Chapel of Ghouls is a very interesting metal song to start with for several reasons. First of all, it is the epitome of the traditional death metal song and displays the marks of excellent composition by way of being balanced and maintaining perfect mood. Second and related to this mood evocation is the fact that this is a song written for guitars tuned to E-flat standard tuning and uses the open low string often but is not in the key of E-flat, giving the low-chug a very distinctive aura that comes from the sharpened leading tone being emphasized so much that is not the comforting home tonic we hear in commonplace metal. In general, this song also gives us a very special opportunity to see how attention to the use of scale degrees in the right places lends a very specific purpose to different passages with a very powerful effect.
My exposition and analysis of Chapel of Ghouls parts from the a posteriori premise that the key in which it is written is E minor. While making frequent use of chromatism, this piece is undeniably tonal and by that very nature it has a tonal center. It is up to the analyst to unearth just what that center is. The next most important assumption which applies to a lot of metal, is that the playing of fifths is decorative, making use of the sonorous effect this interval has when played on the distorted electric guitar. We do not consider this as an important element of functional harmony and we should only consider the main bass note as pertinent to our discussion of motifs and patterns.
We may observe that if we take riff-groups as sections and we ignore the variations in number of repetitions, the general structure of the song can be summarized in the following manner:
A-A’-B-C A-A’-B-C | D-E D-E | F | B-C-A
We can see the artistic abstraction and application of Classical-era concepts in Morbid Angel’s use of chromaticism for emotional effect within a clearly tonal framework. Even more telling and importantly, Chapel of Ghouls’ structure reveals an adapted classical sonata form. The sonata form is characterized by being divided into three sections: an exposition, a development and a recapitulation. An exposition generally presented the main materials that would be used to develop the piece. These were usually stated and then repeated once with small variations. The development traditionally implied a modulation into a different key and a development of the ideas into more foreign territory. After a flourish in the development section called a retransition that would bring the song back to the tonic area, the recapitulation was a restatement in an abridged way, of the main ideas stated in the exposition. Chapel of Ghouls fills all these requirements to the letter:
Exposition: A-A’-B-C presents the main ideas, and is repeated again with a small divergence in the number of repetitions of the riff. The second time around it is played, it is repeated more times, a simple and primitive way to echo an expansion.
Development: While part “D” is still in the same key, it starts a shift in the importance of the notes which can be considered a modulation. When we reach E, the song is in a different key than the rest of the song, and a different theme defines this section as well, even though we can hear an affinity with the motif of part “B”. Ironically, we call this type of development monothematic, although it may have more than one theme of its own (as this one demonstrably does).
Retransition: part “F”, a slowed down section treading the same some of of the tones (degrees 2 and 3, specifically) that have been used again and again in succession in this song, only to round it off by clearly stating the main motif and theme of the song decorated with an octave doubling rather than with the typical fifth used elsewhere in the song.
Recapitulation: re-use of “A”, “B” and “C” in different order and condensed number of repetitions. The final use of A incurs in a variation that heavily emphasizes the main theme as its final phrase.
Furthermore, the way solos run over more stable rhythm sections and moments when the rest of the music is quiet resembles the tutti-solo-tutti exchanges typical of works from the Classical era. The piece displays an adept of use of pauses and brief silences to enhance expectation and stress unstable tones at inflection points to promote forward movement.
Another little trick that is worth highlighting is that when they make tempo changes either to a faster or a slower, Morbid Angel will shorten or stretch average note length in order to counter the change (if we change to a faster tempo, the notes become longer, and the opposite in the same manner). This helps make transitions much more smooth sounding, pulling the length of the notes towards an central average despite the difference in tempos in different sections.
Lastly, every one of the riffs/parts we defined above with letters of the alphabet are written in period form. A period contains an antecedent and a consequent. The second one of these is a repetition of the first with variations in the end goal, the harmony or anything else that does not destroy the identity of the original idea. Traditionally, the antecedent ends in the dominant or a transition to the dominant and the consequent ends in the tonic, coming back to stability. In the case of Morbid Angel’s Chapel of Ghouls, all the periods’ antecedents, except those that make up parts “D” and “E”, finish on tones that are not part of the E-minor scale, while the consequents all end on in-scale tones. In the case of the exceptions just mentioned, this is inverted and D# is tonicized, effectively constituting a modulation to a different key.
Trey Azagthoth’s early infatuation with Mozart is often taken lightly even by fans of Morbid Angel but Chapel of Ghouls is a clear example of how this claimed influence went deep and affected the way motif, theme and development were handled. Trey did not just copy the classical style of Mozart, but adapted methods perfected by the late master to the needs of the budding death metal genre Morbid Angel helped define.
For any career metalhead, it’s impossible to hear the name War Master without thinking of the classic Bolt Thrower album of the same name. Like that album, this demo is primitive and powerful grinding material; unlike the Bolt Thrower album, this material is less grindcore than old school death metal that grinds, and if you listen long enough, you can hear other classic death metal influences creeping in.
War Master takes the patterns of later Bolt Thrower, like For Victory… and IVth Crusade, and renders them in the simpler, messier and more rhythmic style of the first two Bolt Thrower releases. With three riffs per song on average, this music moves like a fighter and the riffs complement each other to make sense as a whole, which is the science of death metal. It borrows the best grind from Bolt Thrower and re-shapes it into metal songs like early Deicide or Morgoth.
