Satanic and Norse Black Metal: A Comparative Examination of Philosophy and Staying Power

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Trying to discern a coherent ideology or philosophy behind the Black Metal movement,even if we’re only considering bands from a specific time and location, is automatically something of a losing proposition. Each band has its own idiosyncrasies which often conflict with the principles of their peers; bands’ philosophical stances are often transmitted only through totally over-the-top, gonzo lyrics; and, in a lot of cases, the bands were just making shit up as they went along without really thinking through what they were espousing. That said, there are still themes, principles, and behaviors that are common to multiple artists within the genre, and it’s even possible to sketch out rough groupings from these shared characteristics. In this article, I’m going to explore one of the bigger divides stemming from the early Scandinavian black metal movement: Satanic black metal and Norse black metal. Based on the philosophies of these groups, I think it’s even possible to project the future trajectories of these genres as social movements.

One of the biggest philosophical distinctions in Black Metal is probably between Satanic Black Metal and Norse Black Metal. Here are the differences in really, really broad strokes:Satanic black metal developed first, and as time went on pagan themes were often incorporated into the work of Satanic Black Metal bands. The two schools ended up splitting, however; adherents of Norse |Black Metal (many of whom previously endorsed Satanic ideologies) openly disparaged Satanism as juvenile and went off to do their own thing. Satanic Black Metal musicians, to whom Black Metal was defined entirely by its devotion to Satan, viewed the bands singing about Vikings and Odin as heretics or traitors. In this article, I’ll first discuss Norse Black Metal and its prospects as a genre before moving onto Satanic Black Metal, which, I think, has a more fruitful future ahead of it.

Norse Black Metal (hence, N.B.M.) musicians profess a devotion to the mythology of the Germanic tribes who inhabited northern Europe during the first millennium CE. Like Satanic Black Metal, N.B.M. is hostile to the Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity, which it considers an oppressive, invasive religion. N.B.M. musicians frequently lament the mass conversion of northern Europe to Christianity from roughly 800-1200 CE, and the destruction of pagan communities, art, and ways of life that this demographic shift brought with it. N.B.M.’s adherents see themselves as the only ones in their society who haven’t been brainwashed into giving up their true cultural heritage, and they fight to try to restore the old ways and kick the foreign religions out. Varg Vikernes, the musician behind Burzum and the murderer of , is a prolific author on the subject and is probably the single most prominent figure in both the musical movement and the related pan-European political arm, The Heathen Front.

N.B.M. musicians, strongly influenced by the unabashedly racist (or “racialist,” as he tends to call himself) Vikernes, often draw the lines between enemy and friend among ethnic and nationalist lines, which tends to make the genre insular, exclusive, and marginal. Ultimately, this is its greatest weakness: no matter how magnificent its music is (and don’t get me wrong, there is some great N.B.M. music out there), the N.B.M. ethos is perpetually preaching to the choir. By rooting its philosophy and social organization so deeply in considerations of ethnic and national divisions, rather than opening it to any like-minded individuals, N.B.M. has set a hard cap on its spread and influence within the wider global culture.

If you’re not a “Nordic, heterosexual [with] a Pagan ideology,” N.B.M. doesn’t really have much to offer you beyond the actual aesthetics of the music (and, to be fair, Vikernes has usually kept his political stances out of Burzum’s music; as he says, there isn’t anything in the music itself that would stop a “a Christian-born black gay feminist converted to Judaism… or worse; a Muslim” from enjoying one of his records, that certainly doesn’t apply to all N.B.M. bands). In terms of the philosophy espoused by N.B.M. musicians, if you’re not down with thinly-veiled racist and nationalist positions, you’ll probably not be able to stomach much N.B.M. rhetoric.

For this reason, it’s unlikely that N.B.M. will continue to grow much outside of its target demographic in northern Europe. Even the recent upswing of nationalist, xenophobic sentiment in Europe holds relatively little promise for N.B.M., given its radical opposition to the Christian values that most conservative European nationalists hold near and dear. Without a radical reorientation of N.B.M.’s priorities and inclusivity, it’s likely the genre will continue to grow more and more isolated and radical until it collapses into irrelevance.

Satanic Black Metal (“S.B.M.” or “Orthodox Black Metal,” as it’s sometimes been called) has, I think, a much more interesting future ahead of it. Drawing from the occult aesthetics of first-wave black metal bands like Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost, and King Diamond, S.B.M. coalesced in Norway in the late 80’s, employing over-the-top, almost absurdly self-serious devotion to Satan and evil for evil’s sake. The Oslo-based S.B.M. band Mayhem is arguably most directly responsible for the rise of the movement, with founding member Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth and vocalist Per “Dead” Ohlin initially crystallizing the movement’s philosophy and aesthetics, respectively.

Euronymous was more or less solely responsible for developing the misanthropic, elitist, self-consciously ‘evil’ streak that came to characterize this genre. He saw himself as the de facto leader of the entire Norwegian black metal movement, and he established a record store, Helvete, and a record label, Deathlike Silence, around which much of the early Scandinavian scene revolved. Aarseth embraced the Euronymous persona, sporting a full-on Fu Manchu style mustache and portraying himself as some sort of snooty, mysterious, Satanic noble who determined who was and wasn’t “true” black metal.

