to something that was already said in the album. If “Ride the Everglade of Reogniroro” were arranged before “The Great Equilizer,” it would probably only sound slightly redundant with what came before. I have this same impression of the last (poor-prog) track, “Incense and Aeolian Chaos,” that makes use Animals as Leaders plainspoken use of scale that morphs into old-styled prog/tech death metal that is wordy (faster notes) yet not more dense in content.

In the end analysis, A Merging to the Boundless wanders everywhere and thus goes nowhere. Songs suffer from clever low-level (local) arrangement and poor high-level (long distance relations and overall progression) design, which results in their structure being entirely cyclic or not having a clear direction in the long run and being inconclusive. Cyclic songs have rather forced endings while the more prog-oriented ones just dissipate into nothingness. This last thing feels as if someone takes you to a walk in the forest, strays from the past and just disappears, leaving you in the middle of the forest with no purpose or direction.

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Interview with Morgengrau

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Morgengrau rose from the ashes of underground metal and resurrected the ancient ways of old school death metal, hailing back to the 1980s and its fertile ferment of fusion between speed metal, death metal and the various hybrids. Sounding in part like a late 1980s speed/death album and in part like a crushing death metal venture from 1992, Morgengrau carry on the tradition of death metal and give it their own unique stamp.

Extrinsic Pathway is the band’s first full-length release and hits the stores on April 2, 2013. This album features all of what you might expect from older death metal, but also keeps true to its own vision of what the future and the past should hold in common. We were fortunate enough to get a chance to speak to Erika, Morgengrau‘s guitarist/vocalist, about the nature of death metal and where Morgengrau fits into this complex formula.

What made you enjoy death metal, and want to be in a death metal band?

The ferocity of death metal has had me since I first heard bands like Possessed, Malevolent Creation and Cannibal Corpse. While I’ve drifted in and out of enjoying other genres, death metal has been a constant. It speaks to me at a deep, intrinsic level more so than any other musical form. I think it’s natural for humans to create more of the things they love. This is certainly my story. I’m not looking to reinvent the genre or forge brave new paths into the realms of extreme music. Morgengrau is about writing songs springing from the dark places inside us, songs we identify with and enjoy hearing and playing.

Can you tell us a bit about the musical history of the band members? Who plays what and where are they from?

We’re all lifer metalheads, with some of us farther along the road than the others. Multigenerational, shall we say. I’m the oldest with the most bands and experience under my belt. I’m also the only non-native Texan in the band. For those who don’t know, I started out in 1995 up in the Boston, MA area singing for neoclassic group Autumn Tears. Kind of a bizarre beginning, now that I look back on it. Since then I’ve worked my way through progressively heavier projects: Ignitor, Bracaglia, sessioning for Vesperian Sorrow and regularly playing in Drifter, an Iron Maiden tribute. In Morgengrau, I’ve finally created the right band for me where I have full creative control and leadership. This is the first band in which I’ve done more than vocals. Learning to play guitar and sing has been quite the learning experience for me.

The others have had shorter but more focused careers. Reba drummed for a technical death metal band called Manifestation for about 5 years; Jake played bass with avant garde black metallers Humut Tabal and now plays in Plutonian Shore, a very traditional black metal band based in San Antonio. Morgengrau is Nick’s first band.

You list Asphyx, Pestilence and Immolation as influences for at least how you want the album to sound. But there’s a lot more influence in there, ranging all over the place. Can you tell us what else influences you?

I’m terrible at describing my own music; I use what others say they hear to describe it. A number of reviews so far have mentioned it as having “progressive” elements which is a shock — I don’t like progressive metal and certainly wasn’t aiming for that. Simply proves how everyone experiences music a different way. For me, it is what it is. I listen to a lot of Immolation and Finnish death metal like Torture Killer, Winterwolf and Demigod. That definitely lends a flavor, however, I’m acutely aware of avoiding becoming a clone. Morgengrau needs to stand on its own. When I write, I think about what attracts me to certain songs verses what repels me. What works, what doesn’t work. Why do I go back to certain songs time and again? What makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck?

How long has Morgengrau been around? How did you all find each other? Is it hard to find people who want to be in old school bands, as opposed to the new school styled ones?

Morgengrau officially formed in July 2010. Reba and I had been jamming cover tunes for a while and asked Jake to join us in the summer. Very quickly, we realized we made a good a unit. I’ve known Reba since ’04 when I met her at an Ignitor show. I prefer to hang out with guys, but when I saw Reba banging her head like a maniac, I knew we’d be friends. I met Nick in 2009 at a Belphegor show, and Jake shortly after. They were both going to school in San Antonio at that time. The whole process of coming together was inspiring, as it seemed ridiculous at first for a 40 year old to be asking 20 year olds to join a band, yet it worked amazingly well. There’s a whole group of young kids in Texas who are into old school metal for all the right reasons. Unlike when I lived up Northeast, down here I’m surrounded by musicians with whom I can connect and trust. I’m very particular about who I’ll have in my band. No drama or critical life dysfunctions. I’ve been in bands with that and it’s the worst. No thanks.

Extrinsic Pathway suggests someone reaching out, or finding a way through life that’s outside of the internal dialogue of a human being. Is this a concept song or album? Can you tell us what it’s about?

The inspiration came from Reba, who mentioned the phrase after hearing it in class. It’s a medical term — part of the blood clotting process triggered by outside damage to a vessel. I realized it could be used to describe walking the Left Hand Path. Most of us who walk it have been damaged or driven to the dark side in some way. It’s our way of protecting and defending against that unwanted outside insult. We’re all hurtling towards our own personal armageddon. You must ask yourself – “When the time comes, will I go standing and proud, or mewling and crawling on my belly like most everyone else?” Walking the Left is my way of embracing and preparing for that ending, however it comes. That awareness gives me incredible focus and strength. My bandmates feel similarly, in their own ways. The concept should ring true with other listeners, I imagine.

The cover of Sepultura “Inner Self” is phenomenal. You’ve also covered Pestilence and Asphyx. Why these three? Why did you pick “Inner Self”? Is it a “message thing”?

Thanks for the compliment. Before we started writing original material, like most bands we jammed a lot of cover tunes. Asphyx‘s music is simple, catchy and easy to play. I’d not played guitar for almost 20 years so when I picked it back up in 2009, I needed something fun with which to brush off the dust.

Pestilence is my favorite death metal band of all time. Consuming Impulse will be forever timeless. Sepultura wasn’t on the roster until Jake, Nick and Reba started banging out “Inner Self” at the end of practices just for fun. We weren’t planning to make part of our repertoire but it quickly stuck. The song means a lot to Jake, as more than any of us, he’s experienced a coalescence of self over the last few years. When we first met, he was unsure of his path, figuratively dipping his toe into the Acheron, while still clinging to old beliefs. We’ve watched him shed his weak skin for a more confident hide, to begin living a life beholden to none but him. What a pleasure it has been, watching his transformation. It’s one of the reasons why he handles vocals on “Inner Self” — that is his song, in many ways.

The first half of Extrinsic Pathway shows what seems to me is an affinity for mid- to late-1980s speed metal type stuff, which Sepultura and Slayer overlap, since they’re sort of half-death/half-speed. What do you think it is about that time period that’s so appealing, both to Morgengrau and the rest of us out here?

It’s a time of life thing. The late 80s were when I, as a teenager, truly found who I wanted to be as a musician. The riffs and sounds of that time are permanently imprinted in my psyche. This was the Buffalo scene at its heyday, so everything was about Slayer, Sepultura, Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse and Obituary. That time was truly magic. The ferocity of this new music was withering. I remember going with my boyfriend to Mark “Psycho” Abrams’ house to get a copy of Deicide‘s debut album which we’d won from his radioshow. We sat in the car after getting it, holding it, mute, afraid of it. Same thing with Morbid Angel‘s Altars of Madness. Music of such incredible intensity, that went straight to my core, ripped my soul out then fed it back to me, bloody and shredded. If I can capture even an nth of that feeling in my songs, I’ll consider myself successful. I want a young person to hear Morgengrau and feel something of that same, frothing insanity which marked all our days back then. There will never be another time like it.

It sounds like a conscious effort was made to vary up song structure and offer different conclusions to riffs so that each song grows a bit. What appeals to you about this idea?

That’s just good songwriting. It’s easy to write a bunch of singular riffs and stitch them together like a patchwork quilt. Some people love that kind of music but personally, I hate it. It feels like a epileptic fit. Songs have to flow. The transitions need to make sense. Dynamic is critical, otherwise the ear goes numb. Let’s not forget the importance of the concept of “hook.” If you can’t keep the main riff in your head after the song is over, it might as well not even exist. Bands get all wrapped up writing these complex, super fast, theory-based riffs to prove their musicianmanship. That does not a good song make — those tunes never sound like anything other than WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP in the typical shitty live setting. All I want is for the interested to get our music on first listen, so they come back for more.

Can you tell us where you produced this album, and how was your first time as a band in a studio? What techniques did you use to get that nice thick early 1990s sound?

Two words about studio time: fucking hell.

To elaborate: We recorded at Amplitude Media here in Austin. It was close and flexible, which in the end was fortunate as we didn’t move along nearly as fast as expected. I’d never recorded anything from the ground up. Reba had one demo under her belt. Nick and Jake – no experience to speak of. We got the click track going and off we went… into the sterile land of first album territory where the fan reaction is, “What the fuck happened? The demo was so ferocious!” I instantly understood how that happens — you think the “right way” is to record to a click and you’ve NEVER EVER used one in practice, so that click sucks all the life out of the songs. So… no click. Sure there’s some timing stuff here and there, but the songs sound alive, and that’s the key.

Four rhythm tracks with my Mesa cabinet double miked got us that fat sound. We used a Rectifier Roadster and a custom Brugera for amplification. All those tracks took a long time. It was very taxing — I’m certainly not a one take kind of player.

Everyone had their own personal freakout moment during recording. Rather unifying, in the end. The day I had mine it was hot (it was a good 108º outside, probably 90º in the studio), I’d had a long, shitty day at work and had received some rather horrible personal news a few days before. I sat down with the guitar to start on rhythm track 3 for “Antithetical,” sweat was pouring down the back of my neck and my arms and an ant was walking up the neck of my guitar. I just about started screaming. I wanted nothing more than to quit. But how could I? I had three other people believing that I could do it, that this would happen. So I shoved the panic down, ignored the ant and the sweat, and got it done.

Once we got to vocals, things smoothed out. Reba floored us with her backing tracks. She has a hell of a voice! On “Extrinsic Pathway,” “Antithetical,” and “Polymorphic”, that really deep roar under mine is her. The day she cut her tracks will forever remain one of my fondest memories. There she was in the isolation room, all 5’4″ of her, never having recorded vocals before, and suddenly this enormous demonic roar coming pouring out of the monitors and knocks us all off the couch. Jake was just open-mouthed. At that point, I started laughing and could not stop. It was such an amazing moment. What a hidden talent she has.

We mixed and mastered with Devo Andersson and Endarker Studio. Devo’s a friend whose work I hold in high regard. Mixing from a distance was challenging but worth it. There was no way I was going to let everyone’s blood, sweat, and almost-tears be wasted by cheaping out on the final stages. We finished the album late, vastly overbudget, way stressed out and exhausted… and it was worth every penny, minute, and ounce of energy.

