Black Metal is Art

What makes music connect with your soul

Phenomenal leaps have occurred in the skill level in the black metal genre. Where black metal drummers used to be a source of amusement for anyone past the first handful of percussion lessons, now it is easy to bump into a qualified candidate at any show. The guitar work is precise in ways the founders of the genre could not have imagined, and new degrees of technique in tremelo picking, sweeps and arpeggios dwarfs the old ways.

Even in the simplistic bands great advancements have occurred. The song structures are well-known in all of their variants, and bands now are so proficient in this area they can tell from a single glance what type of song must be built around a riff to complement it. Everything’s less awkward; we know the best tempos to carry the audience, and what paces from them we can leap without causing abrupt disconnects. There are ratios for melodic riffs to blasting atonality, codices for when the keyboards come in and percussion layers boil off, tables for the use of dual vocals… black metal is almost a science, now.

Aesthetically, there is much less confusion and far fewer missteps. No band today would put out that awkward video that the Immortal guys did, or screw up like Burzum did and make those very earthy and not very black metal flyers. No self-respecting 2006 black metal band would be caught with the mishmash of gear these guys attempted to use at first, the wrong string guages and pick widths, the wrong amplifiers and pedals, even drumsets all mis-arrayed for the task ahead… no, we’ve got a much better grip on the craft of black metal, these days.

We’ve got the whole thing so much farther advanced than the founders of this genre that it’s doubtful they’d get a second listen today. Just hearing those sloppy riffs, the un-slick arrangements of keyboard, seeing the awkward band photos and hearing their very-far-from-pro sound, well, they’d probably not make it. We’ve come so far that we probably don’t even need Immortal, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Mayhem, Emperor, Varathron or Bathory; we’ve got bands that are so much better at what they do.

There is one crucial difference, though — the recent Summoning CD pointed out beyond doubt that black metal which preserves the epic feeling of past grandeur, and the sense of lawless abandon in the night which frees our souls from the preemptive frustration of morality and profit ethics, could still be written. What was the difference? Summoning don’t appear to have varied equipment or technique since 1993 or so. The answer is simple: it’s in the composition.

After all, each work of music has two parts: inside and outside. The outside is how it sounds, including what speeds you play it at, what instruments you use, and how the vocals sound and the production works. The inside is the notes and the ratios which determine their timing, and the structure of the song, that is to say which musical phrase goes into the next and how they carry you from a beginning state to a different mindset at the end of the song or symphony. A truly articulate piece of music is recognizable when played at half-speed on a kazoo, double speed on a Casio keyboard, or when transposed on an acoustic guitar, even if it was originally created by a metal band.

The greatest bands in metal’s history created songs that were that distinctive, and what made these songs distinctive was not random and unpredictable permutations, but that all of their parts made sense according to a certain order designed to communicate something specific. The goal was to make the audience appreciate an experience, and music was the method; because the artists approached the problem from this angle, they ended up creating works that are not only recognizable out of thousands of others but capture our imagination to this day. “That song expresses what it’s like to –” we say, and then relate some part of life we had to undergo and might again. Sometimes it’s an emotion, sometimes a condition: frustration, loss, fatalism, exuberance.

It is the inner part — the composition — of music that makes the difference between art and entertainment. Entertainment is catchy and easy to tap your foot to, maybe to sing along, and you might even remember it — but did it say something to your soul? Did it take you through an experience to the other side so that you can say you learned something from that song or symphony? Art goes deeper within than entertainment and explores the existential core of our survival, that is the delicate balance of choices by which we make the decisions that determine how we spend our lives.

Entertainment is the same base function by which we buy things, pay taxes, endure jobs, use prostitutes and clean our hindquarters. Art is heroism in battle, art is a love that lasts a lifetime, art is the joy of discovery, the force behind our personalities and wills — Art is all of that which makes life not just bearable but of a higher state of mind, a “transcendence” by which we gain a spiritual sense of meaning to life without relying on the crutches of imaginary gods in the sky, demons in hell, etc.