Whereas first wave black metal bands could often be vaguely tongue-in-cheek in their invocations of Satanism, S.B.M. was apparently deadly earnest; Euronymous served as a kind of whip for the Scandinavian scene, enforcing strict self-seriousness upon the genre. A second-wave black metal musician could never break character, or they would be immediately branded as posers chasing the Black Metal trend and ostracized. Helvete’s status as a genre mecca afforded Euronymous a mechanism for creating an in- and out-group, thereby allowing him to enforce a certain amount of ideological orthodoxy within the early Black Metal scene.

While this level of loose ideological control was possible, it’s still hard to discuss the early S.B.M. bands’ actual ideologies, because most of their “philosophy” was essentially performative. A lot of what the musicians ended up saying in interviews was ad-libbed to further develop the reputation (and ultimately the myth) of the black metal scene. Whatever seemed “extreme” or “brutal” was adopted, which included everything from Dead’s self-mutilation during sets to mounting impaled pigs’ heads on stage to burning down historic medieval churches (it’s worth noting that Vikernes, who was Mayhem’s bassist at the time, is widely considered to be responsible for kicking off Black Metal’s arson campaign). The bands reveled in media attention and they wanted to portray themselves as mysterious, dangerous figures. As such, they were willing to say whatever seemed most likely to give that impression and keep them in the spotlight. Much of what was said in interviews was said primarily for shock value, with little or no belief behind it, and some things which were initially stated for shock value later became dogma.

To put it crassly, the individuals creating this music were kids cobbling shit together as they went along. I don’t say that to disparage their work (in fact, as a Satanist myself, I’ve been prompted to confront many interesting ideas through their music and actions), but rather to stress that any discussion of these bands’ ideas necessarily entails a certain amount of piecing together half-formed, sometimes contradictory ideas. There’s no authoritative Satanic Black Metal manifesto out to neatly enumerate the core tenets and principles of the genre. In fact, there isn’t even a canon of philosophical remarks; it falls to fans to extract, interpret, and build on the incomplete, scattered ideas found in S.B.M. works.

As for what I personally find compelling in Orthodox Black Metal philosophy, I think its emphasis on dogged, uncompromising contrarianism is underappreciated. Norway in the 80s and 90s was an incredibly socially homogenous society, and the Scandinavian Black Metal movement grew in opposition to that fact. It starkly inverted the values and moral beliefs of society, forging a bizarre, counter-intuitive way of life: whatever society has deemed “evil” was to be pursued by Black Metal musicians as the highest good. It wasn’t hedonism or objectivism or any sort of LaVeyan bullshit like that; it was literally evil for evil’s sake.

Considering the ubiquity of Abrahamic religion in the western world, Satan is a natural figurehead for such a movement. If society’s very concepts of good and evil are largely derived from Christian morality, embracing “evil” doesn’t necessarily entail immoral behavior, but rather a rejection of the moral codes imposed by conventional social and religious authority. This type of Satanism is radically individualist, and it encourages idiosyncratic moral reasoning, non-conformity, and rejection of blind deference to authority. If you strip away all of the incendiary shock tactics and cheap nihilism of the early Norwegian movement, this is, I think, the most potent philosophical strand conveyed through it.

It is, I think, largely due to this egalitarian, individualist tendency that S.B.M. has been proliferating in recent years. As education improves world-wide and individuals become more and more secularly oriented, this brand of Satanism becomes more attractive to a wider segment of the population, who have been frustrated and stymied by outdated, authoritarian religious sentiment. Satanism can serve as a unifying banner dedicated to checking the role of traditional religions in society and politics. The Satanic Temple, for instance, has organized numerous campaigns in the United States in recent years to promote progressive political action and minimize the religious right’s ability to legislate morality. Its lobbying efforts and lawsuits have helped stop attacks on women’s reproductive rights, efforts to sneak religion into public schools, and restrictions on same-sex marriage. Because they are defined in opposition to the strict, authoritarian morality of the Abrahamic religions which still plays an undue role in political and social affairs in nominally secular countries, Satanic movements like these are increasingly becoming attractive means of political and ideological organization, especially for those most directly affected by religion’s influence.

This streak of Satanic thought is not exclusive to secular, western society, though; in fact, it holds the most promise in less permissive, more theocratic countries. In recent years a small but growing number of musicians in the Middle East have begun to play Black Metal as a means of expressing individual freedom and attacking the oppressive religious society around them. Three years ago, a woman-fronted black metal band called Janaza, purportedly from Iraq, made news across the web for its track, “Burn The Pages of Quran.” While doubts about Janaza’s authenticity have surfaced, there are plenty of real Black Metal bands in strongly Islamic countries, and the principle behind them is still compelling: Islam is an Abrahamic religion closely related to Christianity, and in Middle-Eastern countries it plays an even greater social and political role than Christianity does in the west. It’s natural, then, for dissidents in these societies to employ Black Metal to oppose the repressive religious tendencies of their society in the same way, albeit with much higher stakes, given that members of these bands could face the death penalty for blasphemy if their identities were ever discovered. In an interview with Vice, Mephisto of the Saudi Arabian black metal band Al-Namrood (“Non-Believer”), expressed the appeal of black metal in predominantly Islamic countries:

Christianity nowadays is passive. The church doesn’t control the country. I think whatever rage that people have got against the church cannot be compared with Islamic regimes. You can criticize the church under freedom of speech in European countries, but you can’t do that in Middle Eastern countries. The system doesn’t allow it. Islam has inflicted more authority on the Middle East than any other place in the world. Every policy has to be aligned with sharia law, and this is happening right now in 2015. We know that, 400 years ago, brutality occurred in the name of the church, but the same is happening right now in this age with Islam.

