For some time we have delved into academia and its treatment of heavy metal. Today however we take another course, which is to look at the technology of heavy metal and its implications for both society and technology.
You’re teaching an engineering class on the advances in technologies and how they have affected heavy metal music. Can you tell us what types of technologies these are? What are the “defining characteristics” of heavy metal that these have impacted?
I focus on the foundational characteristics of loudness and distortion and then expand from there. This means a lot of electronics, from signal generation via pickups and strings to amplification systems to signal modification via pedals, and mechanical design, including materials selection and manufacturing processes. I integrate these and more engineering aspects with the musical and cultural developments that have happened over the past 50 years.
How does global culture factor into this? Are you speaking of communications technologies here? For global culture, it is on a number of different levels.
“Global” for me and my university is really “non-local,” so we mean both around the world and just outside of immediate familiar surroundings. Heavy metal culture is foreign to a lot of my students, so the class is global for those students. We discuss international perceptions and usage of metal as a vehicle for socio-political commentary. We discuss the demographic aspects of metal as compared to that of larger popular musical culture. We discuss tape trading as the precursor to file sharing, and how there is a worldwide impact that affects band popularity and new band formation. It literally hits on about everything I can squeeze into the class about exploring beyond students’ comfort zones and knowledge bases.
What types of heavy metal do you study in the course?
I start with metal’s pre-history (Wagner, the blues, jazz, surf) and go forward from there. I cover about everything…if it’s in Ian Christe’s Sound of the Beast and Sam Dunn’s work, I address it. I spend the most time on the development of the various subgenres, and how certain technologies have manifested at certain points in time, and try to wrap up with more current trends and expected musical pathways. By and large, students don’t know their history of music in general (let alone metal), and so I try to build that history toward what they DO know.
I understand you’re a heavy metal listener, having recently attended a GWAR live show. What types of metal do you listen to? When did you become a metalhead?
I got into metal at age 8 due to Def Leppard’s “On Through the Night,” but didn’t really look the part until I was in eighth grade. I fit the young white male demographic, but I’ve never been blue-collar despite growing up in a union town and becoming an engineer. I mostly like NWOBHM, 70s metal, Thrash, Progressive and various Extreme subgenres, and will listen to about everything. Glam metal is even metal to me (David Lee Roth/Poison was my first show), and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to hear more styles and bands, and expose people to more of what I like by introducing them to bands that I think fit their musical tastes. Iron Maiden is my all-time favorite band, and right now I’m into Kyng and Skeletonwitch pretty strongly.
What is, in your view, the historical importance of heavy metal, and does it signal any changes in the underlying course of human history, technological or otherwise?
Heavy metal’s technological importance is huge. If not for people wanting to make music louder, angrier, or more powerful, we would all still be playing six-string guitars and four-string basses and having relatively small amps. Because of metal, there is a ready market for 8-string guitars that engineers have had to figure out how to design and manufacture, along with all of the supported technology that goes with it (larger pickups, more robust bridges, wider necks, etc.). I also think that heavy metal has been a (not necessarily “the”) primary social voice for rebellion, and a more recent vehicle for the drive for social equality in many other countries (see Heavy Metal Islam by Mark LeVine). I’d like to think that the more that people find avenues to release stress and express their views through music, the less we will hear about people shooting up schools and movie theaters. So far, that hasn’t been the case, and so changing the course of human history is still a work in progress.
What has response been like from your students? Are they metalheads?
The students seem to love the class. I’d say that at the start of a given semester, about 20% of the students are metalheads and many of the rest of them take the class because it either sounds interesting, fulfills a math liberal education requirement, or think I’d be fun as an instructor. By the end of the semester, I’ve usually converted (at some level) about half of the non-metalheads into quasi-metalheads or better, and most of the rest have a greater appreciation for metal and its culture. The most satisfying thing, though, is that the class helps break down barriers and stereotypes that students have, and students really start thinking differently about the world around them and their interactions with it. Self-reflection is a HUGE part of the class.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? How did you get involved in academia? What motivated you to be involved with engineering and computing?
Full disclosure…engineering wasn’t my first goal. I wanted to be a stand-up comic (Eddie Murphy was an idol), then an NFL quarterback, then a rock star, and THEN an engineer. I’ve always been in the gifted programs in school, but I was also always the class clown/athlete/music expert too, so I was never part of any particular cliques in school. I started college (Purdue U) with the intent of getting a job as an engineer, despite not really knowing what that meant. I liked to learn new stuff, whatever it was, and I was largely the only engineer in college who cared about liberal education. I decided to get my doctorate in engineering (U of Pennsylvania) because my BS degree job was pretty blah.
My first post-PhD job was managing a lab and working an electron microscope. Never put the class clown/lead singer/QB personality in a dark closed room by themselves… :) My mother-in-law got me to consider academia, as she pointed me to a job (my current one) where my personality was going to be core, and my technical chops were nice to have along for the ride.
I love what I do, because I recruit, advise, teach, help, and everything else that my “social me” needs to do. I’ve earned an endowment to my position because I throw myself and my passion into everything I do here. I’ve got the respect here that allows me to not only propose a heavy metal-and-engineering class, but also get it approved and part of the liberal education plan and have it accepted as an honors course. Now I get to include metal as a regular part of my job, and it’s GREAT!
When the Internet first became commercially available, there was no information on metal available save a handful of ASCII files and Megadeth, Arizona. A few brave souls challenged that by writing about metal and thus creating an information stream focused on the art, and not the marketing of the art as was all other information on the topic, having a corporate origin (this condition continues today, with the added complexity that most metal sites simply repeat said corporate information and slap the label “underground” on it). One of these brave souls was Brian N. Russ, who created BNR Metal Pages with a simple mission: to reflect his opinions about the better metal bands out there. Over the years, millions have read and loved this site for its simplicity and candor. Brian was kind of enough to come by the ANUS command bunker and chat a bit about his motivations, methods and metallic ambitions…
What inspired you to start the site, and what made you think, “I’ll do a database, instead of a reviews or pictures site”?
First, I’ve always had a mind for statistics and trivia, in both music and other areas (for example, sports statistics and fantasy football), so coming up with a database and learning all sorts of useless facts about bands fascinated me. As it turns out, when I was in graduate school in the mid-eighties, one of my programming projects was implementing a database, and in fact I used some of my metal knowledge back then as testing data. Long after that was done, I continued accumulating data, without really knowing what to do with it until the WWW sprouted up in the mid-nineties. Finally, I noticed at the time (as well as now) there are many more well-done reviews sites than database sites (though some other good database sites have come online in recent years), so I thought I could develop my own little niche in the metal world.
What was the hardest part of getting it going? Did you face any technical hurdles back then?
Once I learned simple HTML, the process of generating the pages from my database was pretty straightforward. And back in the early days before everyone had a .com place to host their stuff, I had an affiliation with my university, and they allowed me to host the pages there, which was very easy to do. So, there weren’t a lot of technical hurdles there. My struggles have usually been trying to find ways to keep the site looking good — not too plain, not too flashy. I don’t have an artistic background, so it’s hard to make the site look just the way I might like it.