What’s next for Morgengrau? I know that most of your team have other projects, both musical and otherwise. Are you going to tour? Gig around Austin, TX, which I believe is your homebase? Sacrifice goats to the Dark Lord Ba’al and His Legions of Necrocaprous Antagonists?

Hipster abuse. Shameless self promotion. Spamming teh Interwebz. Cat memes — ok, just kidding. We’re going to play as many strategically important shows as possible. There are gigs in San Antonio and Houston booked, then we’re heading to NYC to play Martyrdoom in June. I have to give thanks to Vinny and Signature Riff for such an amazing opportunity — we are so excited! Touring is definitely on the wish list, but with our various job schedules, might be tough. Never say never, though. One thing I will avoid is overplaying — we see that so much in TX. There’s always that one band that’s on every goddamned bill. After six months, nobody cares. It’s important to keep anticipation up. New material is in the works, and we continue to work on stage presentation. If you’re going to do it, do it big and do right, and with passion.

Do you think old school death metal is returning? Other than technique, what makes OSDM different from “modern” death metal, metalcore, deathcore, indie-metal, post-metal and bounce metal?

You forgot crabcore. I’ll tell you, the day someone sent me that Attack Attack video at work I nearly had to go into the bathroom and drown myself in the toilet. That’s METAL? And those are MEN? I’ve got more testosterone in my wizened left ovary than all five of them combined. WHAT HAPPENED?

I think old school DM is already back. Bands like Funebrarum, Disma, Cruciamentum and War Master are merely a few of the great examples of new death metal done the right way. It helps the old greats are still around with more enthusiasm than ever — last night, I saw Imprecation, Master and Incantation — that’s about 100 years of death metal experience rolled up into one show. Immolation‘s new album sounds like it’s going to be killer.

What makes it different? Shit, where to begin? Good songwriting. No jerking off on the fretboard. Solos that complement the music, even if they’re only five notes. Lyrical focus on destruction, the occult, anti-Christian sentiments, war, suffering, darkness. Musicians who would sooner kill themselves than get on stage wearing a white belt. Long hair or no hair, nothing in between. Pointy guitars. Blood, our own or yours, we don’t care. Steaks and hamburgers, none of that vegan shit. Going on stage blind because you’d sooner die than play wearing your glasses. Songs that generate circle pits. Self-knowledge. Willingness to sacrifice all. Passion without drama. Lifetime commitment. Honesty.

I could talk your ear off, but you probably need that ear for the next album. I appreciate the time you put into this and know our readers will as well.

I’ve always got an ear for DeathMetal.org. Thank you, Brett and your readers, for the support. Come walk the Extrinsic Pathway with us… Hail Metal, hail Death!

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Interview: Anders Odden (Cadaver)

Anders Odden is here with us from the band Cadaver, inc. He was an original member of Cadaver by its release schedule, and was with them on their two most popularly-known works on Earache records. He has now launched with others Cadaver, inc., which is an entirely different type of music within the same genre.

When did Cadaver form and what bands inspired the members at the time?

The first Cadaver was formed when a Black metal band called Baphomet split in 1988. We then got the bassplayer from Decay Lust and recorded the first album in 1989/90. The bands who inspired us at the time were Voivod, Slayer, Carcass, Celtic Frost and Morbid Angel.

Do any of you have strong political, religious, or philosophical beliefs, and what are they?

I’m a public enemy. I doubt that anything created by man ever will bring us to a higher level. I deny the church and all its powersymbols. Why is it that all the main religions come out of the middle east?! Religon and politics are there to oppress people. I feel the life we have today is basically without any goals and I’d like to own a little stuff as possible. I tend to get lots of shit piled up anyway, but I’m a fan of throwing stuff away. I dont know, maybe I’m full of BS…

If a drunken man falls down the stairs, he does not feel what would be painful for me. Some say the same applies to youthful indifference to death. How do you feel this influenced, if at all, your music?

I don’t think it had anything to do with what our music was. We just wanted to be able to play as good as our favorite bands, nothing more.

Did you have any favorites in the Swedish death metal genre? What did you think of God Macabre, Demigod, Dismember and Therion?

Not really. Of the bands you mention I’ve only heard Dismember and Therion. I like Black metal more than death metal.

Now that you’ve come back with Cadaver, inc., are people responding to the older material as well as the newer? Are you going to repress the first two albums?

We have played Innominate and Corrosive Delirium from Hallucinating and Mr. Tumour’s Misery from In pains… live. Those songs go down really well, but Earache has no plans for reissuing yet. It will be done some day with lots of extrastuff on it I guess. I have tons of live, demos and unreleased shit around my house, so it will be done.

It seems to me that …In Pains is from the same era as the first Darkthrone album, where metal experimented with mood and mellower textures in the death metal style. What inspired this album’s genesis?

This is easy to say now looking back. It’s never in your thought when you make stuff what the historic aspect of things will be. In Pains was released around the same time as Blaze in the Northern sky, so I felt we were very different band then. In 1992 I turned into industrial music for some time and didn’t follow black metal until 95 again. I saw the death metal era end in 92/93 when black metal revitalized everything, but felt it was my past and didnt care that much. You got to remember that the difference between death/black wasnt that obvious before 91/92. Mobid Angel is the best example of a band in between the genres. I always wanted to gain that sort of independent ground for my stuff and this is where I feel Cadaver Inc. belong. Along towards the genres and trends.

The first album had a tuba player as a member of the band. While some called this a gimmick, it seemed a natural experiment at thetime, since the tuba provides a gnarly low-end sound that could complement higher guitars.

What do you think of this when looking back upon it, and for what reason was this choice made?

It was trombone. You have to remember that Celtic Frost inspired us very much in the experimenting with things such as this. Into the Pandemonium and To Megatherion have lots of “brass” sections and weird things in it. It is still our intro when we play live, so it’s a trademark I guess.

Who are your personal musical idols?

In metal it’s forever Slayer, Celtic Frost, Voivod and Morbid Angel. These bands offer their own personal twist that you can hear on all their records. Apart from this I’m a big fan of classical composers such as Grieg and Mozart. They are true genius.

If you recorded another album in the worldview of the original Cadaver, what do you think it would be?

It will never happen.

What’s next for Cadaver, inc? Are you planning to evolve further in the direction that seems to be current, or taking a different step?

We have started working on the next album and I can reveal that it’s going to be much darker than this one. If Discipline is a agressive record the next will be more insane. I have left some of the writing to our drummer Czral this time, and his ideas are very sick. It’s very inspiring to have a band with such a high level of musicalityflowing. We are sure the next record will bring us a long step forward and that’s our focus all the time.

You mention that you like throwing things away. This touches a part of all of us I think that wishes to be unencumbered by material things. I’ve noticed many of the more intelligent people I know choose to live light given the unstable nature of the times and the tedious requirements of having stuff. It also resembles the destruction of memories and irrelevant or enslaving alliances, metaphorically and in dreams (from the relation of others). Do you think that removal or consolidation of stuffs, let’s call it garbage removal, is philosophically significant at this time in history?

You are probably right that this is something lots of people now are turning to. I think it’s a reaction towards the main-religion now, which is consumerism. Some people feel very attached to their stuff, and I think it’s a disturbing thing to be this way. We think what we have is important to us, but it’s all tools or necessities for living. The last time I moved me and my wife gave away 5 (!) big plastic bags of clothing. It’s ridiculous to have so much to wear, and we said farewell to a time in our life by throwing it away. It made me think, how the hell did I get so much stuff. I could not remember buying it all or anything. It’s more important to gain selfrespect by doing something rather than buying yourself status. Money alone makes no-one happy, and that’s the bottom line in anyones life. Happiness.

What do you think are the similarities between black metal and industrial music?

I don’t know how anyone see the similarities. It all depends on your perspective about what you think is black metal or industrial. Industrial to me is Skinny Puppy and Front 242. They are not very close to BM.

It seems to me that both have a similar approach to rhythm, relative to death or heavy or speed metal, and that both also focus on atmosphere and originate in a classically-influenced genre. Do you like the music of Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Einsturzende Neubauten?

I enjoy Kraftwerk yes. I just have one Einstrutzene album which is great, but I’ve never sat down to listen to Tangerine Dream.

I’m going to rip off a line from Wrath of Averse Sefira (who could name songs from Hallucinating Anxiety in detail when queried at random, not having heard the album in seven years) who said that Celtic Crost in many ways were the first to unify visual aspect, and presentation, of their band with the content of their music and its raw, gnarly aesthetic. in many ways, they birthed grandeur in metal also. Is this something you feel?

Well, they had it all for themself for a long time and came up with very original concepts for album covers, lyrix and musical experimentation. They took metal places it had not been before with their avant garde style of composing. I admire their original style very much and they are the only band I really want to see on a reunion tour.

I agree that Grieg and Mozart are genius. How much of the effect of classical music do you feel is a result of its form, or the abstraction of artistic form in general (in view of jazz, Hendrix and progressive derivations of classical in modern popular music), where form is defined as the method of artistic presentation itself relative to the content, or unique expression within, each work?

Classical music from the 18th century (Grieg, Wagner etc. ) was a result of anti-darwinism and used to show that humans were special and not animals. I think the extreme metal has many of the same thoughts behind it as it’s normally very strict and concrete when it’s performed. The kind of metal we play has no room for improvisation in the way of music with blues/jazz roots. Form and content belong together to produce the music we make. I dont know what you are compearing jazz and hendrix to this for, but maybe I didnt understand your question..(?)

Do you compose with emphasis on rhythmic expectancy, or write riffs for conclusive melodic phrasing?

It’s too abstract to say it this way. I just play what sounds good and experiment alot with strange chords and melodic lines. I’m a riffmaker who needs a great drummer to complete my ideas. I view the overall sound first and foremost.

I asked earlier: if you recorded another album in the worldview of the original Cadaver, what do you think it would be? and you said: “It will never happen.” If we created a temporary reality somewhere where someone like you and the original members of the band somehow came together now, independent of this reality entirely, what would the next Cadaver album sound like? Imagine outside influences of tedium like job, mortality, items, etc.

What was will never be again. I have so different views on music to the rest of the original members that it’s nothing I would even like to do for fun. We have no plans for this and I’m pretty sure it’s never gonna happen…

You mentioned that Czral was writing more of the material on this round. Are you still influenced by black metal and industrial, or reaching toward a different sound?

We have written 3 new songs now. Czral has one song which is entirely with his riffs, and the other 2 have 1 riff from him and 1 riff from LJ in it. It sounds very exiting to us right now, but we dont know where it’s taking us yet. It’s more midpaced tempos now, but the blastbeats are still there too. I dont know what kind of industrial you’re taking about, but it’s got some more black metal to it than “discipline” so far.

How do you write songs as a band? Have you taken advantage of virtual songwriting (sending MP3s, tapes, WAVs, CDRs, to each other)?