Recent events like the Arab Spring have shown that there is a growing population in traditionally Islamic societies that wants to catch up with the rest of the world’s secularism and individual freedom. Since conventional means of dissidence are outlawed, Satanic Black Metal, as a marginal, outsider movement itself, seems to be the perfect outlet for this dissatisfaction. In fact, I wouldn’t be very surprised (or dissatisfied, for that matter) to read about a series of ultra-conservative mosque burnings in the near future. Whether it’s against conservative Christianity or radical Islam, free-thinking individualists worldwide can unite under the banner of Satanic Black Metal to work for a world free of theocracy and religious authoritarianism.

All in all, it’s an exciting time for Black Metal. With the rise of online distribution and music sharing, it’s never been easier to disseminate new albums and spread niche genres like Black Metal across the globe. While I don’t think Norse Black Metal is going to have much enduring appeal without opening itself up to the rest of the world, the Satanic Black Metal movement seems to be waxing, and I’m excited to see what comes out of it, both musically and socially.

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Society views heavy metal as a symbol

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If you’ve suffered through even a few years of big media, you’re probably aware how it functions through symbols. Where literature might describe something, big media trots out a handy symbol that might be described uncharitably as a cliche. Drinking = troubled. Strip bar = edgy. Slow dance = love. Motorcycle = rebel.

This follows the primitive superstition of simple people interpreting religion. When something is bad, put a demon on it. When it’s good, it gets angel wings. The world falls into rigid categories based not on what people do, but what category they belong to as assigned by the cult. This type of cult religion is most commonly seen in mass entertainment, corporate culture, fanboyism, politics and sometimes, even religion itself.

Metal is a useful marketing tool for big media. It enables them to label something as rebellious, “edgy” and dark without it actually being a threat. The albums are available in any store or Amazon. It’s not like joining the Thugees or Cosa Nostra. Like the motorcycle, it’s a cheap way to describe a character without having to actually think about it. And that character will be as much of a cliche as everything else in mass media because it’s designed for the lowest common denominator.

Expanding upon this, Michael Robbins notes how this is true in print as well in “Heavy metal music finds a place in fiction”:

Black metal’s most familiar tropes are Satanism and painting your face to look like a clown. I mean a corpse. But every black metal fan I’ve ever met is, like me, friendly to animals and disinclined to perform human sacrifice. It would’ve been more interesting if Nevill had played against stereotype and made the evil children big Pet Shop Boys fans. As tiresome as Bret Easton Ellis is, at least Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” listens to Huey Lewis and Genesis.

This is how metal often functions in genre fiction: a lazy signifier of a character’s darkness, alienation and instability. In Elizabeth Hand’s “Available Dark” (2012), a girl describes someone obsessed with serial killers: “He’s creepy. He was into death metal, then black metal. Mayhem and Vidar and Darkthrone, bands like that.” Note the progression: death metal, a gateway drug, is less evil than black metal, but it still indicates that something’s not quite right: Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander listens to death metal. This is one reason it’s funny when two characters in Thomas Pynchon’s “Bleeding Edge” meet cute by learning that they share a love of “Norwegian Black Metal artists such as Burzum and Mayhem.” (Burzum is the musical project of Varg Vikernes, who also played bass in Mayhem until he murdered the guitarist.)

These examples show us the place metal has taken in the culture of mainstream society.

It is a certain kind of riskiness, a certain darkness, and a certain commitment to alienation. People who bond over liking black metal are people who have receded from society at large and are trying to go their own way. But with that truth, there is also the realization that metal forms a handy symbol, like the word “edgy” once did, for what the mainstream considers safe alienation.

It is alienated, true, but the fans aren’t the ones burning churches and murdering people. They are just spectators. It is for this reason that the music industry keeps trying to create “safe” versions of this music, so that people can feel like symbolic rebels but never venture beyond the safety of being obedient little cogs.

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Interview with Christian Falch of Norwegian black metal documentary Blackhearts

blackhearts_black_metal_documentaryBlackhearts is a new film about black metal after Norway in the 1990s, focusing on world black metal in the present day and how it is different from the original integral genre.

This is welcome news for those who were thinking “Aw, geez, do we need another film to tread ground well-covered by Lords of Chaos and Until the Light Takes Us?” You won’t have to suffer through a re-tread of the now-familiar early 1990s soap opera because it’s not mentioned in the movie, despite Blackhearts being the production of a Norwegian film crew.

Christian Falch, producer of Blackhearts, took the time to give us some answers to the burning questions that metal fans may have regarding this new movie.

You are the producer of the movie Blackhearts. Can you tell us what the movie is about?