Vocals are also more distinctively from a newer genre, influenced clearly by classic death metal as well as the newer *core styles, but they imitate the rhythms of old school Bolt Thrower. It’s gratifying and powerful, but these three songs give us only a glimpse. If War Master further develop their own style in which Bolt Thrower is an influence, and not the largest chunk of their template, their talent for creating rhythmically compelling music will take them far.
I had a flashback to the early days of 1993. Death metal had just about peaked, and many people were looking for the next big thing — in terms of style. Brutality was the catchphrase, and since millions of American kids had just rediscovered early Napalm Death thanks to a desperate search for the roots of underground metal, new bands were popping up that promised to be more brutal than before, usually by playing much faster and eliminating all melody. This flashback was prompted by hearing the hype about Whitechapel in one ear, and the reality played in the other.
Cycles repeat because there are usually relatively few different options in life, but infinite ways to pull off the winning option. After death metal croaked and black metal blew itself out, the usual retro cycle came in, where the remnants of the last decade are swept into a dustpan, recombined, and out comes the “new” solution. What has happened in the merging of metal and emo, pop punk, alternative and new hardcore is a lot like what happened in 1983 when the first thrash bands formed: metal riffs in punk song structures. But punk has grown up, gotten more technical, and in order to justify its dystopian nature, has taken the aesthetic from 1960s protest songs — jarring, slightly dissonant, poignant bittersweet, etc — and blended it with technicality, creating what I refer to as The Cinema of Discontinuous Image. Much of this is the influence of MTV, which specialized in videos in which rapid cutaways from radically different imagery were seen as desirable; these later influenced how Hollywood films dialogue, so it’s not inconceivable they influenced metal. The new hardcore is technical, melodic, and like carnival music in that it moves between ludicrous extremes without building continuity, because being deconstructive is its political fashion.
Whitechapel isn’t alone in being part of this new genre — let’s call it metalcore — that embraces many variants, some as “death metal” as the recent Behemoth CDs, and others as punk as Fugazi but obviously more mile-a-minute. Do people ever get tired of hearing the next most extreme thing? They should, since this stuff isn’t extreme; it’s sped up, and not in any meaningful way from the first Morbid Angel album. It’s like shredders showing off without knowing how to write songs, and since its basic concept of being protest deconstructive is fundamentally opposed to the ideas of songwriting anyway, this music ends up being a random pile of stuff that’s hard to play mixed in with stuff that, like Meshuggah, sounds hard to play until you realize it’s rhythm noodling on a chord. Whitechapel lives by this variation, where fast scalar single note playing is followed by five-position power chord shred riffs, and then the song collapses into some percussive geometries from the E chord, then repeats with keyboards added, this time. Songs build up to a peak frenzy, and then just end. Nothing is learned, nothing is created, but it has political authenticity — comrade Stalin is pleased! — because it is deconstructive protest music that emphasizes the following tenets: life is terrible, there’s nothing we can do, give up now, wail and whine instead of doing anything, it’s not my fault, it’s not your fault.
The synthesized faux death vocals don’t help either. I can see how this CD would impress someone new to the genre because it tries to “break barriers,” but these are all stylistic. It has nothing to say except perhaps to add on to The Brat Manifesto, which is a giant scroll containing all of the justifications created by the human species for doing nothing about its problems, personal or collective. Whitechapel screams out a kind of fetishism with child abuse, poverty, self-destruction and failure, because these excuse the heavy weight of having to take on life. Hint to Whitechapel: all of the great bands became great because they took on that heavy weight like a charging bull and found a way to convert it into positive enemy, like inverse aikido where the attack ends up converting his own momentum into a throw of his hapless prey. You, on the other hand, have run from it, and that is why you are this season’s trend and tomorrow’s ash on the wind.
Pennsylvania deathmongers INCANTATION have just kicked off a run of European dates with Morgoth, Darkrise, Methedras and Omophagia, which will see the band demolishing venues in Europe, the UK, and Russia this April. In celebration of the band’s 25th anniversary, INCANTATION has just announced a second leg of European dates this coming summer – the death metal veterans will be laying waste to Europe for two weeks this coming July alongside Brazil’s Nervochaos. INCANTATION has also been confirmed for a number of festival appearances this summer, including Obscene Extreme Festival in the Czech Republic, MetalDays Fest in Slovenia, and the third annual Hell’s Headbash in Cleveland, OH. A complete listing of dates is included below.