What’s your own favorite era and genre of metal? Has this changed over the years?
The 80’s will probably always be my favorite era of metal. Of course, I’m not talking about the popular view of 80’s metal (glam/hair stuff), but the 80’s was when metal was still new to me — there were so many new bands with new sounds to listen to. So, from a nostalgia point of view, that era will always be my favorite.
As for favorite genre, right now my favorite bands are often the ones that don’t neatly fit into any one genre. When some talks about a metal band and uses phrases like “eclectic” or “avant-garde”, I am interested. This might be partially because I’ve heard everything else for so long, and/or because that’s what my tastes have evolved to, for whatever reason. In general, I’m not sure any one genre really stands above the others to me, though some (doom and thrash, perhaps) might be slightly above others.
You have been accepting of Christian metal bands while most other metal sites are not. Can you tell us a bit more about your philosophy of defining Christian metal as a separate genre? (Note: this is not an adversarial question – I think something “objectively” vital will emerge from it)
To me, it’s really the music itself that defines a musical genre more than lyrics. Therefore, bands with Christian lyrics are really no more or no less “metal” than bands with non-Christian lyrics. I’m not a Christian in the church-going sense, but I see no reason to disregard Christian bands just based on their image. Along those same lines, I find it slightly disturbing that certain Christian bands/fans isolate themselves from the secular world. I’ve found some Christian bands to have good things to say lyrically (which is great), and others that seem to be using their music solely as a marketing/recruiting tool (which isn’t great), but even those bands in the latter group still should be considered metal if they sound like metal.
To be more specific about your question, I don’t really consider Christian metal its own genre. I list it as such on my site, but only for convenience for readers, who read about a particular band and may wish to find others in the same vein. But really, it shouldn’t be a separate genre. I’d rather refer to Stryper as a pop metal band and Tourniquet as a thrash/death band rather than just calling them Christian bands.
What, in your mind, defines metal, and differentiates it from other popular music genres?
First, as I alluded to above, it’s not the lyrics. To me, it’s the “image”, but not image in the lyric or visual sense. There is a certain mood that is conveyed with most metal bands, a dark (I’d almost use the word “evil” here, but that’s a bit too simplistic) mood that resonates from metal. I’m anything but dark, evil, or angry, but yet it’s those moods that fascinate me about metal music. Certainly, though, there are bands that are on the fringes of what is commonly accepted as metal, and so it’s difficult to impossible to define metal just by listing bands that play it.
How often do you update the site, and what tools do you use (ex: Notepad)?
I now update the site roughly once a week. As it now stands, the information itself resides in several text files (representing, in a sense, crude database files, derived from the programs I wrote ages ago that I talked about above), and I edit those using vi, the UNIX programming editor that I learned so many years ago and still use in my profession (as a software developer) now. I’ve written programs/scripts that have evolved over the years, but whose function is the same — read the text files and output HTML. After that, it’s just a matter of packaging up the files (winzip) and uploading them to the site. Thankfully, this part of the process is far less time-consuming than writing the band descriptions and so forth.
Do you have any idea how many people visit on an average day? Do hits pick up over the weekend?
Unfortunately, no. This is partially due to my dissatisfaction with my current web provider, as I have had difficulties with them in regards to bandwidth/disk space issues and providing me with useful administrative tools. Though, to be fair, I just haven’t had the time to go back to them and sort the whole thing out, so as long as the site is up, I’m happy. I need to rectify this someday.
You tend to write summaries of a band’s sound, ideas and history all wrapped into one, then list albums with data only. Why did you decide to use this highly-efficient format, instead of writing about each CD individually?
It wasn’t really by design, it just sort of ended up that way. When the site first went online (1995), the reviews were a bit more personal and less information/history based, and over time I’ve adjusted it to be more objective. If I had more time, I’d probably broaden the descriptions to discuss individual CDs more in depth.
Looking at your top ten lists, it seems your tastes vary widely within the genre. What else do you listen to besides metal? What do you look for in a metal band that makes it a winner for you?
Actually, I rarely listen to anything other than metal, at least as far as buying non-metal albums goes. There are a couple of exceptions, and I’ll throw out two bands that I’ve enjoyed before — Crystal Method and Portishead. To me, though, the range of metal styles is so great that I can listen to bands from across the board and not feel like I’m “just” listening to metal all the time.
As I mentioned above, bands that are off the beaten path are often winners for me. That’s not an absolute — there are some bands that (though original and unique) don’t appeal to me, and there are a few completely unoriginal bands that somehow click. But after listening to metal for so long, it’s the bands that are pushing boundaries that I usually like best. A great example is the band you’re just about to ask about…
I’m bummed as hell to hear that Kong disbanded. Do you think there’s a value in listing such obscure bands alongside mainstream ones, and do you know of any people who’ve gotten into them from your review and listing?
I think there is such a value, and yes, I have received emails from people who read about Kong on my site, checked them out, and thanked me for the recommendation. That’s a great feeling. It is too bad they broke up, though their direction on the later releases led me to believe they probably wouldn’t last forever. The best bands never do…
You seem to like hardcore, but not metalcore. Is there a reason?
I’m not really a fan of either. It’s mostly just that I don’t like that vocal style. I used to dislike most extreme vocal styles, but over time I’ve come to accept death growls and even like black metal singing, but monotonous shouting just doesn’t do it for me. This gets back to the mood that one hears/feels when listening to metal — two words that at least begin to describe metal moods are “evil” and “angry”, and for me personally, I greatly prefer the former mood in the music I listen to.
Do you feel it is possible for bands to “sell out”? If so, “how”?
I think it is possible, but I don’t think it happens nearly as often as many seem to believe. Every time a band comes out with an album that changes their style even slightly from their previous work, accusations of sellouts are everywhere. I just don’t think that’s usually the case. To my mind, if you’re a musician who likes and plays a particular form of music (you might even attain some level of success with that music), and then you radically change your music with the sole purpose of making money, then you’re selling out. If a band explicitly and obviously jumps on the current bandwagon to follow whatever trend is in vogue that day, that can be selling out. But it’s difficult to prove one’s motivations. Let’s say I play in a traditional thrash band, and my new album comes out, and it’s a metalcore album, which just so happens to be the thing to do right now. Am I selling out? Maybe, maybe not. It’s certainly possible and reasonable that I enjoy this new metalcore music, and my own new music reflects that. If that’s the case, that’s not really a sellout. So I’m sure it happens, but it’s probably not as prevalent as the accusers would have you think.
Where do you think metal will go, once black metal finishes fading away and metalcore is no longer trendy?
For some time I had guessed that electronica and programming and industrial influences would become more prevalent. It still might happen. I can’t say I predicted the past trends (nu-metal, grunge, metalcore), so it’s hard for me to say what the future will hold.
Do you think you’ll listen to metal your whole life? Even in the retirement home/old age?