I’m the producer and I co-write the script (documentaries actually do have scripts too…) with the director Fredrik Horn Akselsen. We both work for the Norwegian production company Gammaglimt AS.

Blackhearts is basically a feature length documentary about the profound impact that Norwegian black metal has had on the lives of fans and artists throughout the world. As you know, this genre has a lot of dedicated followers.

We have three main protagonists in the documentary. They are all really passionate and dedicated fans with their own black metal bands. One of them is a member of parliament in Greece, the other one is risking everything for the music because it is strictly forbidden where he lives: Iran. The third is a truly devoted Colombian Satanist. In the documentary we want to explore why black metal is so special to them and what the fascination is all about.

The story of black metal has been told a number of times, most notably through Lords of Chaos and Until the Light Takes Us. What is your documentary doing that these other sources have not?

First of all, our film will not deal with the events in the past, but rather look at the situation today. The storytelling in Blackhearts happens as the story of our different characters evolve, so this is not something retrospective, but we get do follow our three protagonists in several exciting episodes throughout the film.

I also want to mention that this documentary is being made for a wide, international audience, not only metal fans. Therefore we deal with universal topics like passion, politics, religion and dreams — of course everything still is about black metal. A great mix of everything a good documentary needs if you ask me.

Do you think it has taken us — Norway, the West and/or humanity in general — almost a generation to absorb what black metal was about?

In this documentary we will have a close look on how different cultures, religions, political situations and so on deals with the black metal phenomena. The fascinating thing is that it varies a lot! Here in Norway, the government pays black metal bands to record their albums and at the same time they would not mind flogging you for listening to Mayhem in Iran…

There are still a lot of different opinions around when it comes to what black metal is all about — and that is exactly what we want to explore and learn more about in this film.

Following up on the third question: what was black metal “about”? Do musical genres have ideals? Are those always clearly articulated? Is there a benefit in not articulating them like we articulate science and politics?

That’s a good but difficult question to answer. In my opinion black metal was about making atmospheric music with a hint of opposition to the society in general — the media (and some of the artists) made a great impact when it comes to defining the ideals behind it, but I believe that every individual had a personal, and therefore different, motivation to join the scene. I’m not a fan of putting the same ideological label on every individual or band just because they play black metal.

Speaking of politics, how are you going to deal with tricky subjects like Varg Vikernes and his political beliefs which I don’t trust myself to summarize, the murders of homosexuals by black metal musicians, the church burnings and the numerous statements of adoration for National Socialism and Stalinism by black metal musicians?

As I mentioned, we won’t go deep into the dark and difficult past of this genre, but of course we need to mention what happened and how it influenced the scene (and it still does). We would like to show that the black metal scene is more varied than most people think. We will do our best to deal with this subject as fairly as possible.

What do you think made black metal different from other forms of heavy metal, both musically and in idea?

For me, the difference is in the atmosphere, the way you feel when you listen to black metal, the images that appears in my mind…I don’t need to go into musical terms, it is the feeling of the music that makes black metal special. The idea of it all is of course to be more extreme than heavy metal and other subgenres. That’s really nothing I personally need to enjoy a good black metal band, but I have to admit that the myths surrounding some of the bands and artists attracted me in the first place, many years ago — and I still think it continues to attract new fans to this day.

Are you going to cover other extreme metal activity in Norway, like death metal bands such as Cadaver and Molested?

Unfortunately not. We simply don’t have the time to do that. Our focus will be more or less strictly on black metal. The only exception might be the appearance of Destructhor from Myrkskog and Morbid Angel.

You are apparently the metalhead among the production group. What got you into heavy metal? Do you still listen to it? Why do you like it, and what makes it relevant to you?

I’m the only metalhead in the crew…as with many fans of my generation it started with Guns ‘n Roses, hahaha, but it did not take long before I discovered other bands with more hard hitting music and once you start enjoying this kind of music it makes you start looking for the next band that takes it to a more extreme level and that’s how it goes I guess.

I still listen to all kinds of metal amongst other things, but I’m not very good at keeping up to date with all the new bands and releases. To me, music, and especially black metal is something personal and special. I don’t feel the need to share it with anyone else or even speak about it. Black metal is the little luxury I enjoy alone when there are no other distractions around. I should also mention that there is a lot of crappy black metal bands out there, guess I’m picky when it comes to this genre.

Where is Blackhearts in terms of production? When will we be able to see it? Will it be in theatres or online? How much interest does The Movie IndustryTM have in a film like this?

We have been working for two years with this documentary already and we have about 50% of the material shot. The timing of the release all depends on the financial situation of the project in the time to come, but for sure people would be able to see it sometime during 2015. We are planning a massive release on all platforms including cinema, festivals, TV and of course DVD and online.

To this day we have experienced an impressive amount of interest from distributors, international co-producers, TV broadcasters, film institutes and so on. I am really happy about this because it makes it possible for us to make this film on the level of quality I think it deserves. As far as I know, there is no documentary on black metal out there with the approach we are doing so there is a wide range of possible scenarios for the finalization and release of the finished film.

I guess the biggest question for all of us is “why”: why did black metal come about, why was it so violent, and why does it fascinate us today. Does your film address these whys?

