Varg Vikernes talked more about how he recorded the Burzum demos by overdubbing cassettes and the bass lines on Mayhem‘s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas at Grieg Hall in yet another metal history video posted to his ThuleanPerspective Youtube channel.
Varg Vikernes talked more about how he recorded the Burzum demos by overdubbing cassettes and the bass lines on Mayhem‘s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas at Grieg Hall in yet another metal history video posted to his ThuleanPerspective Youtube channel.
Mayhem are touring North America with a setlist composed of their De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album in its entirely. Mayhem are playing larger venues in many cities (probably due to the publicity from Necrobutcher’s recent book) so this might be a good opportunity for headbangers to see them play some of their only material worth caring out. Maybe Mayhem will throw in a few tracks from Deathcrush as an encore? Maybe Hellhammer won’t bring out that transparent MIDI kit?
Mayhem recently announced that they would be headlining Temples 2016 in Bristol, England. Perhaps more interesting is that this is going to be the first time that any lineup of the band has performed De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in its entirety. Since the current lineup of Mayhem relies on Attila Csihar for its vocals and contains two other musicians from the band’s early ’90s lineups (Necrobutcher and Hellhammer), odds are this is going to sound pretty close to the studio version of DMDS. Regardless of your preferences for Mayhem vocalists (I very much value Attila’s contributions to the album) and recordings, bootlegs, whatever, the band’s performance at Temples is probably a better novelty than the band’s recent studio albums.
Article by David Rosales.
I. Where is the music?
It is very rare to find a general fan of black metal today who has not at least heard of the name of Watain. The kind of fame it has attained, however, is the kind that is mostly based on peripheral affairs rather than the art which Watain is supposed to dedicate itself to. Watain is the kind of ‘entity’ (as most of these bands are now given to call themselves) that is surrounded by a nebulous aura which may at first, if one is inclined to be generous in providing the benefit of the doubt, seem like an hint of something truly profound going on. Now, whether that is the case in regards to the real, transcendent or philosophical knowledge or experience of the people behind Watain is not for the writer to say. On the other hand, the music itself does not seem to display any of the more-than-human qualities it should if one is to believe all the hype. In fact, it reveals itself as a very mundane affair when one is given to delve into a holistic examination of the music in itself, and even more so when seen in relation to the extra-musical portions of the ‘entity’.
Modern death metal is a cesspool. Riffless atonal texture and rehashed generic riffs combine into a poppy carnival of random boring bullshit to feed the typical underground record label ponzi scheme. Rare was the new release anything worth the attention of any older fans even over a decade ago in 2005. Coming years after their heroes in Morbid Angel, Incantation, and Immolation stopped releasing worthy or even interesting material (but before they went “radikult”), Dead Congregation’s debut EP, Purifying Consecrated Ground, showed a powerful potential that awed many into submission.
We were fortunate to get some time for a chat with Dean Swinford, author of Death Metal Epic I: The Inverted Katabasis. As a person with extensive experience in both death metal and literature, Swinford provides a great deal of insight into both.
You’ve walked dual paths in this life, both metal and literature. Do you see any parallels between them?
I definitely see lots of parallels between the two. Indirectly, you can find groups in any metal subgenre that work with myths or legends of some kind. More directly, so many metal songs have connections to specific books and stories by modern authors.
Beyond that, so many of the thank you lists in the liner notes specifically mention authors and books that influenced the musicians. I’ve never seen that done so consistently in any other modern music genre.
Both metal and literature are ways to, and I’m paraphrasing Dante a bit here, walk through the dark forest. I guess what I’m doing is joining the two so that I can write about the ways that the two paths become one. Just a note about the images in the interview — I’ve included some sketches from my journals to go along with the questions. I draw a lot when I’m writing and I think the images help to show how I worked through and continue to work through ideas for the books.
Your book, Death Metal Epic I: The Inverted Katabasis, is a fictional account of early 1990s Florida death metal — but it’s clear it was influenced by events that were far from fictional. What inspired this book, and how does it connect with your own story?
You’re right that the book has a number of features taken from my own life, but I’ve put them within the context of someone in an early 1990s Florida death metal band. I grew up in Miami and I was the music director of the college radio station at Florida International University.
A friend of mine did the metal show at University of Miami, and he also ran the metal section at Yesterday and Today Records. As you know from your experience in college radio, it’s pretty thrilling to talk to people from the labels, meet people from bands you like, and, of course, get music sent to you in the mail.
The places in the book are places I’ve lived in or traveled to, so in that sense, it’s a way for me to revisit different parts of my life. I’ve always liked coming of age stories and novels about artists and musicians. This seemed like a way to write that kind of book, but in a context that I’m familiar with. Also, I wanted to write something relatively light and funny that still dealt with some deeper themes.
I used to write stories that were more surreal or fantastic in their approach. I still use that kind of voice for the “metametal” chapters in the book. As I got older, I started to realize that it was more interesting and satisfying to write a story about every day events, about getting annoyed at your friend or suffering through the stomach flu.
One of the things I’ve always liked about metal is that it tends to be very escapist. I like songs about dragons, ancient rites, and forgotten deities precisely because I don’t encounter those things on a daily basis. I guess if I’m doing anything new in the book, I’m taking that escapism and juxtaposing it with the kinds of struggles a lot of people seem to encounter as they move into their twenties.
Do you think death metal was inspired by literature? If so, what, and how did it shape the genre?
Oh, sure. I mean, if Tolkien’s orcs made folk music of their own, what would it sound like? When one of Lovecraft’s protagonists hears the batrachian choir that tips him into madness, what does he hear? And I think that it contributes to literature through what you could call the “poetics” of metal lyrics and the textual features of liner notes—the mix of images and lyrics paired with personal notes and lists from the musicians.
You mentioned in an email to me that you’ve found some metal lyrics that remind you of Neoplatonism. Could you explain what you mean?
Neoplatonism refers to the synthesis of pagan and Christian philosophy into a kind of mystical and theological framework that had a pretty broad influence until the early modern scientific revolution. I write about its influence on the astronomer Johannes Kepler in another book of mine, Through the Daemon’s Gate. I guess because I’m interested in Neoplatonism, I see traces of it everywhere. I don’t want to go into too much detail on this, but one specific example I could talk about is pretty evident in Inquisition‘s Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm. The idea of the macrocosm influencing the microcosm comes directly from Neoplatonism. The concept that space is a kind of tomb is evident in classical literature as well. In Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, the narrator ascends into space, where he speaks with the ghost of his dead grandfather. It’s no accident that the last word of each part of Dante’s Commedia is “stars.”
Another idea that Dagon mentions in the liner notes is what he calls the “eternal quest for infernal tone.” That idea of the true disciple uncovering the most diabolic tone is linked to the thematic concern of the album, which is the power that the macrocosm exerts on those of us on earth.
In Neoplatonism, the interlocking spheres of the cosmos produce tones that are perfect and inspire order in the sublunary realm. That’s the mystical element of Pythagoras’s theories on tonal proportions. The key shift from Pythagoras to Dagon is that, while the Ptolemaic universe was seen as orderly and divine, Inquisition’s musings tend more towards a contemplation of the universe as infinite chaos.
Do you still listen to metal? If so, what inhabits your player these days? How does this differ from the hazy glory days of the early 1990s?
Of course. I still get excited when I discover a band. Plus, I do most of my writing while listening to music, so I like to get something new as a writing reward when I meet some kind of deadline. I just picked up the two Atlantean Kodex albums and I am loving those. It helps that their myth-themed approach is just the kind of thing that I write about in my book. I mean, the second one is based on the same Robert Graves book that my character Juan is obsessed with, so I had to check it out!
I’m also really into some of the newer Inquisition albums, as mentioned above. Other current favorites include Obscura, Mournful Congregation, and this Dutch doom band Officium Triste. Of course, I still listen to all the classics, too. I listen to Candlemass and Solitude Aeternus a lot. As I’m writing these books, I try to listen to music that corresponds most with the plot. So, right now I’m trying to listen to things that meet the approval of Svart, the mastermind of Desekration.