For awhile I thought I would, and then there was a period where I figured it’d only be a matter of time before I’d move on to something else. But I think I will always listen to some form of metal, though probably not the most popular or basic forms of it.
You don’t seem to be very fond of black metal. Any reasons you’d like to give here? (Although, notably, you did pick out Enslaved to like, which suggests a sharp eye for musicality)
Actually I don’t think that’s really true. Certainly, when it first became a legitimate genre, I wasn’t on board. I’d heard a few of the early bands and thought they were sloppy. The vocals turned me off. The corpsepaint really turned me off. I pretty much ignored the bands and listened to other forms of metal. Over the last several years, I’ve changed my stance. I’m still not a fan of the real old-school raw stuff, but if you look at my recent top ten lists, you’d see several bands that at least have some basis in black metal, though perhaps not in the traditional sense. I can tell you this — I’d much rather listen to an average black metal band than an average metalcore band, or an average power metal band, or an average death metal band. Hey, just the other night I was quite enjoying newer albums by Gehenna and Carpathian Forest, so I don’t think it’s accurate to say I don’t like black metal now.
In what ways do you wish metal fans/the metal community would change? Have you been able to do anything to effect that change?
There is some close-mindedness in the metal community, and some immaturity. That’s one reason I don’t have a discussion forum on my site — every time I go read someone else’s, there are immature flame postings and the like polluting everything. I’m not sure there’s anything I can do about that…
When’s the Assuck page coming? ;)
Here’s the thing. As much as I try to be organized about how I manage the site, bands fall through the cracks. I’ll listen to a band for awhile, get the basic info researched, and for whatever reason, forget to follow through, due to the sheer number of bands I’m researching at any given time. That’s what’s happened here, as well as too many other bands for me to admit to. I’ll see if I can get it done finally!
I don’t know if this is rampantly unprofessional of me or not, but can you talk about some of the metal websites that were around during “the early days,” and what you thought of each in terms of its method of organizing information about metal?
I don’t think it’s unprofessional, but I’m honestly having a hard time remembering what sites were around in 1995. Most of the sites I look at now aren’t that old. I do remember thinking that there really wasn’t a site that really did a great job with discographies and lineups and the like. Nowadays there are other sites, bigger than mine, that do that, though I hope that my site is still relevant in that area. I probably had some complaints about cheesy graphics that some sites used (and still use), such as rotating skulls or the famous dripping-blood horizontal bar (hope I’m not stepping on toes there!).
Is your site designed to help research, or fans? Who do you envision as the average user of your site?
The best emails I’ve gotten are from nostalgic fans, who remember listening to metal long ago, somehow stumbled across my site, and went back to listen to their old albums. That’s great, though that’s probably not the typical reader. Many use my site as a reference, or as a first option toward getting an opinion on a new band. By no means do I think my opinion is best, always right, or the only opinion out there, but I’d like to believe that, given my experience and love of metal, that my opinion is worth hearing. Of course people disagree with me on certain things (most often, what bands/sub-genres do or do not belong on my site), but it wouldn’t be right if there was no disagreement.
The one most relevant [cultural factor] here is language. In general, scientific discourse adopts as its ideal univocality — one word, one meaning. Closely related to this goal is the belief that a language exists, or can be forged, that is purely instrumental. Clearly and unambiguously, it will communicate to the world what the speaker or writer intends to say. Roland Barthes (Rustle) has ironically called this the belief that science can own a slave language, docile and obedient to its demands. Anyone who has seriously studied how language works is aware, however, that it shapes even as it articulates thought. There is now an impressive body of work exploring how metaphors, narrative patterns, rhetorical structures, syntax, and semantic fields affect scientific discourse and thought…language is not a passive instrument but an active engagement with a vital medium that has its own currents, resistances, subversions, enablings, pathways, blockages. As soon as discovery is communicated through language, it is also constituted by language.
– N. Katherine Hayles, Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science, p. 5 (1991)
Alan Moses (Butterface zine) and Brian Pattison (Chainsaw Abortions zine) are the death metal zine editors who compiled Glorious Times: A Pictorial of the Death Metal Scene (1984-1991). They also promote the A Day of Death series of concerts and have been active in the death metal underground up through the present day.
Glorious Times: A Pictorial of the Death Metal Scene (1984-1991) covers the formative years of the death metal underground in the words of its participants and as a result, is not a slick product designed to hype the drama of the scene but an in-depth exploration for those who care to exert themselves to learn.
We are fortunate to get a few moments of their time and to hear how Alan and Brian got into metal, ended up starting their zines, and almost two decades later resurrected it all with Glorious Times: A Pictorial of the Death Metal Scene (1984-1991).
When did the idea hit you for this book, and when did you think, “this might actually work”? I understand that both of you published paper zines, and that you Alan worked for Morbid Angel (gods among men) and that you Brian had a radio show and promoted live shows, including the infamous A Day of Death. Would you have undertaken this book without that background?
Brian: The idea came about in an off the cuff remark Alan made in an email to me in May or June of 2009. He mentioned having a photo album on his coffee table with old pics he had in a collection. I like that idea, then just thought it would be cool to have something like that in actual book form. In later discussions we agreed it would be even cooler to have stories from friends (the bands and ‘zines of the era) to go with the pics. I would say by possibly early Sept of 2009 we thought the book might sell some. We had begun getting emails from bands we didn’t contact ourselves and other people who had heard what we were doing and wanted a copy for themselves – originally we intended to print two copies, one for Alan and one for me and that was to be it. it’s hard to know if we would have done this without having the backgrounds we do. it would have been a lot tougher for sure. doing what we did back then made people remember us so it was easy to get stories from Chris Reifert, Kam Lee, Henry Veggian, etc.
Alan: I was probably a world more skeptical than Brian about it. After all it was an off the cuff statement I’d made in an email to him, a single email among I don’t know how many others. I forgot about the subject, but Brian went away and mulled it over for a while. He doesn’t just step into things blindly so he’d been thinking of all the hypotheticals before he came back to me with his thoughts of actually making a physical book, beyond just 2 overpriced copies via an online publisher, which was the original idea.
My mindset was way more cemented to the ideas about digitizing our combined audio tape and video collections, than any book concept, at first that is. When he came back to me with “oh I have been thinking about….” and went into details, I remember thinking “holy f%!k the guy’s gone nuts” haha but the more he argued the case (so to speak) the more I warmed to it.
It’s hard to say whether those things from our pasts played any part in it or not, I don’t know how much background the creators of any other books had in this music – so I have no idea what their drives are. In the past I’ve often been asking about doing a book of some kind – but laughed it off, or even if I may have entertained the idea for a couple minutes at best, my life was not the sort to support any such endeavour until recently.
Maybe our collective contacts proved helpful in doing this, but then again many old friends have ignored or turned down the chance to be a part of GT as well, and some times it seems to me that an unknown newbie off the street has better success these days of reaching OUR old cronies than we do, especially if they have tits and whorish looking myspace profile photos haha.
What advantages does a cut-and-paste or photocopied zine have over its electronic counterparts? What disadvantages? Are paper zines still relevant in the same way, now that we have blogs and mp3 trading to make life easier?