This is the core of the film. It is a difficult question to answer, but this is why I wanted to do this film in the first place — to find out why this weird, hate promoting genre is so incredible fascinating. Hopefully we are able to understand it a bit more after seeing the finished film.

Can you tell us more about the format of the film? Is it interviews, or a narrative, or a mixture of both? Will you use black metal music in the film?

The film will be character driven. In other words, we will follow the people in real life situations and all of them have their own story that we are in the process of filming at the moment. There might be some interviews as well, but not like one would expect from a typical documentary. For example: in Blackhearts we meet an Iranian, Sina. He is the only black metal artist in his country. We first get to know him at home in Tehran, then we follow him to Norway as he is about to do his first ever live concert at the Inferno festival. Then comes the tricky part — can he ever go back home to Iran after promoting what some people consider to be blasphemy on stage?

Through following Sina’s story we will get to learn more about how strong the passion for black metal can be and how the music is still provoking authorities around the world. This is just one example and I can promise we have more fascinating stories too!

When it comes to the music in the film, people should not expect to hear lots of it, but of course it’s there when we show scenes from concerts etc. A treat for all black metal fans (and for me) is that the one and only Snorre Ruch has composed music specially for this documentary.

Last but not least, can you tell us about yourself, not necessarily as formal as a CV but a bit about film, how you came to love it, and how you came to be a movie producer.

I work as a full time documentary producer on several different films. Most of them are related to the second world war or religion and music. This is of course all topics that I am really interested in on a personal level. I never really loved films more than the next guy, but I ended up producing music videos and documentaries because it brought me to places and people that I never would have met under “normal” circumstances.

I have been doing it for the ten years now and I’m liking it more and more as time passes. One of the last documentaries I produced is called The Exorcist in the 21st Century and it has been doing quite well, specially in the US. We got unique access to one of the top exorcists in the Vatican and we followed him around the world as he was doing his thing. Therefore I have seen a about one dozen exorcism rituals being performed.

Since this interview will mostly be read by metal fans, I can reveal that the demon that reveals itself during the rituals we filmed sounded like Maniac from Mayhem at times, hahaha!

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Black Sabbath – 13

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Black Sabbath’s new album, 13, is a marvel. The first single “God Is Dead?” didn’t adequately prepare me for the experience of the whole work. This album contrasts the old sound and the new sound. The band frequently harkens back to their former work. I’ll note these instances when I treat the individual songs later in the review. In fact, some fans think 13 is too much like the earlier material. But they’re wrong. Surely we want them to recapture their earlier sound to some degree, but this album does much more than that. While surely somewhat nostalgic, this album does NOT fling itself into the market as a refurbished rehashing of used riffs. It’s a GREAT album. The original vibe remains as strong as ever. Fans agree and have propelled this album to #1 on the charts.

Let’s just talk about the players for a minute. Black Sabbath-for better or worse-always rests on the genius of guitarist extraordinaire, Tony Iommi. He has lost NOTHING on this album. He includes riffs and architectonic elements from ALL of his work with Black Sabbath, his recent work with Heaven and Hell, his solo albums, and perhaps even some of the blues roots that preceded Black Sabbath. His solos are as good as, or better than, his earlier work. When they do echo earlier compositions, they echo the very best soloing of his career.

Geezer Butler also plays as well here as he ever has, and a fan would do well to find anything on an earlier Sabbath album any better than his work here. Tony and Geezer seem to be playing for posterity. The lyrics of the entire album hint at the band’s contemplation of their own mortality, and surely Dio’s passing and Tony’s own illness make that inevitable. Ozzy Osbourne sounds pretty strong. His voice gets stronger as the album progresses, and some of the vocal melodies capture an Ozzy Osbourne solo sound — which was already developing on Never Say Die! (1978) back in the day. The synergy that made Black Sabbath a revolutionary band still exists in these three guys.

Brad Wilk’s drumming rounds out the record. The fan base made its displeasure at Bill’s absence very clear. Brad had a very big job trying to fill Bill Ward’s shoes. To his credit, he filled them well. We don’t hear the Butler/Ward swing anywhere on this record. Nor should we. Trying to imitate Bill would have been insulting. Brad did the job well, and he gets a big thumb’s up from this reviewer. All of these musicians in top form.

Musically, this album is VERY heavy in places. As mentioned, several of Tony’s solos equal anything he’s done so far, and his riffing remains the best there is. Lyrically, the darkness of this album stands with anything the band has ever done. The Grim Reaper peers over the horizon in nearly every song, and the tension between God and Satan (or at least the tension between the concepts of good and evil) emerges explicitly many times, as it did in their early work, when even the band were frightened by their own songs!

This review will address only the album proper, no bonus tracks. I may get an argument or two from some fans, but in general, I’ll say that the bonus tracks fail to achieve the same quality as the songs on the album. Perhaps more to the point, they do not “fit” the mood of the album proper.