Do you detect any influences from Gothic or Romantic literature in death metal? If these aren’t direct influences, do you think the two genres converge on similar ideas because they’re writing about similar experiences/concepts?
I think you’re probably right. You could probably catalog a lot of specific references, everything from the Frankenstein samples on Morpheus Descends‘ Ritual of Infinity to the painting by Caspar David Friedrich on the new Atlantean Kodex album. As far as similar experiences and concepts, I’d say that metal lyrics, like Gothic and Romantic lit, use fantasy as an indirect way to represent complex emotions like longing and despair.
You’re writing a paper on prosopopoeia, which I’m told is a rhetorical device in which a speaker or writer communicates by speaking through another object or person. How do you think this applies to metal?
Yeah, that’s right. I’m working on a paper that looks at corpsepaint as a kind of mask, especially given statements by Dead that he used corpsepaint to become or give voice to a victim of the Black Death. What’s interesting is that prosopopoeia is a device that seems to clearly apply to black metal performance — Dead popularized corpsepaint, but so many bands still use it — but the rhetorical device is also evident in the lyrics on De Mysteriis. There are more than a few examples in the lyrics of address from the point of view of a long-dead spirit. I think that’s interesting in the context of medievalism, or the ways that contemporary culture still uses or speaks through the Middle Ages as a way of talking about our own time.
Do you think this type of “mask” applies to black metal and hardcore punk more than other genres? Why would a genre need to conceal the origin of its thoughts — do you think that determination lies more with the band, or what the audience can tolerate?
I think that idea of masking occurs in every genre to some extent and probably waxes and wanes over time. Right now, it seems like it’s often used more as a genre marker than anything. You can buy an action figure of Lars Umlaut, the Guitar Hero character modeled off of the guys in Immortal.
In The Inverted Katabasis, you utilize a literary figure known as the katabasis. What is this and how does it apply to death metal and other underground genres?
Right — the katabasis is the mythical journey to Hell. It’s just a name to describe a kind of journey that lots of mythic heroes undertake. In most cases, it’s linked in some way to a quest against death or against the realization of one’s mortality. Orpheus goes to Hell to rescue his lady, but it doesn’t work out so well. He ends up wandering the world like a depressive, plucking doomy odes on his lyre until he gets ripped apart by Maenads. Dante’s journey into the underworld is a katabasis as well.
So, an inverted katabasis is a journey out of hell. There’s a word for that, too. It’s called an “anabasis.” But I liked inverted katabasis better because it sounded more like something that could work as an album title. For David Fosberg, the inverted katabasis is an escape from the minimum wage hell of his life in Miami. Plus, my ironic treatment of the trope helps to put the book in its true genre, the mock epic.
Several of the people I’ve talked to about this book have found in David Fosberg an uncanny portrait of the years following a successful second-tier death metal release that pushed the limits but never got big. Why do you think so many of these bands vanished into obscurity?
Thanks for that. In a lot of ways, I’m writing about metal, but I think that this trajectory is probably pretty common for people in any number of fields. The moment I’m writing about in the books goes from the time that death metal was big enough for bands like Napalm Death, Carcass, Cathedral, Godflesh, and Morbid Angel to get some major label attention to the influx of black metal that seemed to bring everything back to small, purposefully obscure labels.
In a lot of ways, this seems similar to the way the skateboarding industry crashed in the early nineties. As far as all the great bands that vanished into obscurity, my guess is that it’s because life is hard and, ultimately, releasing an album (or a book, for that matter) isn’t going to change that.
Do you think death metal has a place in education? If you were to teach death metal, say as a form of literature or art, how would you introduce it to your students?
Sure. There are a number of people working in that direction. Martin Jacobsen at West Texas A & M teaches a course on metal and literature. There’s an International Society for Metal Music Studies. Nicola Masciandaro and others have done a lot of work on theorizing black metal. I think if I were to link the two in a class, I’d do it as part of a broader exploration of medievalism.
You’ve moved on from death metal, but haven’t quite left it behind; it seems to live in your thoughts. What do you think is the enduring appeal of death metal? Did it have an artistic or generational statement to make that was profound then and remains so today?
That’s a good question. I think the way it pushes musical limits is important. Even with something like the speed of drumming featured in that recent Wall Street Journal article. For me, I’d say the connection to myth is really important. I remember seeing Nile a few years ago and it felt like they had, if even only temporarily, resurrected the dead gods. That process has long been an important part of human culture.
In another interview, you said that your own musical project had “layers of ambient keyboards and lyrics taken from myths, the sagas, and so forth.” Do you think you were ahead of the times, having seen how black metal shifted in that direction after its initial thrust (Neptune Towers, Beherit, Ildjarn, Wardruna, Burzum)?
I wish! I recorded it in a radio station studio like the one I describe in the book. By the time I started to figure out what I was doing, I had to return my studio key in a situation pretty similar to what happens to Juan. I still think there’s a way to use this approach to make something interesting. Maybe someday.
Yours appears to be one of the first entries in the “death metal literature” genre. Do you think this field is going to grow?
I think so. Since I’ve been getting my book out there, I’ve met a lot of people who seem really interested in the possibilities of metal lit, or whatever you want to call it. Kriscinda Lee Everitt has started a journal for metal themed fiction called Despumation Press, so anyone who has a story to tell should send in a submission.
Speaking of growing, I understand that The Inverted Katabasis is part of an ongoing series. How big does it get? Do you have fantasy worlds like Mordor and Hogwarts for us?
That’s right. The current plan is to do three books. What’s more metal than an epic trilogy, right? It might be even more metal if I never actually finish. I try to make the bands, characters, and albums in the books as convincing as I can so that they take on a life of their own. That’s probably one of my favorite parts of this. I really enjoy the creative process of inventing new band logos, albums, characters, and liner notes. Who knows? Maybe someday, someone will cover a Katabasis song or try to recreate the groundbreaking work of Astrampsychos.
What’s your next step in your career as a death metal writer — are you going to continue working on the books linearly, write short stories, or return to music and use it to accompany the next volume?
Right now, I’m trying to finish up the second book of the Death Metal Epic. The next one is going to be called The Goat Song Sacrifice. There will be new characters, new bands, new struggles for David Fosberg to endure.
We can only know the present by knowing the past. In the case of heavy metal, it is a murky past obscured by both the grandiose rockstar dreams of individuals and the manipulative fingers of a voracious industry.
Metal arose through a complicated narrative worthy of a lost empire, and by knowing this history, we can know more of the music we enjoy today.
Specifically of interest are a number of threads that interweave throughout the history of the genre, both as outside influences and later as internal habits, which influence its twisting path from something a lot like rock to a genre entirely separate.
This story then is a tale of how many became one, or how they found something in common among themselves, and how it has taken years of creative people hammering on the parts to meld them into one single thing, known as heavy metal.
However, no one really likes a lengthy essay. Instead, here’s metal’s history the best way it can be experienced: by listening to it.
1968-1970 — the origins
Three threads ran alongside each other: punk, proto-metal and progressive rock. All three are on the edge of being metal, since the type of progressive rock in question is raw and disturbing and not of the “everybody be happy love friends” hippie style. This is music that thinks our society is disturbed, and that therefore many of the values we reject are worth a closer look. Some is fatalist-nihilist, like the self-destructive tendencies of punk, where progressive rock is more clinical, and metal more epic (looking for meaning in the ancients, in nature, the occult and conflict).
Iggy and the Stooges – Raw Power
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
1971-1981 — maturation
A lot happened here, but basically, metal became more like its ancestors (hard rock), progressive rock faded out, and punk got more rock-music-like. The punk from this era is more like normal rock music than the outsider stuff it originally was, but also gains some aggression from Motorhead, who may technically be metal but were born of a progressive rock band (Hawkwind) and sounded very punk and inspired the next generation of punks to be louder, lewder, etc.