Brian: A big advantage is price. Making a ‘zine the old way you didn’t have to print thousands; you could just run off a few copies and assemble them yourself, sometimes as needed. Biggest disadvantage to me would be all your pics would be in the lack of color for cheaper copying. Paper ‘zines could still be relevant if people bought them. The paper ‘zines of our day were often put out by people who became fans of their local scene first, so those ‘zines were great ways to find out about bands that didn’t get national exposure.
Alan: Well, for a start, paper zines can be brought to the shit-house, so for most men, that’s the place they get to read in peace anyways hehe – if they have a family anyway.
They can be brought back out at leisure, wherever, and don’t dictate the need for all this extra technology or internet connections to read – especially in countries that have the system dictating how much bandwidth you can have and at what speeds you can use it, such as Australia and other third-world-internet-countries.
In many ways the print zine might be making a comeback, or seems to me to be making one, as people are beginning to leave the textureless internet and return to a more biological physical based enjoyment of all the trappings that come with this music. On the other hand though, as many print zines as I see flyers and adverts for – how many do they sell? Is it the same concept as when we made them, the concept being that we didn’t even care about sales, it was a labor of love and devotion.
The disadvantages of printing and postage costs and garnering physical mailing addresses as opposed to email are the main issues I guess, whereas today anyone can be a blogger and start a webzine or start trading mp3 with little to no background in this music. Contacts were hard to come by back in the day, and it was an investment to buy cassettes and establish a good stable of quality traders – it was based on hard work and faith, and that was evident from the list you had to offer trades from.
The bottom line is though that for the most part, only glossy magazines get the business and they cater to the borderline or fully blown corporate bands and their fans, that’s where the money is. That type of fan would snub their nose at a photocopied zine without a doubt – they only know glossy music and images, so there’s not much to be done on that front but leave them to it. To transcend the money issues on an underground level, ofcourse digital means greater speed and coverage – but we are sacrificing an entire facet of the experience in so doing.
Do you think mp3 trading is superior to tape trading? Does it help people find music, overwhelm them with too many options, or both?
Brian: HELL NO, mp3 trading is not superior to tape trading! For one thing you’re dealing in crap files, anyone who truly loves music would not listened to their stuff in a crapped down format like mp3. Tape trading was great, you’d get the stuff you requested and then usually a little bonus material as tape filler. In ’89 that bonus stuff could have been short demos (like Immolation’s ’89 demo) or live stuff or rehearsals of new bands like Mortician and Incantation who didn’t have demos. With mp3 downloads you just get the tracks you’re looking for. MP3 trading may make it faster to get stuff, but it has help destroy the scene. The personal touch and friendships that were made through tape trading just don’t exist in mp3 trading.
Alan: No, I don’t think it’s superior per se, not for the most part.
The exclusiveness is totally gone now. Grandma can plug her dentures into any USB port and now obtain live audio which was reserved on trader lists as “not for trade” like the old Genocide recordings (pre-Repulsion) were and is instantly metamorphosed into an old school Genocide fan. Now that exclusiveness has been sacrificed, yes, it certainly does immeasurably help people find bands they really like, whatever the style is. I wouldn’t have found totally kick ass bands like Punch or Question otherwise (both amazing hardcore punk bands) – stumbling into a blog lead me to “try” them out, like you would that unknown band on a trader list, or put on a trade at the end to fill the blank tape and see if the recipient liked it or not – that’s the same concept, so it does works.
It’s only when they start mass messaging you to “vote” for them to become the next reality-concepted band and “win” a Myspace or whatever label contract that it gets abnormal. Conversely – from a corporate mentality you want to market what the plebs want to hear, so you want that newest Kelly Clarkson or Mr. Hanky band brought to the table, by the very plebs you want to fleece with it anyways.
Then we get to the whole push-pull thing, and face the issues of whole albums being ripped and copyright and the rest of it.
It has the capacity for both effects though, no matter what, and the serious adventurer into this music better be prepared by wearing a shit proof suit – because they are going to swim in shit before they find the gems.
What kind of audience does old school death metal and Glorious Times have, and how many of them are carryovers from the original days?
Brian: Old school death metal seems to be regaining favor, thankfully. As a guesstimate I would say roughly 1/3 of the people who bought our first printing were people from the old days. Our sales pretty much ran the full spectrum of fans, we sold to a few in their early teens and a few that were over 50 yrs old.
Alan: We have people from our era and younger, although the younger are far less represented. Mainly, we gather, because we haven’t had any corporate mechanism behind us to promote things – only the really attentive youngsters caught on so far, because we are out of their more cashcow oriented world at this time. Unless you really use myspace ALOT or saw a quick blurb at Blabbermouth one time, we would have missed GT pretty much, that’s because we had no money to promote and people are guarded about what they throw their money at.
If we had Shane Embury ‘endorse’ the book, haha, we would have been picked up by most of the publishers of metal oriented books probably before the thing was even out of the draft stage haha.
Musically speaking, there’s so much more folks drifting back to the old bands and the old feel of things, since they’ve got a bit wise to the genericisms of the music today. Don’t get me wrong, some of the bands coming out with stuff these days are phenomenal (cough Malignant Tumour cough Master cough) – but we see letters every single day from a vast array of age ranges wanting a return to the Glorious Times, and there is an undercurrent of feeling disatisfied with what the state of affairs has become.
No matter what, death metal fans have always been really die hard. I think most people realize that there’s more dedication in general, compared to other music styles. Hardcore and the derivatives is the same ofcourse. They might have dropped out of sight due to life’s circumstances, or come back and become more active, and the old classics are still classics to them. Some may continue to venture forth to try to find good bands from the newer generation, which is what Brian and I do (although we are both as into hardcore as well as other extreme music, not just death). But we are not so sure the new young bloods adopt a similar philosophy because the whole shebang is different for them. They have ease of access but the exclusiveness is tainted by their having been spoiled by the technology.
We rest well, in the knowledge that so many old hands at this have stated publicly that GT is something no true death metal fan should be without, and so far only the hardest core have it. We have yet to be able to change that, and give other people, with as keen an interest, a chance to check it out. Most of GT’s appreciation base understands the importance of hearing the individual memories from the very people who lived them rather from a stale 3rd party who either wasn’t really active back then, or was simply too young or not even born. I am the sort of person that would rather read an autobiography than a biography, and GT fans respond to the concept really well, they are whom we made this book more available for anyways. Nobody else.
What’s the difference between then and now in terms of what fans expect, how bands act, and what people expect from the music?
Brian: Most fans today expect everything for free. They won’t spend $3 to buy a band’s demo because someone else will and that person will upload it to a blog. Bands act differently, some just stay backstage and don’t mingle with the fans forgetting that they are nothing without the fans and that they too were once just fans. Some bands don’t though, Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse) still goes out and mingles with the crowd and will talk to anyone. Nowadays with the rise of digital recording people expect every recording to be of great quality, which is a shame. There’s some special about getting a rehearsal tape or poorly recorded demo, you know the band is in it for the music/for the fans, not to try to get signed and make money.