We have 1 rehearsal a week were we try to complete 1 song each time. It’s a very ambitious project, but it’s forcing us to work on ideas all the rest of the week. We just meet now and then to check out riff and ideas with each other at home. We all live pretty close so that’s why it works.

I saw a little of your Milwaukee Metalfest performance last year (I think – I was wasted, and never visited the bar – it may have been a couple years ago) and it seemed like the music acquired a very linear quality with the tunneling dynamics of the hall. What would it be like to write music if you practiced in a huge thunderous concert hall?

That would have been useless. We play with volume down to hear all details and work towards recording in a studio, so the less noisy the better. I’m not 15 years old anymore…

I like the idea of practicing softly for better discernment. Do you play any acoustic instruments? By the same principle, they must also strengthen musicianship.

I play the piano and acoustic guitar too yes.

Do any of the members of Cadaver, inc endorse any lifestyles including drugs, cannibalism, sodomy, genocide, war, polygamy, polyamory or Judeo-Christian homegrown goodness?

We are so different people privately that I really don’t know that much about the rest of the guys in those terms. I don’t like bands that assure people they are normal all of the time. What is normal? I’m a creative person that seeks oppertunities for myself, and I work in the music-business fulltime. It’s lifestyle bound together by the music, all of the above is for people that needs a hobby. . .
very interesting. as a professional musician, you are here for musical reasons only. this explains the musical contributions of your works. what do you think are your largest contributions, as a musician, to the musical lexicon of death and black metal?

I dont know really. I find that the people who really remember what Cadaver did are mostly musicians themselves. It’s not easy for me to see what my contribution might be. Maybe it’s almost nothing so far, and that my real contribution will be in the future.

Anything else you’d like to talk about?

Another thing, I feel very much more in relation to the Black metal scene than the death metal scene of today. If you file Cadaver Inc. under anything, it should be black metal.

Thank you. Keep on buying CD’s so we can release as many as we can write!

This eternal accusation against Christianity I shall write upon all walls, wherever walls are to be found—I have letters that even the blind will be able to see. . . . I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are venomous enough, or secret, subterranean and small enough,—I call it the one immortal blemish upon the human race. . . . And mankind reckons time from the dies nefastus when this fatality befell—from the first day of Christianity!—Why not rather from its last?—From today?—The transvaluation of all values! . . .

– F.W. Nietzsche, The Antichrist

Monotheistic religions alone furnish the spectacle of religious wars, religious persecutions, heretical tribunals, that breaking of idols and destruction of images of the gods, that razing of Indian temples and Egyptian colossi, which had looked on the sun 3,000 years: just because a jealous god had said, “Thou shalt make no graven image.”

– Arthur Schopenhauer, Religion: a Dialogue (1851)

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 2-9-09

Legion of Doom – The Horned Made Flesh

LEGION OF DOOM attempt to channel later ROTTING CHRIST by becoming melodic heavy metal with ranting black metal vocals on the faster verses, but preserve their original intent and consistency over the past few albums: they compose in similar ways, but their technique and knowledge of theory has been upgraded to allow more keyboard interaction, slicker riffs, and correct approximations of some of the riff structures they must have admired in the metal that influenced them. Song structures follow patterns established on past LEGION OF DOOM albums; they are still chasing certain poetic ideas, like the complex song that culminates in a simple three-chord riff, or the slow introduction out of which builds a structural study. That being said, LEGION OF DOOM is ahead of every other oldschool Greek band because they know how to vary tempi and riff styles and are concentrating on atmosphere, which they generate in a melange of BURZUM- and EMPEROR-influenced riffs. This is far better than average for black metal of this time, but many of the old schoolers may find the “soft” aesthetic distancing.

Intestine Baalism – Ultimate Instinct

I believe form follows function but that form can have a wide range of things comfortably expressed through it. For this reason, when a band like GENERAL SURGERY or PATHOLOGIST is wholly derivative of another band’s style but also really good, it’s hard to in any way condemn them. In that sense, INTESTINE BAALISM strike me as realists who took the voice of Swedish death metal and tried to give it another life. They did, in that they’ve created a B-level SWDM offering on par with maybe INSISION or UNCANNY, borrowing liberally from UNANIMATED, CARNAGE, ENTOMBED, SACRAMENTUM and DISMEMBER to create a sound for some death metal of relatively average structure with two exceptions: most songs introduce themselves and slowly mutate their introduction riff to become the first verse riff, and many songs have melodic transitional bridges in the same way stadium heavy metal bands used to do, some featuring really brilliant guitar work. Where this CD falls down is that it tries to throw too much of the newer melodic Swedish “death metal” into the mix, and since that stuff is basically a warmed over ACCEPT/MOTLEY CRUE hybrid, you end up in hard rock territory really fast with death and speed metal riffs zinging around the room like petrified sharts.

Botch – We are the Romans

Before Botch, there was music like this, which interpreted metal riffs as a kind of carnival of opposites designed to cycle around a rock song structure. They focus on the groove that you can achieve, as avant garde jazz did, by wrapping bizarre-sounding spidery phrases around a dissonant harmony that serves as entry point to implied and indirectly stated verse and chorus. In this view, however, the metal and punk technique used by this album becomes decoration to this underlying rock music, and so while it doesn’t appear to be rock music, on the level of design/structure it is, and is correspondingly empty once you get past the fast ripped scales and emo chords unraveling into their root notes. The bounding, two-hit drumming that pervades this album underlines this basic normalcy so, like a hipster, it dresses itself up as something unique and weird but at its essence, is the same old thing given a good dose of technique. I really liked the title. Like the Candiria, Mordred, and Kong of old, however, it creates an oil-on-water separation of metal/punk from rock, and so comes apart in your hands like a boiled squishy turd. Clearly the archetype for most albums of this nature to follow, it nonetheless misses what is unique about metal and in its neurotic desperation to hide its inner humdrum normalcy, succeeds in making a mess where one did not need to be.

Father Befouled – Profano Ad Regnum

These gents try very hard to be the reincarnation of Havohej, with generous doses of early Incantation and Obituary, and come very close. Many of these riffs are note-varied or rhythm-varied interpretations of classic Havohej/Profanatica riffs, and song structures use the same simplistic, almost serial circular advance of riffs to produce a similar sense of dread. Vocals are patterned more after Incantation, and dirge material builds itself harmonically and rhythmically like early Obituary. The result is gratifying to those who want the old school sound but needs to define itself; being on the outside looking in to Paul Ledney’s vision means that we are forever getting an interpretation of an interpretation, and reality is inching away from us. After making sure we know they are trademark NYEUM (New York Esoteric Underground Metal) in the INCANTATION, REVENANT and PROFANATICA style, FATHER BEFOULED develop their own voice. On the third track, an At the Gates-ish affinity for single-note lead melodies comes in, and then on track 5 there’s a reinterpretation of Celtic Frost, and the rest of the album battles for a melodic influence that with the HAVOHEJ admixture ends up sounding like SARCOFAGO mixed with HELLHAMMER using the better technique of early INCANTATION played by a black metal band. In this style, however, Father Befouled is the best yet and what they understand that other bands do not is that songs need to be coherent wholes, where changes in riff and rhythm gesture us the listeners along to some conclusion. For that any reviewer will be vastly thankful — this disc is not random riffs — but at some point honesty compels us to tell this band to innovate its own germinal material. Clearly they have the technical and imaginative ability, and understand the “spirit” of the underground, which makes them one of the few candidates who can do this.

Darkestrah – The Great Silk Road

People are familiar with archetypes. Once they understand one of those, they can modify it. Only the best of them are able to craft a language all their own and use it to express a truth to which it is adapted. Darkestrah have mastered two arts: the art of power metal, and the art of all the trappings of a Burzum-Gorgoroth-Drudkh hybrid. They take the former and dress it up in the latter, and do it so well it takes almost halfway through the album before the veneer fades away like melting frost and the simplistic, bouncing melodies stand revealed for what they are. In a way, it reminds me of early In Battle, but more tricked out with black metal guitars and keyboards. Instrumentally very competent; artistically adrift on a sea of sewage, drinking big gulps from a cup labelled PRICELESS CHARDONNAY.

Kreator – Hordes of Chaos

What an original concept — the elites rule the earth, and so the hordes of the people will rise up and destroy them through chaos and violence and confusion — and what an original style of music to use to express it! Kreator match their signature ominous riffs, about one per song, with a vomit spew of mixed power metal, hard rock and speed metal cliches. There’s a lot of dual guitar activity in the Iron Maiden style thrown right up against later Sepultura two-chord march riffs, then some of the flamboyant lead guitar of hard rock thrown in with power metal fretwalk riffs. Does it add up to much? The first song is compelling if you listen when you’re distracted, but after that the album further lapses into genericism. The hilarious mixed metaphors cover art adds to the sense that, when one lacks forward motion, you throw everything you’ve got left into a conglomeration and duct-tape it together. For all its furious activity, this album bespeaks drained souls and energyless but resentful lives. The result for the listener is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Deathevokation – The Chalice of Ages

Every old school death metal fan would give a left testicle to like this. Killer vocals – check. Awesome title – check. Dumb band name? Skip that for now. Good guitar playing – check. Old school style, from Asphyx to Zemial, memorized? Check. What’s wrong? What’s wrong is that you cannot throw a bunch of random stuff, even in tribute to one of the greatest eras of metal, into a lattice of convenience and coincidence and expect something good to come from it. The style is roughly that of early Amorphis hybridized with later Cemetary, in that it uses melodic lead overlays on top of rushing power chord riffs and builds up to a promenade riff that trots out the inner melodicity in explicit form. It’s like later Cemetary in that cheesy hard rock, death metal, speed metal and heavy metal all take turns bleeding out from the mess, like it’s a bagfull of hostages each fighting to be heard, and the result is so random that it sounds monotone.

Amebix – Risen! promo

All the best punk bands seem to want to become metal in their more mature offerings. The most notable feature of these new Amebix tracks is that they sound like Lemmy Kilmister vocalizing over mid-paced speed metal, like Prong fused with Slayer, which aims for the theatrical impact of the bigger NWOBHM bands. Galloping muted riffs, chromatic shifts to end each bar, and short bursts of lyrics achieve this goal, aided by periodic keyboards and slower, ballad-like choruses which evolve into progressive-ish transitions. In this, Amebix are continuing the state they reached with Monolith but fulfilling it more accurately with the kind of aggression found on “Right to Rise” (off Arise!) but they’re adding more precise drumming and Slayer-styled tight control of tremolo strum to encode multiple rhythms in a phrase. Most interesting is that these effects are applied to three older songs, making them eerie as familiar sounds coalesce from a more technical and dominating assault. Look for an interesting conclusion as Amebix retrofits itself in this style for their new tour.

I Shalt Become – In the Falling Snow

When I Shalt Become first hit the scene back in 1996, he/they were almost instant celebrities because no one in the United States had yet figured out how to clone the Burzum sound and achieve that trance of dreamlike suspension of reality. ISB has mastered the technique; on their first work, “Wanderings,” ISB made half-finished sounds that took us into a vision of beauty in darkness, but had nowhere to go after that. On their second effort, nothing has changed, although technique is even more refined. It’s exactly like the first, maybe a little better, but part of what made the first charming was its unevenness into which we could read possible hope. On this CD, it’s more repetitive and that is why response has been so light.