Punk music arose from the earlier work by Iggy and the Stooges, but formalized itself into a pop genre that used guitars more like keyboards than like the guitar fireworks of conventional guitar-intense bands like Cream and The Who.
Ramones – Ramones
Misfits – Static Age
An exception to the metal of the period was NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal). DIY and extreme for the day, it left behind the Led Zeppelin-styled “hard rock” vein of metal and got away from Sabbath’s detuned doom and gloom to make energetic, mythological but also somewhat excited-about-life metal.
Motorhead – Motorhead
Satan – Court in the Act
Angel Witch – Angel Witch
Iron Maiden – Killers
Judas Priest – Sin After Sin
1982-1987 — the peak
Punk got its act together, in part inspired by the more commercial bands like Ramones and Sex Pistols. This is where hardcore punk really happened. That in turn spurred a revolution because music had finally left rock behind, and by mating the nihilistic (no inherent rules) composition of punk with the longer-phrase riffs of metal (derived from horror movie soundtracks), the riff styles of death metal and black metal were born, and the progressive song structures of speed metal evolved. At the same time, essentialist movements in punk hybrids (thrash) and metal (doom) emerged, sending many back to the roots of these subgenres.
Discharge – Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing
The Exploited – Death Before Dishonour
Amebix – Arise!
A second generation arose in the USA (all of the above bands are UK):
Cro – Mags – The Age of Quarrel
Black Flag – Damaged
Minor Threat – Discography
1983 — the big branching: speed, thrash and death/black
1983 is a crucial year, and so it gets its own entry. Metal and punk cross-influenced each other. The result was a lot more metal. If you’re familiar with nu-metal or more radio style metal, start with speed metal, as it’s the most like really violent rock music with influences from progressive rock in song structure. If you like messy punk (!!!) try some thrash. And if you’ve already given your soul to Satan, try death/black. With death/black, there’s also some influences from progressive rock, although they’re balanced with punk technique which makes for a chaotic spawn.
Speed metal took the complex song forms of progressive rock, the muted-strum guitar riffing of the NWOBHM bands like Blitzkrieg, and added to it the high energy of punk hardcore and came up with songs that kept getting faster and faster. This shocked people of the day, and was the primary reason speed metal bands were different from the NWOBHM that came before them, hence it was dubbed “speed metal.”
Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
Nuclear Assault – Game Over
Megadeth – Rust in Peace
Testament – The New Order
Thrash is a hybrid genre that takes punk songs and puts metal riffs in them. Its name arises from “thrasher,” or skater, and those were the people who embraced this style of music that was more extreme than metal or hardcore at the time. While it leans toward punk, it used metal riffs, and wrote short songs that in the punk style lambasted society but in the metal style tended to mythologize the resulting conflict.
DRI – Dirty Rotten LP
Cryptic Slaughter – Convicted
Corrosion of Conformity – Animosity
Like thrash, this was a hybrid of metal and punk that leaned toward the punk side for song structures, and the metal side for riffs.
Napalm Death – Scum
Terrorizer – World Downfall
Repulsion – Horrified
Carcass – Reek of Putrefaction
In 1983, these bands contributed just about equally to the new sound. In the largest part inspired by NWOBHM like Venom and Motorhead filtered through aggro-hardcore like GBH and Discharge, the unholy triad invented underground metal to come.
Bathory – The Return
Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids
Slayer – Show No Mercy
Once proto-death/black metal had occurred, people began to expand on the formula. One side decided to make it more technical, and riffy, and taking after Hellhammer’s “Triumph of Death” and the increasingly mind-bending riffing of Slayer, made it use mazes of mostly chromatic phrasal riffs. On the other side, some wanted to preserve the atmosphere of the simpler songs that Bathory and Hellhammer had to offer, but injected melody and loosened up the drums to keep it from being as clear and rigid as death metal. While that latter group went off to figure out black metal, the death metal team experienced a boom of creativity and excess during 1985-1995.
Possessed – Seven Churches
Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation
Necrovore – Divus Te Mortuus
Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation
While death metal was just starting up, other bands were trying to figure out how to make melodic ambient metal, structured equally after early melodic metal and free-floating songs like Slayer’s “Necrophiliac.” The result had chaotic drums, deliberately bad sound quality to avoid becoming a trend or something which could be imitated, and high shrieking vocals to death metal’s guttural growl. Taking a cue from Bathory, Slayer and Hellhammer, it also embraced the occult and esoteric and rejected conventional social norms and religions.
Sarcofago – INRI
Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom
Merciless – The Awakening
As black metal matured, it moved into Norway, possibly inspired by the previous generation of melodic Swedish death metal bands who used high sustain through heavy distortion to make melodic songs which featured less constant riff-changing than the bigger bands from overseas.
Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon
Burzum – Burzum
Emperor – Wrath of the Tyrant
Gorgoroth – Pentagram
Enslaved – Vikinglgr Veldi
This is just the beginning; there’s a lot more after this in all of the genres, which kept developing in their own ways. This is only an introduction to the history of it all, and is not designed to be comprehensive…
2. A desert walk
3. Nahuatli steel
4. Pactum: M.O.D.L.
5. Mortuary: Blackened Images
6. Transmetal: Amanecer en el Mausuleo
7. Cenotaph: Riding Our Black Oceans
8. Shub Niggurath: The Kinglike Celebration
9. Sargatanas: The Enlightenment
10. Aztec rites of darkness
11. Xibalba: Ah Dzam Poop Ek
12. Funereal Moon: Beneath the Cursed Light…
13. Avzhia: The Key of Throne
14. Demolish: Remembering the Cabalisticae Laments
15. Argentum: Ad Interitum Funebrarum
16. The Chasm: Conjuration of the Spectral Empire
17. The resurrection of the necrocults
18. Necroccultus: Encircling the Mysterious Necrorevelation
19. Yaotl Mictlan: Guerreros de la Tierra de los Muertos
20. Infinitum Obscure: Sub Atris Caelis
21. Denial: Catacombs of the Grotesque
Written by Devamitra, ObscuraHessian, Pearson and Xavier with Eduardo (Shub Niggurath / Necroccultus), Demogorgon (Avzhia), Marco (Xibalba) and Joel (Mortuary)
In Mexico the god appears; thy banner is unfolded in all directions, and no one weeps.
Goedel’s law tells us that no logical system can anticipate all of the demands of reality, because reality as an inarticulated mass of events and causes is naturally bigger in scope than any description of reality. The fallout from this is that every society loves to have a no man’s land, an anarchy zone and a lawless frontier. It’s hard to talk of Mexico as a singular entity when it is comprises so much more. It’s a former Spanish colony, containing the vestiges of two of the greatest empires to walk the earth — the Aztec and Maya, both of whom were warlike, enjoyed human sacrifice, and compiled more learning that any modern group would voluntarily undertake. In addition, it’s also part very learned place, part chaotic third-world disaster, and part anarchy zone. From this ferment comes some of the best metal to grace the earth. After Scandinavia and the US, Mexico produces the most quality underground music. And even more, the Mexican bands seem to “get it”: they can reconcile a nihilistic morality, technological warfare and even gutter-level fighting sensibilities with the arch, elegant and imposing formality and bravery of the past.
Muerte. That word, in Mexican art, embodies religious and historical streams of life so much more than the anglosphere’s clinically worldly emphasis on death as medical phenomenon. This muerte is a gate to antiquity, a divine storm, a holy mystery – contemplation of its secrets connects the Catholic superstition, still so powerful and affecting to common people, to the cruel and decadent rituals of the Toltecs and Olmecs, when no purpose higher could be envisioned than to bleed for the gods. Glimpses into Mexican tradition most often involve the morbid signature of supernatural belief in a strange form of unearthly life, represented by the skull worship of the Day of the Dead and the various devil masks and bizarre colourful monsters decorating the fiestas, as in embodiment of death metal aphorisms such as “the past is alive”.