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“The End of the Beginning” strikes me as the perfect title for the first track of this album. The return of the Ozzy-era line-up marks a new beginning for these elder statesmen of heavy metal. The main body of the song pays homage to the first Black Sabbath song “Black Sabbath” off the album Black Sabbath (1970). This song reflects Tony Iommi’s growth and range as a guitarist. The track opens with a heavy, doomy march of separated chords similar to “Shadow of the Wind” (The Dio Years – 2006) or “Atom and Evil” off The Devil You Know — a rather recent development used here to great effect. There are tempo changes, and the classic break that we hear on the first four albums. Some listeners may remark that they use the same sort of break in four of eight songs on the album, thus leaving them repetitive and even self-derivative. I don’t agree, but I concede they lean on this approach. It’s a part of their style and fits.

He plays two solos, as we see in Dehumanizer’s (1992) “Computer God”, using the same basic architectonics. The solos themselves soar into prominence. The first, at 4:42 or so, lasts 50 seconds, and features not only a fantastic Iommi-style lead but also a tempo change into a bluesy sound at the end. The second solo closes the song, and for around 90 seconds grows in intensity, rising to an effort VERY similar to “Lonely Is the Word” from Heaven and Hell (1980). Again, we are not talking about a mimeograph album. Tony taps into EVERYTHING he’s done. And he plays with abandon, with emotion.

Lyrically, we see a fresh address of the theme Society vs. the Individual, especially in terms of the former controlling the latter. This theme has been interrogated throughout the entire history of the band, dealing with societal issues like family collapse in “Wicked World” off Black Sabbath, economics in “Cornucopia” (Vol. 4 – 1972), psychology in “Johnny Blade,” (Never Say Die!) television in “Zero the Hero” (Born Again – 1983) and the eponymous “Mob Rules” (1983) and “Computer God” ( both self-explanatory). This song updates for the pervasiveness of the simulacrum, urging the “Reanimation of your cybersonic soul” and concluding “You don’t want to be a robot ghost / Occupied inside a human host / Analyzed and cloned relentlessly / Synthesized until they set you free.” This eight-minute opus is pure Black Sabbath.

“God Is Dead?,” the first single, at almost nine minutes, seems like two songs. The first 4:00 or so offer a kinder, gentler sound. Then the chorus hits at 2:16 and at 2:26 that super-doomy descending lick hints at the Sabbath sound. Then they go back for the next verse. At 4:05 that Sabbath discord starts and at 4:09-4:10 Tony “shakes” the chord as only he does. Then a classic Iommi riff (4:17-4:18), a reprise of the aforementioned descending lick, and an expansion the power chords at 4:10 into back-and-forth riff, classic Black Sabbath-relentless, hypnotic. At 5:38 we get to the chorus with that descending lick again. Then at 5:48 they reprise the power chords from :30 into the song that form a bridge to the break at 6:19 that seems like something off the first album or Vol. 4 (or “Falling off the Edge of the World” off Mob Rules). Then at 6:27 Geezer Butler kicks it into high gear and never lets up. All the musicians do the same thing, classic Black Sabbath. Then Geezer starts what will be one of the best performances on bass guitar in the Black Sabbath oeuvre. Even when the song slows, his playing does not. The 15-second solo (7:38–7:53) has a bluesy, 60′s sound to it. Some listeners may have preferred a longer solo, but the musicianship and intensity so far have been so powerful that a solo isn’t needed for the song to have a high point. In fact, Geezer’s playing behind the solo almost equates with soloing itself as he’s playing much faster than Tony. The final minute is the descending lick behind repeated “God is dead” chorus. The chorus leaves us with a rather definitive statement “I don’t believe that God is dead.” The supremely dark lyrics offer the good vs. evil motif that this band has defined. These lines typify the questions asked in this song: “Nowhere to run / Nowhere to hide / Wondering if we will meet again on the other side / Do you believe a word / What the good book said? / Or is it just a holy fairy tale and god is dead?” Nothing says Black Sabbath like two songs in excess of eight minutes offering pessimism and plodding riffs. What a one-two punch!

“Loner” rocks: a flat-out, straight-ahead headbanger. Some say it reminds them of “N.I.B.” It actually recalls the basic riff pattern of the main riffs from “Black Oblivion” and “Flame On” from the 2000 solo album Iommi. Lyrically, the song speaks of isolation, and the head-banging groove of the song contrasts with the seriousness of the message, tied up in the final verse: “Communication’s an impossibility / His own best friend but he’s his own worst enemy / The secrets of his past locked deep inside his head / I wonder if he will be happy when he’s dead.” Perhaps one of the hallmarks of Black Sabbath and of the metal music they pioneered is an understanding of the angst — even depression – that their listeners experience. The strong of grounding in existentialism in their work makes even an up-tempo frolic cuts into the heart of the listener. The irony of the seriousness of the theme and the elation of the riff-similar in a way to “TV Crimes” off Dehumanizer bespeaks a long-standing Sabbath tradition as well.

“Zeitgeist” immediately reminds us of “Planet Caravan” off Paranoid. In a larger sense, perhaps the beauty of “Zeitgeist” is to recall Black Sabbath’s numerous slower and/or psychedelic tunes, such as the aforementioned, “Planet Caravan,” “Solitude” off Master of Reality, and admittedly, to a much lesser degree “Changes” off Vol. 4, “Spiral Architect” off Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), “She’s Gone” off Technical Ecstasy (1976), and others off Dio-era albums. No innovation exists here vis-à-vis older Sabbath tunes of a similar nature. No doubt people will like this one-especially, perhaps, people who weren’t hardcore Sabbath fans. Unremarkable in comparison to the other songs on the album, it provides a break in the heaviness — much as the other songs noted here did for those albums — this song reminds us that Black Sabbath did this too. Insofar as this album may well become a historical document, “Zeitgeist” proves a worthy inclusion.