***All dates with Morgoth, Darkrise, Methedras, and Omophagia***
Apr 14 Ostrava, CZ Barrak Club
Apr 15 Erfurt, DE Club From Hell
Apr 16 Rheine, DE Hypothalamus
Apr 17 Drachten, NL Iduna
Apr 18 Rotterdam, NL Baroeg
Apr 19 Chapelle-lez HT, BE Maison Du Peuple
Apr 20 London, UK Nambucca
Apr 21 Glasgow, UK Audio
Apr 22 Southampton, UK Bristol Bierkeller
Apr 23 Oberhausen, DE Helvete
Apr 24 Villa de Barrosales, PT SWR BarroselasMetalfest XIX
Apr 26 Vilnius, LT Propaganda
Apr 28 Minsk, BL Brugge
Apr 29 St. Petersburg, RU Opera Concert Hall
Apr 30 Moscow, RU Monaclub
June US Dates:
Jun 24 Columbus, OH O’Shecky’s*
Jun 25 Crest Hill, IL Bada Brew*
Jun 26 Lansing, MI Mac’s Bar*
***All Dates with Nervochaos***
Jul 14 Obscene Extreme Festival – Trutnov (CZE)
Jul 15 Neudegg Alm Abtenau – Salzburg (AUT)
Jul 16 Elyon Club – Milan (ITA)
Jul 17 Le Korigan – Luynes (FRA)
Jul 18 Tba (FRA)
Jul 19 Tba (FRA)
Jul 20 Le Klub – Paris (FRA)
Jul 21 Muziekcafe Elpee – Deinze (BEL)
Jul 22 Little Devil – Tilburg (NLD)
Jul 23 Chaos Decends Festival – Crispendorf (GER) *Incantation Only
Jul 24 Viper Room – Vienna (AUT)
Jul 25 Akc Attack – Zagreb (HRV)
Jul 26 Metal Days Festival – Tolmin (SVN)
More US Shows Announced:
Sept 2 – 4 Cleveland, OH Hell’s Headbash 3
The title probably needs a few instances of “again” sprinkled throughout, but whatever. Metal Blade is presumably in the very early stages of putting out new vinyl presses of early Slayer recordings, as evidenced by their decision to announce this through one of our competitors. This rerelease focuses on Slayer’s earliest releases – their first two studio albums, as well as the Live Undead and Haunting the Chapel EPs. Like many of these vinyl reprints, it seems to be fairly limited in scale – only about 1200-1500 of each album is going to be pressed, and any collector who misses these is going to have to wait for a new pressing or content themselves with one of the many older versions. The actual musical content of these records is worth your time, anyways, which is something you can’t say about every record released.
Blake Dodge, a student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, did something many students do: write what your professors and peers like to hear about, but give it a new emotional spin. It is a good way to gain favor with the people above you and possibly get their recommendations and other favors students need in the future.
I have the utmost empathy for my male peers. But for every “pretty and smart” comment I get (and for the ones that aren’t even that flattering), for every patronizing inflection and for every inadvertent power grab at my expense, you add a grain of sand to the increasingly heavy load we women carry. You perpetuate sexism in environments where it absolutely cannot belong.
Astute observers will note that we have only her word that these incidents occurred, and they fit very nicely into her thesis. Considering that she spent the first half of the article talking about how unattractive she is, it makes sense to discard at least half of the article. But her message resounds, because her professors and administrators will nod and smile knowingly, thinking how brave she is and how profound and altruistic they all look for standing up for the little guy… er, woman. She is kissing ass in the oldest way possible, which is preaching from an angle of victimhood because none can oppose her or they will be accused of being in league with the victimizer.
Inquisitor: This woman is a witch!
Citizen: There is no evidence of that.
Inquisitor: Oh, so you are a friend of witches? That is the only reason you could oppose this trial.
Citizen: No, I stand up for the freedom of all to —
Inquisitor: — be witches. You are in league with the Devil! To the ducking pond, immediately.
Blake Dodge thinks she is just sucking up to some powerful people in her life so she can get on to the next stage, perhaps an internship or law school. She has pressed all the right buttons, made all the appropriate noises, and has an instant group of champions among those who are professionally miserable. But her real message shines through clearly: I am victim, how dare you not be victim, and especially how dare you be male. These comments are innocuous. Her toxic, passive-aggressive response is far from it.
The slow evolution of Western society (and in consequence of the whole world) into the post-modern paradigm arising inevitably from the purely mechanistic cosmovision of the Enlightment sciences, which in the best of cases allow for a Cartesian separation of the physical and the spiritual, pervade every corner touched by the status quo culture. This results in a relegating of anything which cannot be explained or described in purely mathematical terms to what is referred to as ‘subjective’. Anything that is experienced but cannot (yet) be explained is assumed to be subjective. There would be a certain justice to this if the phenomena that are still unaccounted for by science were squarely placed in a category under a truthful label by the establishment confessing: “We don’t know how to explain this in our terms, but that does not mean it is any less real or without possible objective basis.” What takes place is an arbitrary classification of these into morally-justified beliefs when they are in line with the status quo and into so-called subjective experiences when they are not.
The views held by society must be enforced in every discipline precisely because they are the result of dogma and not actual science (a word unfortunately hijacked by a corrupt establishment lead by weak minds elevated to positions of prestige and power by other weak minds). It follows that dogmatic belief cannot be challenged at any level since any divergence spells out potential intellectual catastrophes and conflicts that are not guaranteed to be won by the powers that be. As a result, not only does education suffer in the form of indoctrination but so do the supposed heroes of objective knowledge that the sciences are said to be comprised of turn into the priests of the temple to whatever the hive believes. It is only to be expected, then, that the humanities and the arts are the most easily and selectively suppressed, limited or made irrelevant, since the processes and phenomena studied by them are even further away from the grasp of mathematical explanations.