It would be fairly easy and obvious to point out social ills, crime rates and poverty as motivating factors for religiously oriented fatalistic thoughts, but for the psychologist and the occultist the pathology of the morbid mind is not only a reaction, it is also a cause itself, deeply ingrained in behavior and culture. To go into this sphere in depth would require another kind of a broader study and it is hardly of interest to most of our readers, so we shall mostly be occupied with the mythical, visionary image of Mexico, closest to us who are far away. It is the land of the eagle and the scorpion, of the peyote cactus and tropical steam, of the sea and the canyon. As we see everywhere in the world, the landscape becomes the structure of the mind, which gives life to stories and archetypes showing the apparent chaotic complexity of nature in symmetrical solutions. And musically, what can offer better representations of the occult-mathematical beauty of life than the hymnals of muerte: Death Metal and Black Metal?
To this day, Mexico has not produced vapid mainstream metal sensations nor hard rock imitations to speak of, at least not ones that would have entered our awareness. It’s as if the inward drawn nacional spirit shuns the idea of establishing false identities and masks of life through exports, but instead entertains the Mexicans with whatever art or entertainment the local masses wish to be produced – but this is a realm mostly obscure to outsiders. Even in order to scratch the surface of Mexican rock and metal, one needs to stress the importance of such luminaries as Luzbel and Transmetal, names mostly unknown even in cult metal collector circles. As a more recent example, the astral and progressive death metal of The Chasm has certainly been gathering well deserved praise and attention in the underground, but as a phenomenon it’s still far from gracing the cover in Terrorizer or Decibel magazine.
As the youth of the world tripped in the pseudo-spiritual chemical bliss of the 60′s, the seeds were sown in Mexico as well with an interest towards Rock music merged with esoteric and mystical themes, but true to its violent century, the nation oppressed its bravest minds, declaring them “communist”. Thus was quenched the initial surge of Heavy Metal, as clubs were closed, magazines censored and subversive content in radios minimized. Everywhere else the initial 70′s where the pivotal time for the realization of all kinds of “satanic” and “occult” music manifestations, so in the case of Mexico it took at least a decade to recover from vandalism espoused by the government.
As the wave of Americanization hit Mexican youth culture in the early 80′s, it was inevitable that some unique voices would rise against manipulation and show their own kind of “metal mass”, inflected with the Catholic superstitions and violent streets they saw all around them with innocent, idealistic eyes. Two names especially can not go unmentioned: the original thrashers Death Warrant from Ciudad Juarez and the more classical but frighteningly psychic Luzbel from Mexico City, one of the greatest metal institutions to rise from the sand of Mexico and a prophet of Doom Metal themes and aspirations.
Huizar, the maniac behind Luzbel, managed to also put forth with his comrades at Escuadron Metalico label a series of compilations which in the mid-80′s showed the sounds of the new metal generation inspired by, mainly, American thrash metal and European speed metal. These “Proyecto” vinyls featured Transmetal, Ramses, Six Beer and practically everyone else who dominated the end of the 80′s when finally Mexican metal was too strong to be quenched by sporadic police raids and random accusations of blasphemy and iniquity. These troubles were akin to an anvil upon which the hammer of the light bringer shaped and pounded the minds that were to break free of the shackles of social upbringing and even “humanness” itself.
Eduardo: Well, to have a live appearance was not easy at all, because many people in Mexico (until this day) are a very difficult audience towards the Mexican bands. But we showed them that we were true about our ideals and that we gave 666% in every show! So we got the support of all the metalheads and they gave us in return a total storm of headbanging and full support. These were unforgettable moments to Shub Niggurath.
Joel: There was a small metal scene hungry to hear more extreme metal, so we always had great support from the beginning. I think there were more people supporting the scene than there is now supporting new metal bands, it’s a weird thing! Authority and “normal” people, as usual here, they didn’t understand our music. Sometimes the police were around looking to bother us, came up to the rehearsals and trying to get us, but never had luck, hahaha! And the people, those normal people, were the ones to send the police. I remember a show in Guadalajara or Leon in which the flyers had a circle in our logo and said: Watch out, Catholic, don’t assist! That was really funny.
Already before the decade was over, the most evil of the bands inspired by Thrash, namely Mortuary, Pactum, the inimitable Toxodeth and Transmetal (who tightened their sound album by album and still continue to do so after more than 20 years of career) had overtaken the gap between the international underground and the Mexican one. Suddenly the Judas Priest and Scorpions influence as the mainstream Mexican sound was replaced by a streetborn brutality and occult gore visions that would have made Slayer shudder. Studio and recording conditions were hardly ideal, but creating an easily digestible sound was hardly the intent of these iconoclasts, who repeated the slightly anterior efforts of the Brazilian scene in unleashing a torrent of noisy darkness easily mistaken for hardcore punk as the antithesis to forgetfulness and ignorance in adult human life.
Joel: Musically, our influences were basically Slayer, Venom, Possessed, Celtic Frost, and some classical masters. Lyrically important were the things inside my mind, my way to see this life, and obviously some great writers like Nietzsche, Poe and Lovecraft influenced us. Before Mortuary, each of us were playing in various bands songs of the bands that influenced us. When I was a child I studied some basic piano as well.
Eduardo: Also I had musical experience before Shub Niggurath: we created the Death Thrash Metal band called Tormentor. This was the origins for the unnameable abhorrence later known as Shub Niggurath.
A mob of confusion, alike crawling insects, attacks the strings as early blasphemists Pactum struggle to make sense of violent, anti-religious ideas called forth by their satanic subconscious in Mexico City’s extreme response to Bathory and Sarcofago. While the anally raped vocalist rants meaninglessly on, the guitars manipulate suggestive, dischordant layers of picked notes and speedy runs that often sound chaotic but on a closer listen reveal an affinity with classical construction much like the early methods of Burzum and Ildjarn to call forth elegance from pieces of degeneration. Be it dissidence, incompetence or imagination that made Pactum to mangle the pieces of thrash they built upon nearly inrecognizable, the originality and harsh, spontaneous electric discharge that carries these songs onwards makes for a curious and surprising listen for those who are able to listen to the nearly unlistenable. In “M.O.D.L.” the band has discovered one of the valuable early lessons of black and death metal, that of desecrating the sanctity of rigid social structure by defying musical conventions and bringing the expression closer to the fractal noise of nature.
The elaborate and malign death metal of Mortuary is one of the most recognized funereal voices of early Mexican scene in cult circles and totally deservedly so, as the melodious and grinding old school sound hasn’t dated one bit but preserves the vital energy field of the times when death metal was not taken for granted, the quest for the ultimate density and sobriety. The rhythmic intensity brings to mind the debuts of Morbid Angel and Vader while the gloomy melody disposed as the interconnector of the more thrashing riffs is without question Central or South American in character (think: “INRI”). Joel Alanis’ voice escapes the trap that caused problems for many a thrasher, holding the rhythm of the syllables in position when reciting the blasphemies in English, and his powerful roar commands the fast, climactic and concise songs effortlessly to their logical conclusions. Even today Mortuary’s short but perfectly articulate album could serve as a protocol for building enjoyable but deep death metal, one that incites both head-banging and heart-scrutiny as the ultra-infectious “Reign of Dead” and “Asphyxiation” attack your brain with sensations from beyond and memories from the depths of the layers of mental programming.
As the inaugural saints of muerte spread their leathery wings over Michoacán and the 80′s were drawing to a close, Mexico’s silence was ruptured by these mangled, hellspawned shouts and nearly arbitrary riff structures envisioned by the scene’s godfathers Transmetal as the path leading to the aerie of the future. Simple and pitiless like a less experienced Sepultura or Slayer debut, this early collection sees Transmetal attempting to bludgeon their way through a barrage of speed metal in an endless call-and-response of rhythm riff and hoarse barking. Germans had invented most of these figures and refrains as early as 1984 but the untamed desert frontier of their homeland does bestow Transmetal with a rancor bringing it closer to the most subterranean and spontaenous garage punk bands that had the chance to practice their instruments on brief relapses from fighting social corruption. The sketchy but decisive melodies of “Temor a la Cruz” and “Fuerza Invisible” hardly represent an international or even local pinnacle of art, but they were enjoyed by a legion of punks and metalheads for their absolute breakup with the more mainstream appealing qualities of traditional heavy metal.