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The opening of “Age of Reason” sounds a bit like the opening of “Follow the Tears” off The Devil You Know. Another elaborately structured offering marked by numerous genre and tempo changes, reminiscent of “Dirty Women” off Technical Ecstasy, give this song an almost proggy feeling. The opening riff while really quite doom-laden, is also rather bluesy. While the structure and overall sound of the song unmistakably heralds Black Sabbath, the melody suggests Ozzy’s solo work (not to mention an echo of “Junior’s Eyes” off Never Say Die! which presaged the Ozzy Osbourne sound in many ways). The marvelous solo in this song recalls “Zero the Hero” a bit. Tony takes his time, and the solo carries us away as only an Iommi solo can. At the risk of being repetitive, Tony Iommi has lost nothing. The guitar work here stands up to anything he’s done. Similar to the general theme of “The End of the Beginning” and many other Black Sabbath songs, the lyrics describe a hopelessness accepted by people who have lost their will to be themselves: “Sustainable extinction / A fractured human race / A jaded revolution / Disappears without a trace.”

The opening progression of “Live Forever” bears a similarity to the opening of “Lord of this World” off Master of Reality (with, again, a touch of that march of separated chords noted in “The End of the Beginning”) and then steps up the tempo to a riff strikingly similar to the up-tempo movement of “Cornucopia” off Vol. 4. This one really harkens back to the older groove. Even Brad’s use of cymbals seems rather Bill Ward-esque. While clearly adapting these older tunes, the nuanced use of the newer aesthetic and burnished sound of excellent production renders it a new song. Ozzy sings as only he can-with all the soaring menace of that same era. The lyrics of the song sustain the motif of aging and the looming presence of impending death. This song lacks the depth of the others on this album. For instance, the closing lines, “I may be dreaming or whatever / Watching my life go by / And I don’t wanna live forever / But I don’t wanna die!” certainly do not rise to the more profound, sometimes poetic, expression of the same uneasiness. I’ll neither label this song as filler nor dispute the inaccuracy of said label.

“Damaged Soul” is monumental. Clearly a tribute to their roots in the blues, this song amalgamates everything Black Sabbath not only does, but can do. Black Sabbath has made forays into the blues before, notable on the Seventh Star (1986) and the song “Dying for Love” off Cross Purposes proves a stunning blues song. But Sabbath hasn’t done this anywhere else. My first thought upon hearing it was that it sounds like Robin Trower, but heavier. There are moments in this song that sound like Electric Wizard. It almost demands a genre definition of “Doom-Blues.” Again, the soloing echoes “Lonely Is the Word.” The first solo at 3:49, lasts for about 45 seconds and never deviates from a standard blues structure. He means to play the blues here. Then at 5:26 we get another 30 seconds or so until a break takes us to another tempo. The harmonica wails into this change, and then Tony returns at 6:36 and serves up a solo of his own. While the rest of the players play the blues (and Ozzy even sustains a fine harmonica riff), the exit solo is pure Iommi. Lyrically, this may be the darkest song on this album and in the running for the darkest song they’ve ever made. Lyrically, the song calls up the career-long (or age-old?) subject of possession and reprises this album’s motif of impending death and the tension between good and evil: “I don’t mind dying ’cause I’m already dead / Pray not for the living; I’ll live in your head / Dying is easy; it’s living that’s hard / I’m losing the battle between Satan and God.”

“Dear Father” proves an indictment of Catholic Church’s priest sexual abuse tragedy, every bit as scathing and pessimistic an attack on this issue as “Wicked World,” “War Pigs” off Paranoid, or “Into the Void” off Master of Reality.” This song boasts a rather complex overall structure, featuring multiple tempo and style changes. But nothing in this song equals the rest of the album, musically. The reason for this appears to be that the band wants us to listen to the words. An album this good, with Tony and Geezer playing as well as they have ever played, with Tony playing his heart out in more than one place, would not forgo a solo without a reason. That reason must be to focus our attention on the message. The music changes every time the message changes, intensifying the merciless dissection of those merciless crimes. The closing lyrics sum up the song with perfect clarity: “Dear father forsaken, you knew what you were doing / In silence your violence has left my life in ruin.” The song closes with a repeating “In ruin, yeah” phrase, symbolizing the vile and on-going suffering caused by these atrocities. After this song ends, the rain sound effect from the beginning of the first album fades in for a few seconds, reminding us that this album not only provides a resurrection of the original line-up and sound but also offers a vital viewpoint on religion and music, contemporary issues and timeless questions.

In 13, Black Sabbath reflects both the original Black Sabbath sound, imagery, and philosophy and the influences of all their musical experience from their solo work, other incarnations of Black Sabbath, and their inherent genius. They recast the system of rock music 43 years ago, and in this “reanimation of the sequence,” they have again recast the system.