In the Western classical music tradition, the tenets of the Common Practice Period have been put into question for a very long time in progressively derisive waves. Very often, revolutionary thinkers that spearheaded such contrarian views had transcendent and elaborate reasons that motivated and justified their moving-beyond. But the hordes of followers understood only a portion of this, often inclined towards its most easily understood materialist explanation. In the case of Beethoven, followers of his defiance of what was expected of music were shielded from degeneration by the very fact that the then contemporary German culture was a very spiritual one, and its artists still acknowledged the magic behind music — occult properties and processes that can only be perceived but not fully explained. Contrastingly, in the age of Anton Webern, his decision based on artistic principle to move away from traditional harmony to work with a self-defined and logical set of rules that he would use without falling into an empty materialism was taken up as fashion — the next “big thing” in classical music development. This directly reflected the way Western society saw the world around it at the beginning of the 20th century: as its playground, where anything “I like” goes and the capricious human will is allowed to do whatever it wants because we are the nihilist masters of the natural world. Gone was the romantic respect of nature and its view of humans as part of it. We must ask ourselves what dissolved the old German mysticism? The simple answer is that they, too, had to change, even if slowly and reluctantly, in order to not be destroyed in a world dominated by French Enlightment and overarching Russian influences — both with primarily materialist tendencies.
Music theory is one such set of occult properties. Yet it is only occult (hidden but observable) because there is no theory developed for the relation between arranged sound frequencies and mental states, especially at increased levels of complexity. Contrary to what scientifically-ignorant artists think, this is neither impossible nor irrational, just difficult. Contrary to the beliefs of Blank Slate – indoctrinated scientists, the study of innate human nature can yield explanations as to why, as a species, certain tastes, visual and sound arrangements and textures have certain effects on the mind (itself rooted in chemical states of the brain). The reason why both groups tend to back away from such ideas is not rooted in reason, but in the fear of not being acknowledged for who they are, which for them translates into what they want, like or prefer to believe to feel validated. In other words, reality is shunned in order to give way to a truth built on the necessities of feable human egos. The ramifications are manifold and most are out of the scope of this article.
Out of the accusations levelled against Common Practice Period theory, one of the most common and often accepted is that it somehow limits the imagination of artists. Presumably, this is because its rules define a perimeter around permissible options in a finite-state machine, thereby prohibiting the random allocation of space and time to music tones selected purely out of gut feeling. And that precisely is one of the defining factors of the post-modern vision of art. At this point, it may seem like I am contradicting my previous statements regarding the possibility of harmony rules being developed and justified on the basis of human nature. If they are, then an artist following only his gut feeling should arrive to at least similar results. First, that these rules are based on human nature does not mean they are free of the constraints of their historical context, including not only cultural implications but also material possibilities for the construction of certain instruments with particular timbres. Second, the rules were developed through collective observations and philosophies over hundreds of years by many different people building on top and beside one another– in the same way that mathematics and modern science were gestated.
While older attitudes were nature-oriented, and tried to keep their understanding of human nature in line with what was then understood of the natural world, the Enlightment sees a rupture between them as a necessary effect of placing human beings over nature as overlords to do as they please with it– thereby setting them beyond judgement within it. It was an ideology-based decision, not a scientific one. As a result, there are those, especially among the post-modernist classical artists, that are not guided by a free search for musical perfection, but by contrarian and politically-charged statements that can only be described as the ultimate incarnation of a hipster’s dreamworld.
The comparison to mathematics is in dire need of further elaboration as it contains the potential to elucidate much about what musical theory is and what it is not. We may start by stating that they are both tools and means to an end. Admiring the organization and arrangement of a music passage on grounds of technique is akin to feeling a sense of wonder when shown a beautifully and clearly derived mathematical formula. But neither of them by themselves attest to the accuracy of the connection of these to reality itself. Both musical and mathematical theory are dependent on premises — they are both arguments developed from a set of assumptions which may reflect conditions and events in the real the world.
Common Practice Period theory arose from organizing tones in the spectrum of perfect consonance to most extreme dissonance as perceived by human beings. Not one human being arbitrarily writing up rules, but scores of audiences reacting to the works of many different composers through lifetimes. Each composer taking notes on the triumphs and blunders of those that came before them and adding their own ideas. It was a veritable scientific effort of occult nature. The fact that the notes were taken not from one society at one point but by the cumulative effort many through many generations also somewhat lends to the tradition a tendency towards the transcendental. Of course, this is completely dependent on a healthy balance between acknowledgement of tradition (whatever that tradition is for the artist) and a continuation of its ideals with a progressive intent.
To round off the metaphor of mathematics, we should stress that no development invalidates or properly subordinates older techniques to newer ones. This fallacy is so pervasive that it is common to hear people referring to the use of newer techniques in themselves as a sign of superior expression. This is related to the malady that is born from the cult of novelty. In truth, when it comes to mathematics, if one person solves a problem using simple algebra yet another fails using calculus, it is obvious that the simple use of a more sophisticated technique is not in itself superior. It may be true that in art and music we do not have the luxury of calling something right and wrong, but the comparison is done in parallel and not on the same plane as mathematics. This is the same as when Newton developed Calculus, he did not ditch arithmetic and algebra developed hundreds of years before he was born, but used them to build this tool that would allow him to develop theories concerning abstract models of the physical world.