If there is a style of metal one thinks of in regards to Mexico, it must be Death Metal, in its brutal but most oblique forms, the sonic heir to Aztecs’ solar blood rites and Toltecs’ shadowy sorceries, an amalgamation of heretical thought inspired by Crowley and Lovecraft with a deep respect for the sacred and universal forces of nature which permeates the continuity of godforms in Catholic religious language in shades of traditional paganism which it overtook in surface but never in spirit. The first of these classics was undoubtedly Mortuary’s famous “Blackened Images” (also one of the earliest important Mexican releases sung in English) but no underground Death Metal maniac would forget the splendid, churning visions of Shub Niggurath (“Evilness and Darkness Prevails”, “The Kinglike Celebration”) or Sargatanas (“The Enlightenment”) either, not to mention the virile luminary Cenotaph (“The Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows”, “Riding Our Black Oceans”) whose lifeblood still runs in the veins of the most prized names of today’s underground (The Chasm, Denial and Hacavitz among others feature former Cenotaph members).
Demogorgon: Our ancient strain of blood has always been important to us, as on it are real human sacrifices and that is something we deeply connect with. We are proud of it and it deserves all of our respect. But anyway, we are mostly influenced by European Black Metal.
Joel: Definitely the legacy of our past has been influential in what we do, also the current situation in which the country has plunged. All the ups and downs of the past of our culture influence us directly or indirectly. The difference is the window from which we look at it, it’s definitely not the same as for the rest.
Eduardo: Mostly these bands’ message is about Death, destruction and occultism. If I’m not wrong, only Xibalba took our cultural roots into his concept – they even wrote “Unique Mayan Black” on their debut album. Cenotaph, Mortuary, Shub Niggurath, Tormentor, Deus Mortis, Deadly Dark, Necrophiliac and Pentagram among others were influenced by the Florida and Scandinavian scenes when they built Death Metal during the late 80′s and the early 90′s. My influences have always been bands like Morbid Angel, Deicide, Bathory (old), Sodom (old), Nihilist, Therion (demos), Thergothon, Winter, Necroschizma, Bolt Thrower, Slayer (old) and H.P. Lovecraft’s masterpieces. In Shub Niggurath, Arturo (who handled vocal invocations) was always in charge of the lyrical concept. Regarding “Evilness and Darkness Prevails” I only did the guitar solos, after that I had to leave the band. I have nothing to do with “The Kinglike Celebration” – for me this is not the real Shub Niggurath. For me, this was just some kind of project, without Arturo there, I am not sure about the result.
Coming off the back of an excellent debut in the form of ‘The Gloomy Reflections Of Our Hidden Sorrows’ and losing a prominent member in the form of Daniel Corchado, Mexican horde Cenotaph radically altered their sound aesthetically and showed a refinement of production and to a smaller extent, musical technique. Whereas the first full-length resembled a prototypical version of Nile, with an exotic though nonetheless esoteric and original take on New York death metal (think Incantation, Morpheus Descends), ‘Riding Our Black Oceans’ owes its musical framework, when speaking of instrumental technique, to European metal, most notably the first two albums of At The Gates, with a much more classicist approach to melody. With the outgoing of previous throatman Corchado a new vocal makes itself at home, not far from the tortured howls of Anders Friden. The same sense of aggression is also present in this work, but is less of a catharsis than the aforementioned Swedish band or the German act Atrocity, and has a motive towards evoking a nostalgic depth, rather than a psychological-emotional one. The percussion is chaotic and structurally brings to mind a more rigid and maze-like ‘Beneath The Remains’ by Sepultura, with more adventurous battery that evokes their ‘Morbid Visions’ record. Acoustic guitars embellish and interlock with these intricate arrangements, and are an obvious nod to Mediterranean and Southern European music. This stylistic admixture works brilliantly, rather than being a work that is merely imitative of an established style, it works the more obvious traits for its own ends, borrowing rather than copying. Cenotaph make a very distinct and profound work here, one of the finest releases to come out of Latin America.
From the extra-dimensional plane of unspeakable horrors that’s revealed in our nightmares by black, arachnoid creatures, prying open our sub-conscious to witness terrible visions, comes this brutal classic of Lovecraftian Death Metal. As a later album in the old-school tradition, ‘The Kinglike Celebration’ has the strength of dynamic and coherent composition under the unmistakeably nefarious atmospheres that could only come from the first generation to be instructed by the likes of Possessed and Sepultura. Unlike more recent acts such as Portal that also delve into the Non-Euclidean realm of Howard Phillip, this work remains an highly geometric one, as if to frame the malevolent world of the Ancient Ones within the scope of human cognition, enabling the sensations of fear and awe and involuntary submission to the higher, evil will. The symmetrical structure of these songs oversee a central melodic theme being deconstructed with the horror of trembling and ominously churning, Deicidean riff-work that builds to a majestic revelation of cosmic power, usually embellished by eerie synths. From this expanse, the band reintroduces the central riff, re-contextualising it through powerful lead overlays and purposeful percussive and rhythmic enunciation, with the crescendo-inducing prowess of a Classical symphony. Shub-Niggurath advance the pulsating Slayerisms of Deicide’s first album to encompass thoughtful formulae of occult melodicism and awaken the unspeakable entities of the grand, cosmic hierachy.
These blasphemers from Guadalajara were around as early as 1986 according to their biography. Only denizens of the infernal layers know what they must have sounded like back then, but their full length revelation is also nothing less than ancient and horrific, of deeply atmospheric and disturbed vision of extended, simple and dragging death metal torment. Shunning the eloquent melodies of Cenotaph and likewise the rhythmic energy of Mortuary, Sargatanas withdraws into ascetic and morbidly elongated tremolos pillared by blasphemous growls mostly maintaining the emotionless, yet commanding tone of satanic artifice, as a stone statue summoned to unholy life and crushing Christians with no haste or passionate compulsion – determinate, almost peaceful. The meditative quality is carried to the extreme in mid-paced or even slower songs such as “Fear and Suffering” or “The Proclamation” (featuring drum patterns motivated rather by ritual ambient than Dave Lombardo) making it even somewhat plodding. The band barely animates for a gloomy rendition of Possessed’s “Satan Curse” in a version that sounds like bubbling lava or tremors preceding an earthquake and one of the most delightful tracks on offer, the chaotic “Satanist” whose main riff recalls Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” and as many other tracks on here, is seemingly randomly interrupted for a mock satanistic prayer. In any case, this inward bound attraction and solitude of vision will open only to deepest underground death metal cultists and fans of subtle terror based on psychological expectation and illogical mood cues, examples of which are found plenty in Mexican horror movies and early black metal in the vein of Samael and Barathrum, which undoubtedly heavily weigh on Sargatanas’ study list regardless of this band’s origins being placed even further back in the dimension of time.
Without prior knowledge it would be easy to assume that the Black Metal biosphere of Mexico would have been overtaken by bulletbelted battalions fueled by alcohol and sexual lust, but instead some of the most purely mystical and meditative classics of the 90′s underground arose from under the wings of Guttural Records, the all time prime supporter of Mexican occult metal who still keeps cranking out occasional re-releases of material whose quality is, occasionally, simply beyond our dreams. To name some, if you have not heard the most moving moments of Xibalba, Avzhia, Funereal Moon and Shub Niggurath, you don’t know how astral and insane Black Metal can simultaneously be while resorting neither to “progressive” nor “raw” clichés, instead being alive with the fervent force of Mexican demons that feast on the souls of succumbed sorcerers, the experience and experiment being total.