When I think of metal, I think of the best, because I don’t want to waste my time listening to anything but the best. This is less from some elitism, or perception of my own position as important enough to require the best, than it is from a sense of taking my time seriously. I don’t get as much time as I could fill. Unlike most people, I don’t need television because I don’t normally have hours on end when I have no idea what to do with myself. There’s more here that I want to do than I can in this lifetime. So why fill hours with less than the best art? It only makes sense if you don’t value your time, or have no idea how to amuse yourself, or no higher purpose in life than to consume (and to those people, I always ask: why bother with metal, when rock music is easier and there’s more variation?).

We should aim high in our listening, unless we’re so fascinated by the activity of being involved in music that the music itself doesn’t matter because any music will give us an excuse to be involved, but those who think that way tend to be hobbyists who “get involved” for a handful of years and then drop the whole thing just as quickly but more quietly so they can find another diversion. They aren’t serious about metal as art, so to compensate these people are “serious” about all sorts of accessories: clothing, symbols, behavior, social groups, intoxicants, porn, horror movies — it doesn’t matter what, so long as there’s enough of it to keep them busy.

Unlike entertainment or functional products (porn), art requires us to look inward and to realize what makes a composition great is its ability to communicate a journey: art isn’t like an essay, which communicates by showing us a series of logical thoughts, but it communicates nonetheless by taking us on a tour of the experience that represents the idea it wishes to convey. For example, in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald shows us the ambition of Americans and how it causes us to contort appearances to hide our souls, which we cannot confront without realizing too much about ourselves and losing our will to live.

Black metal brought us into a dark mood and showed us meaning within it, leading us from outsidership to being comfortable enough with that mood to understand it, and then showing us how it sustained our souls in ways that our society could not. There was a sense of magic, of letting the daylight existence fall away and having an invisible nocturanl world rise up among us, a world of meaning and not the external forms which show clearly in the sunlight so they may be judged as equal or given a dollar value… our daytime world is one of products and moral judgments based on headcounts, of bureaucracy and utilitarianism, of individual morality and ownership; the nighttime world has none of those rules and liberates us to act out the stuff of dreams, the visions of grandeur that come alongside anything important enough to touch our souls, our sense of why we are alive. — that is the art of black metal.

Those who make black metal now are (with a handful of exceptions) making an obsolete genre because while they have more than successfully imitated the appearance and sound of the original black metal bands, they cannot duplicate the inside — the composition, the actual songwriting that makes music sound just as good on an acoustic guitar as on a professionally-recorded CD — which was what made the original bands amazing and started off the whole genre. It’s worth noting that we remember the great bands, and are content to let also-rans like Forgotten Wolves and Ritual and Goatlord fall by the side; they were simply errata.

In the future, whatever metal inherits from black will need a more detailed exploration of the nocturnal world of inside emotions and lightless perceptions, because while the original obsession in black metal was portraying the difference between worlds of light (utilitarian, based on external forms) and dark (things invisible in daylight but unleashed at night, based on internal qualities like emotions and intellect) there now must be a greater depth in exploration. We know the other world exists; we need to see its details and its breadth, and to again find its inspiration in ways that we might bring back to the daylight world. Escapism is not enough, and merely dividing dark from light is not enough; the lushly descending forays of Emperor, or the dark cavernous wanderlust of Burzum, or the ancestral worship of Enslaved, can be brought again to full understanding, but our goal is not longer to show the world we want but to flesh it out.

It is a Romantic spirit, a Gothic spirit, a dark sense of what goes on when the eyes of control in the current world go to sleep; night is liberation from function, because most people are busily preparing for their next empty day of work, school or retirement. In the night one can discover the reasons one is alive, and inevitably, they are linked to the potential death and meaninglessness all around us; much as darkness shows us light in contrast, nothingness shows us what we value. If enemy tanks roll down your street, who or what will you try to save?