Devastation – A Creation of Ripping Death

This is everything I hated about 1980s metal. The very block-cut basic riffs, the very obvious song direction, the vocals synchronized in rhythm to the chords of the riff, creating a cadenced shout effect like being part of a mob about to start a pogrom against smart people. Basically, it’s a lot of Slayer rhythms and ideas simplified and made catchier and a billion times more repetitive. Against all science, this recording may lower your IQ.

Krisiun – Southern Storm

More children’s music. These very simple, very obvious melodies are used to interrupt what are some pretty cool speeding riffs that go nowhere because the riffs themselves are not epic enough to give a sense of mood, and because they’re assembled in a rhythmically convenient order that gives you no sense of significance in the change between riffs and tempi. Instrumentally, this is brutal death metal not different from a faster Internal Bleeding or Malevolent Creation, with some of the chanting rhythms that made later Sepultura so obvious the band started thinking of grunge as “a breath of fresh air.” The obvious factor to these compositions is crushing, but even worse is that the band cannot confine themselves to making obvious and simple tunes, but have to try to trick it out with extensive guitar soloing and use of Meshuggah-style(tm) interruption rhythms. Kill it with fire.

Svartthron – Bearer of the Crimson Flame

I’m realizing people will claim to like just about anything because they think liking something not everyone else likes makes them cool. Either that, or they’re trying to set up random combinations of CDs so they can claim to be unique. I know intelligent people like this CD and I respect their opinion. Mine is that it is well-executed drivel, like 99% of metal. The instrumentation is great. The CD itself confuses boredom with a somber mood, and uses that as its artistic guide, producing somnolent drone or dirge material that has no animating spark or cause or worldview that makes it in any way viable, much less unique. If you’re tr00 kvlt, go buy this.

Akimbo – Jersey Shores

This album takes a covertly aggressive punk hardcore approach to a rock/post-rock hybrid, with more space given to the music where hardcore normally dominates it in washing abrasion of distorted guitar. Instead, it packs away its riffs and brings them out from the obscurity like a punch — or, staying on topic, a shark attack. Its weakness is the howling vocals which seem completely unnecessary in that they’re too constant for an album that this ambitiously hopes to use the dynamic of surge rock.

Banishment – Cleansing the Infirm

Fast brutal death metal, like later Malevolent Creation fused with Deeds of Flesh, and not bad for that. Vocalist makes the unfortunate choice to have his voice too closely follow the root notes the guitar is playing, which makes it sound like the whole band is a guitar effect. Catchy, but not particularly enlightening.

Apotheosis – Farthest From the Sun

We’ll pose a little at being epic black metal, then drop you into a Pantera riff. It’s what happens when metal loses direction; everything gets all mixed together, from Def Leppard through Graveland, and thrown into something that ends up being so generic you can listen without realizing the music is on. Skip.

Zemial – In Monumentum

Opens with one of the dumbest hard rock riffs ever, which pauses right on the bounce expectation as if it were anticipating the ears of a retard. I almost drooled. The CD continues in this direction, tossing Motorhead in with Motley Crue and Morgoth, hoping we don’t notice, but really, why would anyone listen to this when there’s AC/DC? Led Zeppelin? Even “Shout at the Devil”? It tries for evil but manages Marilyn Manson, the garage version that the hip kids like and everyone else is like whatever yo. I get the impression they’re trying to be an updated Death SS but without distinction.

Depravity – Silence of the Centuries

Finnish mid-paced melodic death metal; imagine Demigod periodically zooming into mid-period Therion and you have this interesting fusion between heavy metal and death metal. Unfortunately, a lot like Edge of Sanity, it strays too far onto the rock side of things, not understanding the geometrical language of riffs that made death metal song structures so hard to do right. It’s more like later Dio with death metal technique applied.

Unburied – Slut Decapitator

Blockhead brutal gore with a penchant for blast mania, but no real direction to these songs. Bounce, bounce, breakdown, blast, bounce, bounce, breakdown, stop. I understand the title: If you decapitate yourself with a slut, you no longer can hear this noise.

Storming Darkness – Sin-thesis

This is so much better than most of what crosses my desk I had hope despite the silly album name. It’s good. But not good enough. Repetition of melodic metal themes and a type of subtle breakdown that occurs internally to a pounding bass-snare will not do it. Nor will even the harmonically more advanced, well-played chorus passages and transitions. This really isn’t bad; unfortunately, it’s also non-distinct and directionless.

Damnation – Rebel Souls

Similar to Betrayer and Vader, this Polish death metal band fuses a number of post-1991 death metal styles into a format that is very close to Morbid Angel, but in its more “two-step” riffs, a bit more like Terrorizer. By two-step riffs I mean that there’s a phrase, and a counterphrase, and then the riff repeats until the end of a bar, when a two-chord shift turns it around; the riffing is orthogonal, unlike the geometric offsets of Morbid Angel or the even numbered structures of early Vader. Within this, there’s a lot of speeding riffs in a style eternal from Destruction through Massacra, propelled by furious battery reminiscent of Kataklysm and, at times, Deicide. Edges of Suffocation-styled palm muted blast picked death metal and double-time speed metal like later Hypocrisy intervene, but the standard is straightforward ripping death metal. Songs integrate additional riffs but remain mostly verse-chorus with transposition of early patterns into promenade riffs leading to conclusions. Like most material of this type, the constant battering becomes tiring and not exciting over repeated listens. Although this is most well-known for having members of Behemoth in the band, this album can stand on its own but is not distinctive enough for metal history to notice.

Anal Vomit – Demoniac Flagellations

Love the titles, forgot the music already. Standard grind with frenetic death metal touches, like Angelcorpse recording hurriedly in a lean-to studio outside a jail.

Urizen – Autocratopolis

Being avantgarde is easy. Combine everything that’s not popular, and make it groovy, but always do what you think is unexpected. Problem: you’ve thought two levels deep, assuming that most people think one, in a world of infinite levels. As a result, your music comes across as a childish reaction, and bears this out by being an omelette of rejected metal styles thrown together around the lowest common denominator, which is annoying pop songs given an additional level of complexity by dividing verse/chorus structure so that it recombines in a circular fashion. And we had such high hopes from the name.

Dark Fury – Fortress of Eagles

Black metal ended like WWII: after the Americans left and Central Europeans were defeated, the Eastern Europeans surged in with something that looked sort of like the functional governments that went before. In black metal, it is the same. These musicians are talented, and clearly they know their black metal, but without understanding the transcendent goal that compelled early musicians to render their vision in scratchily distorted power chords, the new bands are always outsiders looking in and then making their version. Yet like an architect who knows only how to copy facades and put them on the same boxy Soviet-era architecture, Dark Fury churn through Burzum riffs, Venomish riffs, Darkthrone trudges, and so forth, but never pull the whole thing together because there is no core to the music. It is pure aesthetics and as a result, directionless in the same way good wallpaper is: you don’t want it distracting from the action in the room.

Diabolic – Chaos in Hell/Possessed by Death

Did the completely unoriginal title clue you in? Yep, it’s a tribute to past bands that were much better by hoarding their themes, tossing them in the washing machine for recombination, and then spitting them out with the subtlety of horse rape. Metal like this causes metalheads to listen to Katy Perry.

Mirrorthrone – Gangrene

Ulver, Borknagar and Therion combine in a Summoning-themed metal band. Unfortunately, between gentle keyboard descents like the windsculpted surfaces of sand dunes, the “carnival style” post-Cradle of Filth black metal rears its ugly head as elements are thrown together in a salad of distractions from which each piece returns to a few exactly repeated themes. As a result, there’s a lot going on, like riding a merry-go-round and seeing the world outside flash by in disorienting random order, but there’s no development of theme; it’s just a more complex version of verse/chorus. I really would like to like this but it is impossible. Production and keyboard composition are excellent.

Autumn Leaves – As Night Conquers Day

Years before it became trendy, this band invented the new wave of Swedish melodic “death metal,” which of course isn’t death metal as much as, following the success of DISSECTION and UNANIMATED, melodic heavy metal with death metal vocals. You get some lovely IRON MAIDEN style dual-guitar harmony leading into a DISSECTION-esque rising melodic riff, and then drop straight into PANTERA or MESHUGGAH for a muted strum, offbeat, bouncy aggressive riff over which someone rasps like AT THE GATES. Over time, the album develops more of its melodic side, but it likes to keep that to a few variations on a theme and a contrasting chorus that uses half of the same notes. Much as the first THE ABYSS album defined a pattern for mimicking black metal, this CD defined the New Wave of Swedish Death Metal — basically melodic heavy metal with speed metal technique and death metal vocals — that aped a hybrid of SENTENCED (specifically, Amok), UNANIMATED, DISSECTION, CEMETARY and SACRAMENTUM but in cheesy, crowd-friendly heavy metal form. Better than those which followed in this style, As Night Conquers Day is both exceedingly well-executed and, because it aims for a hybrid between things popular for their unchallenging nature, a lowest common denominator assault of so many catchy things that they all equalize and you get one big unmemorable stream of noise.

Cult of Luna – Eternal Kingdom

If you apply punk rhythms to two-note power chord riffing, then add indie rock fills and metal vocals, you have Cult of Luna. This band was more inspiring when they did wash of harmonizing noise like Burzum and My Bloody Valentine, but now it’s standard saccharine dramatic indie rock which like a hipster, does a good game of raising inch-deep mystique and then vanishes around the corner, leaving a hint of promise in the air that turns to a stench of disappointment. This is a very average album dressed up as something significant and, while it executes that vision well, it leaves no lasting power or vision of life beneath the obvious, trite and controlled.

Cold Northern Vengeance – Domination and Servitude

If Maudlin of the Well had been fascinated by the black metal aesthetic, and decided to combine the quirkiness of bands like Spear of Longinus with about every metal variation of genres that have influenced metal, you would get this atmospheric and technical take on black metal. Like projects from time immemorial that have tried to throw diverse influences together and get a clear voice, it never quite gels, but that keeps its space open. There’s some nice melodies on here and songs that like most technical music, do not aim to be conclusive so much as they hope to pull together an idea from disparate origins. Like Maudlin of the Well, this is probably not for everyday listening, but will garner the appreciation of musicians. What it achieves that is most impressive is breaking the jazz-omelette barrier and making a metal-like, dark and ancient mood within so much modern musicianship.

Ecnephias – Haereticus

More vamping pseudo-Gothic keyboard-infused bouncy black metal. It has no personality at all, other than a fusion of later Cemetary with Skepticism and Dimmu Borgir, a mixture which sounds ideal but in practice cannot find common ground except on the most basic stylistic similarities. Spirit? Idea? Drive? Musically, it’s great and sometimes reminds me of later Rotting Christ. The beats are very similar and the composition staged harmonically much like the more erudite rock. But as a sum total of art, or a listening experience, it delivers nothing.