Alan: I can think of a few major household names today, from the old days, whom have made a 360 degree turn around from their former mindsets, and have totally turned their backs on their old fan bases, in favour of the adorations of a generation raised on rock star worship again – like the thing got killed by the underground and has been brought back in some sort of grandiose version of itself. Similarly, others from the same fold are still as grass roots as ever in their mindset and haven’t been poisioned. Then there’s some that are just as indifferent to their fans as they were then, and have atleast remained consistent on that level.
The fans I think, have made a major political shift – because the bands are more accessible to them, yet the rock star worship has been elevated – you’d think that would be the other way around? It wasn’t like that before, there was more of an even playing ground between a band and the fans usually.
I guess that is a symptomology of having years and years of success that eventually there is another generation born that sees things with a different set of eyes, with different value systems. Entertainment-wise anyways.
Do you have any insight as to the relative importance of fanzines in different parts of the world, if any? Who were/are your favorite foreign correspondences?
Brian: Fanzines back in the day were hugely important. those were the early years of death metal so it didn’t get coverage in the glossy music mags. If you wanted to read an interview with Immolation, Prime Evil, Insanity, Nokturnel, etc you had to find it in a ‘zine. You didn’t just want ‘zines from your area or your country either, you wanted them from all over so you can discover new bands, remember it was before the internet and myspace so to discover a band like Death Courier from Greece you had to either read about them in a ‘zine or happen to get a flyer of them from a tape trader. now of course my favorite correspondence is Alan, back then it was probably Walter Garau (Ass Ache) from Italy.
Alan: Certain zines were vitally important. Blackthorn from Denmark, Uniforce, Total Thrash etc from the USA, Decibels Of Death and Ultimate Speedcore Dislocation from France, and the legions of zines from South America were vital in exposing bands from everywhere yet still had enough from their own countries to be interesting – well there were an abundance of interesting bands though back then too. I had penpals in so many countries and it was always magnificent to hear from them all, I used to hear from most of the editors from the zines above, and traded with a number of them directly – and they are just the tip of the iceberg. My favourite correspondences would have been Lars Sorbekk (Vomit (Norway)) and Trey back then, but that’s a bit unfair because I truly reveled in hearing from EVERYONE. It’s the same today really, but Brian is the doss because we are doing so much together there’s usually something exciting or frustrating or whatever every single day.
Did you expect the exposure to bands you received when starting your respective zines?
Brian: When I started my ‘zine I just wanted to expose local bands to people elsewhere and have something of my own to put out to give me access to bands from other areas to interview and to expose to my locality. In the end my ‘zine did much more than that for me, it created life long friendships.
Alan: Yes I did, because most of the contacts were already made well before I started Buttface. Things were really taking off in 89 and 90 but by 1990 everything was put on hold because I relocated to the US and Buttface was never kept alive either there or in Australia by my co-editor Stuart Maitland. It’s been funny explaining to 3 kids why people still call their Dad ‘Buttface’ haha
You’re planning on mailing a live CD with bands playing the A Day of Death festival to people who pre-ordered the book. Can you tell us more about this CD, what it sounds like, and what these performances will reveal to those who hear them now, especially fans who weren’t there for the original underground?
Brian: We had several ideas for CD companions to the first pressing of the book, all of which fell through because we were never able to get material from the bands. we did the A Day of Death download to go with the blog, not every band from the show, but a solid five. We were provided DVDs that John Verica recorded that day, since he only recorded some bands that’s all we had to work with. If we had every band it would have made one hell of a CD. Fans who weren’t there could have expected to hear bands that became legends playing in their infancy.
In other interviews, you’ve mentioned the negative presence of corporate labels, of glossy magazines and hype machines — in short, the nasty end of consumerism as it turns music into a product. Do you think it’s harder for bands to be authentic, sincere or legitimate when they go corporate? With people raised on corporate rock and slick radio pop, is there an “awakening” process as they leave behind that world? Do you think corporations will simply buy out the anti-corporate movements and make them “niche” markets?
Brian: The big labels have always done that. They find a fad, latch onto it then just kill it. In their view if one Entombed is great then 30 is even better. If one band makes it big after using Scott Burns as a producer then every band starts using him. It all became a big machine, bands getting signed that should not have been. Lots of cheese being passed off as the latest greatest when they were just shabby clones of the original. Some people are just sheep and don’t want to be awakened to what is out there; they’re perfectly happy being told what they should like. It’s hard for some bands to stay sincere after signing with a big corporate label because of a few things…they feel the pressure to sell more, they start writing stuff in studio instead of in rehearsals, they have people (A&R guys) to answer too, etc.
Alan: Definitely, if they were sincere at all to begin with, which really 99.9% of the founding fathers WERE. There’s definately an awakening process to be had, if the person has the right mental dexterity to unlock it though, alot of people simply don’t possess it and have to be told what to listen to or how to think on every single issue, it’s the nature of the sheep that must be herded. There’s a small percentage that slip through the gaps and they tend to crave more direct expression and more enthusiastic music – like extreme metal or punk. While I don’t think corporations could buy what the youngin’s call “d-beat” now days and have grandma shopping in a Besthoven shirt like she does a Slipknot or Morbid Angel shirt today – anything is possible, and with the correct conditioning and the appropraite funding they could possibly do it – let’s face it – they can convince people to buy and eat a s%!t sandwhich if they put their minds to it.
One of the topics bands seemed to mention in the book, but only directly, was the rarity of these glorious days you describe. After all, death metal was then like a young child growing up, and now it’s a well-known and accepted adult, so it can never be “re-discovered” in the rise from obscurity like it once was. Were those glorious days singular and limited to that time, or will they happen again?
Brian: You can get something similar to those days, but it can never be the exact same. It can never revert to being as fresh and uncontaminated as it was. It was a singularity: 1984 was the big bang with the next few years of dramatic growth being the formation of the heavier elements and then the years up to 1991 would be the planets forming and so on. Late 1991 and into 1992 would be the birth of man and as he did with the planet man ruined a good thing.
Alan: There’s no returning, and that’s not what we call for either. We’d simply like to see a recognition of the era, no different than all the weenies running about and calling this “classic rock” today. Personally I am gun shy of all the bands that the glossies really push and have been anyways – they spat at Morbid Angel back in the early days, but now stop short of getting on their knees infront of Trey’s pants. Makes me sick.
Alan, you talk about leaving the mainstream as a gradual process, like a seduction. What is it like to live with a mainstream consciousness, and how does your outlook on the world change when you go underground? Is mainstream music different in consciousness, spirit or idea, and is that what makes it “sound” different and have different effects on us than underground metal?