Black metal now is a slick product because those who could invent the world inside have mostly gone away, and no one has written new songs showing us the beauty and power of the mystical world black metal created; unlike propaganda, those songs existed first as sensual experience, an adventure, but for this journey to capture our imagination it must delve into the dark regions of our subscious which knows the natural world better than our daylight, socially-conditioned selves — but this mindset of black metal includes many things we hoped to deny, including the medievalism of black metal, its amoralism and nationalism and transcendental mysticism and violence.

For now, people still fear these dangerous grounds; they have, however, perfected the art of aping black metal. We can now make Britney Spears sound like Immortal from our computer desks! But it is an age of nothing for black metal, an inversion of its fundamental belief in the inner world and rejection of the outside world; today’s black metal is like a modern product or forms designed to be processed by machine, because it focuses on external form and permutations of known successful formulas of sounds invented over a decade ago. It is stagnant because it can only re-arrange the externals, and shies away from the spirit or meaning behind the music… the fans no longer need to buy Darkthrone, or Immortal, because these are no longer relevant. They understand the myth of black metal as it would appear on a movie scene, but do they understand how the ideas behind it would be lived, and could give meaning to life?

When this state of mind changes, quality metal will return, and whether it’s in a new form or old form is immaterial. It would not make sense to abandon the flexible lexicon developed through the death and black metal years, because it’s the best adaptation of artistic voice for metal music yet found, but what matters more is what it is used to say. Not just the melodies, but what they represent… the landscapes to which they take us, the nocturnal forays on which they impel us. Art is more than that which conveys it; art is the adventure on which it launches us, and when our spirits once again accept that sacred task of nurturing imagination, metal will once again have the strength it did 1990-1995.

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Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory calls for papers and art for third issue

helvete_black_metal_journal.

Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory occupies a distinct niche in the publishing world. Inspired by academia, it nonetheless attempts to construct theory around the motivations of black metal, instead of trying to fit metal into existing academic theories as most publications tend to do. While it missteps somewhat by included adulterated post-collapse black metal in the genre such as Wolves in the Throne Room and Liturgy, the journal digs into topics that neither metal underworld nor academic hierarchy can address.

Anticipating its third and fourth issues, Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory calls for papers and art for those forthcoming issues. You can download the first issue of Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory from the Punctum Books website; a donation is optional. The journal seeks the following:

  • This third issue of Helvete focuses on the sonic aspects of black metal, specifically noise music’s interactions with black metal—the interruptions, creations, and destructions of signals as black metal. Proposals are welcomed that discuss and experimentally demonstrate not only musical feedback but conceptual feedback as well, and the way that black metal works through feedback as a process. Experimentation, fiction, and speculation in contributions are encouraged, including writing and art that resonates as a background hum, drone, or cascades in a foregrounded scream. Preference will be given to proposals that move beyond a position of reflecting black metal towards creating black metal noise themselves.
  • Issue 4 is tentatively titled Black Metal and Politics, and seeks to give a concentrated platform to the conversations that have been happening alongside our theoretical work, regarding black metal’s complicated and diverse relationships to politics. The complex subject of politics and black metal, directly and para-musically, has long been brushed up against within black metal theory work, but rarely unfolded at length. We would like to reserve this issue of Helvete as a forum to begin to address and perhaps even articulate some of these discussions. While some may insist that black metal (as a diverse field of culture and music) exists outside of politics or cannot be described politically, it frequently sparks political repercussions, and its history courts political controversy. These include headline grabbing moments such as Varg Vikernes’s arrest in 2013 by the French government on accounts of suspicion of planning a terrorist attack; Norway’s implementation in 2011 of black metal education within its foreign diplomats; Nachtmystium’s forced cancellation in 2009 of a concert at Scion Rock Fest in Atlanta, Georgia; Inquisition’s forced cancellation in 2014 of their Vienna, Austria concert due to alleged connections to NSBM; and the complete ban on black metal in Malaysia in 2006. Most recently, Behemoth‘s recent encounter with Polish and Russian authorities has been well documented in the mainstream press. It may seem that the proposition that black metal is apolitical is itself a (privileged) political position. The editors of Helvete are accepting proposals for essays that focus on politics and black metal. Contributors are encouraged to suggest topics such as Black Metal’s interactions with nation, race, linguistic, gender, religion, and culture. Special consideration will be given to the explorations of the negotiations that the individual makes within the city or community, using black metal as a verb rather than a noun.