War Cry – Trilogy of Terror

Cut from much the same mould as Saint Vitus, the heavy metal musicians in War Cry make surging punk-influenced music like Venom but at a slower pace with the galloping rhythms of early speed metal like Satan and Sabbat. Interestingly, the vocalist sounds a lot like James Hetfield in both timbre and delivery. In the ways these vocals dive across large intervals and then present a sudden bittersweet melody and abrupt rhythm the band resembles Angel Witch. The usual gaggle of influences on older metal music emerge, including Iron Maiden most notably, but here it’s channeled into a style of music that hovers in the mid-paced arena but projects a somber aura like a doom band, when they’re not busy rocking out, that is. History swallows up any knowledge of where they would have taken it, but for a demo of its time, this was a solid B+.

Walpurgisnacht – Die Derwaert Gaen En Keeren Niet

Whenever metal starts a new tributary from its river of heaviness, that rivulet runs for some time and then fragments as it explores. After that, some people realize it’s a great opportunity to make a synopsis of those different directions, an opportune compromise if you will, and then norm the structure of the music back to the verse-chorus pop music of your average radio candy band for teenage brats to enjoy before life harvests them as cubicle slaves (pwnt). Some bands are smart enough to add variations like double riffs for verses, adding transitional riffs and making the bridge into a series of riffs that fit together like a telescoping umbrella before dropping you into the predictable. But it’s only a matter of time before the classic heavy metal riffs come out, along with their rock music bounce and simple-minded distraction, and in this case the transition is from Gorgoroth/Gehenna-style dark riffing to Mayhem-influenced epic pentatonics and then with a shrug straight into archetypes out of 1976 heavy metal. Of the bands out there now, this band most resembles Sammath or Fluisterwoud. Despite those additions, which end up being riff-salady, Walpurgisnacht is about blatantly sentimental melodic hooks and recurrent invocation of riffs from black metal’s history. Unlike most of its contemporaries, Walpurgisnacht has a beautiful misfortune advantage: between melodic hooks, rhythmic hooks, and pure speed/violence thrills, it’s catchy as all hell. This bestows the ultimate curse in that it both isn’t bad and isn’t inspiring at all because it too glibly speaks the language of appearance of form without altering the intelligible structure beneath.

Vomit – Rot in Hell

Jump back to 1985 or so. Stereos are blistering with Ride the Lightning and Hell Awaits. There’s no internet and metal publications are few and far between, so you get your news by dubbing a couple tracks from each of your latest finds onto cassette for your friends across the world. You spend your few bucks on postage but get more music than you could ever find in a record store or the flaky, xerox-distorted catalogs of the primitive mail-order of the time. Sound romantic? Then sign up for this hybrid of speed metal, thrash and the early death metal without death metal vocals that was Slayer. Vocal rhythms are profoundly Slayer; song structures and half the riffs are Metallica; the rest of the riffs are a meshing of the ideas behind Slayer, Sodom, Venom, Sepultura and Destruction. It’s extremely engaging music, with lots of energy and the banging of the drums, but it is like the rationalism it finds reprehensible, very fucking linear. I like it but never want to listen to it again.

Vile – Stench of the Deceased

Some albums innovate on the inside of the genre, while others take its disparate aesthetic influences and standardize them. Vile really nailed the sonic appearance of post-Cannibal Corpse death metal, complete with squeals in the Incantation style, Malevolent Creation creeping thunderous choruses, Suffocation breakdowns and windups, Immolation’s riff salad and leaps between tempi. But… this is good, but the gestalt of it is not great: in fact, as the term gestalt implies, music should give off a spirit that like an MD5 checksum gives us a single representation or shape to its direction. Here that clarity is so muddied that what we remember is a cinematic procession of riffs like a nightmare dream movie, inscrutable to those who do not know the narrative passing through the minds of these musicians. Riffs are quality but never so above the board good that they’re memorable, and their arrangements rapidly lose integrity and become a series of techniques. This is an album you will love the idea of but be unable to return to as a classic for inspiration.

Venom – Hell

I’ll give this band credit: they mixed influences, but then knew how to pick selectively the parts that work together. The first track is a Slayer rhythm with a speed metal style infectious chorus, Prong-inspired industrial noises in the background, and a Pantera-ish jaunty riff with monotone vocal deadpan. At this point in their career, Venom as musicians are slick and know the archetypes of their genre, so they pull off a very believable album to the degree that you never think to question whether this is a big band — obviously, these guys arrived long ago, and have been taking music lessons ever since. While the quality of this music is good, by aiming for the simple-minded and catchy, it sort of takes itself out of the running for contemplative profundity and in doing so, shows why Venom was a first attempt at black metal that never succeeded: it couldn’t leave the heavy metal, rock ‘n roll mentality behind. Even Sarcofago, Hellhammer, and Bathory, who I’d consider the first generation of black metal, developed themselves into art with a sense of the sublime and subtle. Venom is just like Metallica and Exodus, barging in with loud declarations where we’re supposed to assume words equal their meanings, like a reshuffling of the hippie symbolism of rock. I respect it but there’s no way in hell I’d ever reach for this CD given the other great options out there, although it’s a vast improvement on Venom’s classics, musically.

Ved Buens Ende – Coiled in Obscurity

You know what else coils in obscurity? Poop. This CD, of live and instrumental rarities by this band, showcases both what they were trying to achieve and why they were ignored by many of us. First, they’re trying to achieve what the reckless yells and blatantly ambitious singing on this CD seems to gesture at; a soul unconnected from awareness of social consequences (this is what people want when they bloviate about “freedom”). Second, the underlying Mayhem-inspired gritty but monotonous riffing shows how they hoped to achieve it, which is the same method every punk band since the dawn of time has used. Huge parts of this are blatant Burzum ripoffs with the atmosphere replaced by a sense of ashen directionless chaos. Dissonant chords howl against the grain of riffs, drums batter out something ironically confrontational, and then the track redirects itself, like the point of a pen drifting across words on a book in another language. The repetition gets old and the CD goes nowhere.

Portal – Outre

This album sounds to me like airplanes zooming over battleships. Their distortion is intensely melodic and they tend to use diminished melodies and abrupt tempo changes, drones zooming into abrupt, jazz-style recursions. In many ways, it’s a lot like what Molested tried to do, except the songs go nowhere. They thrash between different patterns that are marginally related and create a dark atmosphere, but then it doesn’t change, and so what ends up happening is that songs become monolithic and uninspiring. It’s an interesting concept, the idea of removing dynamics from the music except as a rhythm, and inserting small themes within larger patterns, but when it does not reveal any clarity to its changes, the result is like driving around in a maze with the heater on.

Rotten Sound – Exit

People were telling me this was death metal, but in reality, it’s a punk album with blastbeat drums and modified d-beat. It’s not bad but it’s not distinct enough from later Impaled Nazarene or Disfear to really care. They keep the energy going as if they’re afraid to slow down and make sense of their songs, which are two or three riffs and sometimes a tempo change. This stuff is kind of neat but one dimensional, reminiscent of Driller Killer in the way it uses very similar beats and transitions, and so sounds like one continuous linear riffing party with a variation on Swedish d-beat essentials. It’s unclear to me why anyone with access to Discharge, the Exploited and Dead Infection would choose this lesser variation.

Wolves in the Throne Room – Malevolent Grain

Having been a fan of Two Hunters for some time, this reviewer was excited to download and un-RAR the latest from Wolves in the Throne Room, one of black metal’s more successful acts. Soaring drones lace themselves over bracketing drums, and female vocals and black metal rasps guide these songs through mostly extended verse-chorus patternings, with a few discursive flights of fancy leading away and then returning. This is not an album for people who like black metal; it’s an album for people who want black metal to be what they like. Specifically, it’s a studied combination of indie rock, emo punk, crustcore and doom metal, most notably borrowing from Skepticism and Satyricon. It makes itself obvious in the protest rock style of clearly identifying what it complains about — GM crops (author’s opinion on this issue is irrelevant; this is a music review) — and makes that topic safe by construing it in the same Good and Evil game that Christianity likes to play, where moral absolutes are used to control the masses so no one has to think. There are black metal technique additions, for sure, but the spirit is mournful and poignant in that simple way that rock music makes you see a “I love her, but can’t have her, because she’s no good for me, but the sex is great” dual binary complexity to life. Unlike great art, this album never creates the chiasmus, where the opposite pairs recombine and a truth is distilled. Like Velvet Caccoon, the last great Northwest black metal phenomenon, Wolves in the Throne Room carefully study their quarry and put together a compilation of what has worked for indie rock tinged black metal for the past decade, but in doing so, they somehow lose their soul, which is borne out in the music that wanders yet not only never arrives but never decides where to go — it wallows in its opposition, like a surly priest fulminating in frustration beneath a rotting church.

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Interview: Wolves In The Throne Room

The air rings with bloviation about “green” plans and, since black metal has always endorsed a naturalistic outlook, it’s natural to look here for some ideas on this topic. Like all ideas who are coming, it remains extremely controversial when it goes beyond the somewhat prosaic task of buying LED light bulb replacements. We were able to encounter Wolves in the Throne Room 150 feet above the ground, where they were conducting a tree-sit to stop loggers from cutting down the remaining Kirk Johnson pine in North America to make it into anal splints. They kindly answered some questions and gave their thoughts on black metal, art, environmentalism and the problem with metal fans.

In your mind, is there a difference between morality and pragmatism?

That being said, I’ll do my best to engage with your question.Let me first say that I have little knowledge of philosophy and don’t really have interest in such matters. Much like the occult mumbo-jumbo that serves to obscure simple and self-evident metaphysical realities, philosophy is often a distraction from that which is right in front of one’s face. The mission of WITTR is to work within the realm of a primal spirit. It is through the accessing of our intuition and deeper selves that our paths are chosen.

I associate pragmatism with the bland drivel spouted by Dewy and Rorty. This has nothing to do with anything I’m interested in. Maybe you use the word in another fashion?

I would define morality as a culture’s system of vices and virtues. I tend to think that the “right” way to be is, indeed, a transcendent constant. We see manifestations of this transcendent morality in every culture that has ever existed, the obvious exception being our own materialistic and short sighted mess.

On the other hand, part of my thought process and part of the mission of WITTR is to explore the idea of evolution. Within the antagonism between the “establishment” and the avant garde lays a powerful spirit of creativity and dynamism. The life I have created for myself is an odd mix of the radically evolutionary and the ancient and time-worn. I would posit that the spirit of ANUS and of Metal culture is no different. Our ventures are absolutely of the now and are our own creations.

Orthodox Black Metal says to us that things have always been a certain way – tribal, place based, caste based, etc – and we must smash modernity and return to this ancient and established way of living. But is this necessarily so? The great contradiction of Black Metal is that it urges acceptance of fear and suffering but is afraid of an utterly new possibility. The spirit of Black Metal is represented in the artwork on Burzum’s albums: apparitions of a time long gone, ghosts pulling the living into the ancient and the desiccated world of the ancestors.

Evolution and growth are biological and metaphysical constants. Rarely in nature do we see lifeforms benefit from stepping backwards. ANUS seems to assert that the lens of nihilism strips away modernist humanistic morality in order to reveal that which is timeless and transcendent. It is not that easy. I think it is possible to make a choice to accept some things from the premodern, heroic worldview and to reject others. As modern people we are in a unique and precarious position. It is the role of artists to define the possibilities.