Alan: I don’t think mainstream music as such is the same since it’s created with an alien mindset to begin with. Music created by a bunch of kids today – or 30 somethings even – that is written with, how do they state it in their bios? “looking for a recording contract and world wide touring support” – that is laughable. What’s worse is that the label’s consciousness has infected them into thinking they are even remotely good enough to create such music. It’s feeling, and you have to wade through alot of junk to get anything of substance. The process of leaving the mainstream is usually gradual I think, or else it’s jumping on another band wagon. As much as “sound” is importan t I think it’s feeling that’s as important – music of any kind without feeling is piece work, and shallow and therefore mainstream.
Is death metal music different in consciousness/spirit/idea, so that when different people hit on that same idea, they make music that sounds similar, even if they haven’t heard each other? Did that happen in the underground (parallel evolution)? Do you think people have to be ready for metal before they find metal, or vice-versa?
Alan: There was definitely evolution and hybriding – out of respect and pure influence, like the infamous Scot Carlson bass on Shane or the Kam Lee wipeout on Barn to name 2 influences. It was pure though and not a contrived means to cash in, like viewing a cupped vocalist in a photo today and knowing that 99.9% of it will be Suffocation’s 2nd generation music, clone based upon a band’s success 20 years after they made a ripple in the waters. They definitely need to be craving something on a deeper unconscious level I think – much of what we enjoy appeals to the baser instincts, and those lay in the Id. On the other hand so many of the bands, whilst being into whomever they were really into, still evolved to their own standards and were not clones at all. So there was evolution but being paralleled can be argued I guess. Perhaps we can say no to that statement since nothing is equal or the same in nature, evolution embraces difference not similarity and clones are not evolved, they are premeditatedly produced.
You’re planning to re-release Glorious Times in a wider fashion. When’s this going to happen, and are we going to see it in bookstores across the world? Why did you decide to release it in a limited fashion first?
Brian: We don’t have a set date yet. I’m getting a new publishing program and we’re redoing every layout, changing some pics, adding some bands to improve the book. We’d love to see it in book stores, but given it will still be just 2 guys doing it that’s not likely. We will print more this time so people will find it at places like Century Media and other metal distros. The first pressing was so limited because it had to be. We had $0 starting balance and to get it printed at all we had to take pre-print orders and the money from those orders paid for us to print books for those orders. So, we had roughly 150 pre-print orders and that gave us the funds to print 153 books. This time it will be much different, no pre-print ordering, wewon’t make the books available for sale until we have them. Now we just have to raise the cash to reprint it.
Alan: Brian has hit this on the head and there’s little I can say to complement it other than indeed, it was limited out of sheer having to be since we had no money and we were turned down by every single publisher. Period. We’ve heard every rejection reason in the book now. We owe everything to our contributors and supporters – without them, there would have been 2 books nobody saw but me and Brian. I personally do not forsee any reprint in the near future.
I remember this being something talked about a lot: how musically literate were the early bands?
Alan: Most bands were self taught. That’s a fact. Self taught and on a learning mission. They pulled it off though, you can have some kid sent through private music school for 10 years and grows his hair out, buys a trendy t-shirt from Hot Topic and they still produce garbage.
Brian, A day of Death was in my view the ideal death metal concert; how did you get up the gumption to organize it, and death with the business side of things, and get the bands to agree? Do people ever contact you who were there?
Brian: First I have to say, my old friend from those days almost always gets overlooked for this and he should definitely get his credit – Joe Pristach (Mosh Central ‘zine). It didn’t take much gumption at all, remember at that time most of those bands were still just demo bands. The idea Joe and I had was just to get a show of out of town bands that we wanted to see and that we were for the most part friends with. I didn’t deal with the business end, the club did that. Joe and I just handled the promotions side of it. Getting the bands to agree was no problem at all, any band of the day would have killed to play with Autopsy on the east coast. I don’t get people contacting me out of the blue about that, but once they find out I did Chainsaw Abortions ‘zine and hand a hand in the show they ask a few questions or make a few comments.
One of the big fears I have, as a death metal freak, is that the record of our glorious times will perish. CDs are going out of print, and memorabilia and documents fade and disappear into attics or worse, dumpsters. Is there any way to keep the spirit alive?
Brian: The old spirit is still alive, it’s just on a much smaller scale. bands like Fondlecorpse, Swamp, Druid Lord and some others still do things in the old school ways. There are still a few ‘zines that do things like the old days – Deathrasher ‘zine as one example. It would be great if there was a sort of museum or storage facility where people could send their pics and flyers and memorabilia that they no longer wanted, that way it would be preserved for future generations – people could donate or lend materials to it (a sort of death metal smithsonian) then everything document could be scanned to a high resolution and saved to multiple discs, then as if it also acted as a library people could do research there or ask about things in the catalog.
Alan: Brian has hit this too – and all I can say is GT stands amongst the real few striving for rememberance the way we feel it should be, not just a few pages in a magazine as a result of us doing the book.
Brian, you say you haven’t heard any bands that grab you the way those 1980s bands did — is that because they have a different consciousness/spirit/idea? What about the late 1980s and early 1990s made that consciousness or idea so clear for these bands? Was it something random, or were they responding to the time around them? Do you think this spirit will rise again?
Brian: What made those times special was the music was new. Each area, each band providing a new take on extreme music. The 1st and 2nd generation death metal bands had different influences than the bands of today. todays bands are influenced by death metal, but of course the original bands weren’t influenced by that because it didn’t exist before them. I don’t know if i’d say it was clear for the bands of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, they just all wanted to go heavier or faster or slower than their idols.
The spirit is still there; it’s the scene that’s gone. The internet has made some things easier and perhaps better, but it has also done a lot of damage. Almost all of the personal relationships that happened back in the day don’t happen now. Kids today will visit a myspace page and download songs so they don’t get to build relationships with bands like we did way back before the internet. I still have letters from bands from back then, will kids today save their emails and myspace messages to look back upon in 20 years — I don’t think so.
Do I think things will become as great as they were? With all honesty, I would say no. Is it possible, sure, but it requires a lot. The bigger bands have to stop doing 4 and 5 band package tours and go back to doing 1 and 2 band tours, leaving room for local openers at every show. Bands have to stop making their stuff available for download for free and either just release CDs or charge for the download (made available in flac and empty3), they have to wean fans off of expecting free stuff.
The free stuff should be a bonus, not a given. People have to start realizing that supporting a band doesn’t mean just friending them on myspace or hitting the “like” button on facebook, you need to buy their demos, shirts and other merch, you need to go and support your local scene, not just when the nationals come through.
With the fiftieth anniversary of metal music around the corner, forthcoming years will witness an increase of publications dealing with the history, legacy and defining characteristics of the genre. This could finally resolve the lack of consensus that still exists regarding the definition and origins of heavy metal.
Times seem grim. The orcs have taken Osgilliath and approach the gates of the white city. Western Civilization is still dying, accelerated by democracy and consumerism, but rotten to its core with a lack of hope. Metal once gave that hope by showing us an alternate morality comprised of effective realism and epic mythos. Many of us want to live in that time again, but it will not happen through democracy or consumerism. We must choose our leaders and then all of us participate in restoring and advancing the greatness we have known.