For more information, see the website for Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory. The deadline for both proposals is August 1, 2014 but may be extended to accommodate late notice for many people of this call for papers. The next two issues will be edited by Amelia Ishmael and Niall Scott.

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Chris Moyen – Chris Moyen’s Thorncross: Black Ink & Metal metal art book

chris_moyen-thorncross_black_ink_and_metalLegendary underground death metal and black metal illustrator Chris Moyen releases his book Chris Moyen’s Thorncross: Black Ink & Metal this week on Nuclear War Now! Productions. The book will be a foot-square compilation of the artist’s work.

In addition to Moyen’s artwork, an LP will accompany the 208-page book with Archgoat’s 1991 demo “Jesus Spawn” on one side and Incantation’s 1990 rehearsal demo and first live gig on the other. This relic will complement the hardback book of black and white illustrations used by many classic bands.

Released on collector’s label Nuclear War Now! Productions, the book comes in regular and “diehard” versions. The diehard version adds a tapestry with Moyen’s artwork, with the choice of our, one of which being the classic Beherit Oath of Black Blood cover illustration.

For more information, see Chris Moyen – Chris Moyen’s Thorncross: Black Ink & Metal product page at the label.

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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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Troll 2 and (the Joy of) Miscategorized Metal

Tower Records and Musicland didn’t seem to have much the other day.  So I went by Camelot music instead. I was wearing my old green Slayer demon head shirt. I had built up points at that store, and they gave me a free purple shirt with their logo on it. I hated the shirt and donated it to Goodwill.  In the metal section was the cassette soundtrack to Troll 2. I was almost certain this was a mis-categorization.  I didn’t have the money to buy it that day and it sold out before I could get my hands on it.

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Metal Works as Stepping Stones

Until now, metal works (albums, EPs, pieces, etc.) have been regarded as products, even by those who would assume anti-commercial postures. Why this is so, why the underground metal community still sees albums as products and so judge them in that light, has to do with the history of metal as arising from the general rock business context. Black Sabbath as the foundational metal band followed this path and they were also the first metal band to sell out, though there never was much to sell out. In any case, they did not really know what they had and quickly devolved into rock-ized (standardized) “improvements” on the gold they had struck at first, instead of exploring those new sounds and ideas regardless of the commercial context, regardless of the business prospects (gigs, deals, etc.). We must understand, however, that the ideal of metal beyond rock, beyond trends and commercialism, only arose with the Mayhem cabal. Their commercial activities, it should be understood, were a means to something greater, as can be seen from the meticulous selection of albums that came under the auspices of Deathlike Silence Productions.

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Analysis of Death Metal Vocalists

Gutteral vocals are the only true vocal innovation in metal as other singing styles are derived from other genres. The growed vocal technique is a combination of multiple frequencies and is harmonically too rich to be treated in the same way as more tonal styles.  Since they are different to all that came before them they must be analyzed differently.  And as metal continues to be penetrated by the mainstream it is important to understand what should be expected from a vocalist and what each one brings to the table since as humans we are inclined to judge vocals first.

In the spirit of understanding the wide variety that the technique has to offer, take a look at some of the more interesting and/or well known vocalists that death metal has given us throughout the years:
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Weathering the Storm as a Republican Metalhead

November 8th, 2016.  Manhattan, NY.  Election night.  I was there.