Marco: We have been listening to Metal music for a long, long time. We began by listening to a lot of ’70s bands (Purple, Priest, etc), we experienced the radical change and the explosion of the new bands from the ’80s (Venom, Bathory, etc.) and we just grew with the evolution of this music through the end of the ’80s and the beginning of the ’90s. I think all of this music has influenced us a lot. Books that have inspired us throughout all of this has been ancient literature from the pre-Hispanic cultures of our homeland – with special focus on the Mayan topics mainly, though we also like H.P. Lovecraft’s books. In those days, there were not many bands like us around. I remember that on the few gigs we had, some people were just staring at us, and some other were just enjoying the sound. It was really small and we just seem to get more attention from other countries than ours. Sometimes, regular people were inventing silly stories about bad things happening to them simply because we were about to play on that day. I don’t think the media was focused on this kind of extreme music back in those days, as it is now.
Demogorgon: Avzhia was formed with influence from Death, Thrash etc. Metal, absorbing and swallowing the blackest of these styles of Metal to form a dark and melancholic sound. Musically we were influenced by the old school of Black Metal, bands such as Bathory, Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, etc. and ideologically for example Emperor, Dissection, Satyricon, Black Crucifixion, Grand Belial’s Key, The Black, Tormentor, etc. We were never schooled musicians, we started doing it simply like we felt at the time in the earlier 90′s and we’re still doing music the same way. Avzhia was the only Black Metal band playing in the midst of a lot of Death Metal bands, we remember brutal mosh pits and hostility… so when Avzhia took the stage the audience seemed to be taken by a great fucking depression! In the early 90′s it was a big challenge to keep moving forward into the majestic world of Black Metal.
Like Cenotaph, but in the context of a Nordic black metal band, Xibalba take obvious cues from mid-period Darkthrone and Burzum’s ‘Det Som En Gang Var’, and use various aesthetic tricks to distinguish the artistic and ethnic context herein, whilst also succeeding in not letting grandeur overwhelm the beauty of their work. Flowing, harmonic riffs, much like an upbeat version of ‘Panzerfaust’ work their way through catchy, waltzing rhythms that would fit nicely into balladic pieces, sounding just as apt as an interpretation of ethnic, triplet based patterns, transferred onto the modern drumkit. Samples to introduce particular songs use ancient Mexican folk music to accentuate the ‘Mayan’ character of this record, this is done sparingly and is non-excessive, charming and ensnaring. This album is strictly traditionalist in its execution, but successfully incorporates unique, exotic elements into its framework, retains its dignity without compromising it’s honesty. This was released in 1994 and was a time where many metal acts were on the verge of signing artistic death warrants by trying too hard to be different. Xibalba continued the legacy of black metal’s orthodoxy and breathed new life into it.
Marco: I think “Ah Dzam Poop Ek” is a great album, we express the essence and the atmosphere of our past in every song. Maybe it could have had a better production, but in the end that is the sound that captures the environment we are related to. And it’s good to stay away from a trite, standard and expected programmed sound. We hope to release our new album soon.
Easily one of the most obscure and horrifying symphonies ever composed on the Mexican soil, the drug-addled, hypnotic and twisted black ambient scenarios of Funereal Moon despite the Guttural Records connection bear little resemblance to the warm crusted ground of Xibalba or the quasi-Nordic beauty of Avzhia – or any other formal black metal for that matter. If you have heard some of the unsane abstractions concocted by the French black legionnaires or Texan congregation of Equimanthorn on their mostly private tape mayhem, you might have an inkling of what to expect. Subsonar synths throb, cheap reverbs multiply growling voices to comical intensities, layers merge into a ritual cacoon of violent concentration in a macabre crescendo of not-so-subtly erotic (especially in the hideous “Vrykolkas (White Irish Eyes)” backed by whiplashes and female moans) palpitations begging for release through the dagger of the proponent. When synthetic guitars and mechanically stumbling drumscapes kick in to approximate occult metal architectures, the effect is close to what Black Funeral evoked years later in the industrial black metal revivals of “Az-i-Dahak” and “Ordog” – here achieved without any excess stylistic measures, simply thrown in your face in the name of blasphemy and contempt. Cheesy and immature to the extreme, but at the same time mercilessly compelling like an exploitation movie, these desolate voices of sorcery seem somehow one of the closest to the alienation and horror of the Mexican “Nocturnos dominion”, where immoving cacti stand upon the chaparral as guardians of twilight and coyotes raise their chant to the bloodred moon, all ensorcelled by the forgotten spells of Tulan sorcerers.
From out of Mexico City’s chaotic and concrete urban sprawl arose this monumental Black Metal album as a statement of militaristic and natural order, inextricably linked as they would have been to the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan, the former capital of the great Aztec civilisation. Avzhia here develop the ritualistic and prolonged, ‘Pentagram’ by Gorgoroth-like phrasing of ‘Dark Emperors’ into even grander arrangements panning across vast battlefields and landscapes, bringing keyboards to the foreground for a sense of epic melody that resembles Graveland’s ‘Creed of Iron’ being guided by the expansive compositions of Emperor. There is none of the lead guitarwork that’s central to ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ in forming esoteric musical themes, so the symphonic majesty of ‘The Key of Throne’ is simply and effectively accompanied by the fullness of sweeping powerchords and this approach brings a lot of primitive but intelligent flavours to the sound and the composition as far as bringing the themes to a successful conclusion is concerned. When stripping away the keyboards from the guitars to reveal the simple beauty of an idea, almost Punk-like riffs of the sort Impaled Nazarene are infamous for are unleashed in a warlike clash of thought and action. With the inclusion of the keyboard, there’s a sense that Avzhia might have heard Skepticism’s ‘Stormcrowfleet’ as the same feeling of ethereal beauty and earthy power is evoked. The bass plays an important role as well, during the drawn-out riffing, reminiscent of Primordial’s ‘A Journey’s End’, folkier parts can be heard echoing underneath like a dormant race building its power to strike, and strike it does as the full instrumental ensemble combines to reiterate this idea. Perhaps this is Avzhia’s vision, like the Norwegian Black Metallers once possessed, of Satan’s adversarial power conquering the modern, Christian lands, once again appeasing with the blood of fallen enemies the ancient gods who had long ago died for their race.
Demogorgon: To analize this album, well, it contains too few tracks but each one of them satisfies us and yes, there’s both ideological and musical evolution – but as always, firmly obscure roots that define Avzhia.
As the populist variants of Nordic Black Metal and Gothenburg Death Metal grew in volume and number, so did the attempts at “romantic” or “psychedelic” sound in Mexico, mostly misguided through a lack of coherence and real inspiration beyond the mundane wish to belong in a clandestine good-looking cult of gothic clothes; an unfortunate occurrence of middle class commercial mentality in a society otherwise unnaturally divided and polarized (the shades of civil war never left, nor the even deeper bloody roots of muerte culture). Prominent American label Full Moon Productions signed Argentum for their one interesting album, “Ad Interitum Funebrarum”, while many in the vein of cloak-and-hood-gothic Demolish and the rather interesting Black Vomit toiled in obscurity. The Chasm, a masterful brainchild of Cenotaph alumnus Daniel Corchado, advanced from Mexican beginnings to dominate the forthcoming decade (now in Chicago) with a progressive (structural, non-gimmick) Death Metal tour de force. Another relocator was the grinding, blasphemous and simplistic “bonehead black metal” group Morbosidad, whose several drummers died in accidents.
To be honest, and there is a reason to be because we are not here to create empty hype and false promise, most of Mexican metal of the 1990′s was comprised of worthless copies aping whatever neo-gothic metal trend was looming in the world at large and it’s nowhere more clear than in this compilation of the successive 1995 and 1997 demos of Demolish and the progression from mediocre to bad influence. The bouncy, hyper-emotional and lethargic black groove of the first part “Reinforcement Laments from the Lamb” (That’s just about what I emitted halfway through this concoction!?) is an incriminating example of heavy metal dressed as black metal, enveloped in saccharine keyboards which occasionally would inspire a vomitous reflex from even that top hatted abortion of Dimmu Borgir (old). Suffice to say there’s a lot of Anne Rice-y occult romance and affective screaming and bombast with hardly any musical surprise or moment of interest, as they would probably distract from the singular intent of securing the attention of fat gothic Wiccan bitches. I guess you might be into this if Covenant’s mercifully forgotten “In Times Before the Light” or earlier Cradle of Filth was the best thing that ever happened to you in black metal. The older more creeping old school death metal influenced occult metal in the earlier recorded second part “Artis Cabalisticae” includes violent moments of hope, but not enough to convince any further than, say, that first EP from Portuguese womanizers Moonspell. Hardly any Toltec spirit here, so move along.