Skimming the writings on the ANUS site, which I found interesting and thought provoking, revealed a classically conservative worldview which, if manifested in a political reality, would have little room for transgression or evolution. This is no utopia I would care to live in, or help bring about.

This is why WITTR refuse to align ourselves with “right wing” (or left wing) ideologies. The actual reality of the totalitarian, right wing state is not one of peaceful country farms carrying on in time-honored fashion and vibrant urban centers bustling with art and philosophy. It an utterly modern situation of chauvinistic nationalist frenzy, thuggish bullying and simple mindedness. Liberal democracy and fascism are both outmoded political systems that need to be left behind. The idea of returning to the premodern heroic world through modern political means is not an option.

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

Art expresses the transcendent and, I think, has a spiritual dimension – intentional or not. It has a reality that echoes through time. I am a believer in the otherworld, a reality that lies beyond the veil. Art affects change on this other reality.

I think that art can exist independent of the culture that created it, whereas entertainment is more closely bound to the ephemeral and transitory moment.

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art?

Sure. I think we are having this discussion because we agree that black metal -sometimes- expresses truths that lie beyond fashion and the politics of the local scene. WITTR come at black metal as outsiders who are interested in “art”, not scene politics. It so happens that the art one finds in BM resonates with the other things that I do.

Nothing is permanent: certainly not the frozen images of barbarous power with which fascism now confronts us. Those images may easily be smashed by an external shock, cracked as ignominiously as the fallen Dagon, the massive idol of the heathen; or they may be melted, eventually, by the internal warmth of normal men and women. Nothing endures except life: the capacity for birth, growth, and renewal. As life becomes insurgent once more in our civilization, conquering the reckless thrust of barbarism, the culture of cities will be both instrument and goal.

– Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities (1938)

Does art have an obligation to morality? To pragmatism?

No. Black Metal, in its Satanic incarnation, must advocate for anti-morality. Going well beyond the romantic yearning for a dark, wild and feral world conjured by Burzum or Ildjarn, Satanic BM demands that we pour chemicals into the oceans, smear ourselves with feces, murder our neighbors and rape the pope. This Satanic, insane music is still “Art”. Even in a utopia, there would be a place for Art that represents the insane and the evil because these things are a part of the universe.

As someone who is interested in survival for myself and my friends, and who is interested in ecological things, I think that it is virtuous – moral – to keep a well ordered farm, rotate the crops, kill the animals with kindness and respect, help out my neighbors, etc… For this reason WITTR are often disparaged as “traitors” who do not work for the destruction of all life. I have heard that we receive quite a buffeting in the internet chat-rooms from 14 year old chronic masturbators and has-been methamphetamine addicts.

Do you think heavy metal has a distinctive worldview different from that of “normal” people? is worldview a grounding to an ideology, and can art have either? Do you think the worldviews and or ideologies of artists shape the kind of music they produce?

Worldview is everything, for it provides the metaphysical architecture upon which the art is hung. I think that we would agree that banal pop music created by the accountants at major record labels is just as much a manifestation of a worldview and an ideology as music, such as Black Metal, that is a more (self?) conscious expression.

I cannot say whether heavy metal people have a distinctive worldview. From reading material on your website I gather that ANUS posits the idea that Metal is somehow a manifestation of the long-lost heroic spirit. I don’t think there is a higher percentage of intelligence among metalheads than among any other population.

ANUS does a good job of placing metal, music that is often created by boneheads, into a coherent philosophical system that venerates traditional heroic values. However, metal could be interpreted in many other, less positive, ways. I see most metal as the pathetic mental ejaculation of marijuana addled morons.

On the whole, I am quite dismissive of the idea that metal – as a worldview and ideology – should be something to base ones life on. For me, the proof is in the pudding. Most hessians are deeply engaged with bands and fanzines (or chatrooms) and leather jackets. Often the philosophy and music is very engaging and powerful, but the focus of the hessian life usually becomes myopic and limited.

Like punk, metal is a way to introduce radical ideas that call into question the assumptions that society is governed by. I think that the ideology of Watain or G.G. Alin is not useful as roadmap for future action.

I would rather seek the heroic spirit everywhere – old hippies, bikers, rednecks… It is really more about the individual. To say that metal culture – which, indeed, has this certain romantic spirit – is the best or only way to confront our modern reality makes no sense to me. The underlying worldview which must become common to all people, if our race is to survive, is that humans must see themselves as a part of the greater biosphere. The indo-European warrior culture that ANUS sees represented in Metal is only one possible manifestation of a worldview that creates wholeness.

In the past, members of Wolves In The Throne Room have spoken pejoratively of black metal, and especially the exoteric, buy-a-CD-and-join mentality that has characterized the genre since it became popular in the late 1990s. This seems to parallel past cycles in metal’s history, where a few inventors created and then a decadent mass took over. Does this parallel any developments in human history as well? Is this a repeated pattern, an entropy, or is it something that can be changed from within? If there is a metallic rebirth, how will the genre once again escape the horde? Must things die to be reborn?

I am not convinced that those who have created innovation in the metal genre are superior human beings – they are certainly not in the neighborhood of a philosopher-king! Looking at Black Metal, I think we see a rather spoiled group of rich kids hailing from the richest and most spoiled nations on earth fucked up on methamphetamines and alcohol. Their creative nihilism is the contemporary of all of the angry, bitter and alienated music created – rightly – by youths in modern societies. The validity of the art in BM has little to do with “genius”, in that genius, by definition, is something that one is born with. I see the founding Black Metal groups as unknowing conduits for dark, wild otherworldly energies.

Do you think death metal musicians converge on the genre because it sounds like thoughts or worldviews, and if so, does this produce any compatibility between views?

Yes. I think that the intent of the artist is encoded in the music. We are moved by metal because it expresses an ancient, feral, wild, noble spirit. My problem is that what draws many people to metal is the fantasy aspect. Though one might be moved by Burzum on an emotional level, it is quite something else to make drastic changes in ones life because of that experience with the music. What would it mean to be forced to live by the system of virtue and vice that is suggested by Metal music? The hessian worldview is extreme and homogenous, but it exists in a vacuum where there is no risk of having to actually DO anything.

If one believes, as I do, that our current order is crumbling then one ought find companions who will be ready for the times ahead. I have met very few metalheads who are focused on anything beyond the fantasy- world of bands and dark imagery.

Many people have accused black and death metal musicians of being extremist, or of having a disproportionate response to the conditions of life that comes through in their excessive violent, romantic, alienated music. Do you believe these genres are extremist, or is society in extreme denial, or is there another explanation?

I think we would agree that the extreme nature of metal is a natural and warranted response to western, materialistic culture.

My problem with Metal culture is that it is usually a reaction to something, not a image of what might be. There are certainly elements in metal – veneration of a noble, heroic spirit for instance – that transcend the alienation and despair that creates the morbid and violent imagery that metal is known for.

It is a mistake to define ones self wholly as someone reacting angrily to an insane world.

Although the internet is loaded with tards, one appeal of it is that people can use computers and electrons instead of paper and physical objects. If we were to use the internet to maximum efficiency, would it change metal? Would it offset the environmental damage caused by the sheer fact of human growth?

I am not opposed to technology, but I am opposed to the use of computers and the internet in regard to black metal. Obviously I fail in upholding this principle, but I believe it to be an important notion. I think that BM is a place where we should let a more ancient spirit reign.

Stupid people then say “why do you use electric guitars”? Clearly this music is one of contradiction, struggle and striving.

Past Wolves In The Throne Room interviews have drawn a distinction between “city black metal” and a more vital, fundamental form of the genre. Is this a property of black metal, or cities? What is it about cities that makes them have a similar outlook, one that we might say is entirely human, and removed from nature, and is this why many great artists have preferred the country and unoccupied areas?

Firstly, I would say that artists tend to enjoy the company of other artists, and those artists who claim to prefer nature often spend the majority of their time in a more cosmopolitan setting. This is especially true of Black Metal. Taken as a whole, Black Metal is prone to ludicrously extreme contradiction between the radically primitivist vision of the art and the actual lifestyles of the artists. It is this chasm between art and reality in BM that I find so preposterous.

Cities are an interesting thing. I think that cities are a true expression of the luciferian, that aspect of satan which draws humans away from their source – the spiritual center which is the earth – towards a world entirely of our own creation. The laws of nature are suspended in the city and humans become weak and decadent. But it is this weakness and decadence that often spawns great art and culture. In time, these cities are destroyed and natural order is restored. This does not mean that the arrogant thrust of organized human endeavor is not valuable in its way.

Our culture has taken the idea of the city to an extreme and the crash will be all the more spectacular.

Jim Morrison sang and wrote repeatedly of a “frontier,” or a no man’s land where chaos and conflict ruled, but also open spaces were present. Was he speaking existentially, politically, or both, and how does this apply to black metal’s love of nature?

I think that he refers to the otherworld, which is the frontier of human experience that will never be colonized. In this place we are confronted with the fundamentally mysterious nature of life.

One might believe in the metaphysical “reality” of the otherworld, or see it as a metaphor for the human being’s unconscious mind. Physical frontiers – the wild west, the frozen north, deep space – are representation of this “other” plane of existence. I think it is crucial for humans to be able to have experience with these physical frontiers, with wild places. In these places we access that other(inner) world.

Black Metal is about journeying to the frontier. This is not a place where we can live and create our human world. We go there and return. Some people, often with the help of drugs, lose ones humanity by staring into that void for too long. Enveloped in a dark otherworld, the Black Metaler forgets that the human’s role in the universe to live and create.

My meditations with Black Metal are a powerful communion with forces of darkness and mystery, but I always need to turn back because I haven’t lost all hope. But I understand why one might well choose to completely loose ones self in the void.

Black metal (and heavy metal in general) seem to share many values with Romantic art and literature from two centuries ago, right before Nietzsche began writing: reverence for nature, belief in a transcendental but not dualistic life, independence from humanist morality, desire to create the beautiful and eternal, searching for truth with the self as the lens but not the focus. Do you find these prevalent in yourself and your influences, or is something else your driving force?

The melancholy yearning that characterizes the romantic outlook is, on an aesthetic level, a strong part of the WITTR vision and aesthetic, but this influence does not mean that we are driven by the same things that inspired those artists two hundred years ago.

We think that our civilization, thus the world, is on the verge of great transformation. None of us know what it will be, or even what it should be. Our greatest influence is the spirit of this age, and the struggle to find a meaningful path.

Burzum’s Filosofem, which seems the largest discernible influence on Wolves In The Throne Room, has been described by many as black metal fusing with the aesthetic of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine. What do these genres have in common, and now that the fusion has occurred, how has metal’s feral atavistic idealism fused with the more personal, more “city”-like “progressive” attitudes of shoegaze bands?

Black metal can be a guide for dreaming or journeying into the unconscious. The droning, delicately nuanced soundscape created on an album like filosofem is a portal to altered states. I suppose shoegaze has this same quality, though the spiritual or philosophical dimension is quite different. Perhaps what these dissimilar genres share is a striving to touch some transcendent place by using sound and pulsing rhythm. Maybe this facet of the music is the most important thing anyway, trumping the conscious political beliefs of the musicians.