Nobody is saying there is a right and wrong dichotomy in music. In fact, this is where it is necessary to part from the analogy. Music is much more comprehensive and complex than mathematics (which only has a cumulative complexity, not a multi-dimensional one). Mathematics is comparable to music theory, the tool, and not to music. Music is the resulting idea crystallized, probably through the use of music theory techniques, the same ways physics derive explanations of the universe by using different techniques from mathematics. By its occult nature, music’s domain being states of mind and evocation, what we do have in music is degrees of esoteric communication through sensory perception. It is a communication at many levels rather than only at the level of reason and goes beyond it and to our instincts and learned behaviors which as a total reflect a unique vision from a unique individual. “Personal taste” advocates need not get too excited as the variation can only be as wide as human minds allow — which scientific research shows is not as much as we like to think. Variation is wide with respect to how we see ourselves, but not that wide when we see the whole spectrum of possibilities. And as an occult discipline guessing at phenomena of the universe (and our mind in it) that we do not understand, music is more liable to wander off more than mathematics in its search for perfection.
Music as the manifestation of experience, as a gateway to purposely changing states of the mind in humans, is something that stands at odds with the idea of absolute music, for which music aesthetics themselves are the goal. This materialist vision based on the fact that current (this is a 19th century idea) scientific limitation of not yet having a mathematical model outside of aesthetics and certain organization cannot accept or encompass the higher-level processes of creation that reach for proportion, balance, direction and movement in an attempt to communicate. Ironically, it is rather this lack of tradition or significance that results in theory and rules being all there is that produces a much more limiting paradigm. The race of stretching aesthetics could only go so far and an artistic compound devoid of transcendental goals quickly gave up as they broke the boundaries of tonality, declaring music as we know it to be dead. Needless to say, this was as short-sighted as limiting literature to the number of “clever” arrangements of words — precisely the dead end of poetry without meaning, or poetry without form, all products of post-modernism. In any case, the disavowal of all meaning leads to music pursued as a sport, for the excitement that its physical acrobatics produce and not from what it communicates in and beyond its forms.
The other branch of a materialist appreciation of music surfaced more clearly in the freedom afforded by the post-modernist world to idiots to call themselves artists and plague us with moronic musical expressions supporting themes of self-pity communicated only through lyrics. Going further, many artists not only took this liberty but openly rejected any sort of tradition or knowledge as being only an obstacle for their expression. Again, ironically, their rejection of it resulted not in a revealing work transcending the ages, but an extremely simple product that even a child banging on the wall and singing with no thought or experience could produce.
This is not to say that you need theory to create good music. As was explained before, theory is only a tool based on cummulative observations over many lifetimes. We do fine geniuses and other people with an outstanding aptitude for music creation who will find ways to create solid music that is often technically rudimentary but complex in communication.
As with any mathematical techniques or grammar in language, theory augments and sharpens the natural talents of the person. But the catch here is that the artistic intent and vision of the artist is often as important as his natural aptitude towards creation. Whereas a Varg Vikernes consistently tries to find an ever-more ephemeral depuration of the essence of his music against the tides of trends in what is fashionable, a Luc Lemay gets lured in by what is chick, his talents wasted on kitsch. Granting a directed vision of music in a clear direction rather than with vague adjectives to justify fashionable aesthetics, the person with average talents can, with appropriate training and dedication, become a Franz Berwald, while the talented may reach the heights of Johannes Brahms.
The importance of following a transcendental route versus a materialist one are exemplified in two products of the 20th century. One followed the mechanistic descriptions of music to the point of absurdity and was hailed as a genius by the hipsters crowding the halls of academia. These were the many frauds of John Cage. Intellectually interesting experiments devoid of the basic dimensions of music: melody, rhythm and harmony. Contrasting the first comes a work that attempts to communicate a sense of wonder in nature without the vulgarity of dissoluting music proper for recordings of nature or other cheap tricks of post-modernism. This is the Fourth Symphony of the romantic Jean Sibelius, reviled by academic theorists and critics looking forward to the mechanistic augmentations of aesthetics and possible transformations rather than for the actual content of music. This was music for the music fan, not the ironic intellectual.
UNITED STATES – JANUARY 01: Photo of SLAYER (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)
Some people find it odd that Slayer attracts such fanatical devotion from its fans, even 27 years after the last album most people consider classic from the band, South of Heaven. The answer for me is that Slayer stands for something: not just what metal should always be — unsociable, powerful, intense and pushing beyond all boundaries — but what metal should do, which is tell the truth in a realistic but mythological way. Almost all people fear truth and spend most of their time distracting us from it. Slayer turns it into a battleground which inspires the listener to want to get in there and fight it out.
I rank Slayer up there with other heroes like William S. Burroughs, early James Joyce, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Fred Nietzsche, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Michel Houellebecq, Plato, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, William Blake and other absolute saviors who brought some clarity to a life that started enmeshed in lies and that had to gradually claw its way toward clarity. These people gave much of their lives so that humanity has a shot at survival. (Note present tense). Like those literary warriors, Slayer took a look at the world of human denial and shattered it, grasping instead the raw currency of nature: power, conflict and predation. Their goal was not solely to become popular, but to do so by telling the truth that people suppress every day.