Wading back and forth between a crowd of suits and red hats gathered outside the Fox News building on 6th ave and a similar group gathered a few blocks north outside the Hilton hotel where the soon-to-be President-Elect was present, I celebrated ecstatically as electoral college results came in showing my favorite politician on the cusp of capturing the presidency.  All of us were over the moon with excitement and bliss, particularly because New York City had seldom presented a place where support of the man the media branded as Hitler 2.0 could be expressed openly.

While walking home and passing virtually every media truck parked for a mile along the road where America’s next President prepared his victory speech, a young NPR reporter excitedly rushed over to me with her microphone and cameraman after seeing the ridiculous “Trump 2020” pins on my shirt.  I agreed to her request for interview and explained why I thought Trump’s non-interventionist foreign policy and realist economic objectives would benefit the country’s middle and working classes.  Admitting her surprise to learn that I was a compliance director working near Wall St. and not the basic redneck Trump voter the media had branded us as, she asked if I was excited about the likelihood of supporting Trump being more socially acceptable now that he was president.  “Yeah” I said “It finally won’t be taboo now!”

We could not have been more wrong.
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Heavy Metal In Academia

The last two decades has witnessed an exponential growth of studies devoted to popular music, coupled with a re-evaluation of past theories and models for interpretation and analysis. This paradigm shift has sparked interest in music “at the fringes” which in turn has led to the unlikely emergence of “metal studies”: a multi-disciplinary field of research centered around all things related to metal music.

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Pestilence Attempts Comeback But Forgets What Makes Death Metal Great

Listen to a track from the upcoming Hadeon from longstanding Dutch band Pestilence, one is immediately struck by the similarity to late-1990s Morbid Angel: the riffs are there, albeit a bit impatient and tightly circular, but the whole experience is not. What is missing? To understand this, we must go to the core of what made death metal what it is.

If you wanted to explain to a normal person what death metal is, looking at the core of its spirit, you might haul out Slayer Hell Awaits, Hellhammer Apocalyptic Raids, and Bathory The Return… because these influenced the techniques, composition, and spirit of death metal. From Hellhammer and Slayer, it got its song structure and aesthetics; from Bathory its themes and riff technique.

Death metal took the original idea of metal, formed when Black Sabbath and others began using power chords to make phrasal riffs instead of harmony-oriented open chord riffs, and developed it further. This is different than doing something “new” or “progressing” because it means undertaking the much harder task of developing an idea further at a structural level instead of just changing aesthetics.

With the rise of underground metal, death metal adopted chromatic riffing and made the interplay between riffs form a narrative to each song. This abolished typical rock song structure and, because the guitar served as a melodic instrument instead of a harmonic one, forced vocals, bass and drums into a background role. How well the riffs fit together and portrayed an atmosphere, idea, or sensation defined the quality of the music.

Pestilence came from a solid death metal background with Consuming Impulse but showed a speed metal styled approach on Malleus Maleficarum, and this tension has stayed with the band for its entire career. The speed metal style of verse and chorus built on a singular theme that is present in the music is easier to jam on and use harmony to complement, where death metal rarely explicitly states its theme, only silhouetting it in the interaction between its many riffs. With speed metal, bands can set up a chord progression and develop it in layers of internal commentary like jazz, and this puts vocals back in position number one among the lead instruments.

“Non-Physical Existent” is a two-riff song with both based on the same note progression. It creates its intensity through the clash between a ripping circular high speed riff and a slower chromatic riff that uses odd harmony to distinguish notes in an otherwise linear theme. The song breaks into a solo section over one of the riffs, and has a type of turnaround the drops into the faster riff as a return. But there is no real interplay nor any narrative.

From the riffs themselves, this is a good song, but unfortunately, it is not death metal. Nor will it last because essentially it is a closed-circuit video of itself, a riff commented on by another, without resembling any particular experience or emotion, therefore being a null journey, more like stasis in space while riffs loop. It is better than not bad, but still not of real interest to the death metal fan.

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