If Black Metal is trance music that opens the door to mystery, Death metal is concerned with creating a highly masculine, crystalline order that says “this is the way it is.” To use an ANAL metaphor, death metal is the orderly, beautiful, sometimes cruel vision of the philosopher-king. Black Metal expresses the dream-time vision of the shaman: mysterious, ever changing, moon-like.

For this reason, I don’t think that the warlike, tribal spirit in BM must be taken as a war cry to forge that world through the masculine process of ordered creation. BM evokes the archetype of the wild, violent war-god but it also hints at the humor of the trickster and, at its deepest level, the oceanic wholeness of the goddess.

WITTR have absolutely tempered the uncompromising feral spirit of “true” black metal. Our band attempts to express a spirit of unity and wholeness rather than the insane violence of orthodox BM. Sometimes, as individuals, we play music that channels total blackness, but not in the context of WITTR. This band has a specific vision and purpose.

Either the non-symbolizing health that once obtained, in all its dimensions, or, madness and death. Culture has led us to betray our own aboriginal spirit and wholeness, into an everworsening realm of synthetic, isolating, impoverished estrangement. Which is not to say that there are no more everyday pleasures, without which we would lose our humanness. But as our plight deepens, we glimpse how much must be erased for our redemption.

– John Zerzan, Running on Emptiness: The Failure of Symbolic Thought

If humankind emerged from nature, and natural selection, are the processes of our minds “natural”? What is the difference between human thinking and the way nature is organized?

As I age, I become less convinced that humanity is the product of a strictly mechanistic evolutionary process. I wonder more and more if humankind does not have some “special” component that has brought us to this precarious place in history. Every mythic system draws a distinction between man and animal. I am not willing to so quickly discount this intuitive truth.

In other Wolves In The Throne Room interviews, mention has been made of the notion that black metal hates civilization. Is it possible that black metal hates not civilization, but an attitude of certain stages in civilization (as described by Plato in The Republic) or possibly, a parasitic design or organization to certain civilizations? If so, how does this correlate to black metal’s hatred of Christianity and humanism/liberalism/egalitarianism?

To answer this question one must decide whether Black Metal is best seen as a political doctrine or an expression of the intrinsically mysterious and unknowable. I go with the latter.

I contend that Black Metal, at its moments of greatest insight, hates -or, at least, rejects, all civilization including those civilizations who we might consider to be noble and heroic. I don’t care for Pagan metal or Viking metal or whatever. I listen to black metal because of the dark otherworldly energy it accesses. It should be the music of the outcast, the shaman who has journeyed too deep; not the aristocrat, farmer or tradesman, who has compromised his wild spirit in order to exist in the good society.

It is true that Black Metal (along with martial-industrial and neo-folk) often expresses the spirit of a certain vision of civilization. We might call it pagan nationalism or heroic socialism or whatever. For me, though, these political visions have little to do with any reality I am interested in helping to manifest. I loath racist and chauvinistic right wing movements.

Much of the Wolves In the Throne Room philosophy, like that of Rudolf Steiner, focuses on a primal integralism between thought, nature and a design of civilization that permits human “freedom,” but this definition seems different from our modern political one, and applies more to spiritual-existential lack of beholdenness. This seems very similar to Schopenhauerian concepts of idealism, which state that thought and matter/energy share an organizing principle or, as Christopher Alexander calls it, a “pattern language.”

It is interesting that you mention Alexander. I am quite interested in the art of building and Alexander is one of my greatest inspirations. Alexander’s notion of the pattern language is what I mean by a transcendent morality – the successful building or city represents the unity of the universe and man, everything in its place reflecting truth and wholeness.

If intelligence determines what thoughts we can perceive, and those thoughts determine what values we can discover, is there some form of cutoff point before which people cannot perceive the necessity of, say, deep ecology?

There is no clear link between smart people and good ways of living. The worst things in our world have been created by geniuses. The idiots are just along for the ride.

In his book Reverence, Paul Woodruff describes a new way of looking at life that takes into account the multiple forces present at any stage to create the causal present, and posits a contemplative worldview that is religious in outlook but not necessarily tied to a religion; how compatible is this with what you hope to achieve in your music?

I think this sounds right, although I would use a different vocabulary. We are interested in reviving an ancient, shamanic reality that acknowledges the hidden energies and forces in nature, among people and within cultures. We could also say that we desire contact with a spirituality reality that is unmediated by religious/political intermediaries. Maybe this is the same thing as the nihilism ANUS espouses, though the language you use doesn’t really resonate with me.

As modern civilization winds down, many people are like yourselves involved in homesteading, or setting up traditional family and town units in the countryside. Are there any aspects of civilization so far we would want to keep, such as technology or learning, and how would these be integrated into a homesteading viewpoint? will we end up like the end of ray bradbury’s “fahrenheit 451” (which he claims is about television) where each person has memorized a book and passes along that knowledge?
I am no luddite. I have no problem with what some call appropriate technology. I can get behind the bicycle. Computers, and the vast infrastructure they require, I could do without.

If I had my druthers we would organize ourselves around bioregions. Towns and cities would be largely self governing. Ecological laws would replace our current pitiful and corrupt system of governance. We need to stop population growth. I would rather that people stay in the regions they were born in rather than be forced by economic pressures to migrate en mass into squalid slums in the worlds megalopolises. The “Freedom” that we have come to expect in this age of late capitalism would be radically curtailed.

What differentiates this vision from a “right-wing” green utopia is a rejection of brutal authoritarianism and racism. The unifying force in any new society must be a shared reverence for natural systems, not a hastily conceived race-based pagan religion pieced together from dusty relics and half-remembered stories. The intense locality that we see in Ancient culture will develop naturally. Anything else would ring hollow and quickly fall apart.

As has been discussed in previous Wolves In The Throne Room interviews, spirituality — holism, reverence, transcendentalism — and deep ecology go hand-in-hand because to look at the central organization of the world is to see the necessity of nurturing nature. These things are (as Wolves In The Throne Room members have mentioned) also central to black metal; is there an attitude in black metal, or at least in the older bands, of this contemplative looking at the world as whole that transcends human fixations, and speaks a language of nature?

For sure. Black Metal should try to operate on a nonhuman, mythic level. Myth expresses the reality of the non human world and defines man’s relationship to that world thus our relationship to the cosmos and to the divine. This stands in sharp contrast to the “city” music we have discussed earlier which is purely concerned with the petty and the transient affairs of fashion and trend.

If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? Can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?

I think we have already covered this. I think that we both agree that BM works within a certain spectrum of ideology that is expressed, to one degree or another, by all worthwhile BM groups.

Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. Is this true, and if so, how is it reflected in your songwriting?

Your analysis is quite accurate. We put quite a lot of work into the arrangement of our songs and records. The individual songs are quite long and the songs are conceived as part of the whole album. Drone and repetition are crucial elements in the narrative structure that we make use of. It is good to dwell in passages for a while in order to absorb the feelings conveyed in the music and atmosphere. (sidenote: I checked on the ANUS chat rooms about WITTR and was amused by the discussion. Not only are we communist faggots who should be killed, but our songs are long and boring)

The man of archaic societies tends to live as much as possible in the sacred or in close proximity to consecrated objects. The tendency is perfectly understandable, because, for primitives as for the man of all premodern societies, the sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis, to reality. The sacred is saturated with being…Religious man deeply desires to be, to participate in reality, to be saturated with power…The completely profane world, the wholly desacralized cosmos, is a recent discovery in the history of the human spirit…Desacralization pervades the entire experience of the nonreligious man of modern societies and that, in consequence, he finds it increasingly difficult to rediscover the existential dimensions of religious man in the archaic societies.

– Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (1957)

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Interview: Ian Christie (metal journalist)

We are fortunate to have Ian Christe, metal journalist and Bazillion Points editor/publisher, to join us for an interview. He has authored literally hundreds of articles on heavy metal music and several books, covering topics from death metal to Van Halen. Much of his writing studies emerging technology and underground cultures, which makes him a fit for the interviewers as well. We were lucky to catch him at the Chatsubo bar in Chiba City, Japan, for a few words about metal and the state of journalism about it.

You’ve been involved in metal and music in multiple ways for some time. How did you get into metal, and how have you been involved — books, zines, bands — with the genre?

I was thinking about this recently — I’m only moderately old now, but because I got into metal when I was extremely young I remember all this truly ancient history. During junior high school, I lived with my mom in Germany, and when I was 11-12 years old I was using my lunch money to buy Iron Maiden singles, Accept, Motorhead, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath records. To put it in perspective, when I bought Scorpions’ Virgin Killer, with the kinky pedo cover, the high school aged girl in the photo seemed way older than me. We came back to the States in 1983, when I was 13, and I started doing radio shows at WEOS in Geneva, NY, playing Venom, Anvil, Mercyful Fate, Slayer, Voivod, and lots of lost obscure bands like Thrust, Armed Forces, and Witchkiller. That’s way upstate, but Manowar hails from there, and Metallica and Anthrax had just recorded their debut albums in that area. It was definitely a metal hotbed. I got plugged into the underground through that, bought some Nasty Savage and Hirax demos, and advertised my show in ‘zines like the great Kick*Ass Monthly.

We moved to Indiana in 1985, and it was culture shock. I had long hair, wore a bullet belt, and listened to Destruction, and suddenly I was surrounded by kids unaware of anything beyond Motley Crue and Aerosmith. So out of necessity I got into tape trading, and got into intense bands like Voor, Cryptic Slaughter, Genocide/Repulsion, and of course Death. I skipped school in the spring of 1986 to go see Metallica opening for Ozzy Osbourne, the big moment for underground metal going mainstream, and ended up spending the afternoon goofing around with Cliff, Kirk, and James from Metallica, and also everybody in Samhain except Glenn Danzig. Those two factions were a mutual admiration society, and I was supercharged to be in the middle of it all. I was inspired to start a fanzine after that, IAN Mag, which I titled after myself so I could cash the checks. That lasted through 1988.

I don’t mean to ramble on about all this archaic stuff, but everything I’m talking about is the basis for what I’m still doing as a mature, respectable, gone-legit headbanger. I was basically on a metal mission for the entire 1980s. In the 1990s, I got into different things, learned about the world, and developed as a writer by working in DC, New York, and freelancing for magazines like Wired, Spin, and so on. When it came time to write Sound of the Beast, I fused the professional side to the passion for metal. In fact, I remember my proposal for the book came with a stack of clips that started with the New York Times and ended with an old letter from Dave Mustaine.

As far as music goes, I’ve had a string of very fulfilling projects of every kind ranging from bluegrass to Glenn Branca’s guitar army. I’ve toured Europe and South America performing a kind of musique concrete with a modern dance company. So all of that came together in the crazy Dark Noerd the Beholder dark technology metal project — which sounded pretty bizarre and extreme in 1996.

What prompted your move to self-publication with Bazillion points?