For those like me who grew up in a time of denial, such an approach was not only refreshing but became clear it was the only approach worth tolerating. Back in those days, what really scared us was the Cold War and the threat of possible if not probable nuclear annihilation. Humanity finally had enough missiles to do itself in, and had wired those to increasingly hair-trigger decisions which would decide the fate of not just us, but the future. 30,000 years of nuclear winter and death by radiation seemed very final. In addition, our society was torn apart, with the Reaganite big hair Christians on one side and the spaced-out, gibberish-spewing 1968 hippies on the other.
Most importantly however Slayer was what everyone always felt heavy metal should become. Heavy metal is music that rejects social pleasantries for a study of power itself, including the awesome power of nature manifested in death, disease, predation and violence. Slayer sounds like mechanized warfare with the patterns of a summer hurricane. They threw out all the rules and started making heavy metal like punks, with no reliance on traditional song structures, and expanded its vocabulary infinitely. On top of that, Slayer never backed down from being the ultimate hard line of reality. When people started talking about Jesus or how peace would save us (maaaaan), Slayer was the antidote. It drowned out the insanity and replaced it with cold, hard reality.
Walking through the years of classic Slayer:
Show No Mercy corrected the previous fifteen years of metal by summarizing it and turning it up to 11. Using the techniques of hardcore punk and a Wagnerian sense of riff structure, this album took heavy metal from the looping song structures of the late 1970s back to the experimental, prog-style outlook of Black Sabbath. This reduced the rock influence, and brought primacy back to the riff from where it had been languishing with the voice in glam and later NWOBHM. The term “heavy metal” means two things: the genre as a whole, and the sub-genre of music which is still roughly blues influenced (itself passing down the English and Germanic popular music in a form the music industry invented to sell more records). While still the second type of heavy metal, this album showed Slayer developing the techniques that they would later use to — along with Hellhammer, Sodom and Bathory — invent death metal from the ashes of speed metal which died as soon as it was born.
Haunting the Chapel was the weird little EP that came along with the other Slayer albums I bought when I could find them. I put it on and heard “Chemical Warfare” and thought, this sounds exactly like society and why I hate it: the pain of tedium, the sure destination in collapse and self-destruction, the ignorant removal of nature, and the misery of all trapped within it. Other heavy metal tried to be apocalyptic, but this song showed an actual destruction of humanity by our own hand, which was and still is the most likely scenario. Like “War Pigs,” it contrasted a mythology of demons and wizards with the motivations of people in real life, which were every bit as good/evil as the epics of Tolkien. As a high school kid, I was thankful some adult finally told me the truth about something — and it was Slayer!
Although this was a live in studio album designed to promote the band, it has many beauties. It is the ultimate 4 AM after a profound night waiting for the sunrise music. A friend of mine refers to it as his “day drinking” album, but I have never heard a more ridiculous term than day drinking. Alcoholism knows no clock.
Back in high school, some friends of mine and I would cut class and sneak off to the woods to smoke cigarettes and talk about metal. We used to refer to Hell Awaits as LLEH STIAWA to disguise our communication from authority figures, when passing notes in class. This was where Slayer really began, for me. They refined the aesthetics on the first album and changed song structure from the rock/blues/folk origins to the free-form style of hardcore punk bands, which let the riffs take over and guide the development of the song, a compositional technique which is the basis of death metal. Ornette Coleman, who recently died, once said, “I think one day music will be a lot freer. Then the pattern for a tune, for instance, will be forgotten and the tune itself will be the pattern, and won’t have to be forced into conventional patterns.” Slayer was the first pattern-oriented heavy metal band and discovered what free jazz tuned into, but took it to the next level. Thinking about the difference between this album and the first Slayer album started my career as a music writer (such as it is).
I started out as a hardcore kid, cranking more Amebix, DRI, Cro-Mags and the Exploited than heavy metal. All of that changed when I discovered Slayer. Reign in Blood showed me hardcore taken to its logical conclusions: a society ridden by a deep spiritual disease, corrupted and scapegoating as it spirals toward collapse. Facing the emptiness and literality of reality is our only hope, but even that requires a mythos of some form. Not only was Reign in Blood written on the most hardcore topics ever, except put through the mythological filter of metal, but it was written like hardcore if the bands decided to be good at their instruments and compose epic opera-style clashes between good and evil instead of Songs To Hate The Man From Your Squat. Sandwiched between two epic tracks that called to mind the intensity of black metal that came later, this album roars through atonal masterpieces of pure rhythm and structure, using the power of the musical phrase to create metaphorical associations in the mind of the listener. Some bands sing about things; Slayer made music that sounded like those things, come to life as demonic meth-driven zombies created by humans and now returned to destroy them. This album took that sound to the furthest extreme, and nothing since has topped it.
This album first made me fall in love with Slayer. I was blown away by the other material, but here Slayer added a layer of dark poetic sensation like they had on the bookend tracks on the previous album, but they let the whole album carry that vibe. The result is the first really nocturnal album in metal: a meditation on nothingness, a howl of the Steppenwolf, from within a lonely darkness where to avoid the lies is to see the truth that puts the individual on a collision course with society. When your civilization denies reality, your own choice — if you have what my old gym coach called “intestinal fortitude” a.k.a. “the guts” to do so — is to oppose the fantasy with hardcore reality, but like a good heavy metal band to make it epic by turning it into a mythology of itself. South of Heaven did that in an inventive album which sounded like night raids on a dying world. Poetic, dark, apocalyptic and yet it makes you want to strive. Healing and motivational.