That good music makes its way to the promo stack occasionally is not a huge surprise. We do not expect it to happen in more than one in twenty or thirty occurrences, but sooner or later, something good does come. And then, we expect a great album (not a true classic, but perhaps a highlight in the year) to arrive at an expected rate of about one every two or thee months. What we do not expect is a two-track split in which the first is a modernist piece composed for strings in the manner reminiscent of Górecki’s 3rd String Quartet or Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.
The second track, “Crossing the Threshold” by Twilight Fauna, is one of those supposedly black metal ambient pieces that amounts to little more than sounds here, noises there, sometimes violated by a heavily distorted guitar that adds nothing to what’s going on. All for the sake of ambience. It falls into the same category of poorly-done but pretentious music like Ulver’s and Sun O))), themselves a parody of what Robert Fripp did much better in The Gates of Paradise or his work with Brian Eno in Evening Star. I’d recommend these guys to study the work of early Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, the master. If what they want is actually something more black metal, but elongated and that does not sound like some sort of pointless intro, they should check out Paysage d’Hiver’s work. Because the track has not been made public, we can only share their own release earlier this year through bandcamp for reference.
“Sickness Unto Death”, by Jennifer Christensen, is a patient work that I would venture to describe as minimalist. But rather than the circular pop minimalism of Philip Glass, this is more of the religious and dark nature typical of Górecki’s music. Clearly structural in construction but never rushed, motifs pass you by and interleave as passing scenes and a whole flora and fauna of a world evolved from a single primeval cell arise in distinguishable affinity. Now, as much as I not only enjoy but appreciate the higher quality of Ms. Christensen’s work here, I am wondering why would she release this in a split with a dark-ambient-going-on-black-metal band.
If she is somehow planning on turning her efforts in this direction, her classically trained mind and obvious talents for dark minimalist music would be interesting if applied to the whole spectrum of ambient instrumentation. Or even to two guitars, drums and backbone bass — that kind of black metal with a solid musical base would be much appreciated. After listening to her track many times, we know that the attitude and the spirit for this kind of music is definitely not missing. But the question is, does she actually understand the black metal spirit? Independently of this, I am looking forward to listening to more music composed by her, metal or not.
Metal comprises both a concrete format and an idea. That idea, like pollen on the winds of a tempest, spreads far beyond its original home and takes root in other landscapes. One venturer in the recent hybrid style of metal-influenced cosmic ambient is Khand, whose shadowy personage spoke to us through an encrypted Skype communication over a private anonymous “darknet” network within the internet.
Where does the name Khand come from and what does it symbolize to you?
The name Khand comes from The Lord of the Rings. It is a mysterious land southeast of Mordor. Tolkien didn’t say much about Khand so my interest was piqued. Given the frequent usage of The Lord of the Rings band names it was refreshing to see one that had not been used at the time. Out of the whole universe Tolkien created, Khand still remained mysterious. That notion is also influential on the mindset I take in creating Khand’s music, regarding fantasy and science fiction.
What’s the name of this upcoming Khand release and when will it be out, and where will we be able to get it?
The name of the release has not been decided yet. That is usually the last thing I come up with after everything is recorded and mixed. That said, the song titles are completed for this release, so once they are finalized and ready to go, it will give me a better general idea of what to ultimately call the whole thing. The release will be available to download for free, most likely on the wonderful HiArcTow creative commons page that has supported myself and others throughout the years. Beyond that, I ultimately hope to release this on some sort of physical format… whether it be cassette again, CD, or even vinyl.
Will there be any differences to past Khand work? How do you see the band evolving with this release?
There are a number of differences with this newer material. I have always felt that this project has lacked some sort of direction and organization; it was as if the past two releases were a bunch of random songs thrown together with no real end in sight. With this release, I have decided to focus on one idea only. The release will be a chronology of events that take place during humanity’s first trip to Mars. It seems that we will most likely see this venture at some point in our lifetime, so the imagination runs rampant with all the possible scenarios we may face. Musically speaking, I have upgraded my equipment and have decided to use some newer synth sounds for this release. Everything will have a “spacey” feel per se, taking the listener on a trip with the crew to Mars. These recordings will not have any medieval/fantasy inspiration like some of my past works, though I am currently working on a few songs in that regard which may end up being used as a demo or split release of some sort.
What other artists are you listening to / reading / watching / observing during this time?
Art exists all around us; you just have to look for it. As an inspiration for this release, I am obviously looking up to the night sky, imagining what the future holds for the human race. There is no greater influence to me than that of nature and science itself, as it is the only real constant we know of. We are mere peons on this bloody planet, yet our potential is limitless if we free ourselves of bonds. I’ve always felt that artists and musicians see the world differently than most. During this time, there have been a number of artists or musicians which have been inspirational. The biggest influences for the music of this will be that of Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, Varg Vikernes, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, John Carpenter, and Vangelis. Though not really a prominent influence on this release’s music itself, I also feel certain classical music has a profound influence on our perception of the emotions that coincide within music, so there has been inspiration there as well.
Do you think there’s a strong community for metal transplants into ambient and atmospheric music with epic themes?
Yes and no. It seems there should be more of a community than there currently is though it certainly feels like it has started to pick up steam. In my opinion, there is a strong correlation between ambient/ atmospheric music and metal. Both have the ability to create worlds within worlds, something more than most other kinds of music can say. They dig deeper into the human psyche than your average pop song. The possibilities with ambient music are endless. Like metal, there are many different styles and takes on the sub genre. So as one door opens, another swings open. I always tell people that it is good to start with the classics. Like those of metal, the forefathers of ambient music had laid the foundation and built the canvas. It is our duty to pay them respects and listen to the worlds they’ve created and find inspiration in their limitless contributions to the music we know and love.
Slayer’s Show No Mercy turned the metal world upside down when it hit the record stores. Keep in mind this was back in the 1980s, so there was no instant effect, more like a quick ripple as it took people time to learn about the album, get to the store to buy it, dub it from a friend, hear it on a weekly radio show, or get mailed a mix tape.
At the time, the world was just awakening to the possibility of speed metal, which grew out of American bands taking the best of NWOBHM, like Blitzkrieg, Satan, Motorhead, Witchfinder General, etc. and combining them, adding in the attitude of hardcore punk and its rhythms. However, speed metal had a defining characteristic, which was the sharp sonic edges produced by the use of the muted strum.
Slayer took another approach, also derived from hardcore (mainly Discharge), which was the tremolo strum. Instead of producing sharp edges, this produced fuzzy columns of sound like an organ or other instrument with huge sustain. The result was that longer riffs could be created and could be relatively independent from the drums. The song structure opened up with guitar as the lead voice.
This innovation basically created all of underground metal. When Slayer was combined with Bathory and Hellhammer, both black metal and death metal emerged. Black metal was a more ambient variety, where death metal was more structuralist, but both used the same ingredients brought about by this combination, namely the techniques and attitudes of these three bands.
However, Slayer’s invention was what was able to unite the long-form song structures of Hellhammer and the atmospheric approach of Bathory into a format that could expand. Immediately recognizing the power of a style of music which put riff changes before harmony or conventional song structure, Slayer expanded their work beyond the verse-chorus using their famous pattern of introductory and transitional riffs.