Hooded Wallachians prowl the crenellated wall tops of ancient castles, Mediterranean bards wield their lutes as metallic Paco de Lucias and some thin, wimpy goth called Philix Pherboreon (is this a Harry Potter character?) attacks the cheap Roland determined to reign as nocturnal dominion over every Mexican black metal wannabe circa 1996. With surprising class and flair, Argentum’s hymns to darkness remind one that the atmospheres descended part from “The Principle of Evil Made Flesh” and part from “Goetia”, might not stand the highest in today’s black metal elitists’ repertoire but today, sounds more exciting and unique because of their severe emotional and dimensional indulgement in a nearly forgotten quest – to compose music, not meaningless random noise or robotic riff patterns. The band is undoubtedly at their peak with the sustained moods of “Enter an Encysted Hibernation” and other slower pieces such as “The Serpent’s Lament” which traces the ethereal scents of the black lotus much as My Dying Bride would have if they had obsessed with black metal during the time of their first album. When the bands decides to thrash onwards in speed, and yet retain the “gloomy” keyboards in “Mortuus Infradaemoni”, it’s undoubtedly a bad choice, sounding ridiculous and swamping their intentions of occult credibility observed with “Lections on texts including English, latin, Catalan, Creol, and Ancientdark Language & Spanish”. The question mark imprinted by this upon one’s brain is better than mere satisfaction, though.
The Chasm’s fifth album in a productive and populated discography continues their journey through the astralic realms of the dead, traversing a heterogenous soundscape much like the cultural topography of Mexico itself. Where Corchado’s work with Cenotaph was inspired by the rhythmic power of Swedish Death Metal, this album is more in tune with not only the melodicism of old troops from Gotenborg like At The Gates, Unleashed and Dark Tranquility but the morbid disharmony of Norsk Black Metal classics ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ and ‘Under A Funeral Moon’, which owe much to the Latin American primitivism of Sepultura that also goes into the sound of ‘Conjuration of the Spectral Empire’. The expansive melting pot of sounds and styles is guided by Shamanic visions that peer into the inpenetrable abode of Mictlantehcuhtli, coloured and contrasted by the opposing principles that intersect this psychic plane, giving this album a vast sense of direction proportional to the longing for ancient wisdom in a world torn from the continuum of tradition. From the very outset of ‘Conjuration…’, the winds of the Chihuahuan desert are conjured by guitars and effects, bringing to mind the main theme composed by Ennio Morricone for the nihilistic Western classic, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. Each song develops from or towards a single, clear and always beautifully poignant melodic idea, fusing the structural framework of early Dismember with the technique of Technical Death Metal bands like Cynic and Atrocity and their insistence on rhythmic and melodic interaction, although the use of inverted powerchords amidst the South American chaos and Melodeath flourishes, to create a more sombre atmosphere recalls the obscure Black Metal of Mütiilation’s second album. The Chasm avoid the pitfalls of Melodic Death Metal by having this focus, removing themselves from the tendency of bands to resemble a Scandinavian folk riff-salad with no conceptual reasoning behind it. Instead, songs qualify as movements and the phrasal development therein demonstrates an awareness of Classical music that restores the grand aspirations of the Swedes and therefore stands alongside the likes of ‘The Red In The Sky Is Ours’ and ‘Like An Everflowing Stream’ as monuments to the primal, cosmic darkness of our true, inner nature.
Through the international contact and amalgamation of principles brought about by simultaneously World Wide Web access and the extent of educating the young generation in English language (movies, videogames and music being elemental and important here) the new millennium saw Mexico closer than ever to its northern neighbour. Youth factions such as the hated “emo” culture would have been out of place in 1980′s conservative Mexico, but despite clashes between groups they are widely approved today. All in all, it seemed to weaken the unique characteristic of the Mexican underground which was the tough rebelliousness in speed metal and occult/mystical lyrical tendency in Death Metal. In other words, too many corpse painted posers (such as the unending repertoire of Azermedoth Records) and uneventful, funny “goregrinders” (Disgorge, the original of this style, still continues to exist) infected the underground.
Eduardo: Certainly this isn’t an easy way to get money, fame or groupies. If that’s what a band is looking for, it’s just a bunch of shitty losers. You should work because you love what you are doing, and doing this just to be a sell out and gain a living from the people who manage you is a completely Shitty attitude. Underground Death Metal is for true warriors who eat, shit and talk metal, and love it as a son! To know all the underground beasts that still dwell on the catacombs of the worldwide scene and support them as brothers… In Europe it’s awesome how the Metal way of life is still the way for the chosen to die with their boots on. Metal in Europe is bigger than other music styles without the need of being in a popularity contest. Metal is for metalheads and that’s it.
On the other hand, in Mexico, Metal has been taken as a trend. Every single metal subgenre such as death, thrash, black or speed has been invaded by stupid bastards with childish ideas and only commercial purposes. This is not only certain individuals, as even labels have mutated into money makers – signing bands created to give a commercial and false name to metal. They think that they know everything and even take the image of the old gods as costumes. Please! All those denim jackets full of patches from Possessed and Slayer, just to name a few, worn by kids of 18 years and claiming to be “thrash ’til death”! Jajajajajajajaja! Or the new trend of “old school death metal”? Please, when those bands were out, nobody cared about them! But now everybody is looking for those bands, jajajaja! Only the true ones we’ll meet at the end of the road. The other ones will escape to the next trend, because they never really belonged to us!
This is not to say Mexico’s soil doesn’t still bleed black at the desolate fullmoon hours. Old bands all the way to Luzbel are still sporadically active and the promised Avzhia offering “In My Domains” is one of our most awaited forthcoming releases in several years. Infinitum Obscure featuring The Chasm’s Roberto Lizárraga is a throwback to the days when death metallers weren’t afraid to expose religious mysticism, supernatural fervour and psychological “dark” addiction in one package, while Hacavitz and Yaotl Mictlan bring back the Aztec themes but do not retain the climactic level of Xibalba’s “Unique Mayan Black Metal”. Satanists who preach the ontology of Self and the theurgies of netherworlds remain plentiful, Denial and Necroccultus (both featuring scene veterans such as Supplicium’s Isaíah Huerta, Shub Niggurath’s Eduardo and Cenotaph’s Oscar Clorio) being probably the best of the bunch, and also for example Ravager enjoys wide exposure and releases on prominent European metal labels (while Avzhia sadly toils without a record deal).
Demogorgon: Look out for “In My Domains” – this album is strong in itself, riff by riff. It’s raw while plentiful in melodic interludes, grim voices and depressive atmospheres. We do what satisfies us, then other metalheads can satisfy themselves with Avzhia’s music. It’s great to meet true people when we do shows. Avzhia is always going to exist in the dark side of true Black Metal and we will keep doing our work full of darkness of our Lord Sathanas. Grim, cold, melancholic and depressive are characteristics of what Avzhia is! Only the true emperors live, eternal life to Black Metal! See you soon wherever you are… on “In My Domains” tour.
Marco: We just like the sound of a good song, no matter what style it is. As long as it reflects honesty and passion, clearly away from the rules of the mainstream. We have made this music since the ’90s, and still I can have ideas for a song that sounds great, even when there’s hundreds of bands around. You just need to find the right notes and stay focused on the path. This music has been really distorted from the original roots. What makes it worth I don’t know, but maybe just to know the right path is still there and the fact that we’re contributing to it. I think it depends on the integrity and personal convictions everybody has. It’s all part of finding personal freedom or spiritual release.