Frustration in two forms. Selfishly, after working with two giant publishing houses, I was very discouraged with the corporate approach to making books. You know, it takes three months to get approval for a tiny text change on the cover, and there’s just no sensitivity for how to customize any aspect of production. With Sound of the Beast, at least I was very lucky to have an editor who was only too happy to put me in touch with the art department or promotions. He got the work off his desk, and I got to have some input, which is rare for an author. Then secondly, it’s frustrating that people like Daniel Ekeroth, Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen, or Jeff Wagner, all hugely respected in their areas of expertise, could never have a hope in hell of getting a mainstream book deal. Well, I realized I could stop complaining and do something about it. Viva Bazillion Points!

Would a DIY book publishing house such as yours have been possible 10-15 years ago?

I don’t know, I definitely wasn’t capable of figuring that out. I have to say it was possible, based on the inspiring successes in the early 90s of classic punk imprints like Henry Rollins’ 2.13.61 and Adam Parfrey’s Feral House Books. But I didn’t have the experience. And the rich earth of unpublished metal books needed time to ferment, too!

What segment of the metal audience or population in general have you seen as the most excited to read the types of books you are publishing?

I can’t answer that yet — a wider audience than you’d expect has responded to Daniel’s Swedish Death Metal book. Though the bands are pretty obscure, the experience of getting caught up in a movement he describes is universal. I couldn’t believe that Publishers Weekly gave Swedish Death Metal a starred review, and made the book its web pick of the week. In three months, Andy McCoy’s book will be out, and then I can tell you how death metal books fare compared to gypsy vagabond rock guitarist memoirs. I think the common trait of Bazillion Points books is that while they’re each very specific, they’re also very good, which is pretty exciting in itself.

Do you find metalheads to be an especially literate segment of the general population?

I don’t think metalheads consider themselves bookish, but yes I think out of necessity metalheads are rabid readers. It’s always been that way, because printed media, email, and web sites are the main lines of communication. There’s very little radio and no television exposure for metal, so metalheads end up reading countless pages of text every day to stay in touch. And metalheads can be very curious creatures — if Ulver makes a record based on John Milton’s Paradise Lost, a lot of fans will go read the book. So the end result is yes, so far Bazillion Points is succeeding because metalheads are thoughtful, thorough readers who appreciate high-quality books about things they care about that they can’t get anywhere else.

If there is in fact, a heaven and a hell, all we know for sure is that hell will be a viciously overcrowded version of Phoenix — a clean well lighted place full of sunshine and bromides and fast cars where almost everybody seems vaguely happy, except those who know in their hearts what is missing… And being driven slowly and quietly into the kind of terminal craziness that comes with finally understanding that the one thing you want is not there.

– Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo Papers, Vol. 2: Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s (1988)

The rock biography, as it is most commonly understood, is given more to sensationalism rather than “analysis” or sometimes anything even remotely musical. You’ve taken on these types of bios with Bazillion Points, including the Van Halen book and the upcoming one featuring Hanoi Rocks. Do you feel what you are presenting differs from this description, if it even matters? Is your viewpoint more coherent with how metal music views itself, or in your eyes should be viewed?

With Van Halen I was mostly interested in deconstructing the personalities and breaking down the key events of the band’s story into manageable, human-sized events. If Van Halen in their prime in 1984 seems impossibly gigantic, I wanted to show all the tiny steps and late nights of practicing that led up to that. It’s meant to humanize guys like David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen who are usually viewed on a pedestal. Andy McCoy’s book is different because he wrote it himself, and so you get to see life through his eyes. Very entertaining. And yes, I’d say my viewpoint is pretty consistent with metal’s values at least — honesty above all, fearlessness right behind.

What makes a specific musical personality even worthy of biographical depiction in the first place?

Public fascination — but that’s a chicken or egg answer, isn’t it?

Rock music is generally written about by insiders and ignored by cultural historians, and so tends to have an insular viewpoint. Since metal came from rock, it is analyzed by the same template. How does this work to describe a genre like metal that seems to want to break away from mainstream rock?

I try to have an inside-outside approach. Writing about the nitty-gritty details from the trenches, reaching out to an audience that doesn’t even realize there’s a war going on. I believe metal has universal appeal — it’s not for everybody, but within every family, clan, or social group in the world I guarantee there are people predisposed to be drawn to the flame. It’s a kind of universal elite, I guess.

You have on several occasions lambasted the use of genre-descriptive terms. However, when we speak of genres like death metal and black metal, we could be describing artistic movements that share among themselves values and methods that differ from similar “sounding” genres. Do these subgenre terms have validity in your view, and what are the limits of this validity?

I don’t think genres should be taken too seriously, and I don’t respect bands who strive to be total slaves to a pre-existing genre and its rules. But yes, the genre descriptions themselves are extremely helpful, and I’m proud that metal has spawned and cultivated so many variants over the decades. And for instance on my Sirius Radio show Bloody Roots, I’ve been picking apart different genres every week for almost five years now, so genres are very much a part of how I think about metal. But I’ll also say that with most so-called subgenres, you’re usually talking about attempts to mimic the music of one or two extraordinary bands. Like with black metal, Bathory. With thrash, Exodus. And so on.

Like rock, metal can be insular. Does it have validity as an artistic movement, and what does it contribute to culture at large? Do you view it as counter-cultural, sub-cultural or counter-counter-cultural, or some mix of the above?

Well, that’s a subject for a book in itself. It’s a form of revolution that’s widely available for a few bucks at every Wal*Mart. It’s distrustful of change, but willing to take huge risks. Metal’s fascinating still. I guess I’d consider it a vast subculture, but not really a counter-culture. Like I said in Sound of the Beast, it’s “a quest for truth in a storm of folly.”

In Sound of the Beast you took on the arduous task of compiling nearly 40 years of worldwide music history into a comprehensive volume. How much have you been itching to revisit and update it since then, and what would you like to change?

I started writing in 1999, so I’d like to thicken the 1990s years tremendously, and then explore the rebirth of metal in the 2000s. I’ve also interviewed Ronnie Dio, Rob Halford, Tony Iommi, and the Scorpions about the 1950s and 1960s, and I’d like to get some of that material out. The book is still timely, and not many of my opinions have changed. But there’s so much more ground to cover now.

Was “objectivity” a concern when you were writing Sound of the Beast, or any of your other books for that matter?

Sound of the Beast was very much a work of advocacy, to grab and secure heavy metal’s place on bookstore shelves. I was very conscious of giving a voice to the millions of fans who had supported tens of thousands of bands over dozens of years. Without losing a critical edge, it was very important to me to state the case for why metal matters, and I’m humbled and honored to say that I think the book succeeded in all those aims.

The contemporary American may have failed, like his predecessors, to establish any sort of common life, but the integrating tendencies of modern industrial society have at the same time undermined his ‘isolation.’ Having surrendered most of his technical skills to the corporation, he can no longer provide for his material needs. As the family loses not only its productive functions but many of its reproductive functions as well, men and women no longer manage even to raise their children without the help of certified experts. The atrophy of older traditions of self-help has eroded everyday competence, in one area after another, and has made the individual dependent on the state, the corporation, and other bureaucracies.

Narcissism represents the psychological dimension of this dependence. Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on other to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience, His apparent freedom from family ties and institutional constraints does not free him to stand alone or to glory in his individuality. On the contrary, it contributes to his insecurity, which he can overcome only by seeing his ‘grandiose self’ relfected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself tot those who radiate celebrity, power and charisma. For the narcissist, the world is a mirror, whereas the rugged individualist saw it as an empty wilderness to be shaped to his own design.

– Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (1979)

What has been the most common criticism of your writing to date, and to what degree do you take such criticism into account?

The most common criticism of Sound of the Beast is definitely that there’s too Metallica. I needed a central character for the non-initiated readers, and as the biggest metal band ever by far, they became the common thread. But it pisses me off when people falsely claim that Metallica gets a polish job in the book — their missteps are savagely underlined, and I think about halfway through it’s plainly stated that in the 1990s they were no longer a metal band, but a rock band. Plus the one single negative reaction I got from anybody covered in Sound of the Beast was an angry phone call from Jason Newsted, so I guess he wasn’t thrilled with his moment in the sun. Some critics said the book was too positive about metal, but I sure don’t care what metal haters want to see in a metal book.

What is your opinion on the books on metal (and conclusions drawn in them) written by academics/outsiders, particularly sociologists like Deena Weinstein (Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture) and Natalie Purcell (Death Metal Music: The Politics and Passion of a Subculture)?

I appreciate the process and legitimacy of Deena Weinstein’s book, but it’s impossible to create a sociological overview of heavy metal as a phenomenon. Heavy metal fans reflect their surroundings, wherever you go. In a blue collar area, you get blue collar fans. In Queens, NY, you get Asians, Latinos, and blacks at shows. In Dubai, you get rich kids. I like what Katherine Ludwig says in Sound of the Beast about these generalizations: how can you classify metalhead teens as cola-chugging NASCAR fans when that basically sounds like a description of the majority of Americans? So I say the function of metal varies by country, region, and many other factors.

You recently appeared in Time Out New York and received a pretty favorable portrayal. How much have you seen metal crossing over into the indie/art scene over the years?

In recent years, I think the indie scene has been completely infected by metal. If Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth is still any kind of bellweather, he’s lately been singing the praises of Beherit — and Daniel’s Swedish Death Metal book! Fair enough, Sonic Youth influenced Napalm Death and Entombed, after all. But yeah, that Time Out profile is extremely favorable. Another humbling indication that Bazillion Points was a good idea.

What does the common characterization of metal as “violent entertainment” (akin to comic books, horror/gore movies, and true crime novels) mean to you? Are there similarities between these genres, and does this point to artistic motivations in common?

As somebody who watches an extremely violent movie pretty much every day, I think there’s a small but important difference. Metal is fascinated with war, murder, nuclear bombs, rabid dogs, and she-demons because these are all things that no society or moral code can fully explain. So all these great metal songs are small meditations on the thrills and fears of the unknown. Movies tend to take those fears and use them against you! Again — this question is another small book in itself, and I’ve already been blabbering for an hour.

How should publishers (rather than authors) be treated where controversial or questionable works are disseminated?

Only as a publisher, I’ve come to fully appreciate how much the United States protects and values freedom of the press. I know the situation is a lot different in Britain and Germany, not to mention Iran — although my friend Mahyar Dean has written books about Death and Testament in Farsi. But so far I’m happy to say I don’t have any experience with controversy. Books with giant upsidedown crosses on the cover filled with stories of underage drinking, mayhem, and teen suicide? No problems here!

You seem to have some intimate experience with New York death metal from back in the day. Have you considered writing a book on that scene similar in scope to the Daniel Ekeroth book you recently released?

No, it’s not true, I moved to New York in 1992 and for the first couple years was more interested in seeing avant garde music like Swans, Naked City, Borbetomagus, Boredoms, Sun City Girls, and Caroliner. But starting in 1994, when metal went back underground, I saw hundreds of amazing shows in New York in tiny venues, some of my best mindblowing experiences. Still, I’ll leave the epic NYDM history for Will Rahmer to write — but I’ll definitely publish it!

The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others- the living – are those who pushed their luck as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it’s In. The association of motorcycles with LSD is no accident of publicity. They are both a means to an end, to the place of definitions.

– Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels (1966)

Visit Ian Christe, his books and the books he publishes at:
www.bazillionpoints.com

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