A new science was born. It was opposed by many in the speed metal world, since it offered competition to what those musicians were doing and signaled the end of that paradigm (speed metal officially hung up its metal union card in 1991, five years after Slayer took this style over the top with Reign in Blood). Others saw the possibility in this new style.
As a result, when you hear metal music today, you are hearing an inheritance from Slayer. Even outside metal music the idea of a guitar or keyboard leading the drums has gained traction, which breaks out of the somewhat rigid format of rock/pop and gives artists more options. It’s not entirely surprising that Slayer burst onto the scene only ten years after the groundbreaking ambient of Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno/Robert Fripp.
Critics have never really understood how to analyze Show No Mercy in part because the album links together so many influences. Iron Maiden lurks in the chord progressions, Discharge and GBH in the technique, Motorhead in the rugged riffing, Kiss in the somewhat grandiose theatrics, and Judas Priest in the conceptualization of riff structure. But what holds them together is this metal first, which is the tremolo strum and its implications for songwriting.
The “First in Line” series celebrates the metal bands and albums who did something important, and did it first. It’s like an inventor’s award.
Ambient band Khand overlaps the metal community because its member and its history are intertwined with the history of east coast underground metal. In addition, much like Brian Eno, Jaaportit, Robert Fripp, Lord Wind, Neptune Towers, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk seem appreciated in some segments of the metal community, hessians appear to enjoy the “metal-like” dark heavy vibe of this ambient band. The following track, “The Squire’s Dream,” is from the upcoming Khand full-length to see the light of day at a time yet unannounced.
I am aware that human beings specialize in denial, and that our method of handling denial is transference and projection, by which we invert accountability and place it on those who do not conform to social expectations, which is a vast tolerance of everything and anything that some living breathing human has put out. As a result, I don’t expect much from the first wave of reviews anywhere, but I’m also not the kind of jerkoff editor who will cut his writers off at the knees.
This left only one solution: listen to The Underground Resistance myself.
This is more difficult than it seems. I do not believe youth is the sweetest time of life; in fact, I hate nostalgia. But when I was developing (or clarifying) the most important ideas and truths I have found in this life, it was a reasonable guess that Darkthrone might have been on the stereo (back then, we used big hulking stereo amplifiers with CD players to reproduce sound from a primitive form of MP3 file stored on a physical medium with reflective bits). In fact, I can remember a number of important discoveries in which Darkthrone featured prominently by being the soundtrack to some dark and some light realizations, and at least one Darkthrone tape (ah yes, youngsters; unless you were rich, you had a “cassette tape player” in your car, to which you dubbed CDs using your big hulking stereo, and then played primitive analogues of MP3 files using magnetic flipped bits on chromium dioxide-covered plastic tape) that lived in my car during a dark era when I drove many miles at night under the threat of an uncertain future.
When I had triumphs, I threw on Transilvanian Hunger, which was a cry to war for a generation. When I studied late at night, Soulside Journey was often on the stereo (low volume, using an anachronistic physical volume knob — crazy shit, man). I remember first “getting” the black metal ideal when listening to Under a Funeral Moon, and realizing this was the revenge of the naturalists. It wasn’t bad production; it was organic sound, a blaze of it, in which the message hid like a signal/noise ratio refinement experiment. It was deliberately obscured, esoteric music in which one could hide the truths that a dying society could no longer face. I loved it, and still do, but I really hate nostalgia. Nostalgia says the best days were past; that’s nonsense, since we learn every day and constantly get better at being who we are. That last sentence contained the main point of this article.
The context in which Darkthrone exists for its longtime listeners is hard to express, however. It’s somewhere aligned with worship and built on trust. We entrusted our hopes, fears, terrors and anger to Darkthrone back in the day, and in exchange vested in them a belief in them as musicians and people. They were no longer just a bunch of guys bashing on guitars, but sages, deliverers of wisdom. Maybe this is wrong, but black metal is a somewhat messianic genre to which children run when they start to realize that the modern world is not a train to Utopia, but a train wreck of false illusions and trends which the majority of people are too zombie-drugged on consumerism and ideology to notice. We the children of this dead world were seeking some reason to keep going and to thrive, and Darkthrone gave us those reasons among other black metal sages.
As a result, it’s impossible (think of Heisenberg) to simply listen to a Darkthrone album. Too much comes with it: history, context, emotion. For many artists, this is good. For example, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno are still making ambient music and their faithful buy up each one and revel in the new space discovered. Some bands find niches and are able to keep improving. Others flatten out, having lost the point of what they were doing, and instead try to become inclusive and patch together all their influences and all the stuff they know makes people happy to listen to their songs. The result is like a hotel room, in that it fits everyone’s specifications but no one’s needs.
When I first listened to The Underground Resistance, I was tempted to consider Jon Wild’s piece inaccurate. Darkthrone have made an album of pleasant music that is equal parts Iron Maiden, Celtic Frost and random death metal and speed metal era influences. I caught Slayer references, something that sounded like a Destruction cadence, and many riff types from the last four decades of metal. I doubt any of this is wholly and completely lifted, but I could be wrong. The fact is that they’re of the same archetypes. However, that has no bearing on whether the album is good or not. If someone were to assemble songs of classic riffs, and give those riffs new life by putting them together in a song which was evocative of some emotion or concept, then that would be a victory. Originality doesn’t matter, because no matter what you’re doing, Haydn did it four centuries ago, or Mozart slightly later. That’s the great farce of music. It’s not about discovering some new theory about making music, but about making music, and much as you’d write a story or sculpt a figurine, using those skills to shape raw material into something which reminds us of something truthful in life. The best art becomes “classic” because it did that better than anyone else.
However, as time went on, I realized Jon is both far off — and dead on. The problem with this album is not the recycled riffs, or the style, or the goofy vocals. It’s that it has nothing to express except that a metal band made an album out of things they knew would work. We know Fenriz and Nocturno Culto can put together a great catchy album in their sleep, and have it humming it all year if they want. Here, they seem exhausted, a couple of old buddies who got together on the weekend to jam and when it was done, cut the tape and mailed it off. This tendency is most clear in the fills that connect riffs to one another. They are obvious in the sense of being very basically musically, not adapted to the song, not possessed of grace. They just tie together some riffs and do an adequate job, and that’s apparently all that’s required.
Remember above how I said the main point of the article was encoded in a sentence about nostalgia? We should always be growing in knowledge and power, and moving toward being better at what we do. Darkthrone still have this in them; for some reason, they’re tired of exercising it. In doing so, they’ve become a cult of their own entropy. There’s nothing wrong with this album except that it has nothing to recommend it. It is competent; it’s fun to listen to; I never want to hear it again. It is people who gave up on their own future and now are doing what the world expects of them, just like going to a job. Our world is broken and failed indeed if it has condemned such talented people to such a fate, but I hope they pull out of this tailspin because they as people and Darkthrone as a concept are worth doing better than this.