I remember Slayer being in Thrasher magazine as a big event this year. At that time, music was still divided between the big labels and the type of music they would promote, which were the big decade-long trends that were sort of like genres, except they were musically very much the same as everything else. Mainstream magazines simply did not mention Slayer and barely would cover Metallica because they disliked the threat to their power. You could find Slayer in the record stores, which were either mainstream like Sound Warehouse or independents that barely made it by, and maybe in zines but otherwise the media kept mum on this new threat, just like they did at first with hardcore punk (as opposed to punk rock). I think I saw Slayer several times over this year and the past, and almost died on a few occasions but that failed to diminish my enthusiasm.
I remember Seasons in the Abyss coming to record stores on the same day as Megadeth Rust in Piece, and sneaking out of school every period to go to the local Sound Warehouse to see if they had it on the shelves yet. Finally an employee pointed me to a cart with new albums not yet stocked, and I saw my prizes and seized them, paid (and was carded — these were the PMRC days! — also the days of low-cost “novelty” Missouri DLs) and got out of dodge. This was where Slayer and I began to part ways, because Slayer actually headed back toward rock music on this: the vocals led the songs, they were more verse/chorus, and the focus was on harmony rather than clashing riff patterns. Much of this material continued where South of Heaven left off but added the more powerful vocals and the confining necessity of certain basic harmonies that always shifts songs back toward the sound of three-chord rock. While the transition never completely occurred, the sensation remained. Still some great material on this LP however.
Finally, Slayer hit some big time and what did it was computers. In the late 1980s, the Macintosh made desktop publishing very easy because it had a built-in graphical interface. More zines started popping up, and the big music magazines felt the heat. I first heard the term “niche genre” at this point, and realized the new strategy was to sell something different to everyone at all times, kind of like postmodernism is an attempt to see any object from all angles. Although Decade of Aggression includes the slower and more emotional Seasons in the Abyss songs, it was a great time for Slayer to release a live album using the production values and performance standards of Reign in Blood on their older material as well. They decided to have very clear production for this live album, and to pan the guitars to opposite extremes so wannabe shredders could tab all the stuff out at home. The result is one of my favorite albums to listen to for outdoor activity and other trying times. I have probably fixed 100,000 machines to this album and, where I can enjoy the Seasons in the Abyss material, it is on this two-CD set.
Slayer: One of the few people who gave me a vision of reality and yet added to it a layer of inspiration in metaphor. You lived ten lifetimes in the one you endured here, like all greats. Slayer also brought heavy metal back to the table after it wimped out and then took a false step with speed metal, which while great in its own right, was not far enough from the herd to gain its own voice and quickly got assimilated (1992). Slayer lived on by birthing much of the underground metal to follow, and being an influence on virtually all of it. As long as I live, you will not be forgotten, and then others will carry on the magic of what you did…
Back in the 1980s, many panics gripped the land. People knew on a subconscious level that their society was falling apart, but could not find the source of the decay. They started blaming traditional scapegoats, like Satan, Jews, Nazis, atheists, pedophiles, drugs, sex and rock music.
It takes society a decade or more to respond to any change, so the best examples of this phenomenon occurred in the 1990s as people finalized their arguments on the topic, having learned from those who went before them and incorporated the ideas of many different sources into a single culture (for lack of a better term). The following videos show the 1980s/1990s “Satanic panic” as what it was: an attempt to use a think of the children style excuse to seize power, in the name of banishing evil rock lyrics but actually with the intent of taking control.
This situation is entirely analogous to #metalgate. SJWs are hipsters who want to use “social justice” as an excuse to seize power. They don’t really care about the topic, because if they did they’d be out there setting up communities for people to be safe from whatever evils they complain about. Instead, they are posturing on the internet about how good they are and how (by reverse implication) bad the rest of us are, and thus how they deserve power over us since they are so good. The current “misogynist homophobe” panic from SJWs is entirely equivalent to the fear of Satanists under every bed that gripped the US in the 1980s, and the underlying mentality is the same: pick someone to bully that no one will defend, and use that person as a scapegoat, then like a good salesman claim that you can banish this demon in exchange for the low, low price of… handing control over to you!
Whenever I see screaming, hate-filled behavior like hers the important part never turns out to be whatever principles the screamer claims to be advocating. Those are just window-dressing for the bullying, the dominance games, and the rage.
You cannot ameliorate the behavior of people like that by accepting their premises and arguing within them; they’ll just pocket your concessions and attack again, seeking increasingly abject submission. In one-on-one relationships this is called “emotional abuse”, and like abusers they are all about control of you while claiming to be about anything but.
Third-wave feminism, “social justice” and “anti-racism” are rotten with this. Some of the principles, considered in isolation, would be noble; but they don’t stay noble in the minds of a rage mob.
The good news is that, like emotional abusers, they only have the power over you that you allow them. Liberation begins with recognizing the abuse for what it is. It continues by entirely rejecting their attempts at manipulation. This means rejecting their terminology, their core concepts, their framing, and their attempts to jam you into a “victim” or “oppressor” identity that denies your lived experience.