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Ore.fm launches underground heavy metal discovery platform

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As the music industry adjusts to the rise of online music at a glacial pace, streaming services have taken over from the traditional model of radio. Into this field leaps a new competitor, Ore.fm, a “heavy metal only music discovery platform” that hopes to connect fans with bands — in the underground.

We were lucky to get a few minutes to chat with Vincent Minichiello, a founder of this new service.

Ore.fm claims it targets the underground. Why do you think this is a viable market, considering that most metal is rather “above ground” now?

All members of the ORE.FM team are either metal fans, musicians or music lovers in general. We feel that the underground scene is where we wanted to throw our support behind because there is such genuine, untapped, raw talent in a place that gets overshadowed by the bigger “above ground” bands and since no one else seems to want to showcase them, we took it upon ourselves to do so.

The metal community has proven itself time and time again to be the most supportive and tightly knit groups of any genre of music.

Are you a heavy metal fan? What do you (and/or your staff) listen to?

I am definitely a fan of heavy metal, as is most of the ORE.FM team. I grew up playing guitar and listening to bands like: Pantera, Slayer, Black Label Society and anything else that involved double bass, distorted guitars and bad-ass lyrics. Some of the music currently being listened to by the rest of the staff ranges from bands such as: The Sword, Havok, Mastodon, Jim Croce and YJY. ORE.FM has also exposed us to bands like: Ferium from Israel, Darwin’s Theory from LA, Strict Vincent from Australia and Archaeologist from San Jose.

How hard was it to get Ore.fm started? What did you have to do?

At this point, we have been working on ORE.FM for just shy of two years. We started where most bands start, in the basement of our parents’ house and it’s just been a steady climb up since then. There have been battles and obstacles along the way (as to be expected with anything) but overall I’d say the process has been not as difficult as we thought it would be. We lucked out and found a great developer who really understands our vision of what ORE.FM should do for the community. We all work very well together, bouncing thoughts off each other, working out kinks, evolving ideas, etc. It’s been a fantastic and exciting experience so far.

Why do you think heavy metal fans are a desirable audience? Most people think we’re dirty, smelly, uncouth and loud.

Having grown up with metal, going to shows and playing in bands, it was fairly easy and obvious to us that the metal scene is where we want to continue to be a part of. We are the people we are making this platform for. We are the fans looking for that new band to follow around and support. We have been called, “dirty, smelly, uncouth and loud” and frankly, we don’t care. The metal community has proven itself time and time again to be the most supportive and tightly knit groups of any genre of music. After having done so much for us and shaping who we are as individuals, we wanted to give something back to the metal community and ORE.FM is the perfect way of doing so.

We are the people we are making this platform for. We are the fans looking for that new band to follow around and support.

What music and experience can a user expect to find on Ore.fm? How does it compare to other services like Spotify and Last.fm?

There are so many sub-genres of metal that exist today and we want them all to feel welcome and included on ORE.FM. Listeners can expect to hear sounds that they’ve never heard before, from places they may never thought to look. Before starting ORE.FM, I would have never thought that the Middle East would have such brutal and technical metal bands. Now I find myself using ORE.FM’s Discover map to scan the globe to find new music daily from literally anywhere on Earth. This is what makes us stand out against competitors. Features such as this help bands get their music out to a world-wide audience, through a range of devices and platforms. Where they might be a drop in the vast ocean someplace else, on ORE.FM they stand out like gold.

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Metal In An Age Of Insincerity

Over at Clrvynt, filmographer David Hall finally notices what DMU has been saying for 22 years: that heavy metal died in 1995 or so through lack of new ideas, and has been assimilated by rock music because metal is a better product as a flavoring than a separate entity. (more…)

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Dark Economic Truths of Underground Metal

Recently many of the other “metal” websites, blogs, publications et cetera have been doing articles about the business side of music industry. Unsurprisingly none of these articles had the testicular fortitude to address the ugly reality of the underground metal economy as they are written by either slaves to the machine itself or losers who genuinely believe that they have “careers” in music which heavily depend on acceptance by the community. Since the Death Metal Underground staff bow to no masters social or corporate, we are in the rare position give you the truth in its rawest form. So with absolute disregard for the powers that be in metal, let’s take an honest look inside this machine to see how it really works.

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Deconstructing USBM’s Deviation from the Golden Path

As America’s conservative renaissance thrives through its flourishing Alt Right movement, the time is ripe for a full fledged rebirth of its black metal identity.

With the genre having reached rock bottom in recent years due to pop punk and screamo influences, beta male journalism, communist ideologies, and a faux transcendentalist philosophy, we can begin to right the ship by exhuming and examining the cadaver of its formative age.

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Nuclear Blast Signs Possessed

Article by Cullen Toner.

In an attempt to swiftly cash in on both the trend of retro 80’s rehash and the trend to sell the world’s most fragile human beings as the new face of metal, Nuclear Blast has signed the crippled remains of the once titanic death metal band Possessed. Despite the band being active since 2007, the timing was appropriate now due to the liberal media’s executed agenda of celebrating and overcompensating for society’s weakest members. The hipster metal community’s plastic face of acceptance will be tested mightily as the urge to cringe upon viewing the sorry state of the band’s handicapped turf leader will be difficult to resist.

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