He is correct: #metalgate is what happens when bullies become Bully 2.0, and start wrapping themselves in the flag (civil rights) and carrying a cross (social justice). While their religion is secular and their patriotism is more to an idea than a particular nation-state, SJWs are bullies wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. They have come to seize power and use it to destroy all who are not like them, because they are fundamentally unstable as people. We have seen this pattern in history many times and SJWs are just the latest (incompetent) iteration.
He also makes a point that people in metal should pay attention to: “show us the code” translates into “show us the metal.” There are zero SJW bands with as much power as Darkthrone, Motorhead, Judas Priest, Slayer, Malevolent Creation, Burzum or other SJW-bane bands. The reason is that these bands have nothing to offer but attitude and surface adornment; they have no real content, and thus are as boring as the bubblegum pop they claim to abhor but secretly emulate.
On a side note, atheists have joined the religious wars and somewhat confirmed that they are indeed a religion with a a recent shooting:
In one post widely shared online, Hicks, who claimed he is an atheist, allegedly wrote: “When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me. If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I.”
No one speaks up for the agnostics, so I will. Science is agnostic. It does not take a position on God one way or the other because it cannot measure God. Conjecture in either direction is in its view unwarranted. Atheists on the other hand have taken the position that they know the nature of the supernatural, which is the exact position that every other religion takes, which makes atheism a de facto religion, and like religions, it will be prone to clash with those of competing belief systems. Maybe agnosticism deserves another look.
Calling a band “technical” — not to be confused with musicianship as popular circles frequently do — creates general indifference among those accustomed to seeing this term used as a selling point. The industry generally uses the term for bands that cannot compose meaningful songs and so encrust them in adornments of musical acrobatics, creating artistic Potemkin villages which offer a cornucopia of musical fireworks on the surface but emptiness beneath. Many believe that musicality is only valid if the artist consciously intended to give the music a certain technical quality. This could not be further from the truth.
The best music has often comes from technically competent artists, but this does not mean that their music is guided by a handbook of rules, but the other way around: they use technical flair to elaborate on the ideas that motivate their music. When an musician has a superior talent for organizing notes into melodies, aligning melodies into harmonies and building sections that flow and speak to one another as seemingly essential parts of a whole, this process can be reverse-engineered by a clever and knowledgeable analyst. But like software reverse engineering itself, we only arrive at technical explanations about the originating commands that give the result its nature, not the programmer’s feelings, train of thought or the content they hope to communicate through their art.
Morbid AngelAltars of Madness is lauded as as a young genius’ masterpiece born out of raging emotion and unprecedented innovation in the then-young genre of death metal. Only new or superficial fans of the genre are oblivious to the achievements of this album that go well beyond mere historical relevance. Whether or not Trey Azagthoth planned each twist with the implied theoretical knowledge behind them is not important, although we can assume he may not have because such fervor as these pieces present is only possible coming from the deepest well of human emotion. Yet scrutinizing of them at several levels reveal logical explanations for the impact, drive and fluid development that they showcase.
As a short example we may take a look at “Chapel of Ghouls”. The song itself can be explained as using E major as its main or home key. As in classical music it ventures into the parallel minor and uses off-key passing tones for color. The most important of this is the fact that the guitars in the recording are tuned in E-flat standard tuning, which means that the repetitive muted strumming of the open low string consists of strumming the D (enharmonic equivalent of E flat) note, the seventh in the scale of E major. This gives the chugs a malevolent and dissonant feel. Another thing that should be mentioned is that the first two riff clusters in Chapel of Ghouls are quite unstable, each being in period form (antecedent and consequent phrases which mirror each other, but only the second one resolving). These riffs do not resolve convincingly (they do not land on either the tonic or the dominant when the consequent cadences), giving these both a satisfying feel and a need to continue and be completely resolved which appears to the listener as a will forward instead of a complete thought. This resolution is achieved on the third riff which finally leads to the tonic, but does not rest there, avoiding the typical full-stop feeling by switching into the relative minor (thereby using a flattened third and sixth which sound like off-key passing tones in the context of the major setting) and syncopating the rhythm while an atonal solo blazes above. And so the song is carried on with the mark of genius that cannot be now denied even by those who do not share a personal preference for the song. The songs in this album are not even remotely atonal or even overall dissonant; they make heavy use of the latter with striking effect while the atonality is reserved for solos which mark peaks and tornadoes of raw emotion that are never out of place here and which seem to be born out of the depths of this music.
Atomic Aggressor Sights of Suffering presents us with something that would be best described as a tribute to Altars of Madness-era Morbid Angel. But unlike Morbid Angel, Atomic Aggressor’s songs do not show Azagthoth’s structural cleverness and talent for directing and channeling emotion unavoidably towards strategic points in the song where powerful emotion surges. In fact, it is because this band is bent on sounding like early Morbid Angel that they are completely oblivious to the subtlety of the original composition and thus just manage to place riff after riff which sound like a more retro (sounding a little on the speed metal side at times) version of who they are trying to imitate. The vocals make this intention to imitate even more palpable not only in terms of the style of the growls but the way certain passages are emphasized or rounded off by grunts which in this far weaker music only manage to sound comical, especially if one is familiar with the original band. There is not much to say about this album because it is no more and no less than a bland, third-rate imitation.