Joel: We are satisfied with the music that we did. It represents the things we felt at that time, and it’s a real condition that still prevails. Songwriting for us has been a natural change in the evolution of the band, as new songs have the seal of Mortuary but are definitely not the same. We have an evolutionary progress, you’ll see.
On the footsteps of Irapuato bands such as the Paradise Lost influenced Supplicium and the Chasm-ic A Perpetual Dying Mirror the mad inverters of music decided to go for an irate, warlike sound most akin to Vader’s most brutal incantations. For a fan of Sargatanas and earlier Shub-Niggurath, there are plenty of morbid mental cavities to succumb into in atmospheric death-thrashing of “Mirage of Death” or the more Northern sound of “Descent To Requiem”, actually close to Absu’s early efforts in mingling Swedish death metal and the more ritualistic and sensual sound of ambient black. As regrettably is the case with neo-death metal, there is a great temptation to succumb into a patterned safe manifestation of used riffs, which no longer have the capacity to shock or inspire but the most fresh and innocent listeners. One can only imagine what impact “The Necrosphere Within” would have had in 1987, but the lack of a honest exploration of death metal horizons arouses the question how long can “formulaic death metal” be “death metal” at all, since the genre was incepted to scare the listener into an acceptance of devious un-life. In a hodgepodge of riffs, the social instinct takes over and the music loses the “death-feeling”. A slight rescue is obtained by preserving much of the doom character of the members’ earlier bands, as well as wicked and proficient guitar solos. In total, “Encircling the Mysterious Necrorevelation” is far from bad, but it also lacks the essential magic and forceful intellect characteristic of Mexican metal peaks.
Yaotl Mictlan in a similar respect to Xibalba borrow stylistically from European black metal. Their debut full-length contains a battle-hardened ferocity not unlike Graveland’s ‘Thousand Swords’, and in attitude resembles a less esoteric version of the classic Polish black metal acts. Musically this has the precision and sharp execution of Enslaved’s ‘Frost’ album, but with is overlaid with meandering, arpeggiated guitar forms that bring to mind a more rock-inclined take on Burzum’s first album. True to backdrop, the band bring elements unique to their Mexican heritage to the fore, in the form of wind instruments, percussives and acoustic guitar passages that are distinct within flamenco music. This is no doubt a unique approach, and firmly grasps a sound it can call it’s own, though lacking the cohesion and charge to put them in the same tier as Xibalba or Avzhia. As a result of this, ‘Guerreros De La Tierra De Los Muertos’ comes across as a tiresome listen, but not without the occasional flourish of excellence. Now signed with Candlelight records, it will be interesting to see what results their next release will artistically yield, as there are moments of promise here.
Often referred to as a clone of The Chasm, Infinitum Obscure do indeed share more than a few identifiable traits with their fellow Mexicans, most notably the tremolo picking and those galloping triplets that lend so much power and vigour to the rhythm. There is something that ultimately separates the two bands, however; that being the conceptual direction each band embarks upon: while The Chasm invokes a strong, dark atmosphere that emphasizes the mystical, esoteric passage through some evanescent portal, Infinitum Obscure are far more direct in organizing a forceful rhythm in such a way as to remain concentrated on a single, grounded idea, often reinforcing this focus by frequently returning to familiar themes. So, while their main inspiration might take flight into stranger landscapes, Infinitum Obscure are quite content to portray the lost chasms of this world with an evocative atmosphere of imaginative melodies and, most importantly, direct and uncompromising riffing. On ‘Sub Atris Caelis’, Infinitum Obscure’s sophomore album, these points are emphasized more clearly, making it their definitive accomplishment to date. The need to shake off the burden of being a mere clone band is eminently present; the band tasks itself with creating something altogether their own, resulting in a real sense of the epic emerging from the patterns interwoven throughout the record; each song is striking at something profound, grasping wildly in the search for solidarity. The consequence of these compulsions is an album that sounds like it is still very much in The Chasm camp; while really it has taken several progressive leaps forward, leaving us with a work of art brimming with the self-confidence of autonomy.
Some of the most impressive new death metal from anywhere in the world, this churning, impactful and bodily animalistic accomplishment from former Cenotaph and Shub Niggurath madmen is not a joke. What Cannibal Corpse always intended with their chromatic, bass-heavy and relentlessly rhythmic one dimensional stream of riff becomes an amalgamation of melodic motifs and devastatingly experimental squeals in the hands of these perpetrators, as the background noise boils and envelops much as the classic “Onward to Golgotha” did, while the constant, FX enhanced, ridiculously monstrous voice of Ivan Velazquez intones all the perspiring tension of underworld nexus, the twilight threshold of life and death where sorcerers and demons whisper secrets to the warrior, offering true and false guidance, representing the violent archaic generations that waged war on Mexico’s bloody soil and continue to make many lives into living hell. I have alluded to the monotone nature, which is probably intentional and it hardly detracts from enjoying this cryptic abomination for further and further listenings, as the heights such as “The Pestilent Pits of Disgrace” or “Necrotic Invocations” are deceptively complex mazes of chords and melodies disguised as straightforward infernal metal by the tight manner of production and the guitarists’ sparse use of leads or interludes. Most importantly, the unrelenting hopelessness of these afterworld visions will force the listener to abandon the illusion of safety and immortality that makes the common man succumb to faulty, immoral decisions from day to day, thus achieving one of the highest principles of death metal: mental change (abomination). One would hesitate to lift such a recent work to the hallowed pantheon of Cenotaph and Mortuary after a brief listening span, but if a candidate is chosen from this tournée, this must be it.
It can be said that while Mexico’s metal offerings are not especially plentiful, they are generally interesting and spirited while the best of the country are just about the best these genres have ever seen, on an international scale. Mexicans’ natural groundedness coupled with the mystical tendencies is an excellent standpoint for witnessing the oblique directions of Death and Black Metal from an unpretentious, furious, “Luciferian” angle. It’s almost a surprise there isn’t so much more of it, even though I’m surprised if any reader of this article gets a sense of scarcity regarding items of interest in Mexican metal. So, that being said, it’s about time we leave you to contemplate the mysteries of Toltecs and Satan in the consummation of the extreme, Romantic and evil compositional systems of these modern Mexican warriors and dreamers.
Marco: I think this music is very individual and very personal, and it can take you to a spiritual level, if you listen carefully. Our ancient cultures are based on spirituality, so that’s the point in our just making this weird mix. One song can take you to the top of the pyramids, and reach for the skies, and another one could take you to a scenario of a war against the conquerors. In the end it’s all about finding your own roots, it’s some kind of, another, resource to open your eyes and to step away from the enslavement of social rules and moral unconsciousness (Christian superstition included). In the end the people in power need a dormant society, so they can keep on corrupting, spreading corruption in every corner, and people are just playing the game. Only the connection to your roots will set you free.
Joel: It’s a matter of self confidence in all the things we do, the feeling of greatness inside, the feeling of power, to reach new levels in the extreme brutal metal music we make! I’m not here to convince anyone to do anything, we are selected persons, we the whole scene… the others, the weak, must die!
Highest hails from Deathmetal.Org to Joel of Mortuary, Marco of Xibalba, Demogorgon of Avzhia, Eduardo of Necroccultus and last but not least Noe of Guttural Records for providing in-depth thoughts from the original perpetrators of real Mexican Metal! All of these bands are active so look out for forthcoming events of true massacre of the highest order.
Once you decided to come to Mexico you should have put all your petty fears away. Your decision to come should have vanquished them. You came because you wanted to come. That’s the warrior’s way.
– Don Juan Matus
2. The End of the Millennium: The Collapse of the Integrity of the “Scene”
3. Priests of Black Metal: The Surrealist Medievalist Reformation
4. Warriors of Black Metal: The Militant Romanticist Reformation
5. Evil Pseudo-art and the Rise of the Hipster: Revolution or Death?
Art must excite the imagination. This is a condition of aesthetic effect, and therefore a fundamental law of all the fine arts. But it follows from this that not everything can be given directly to the senses through the work of art, but only as much as is required to lead the imagination on to the right path. Something, and indeed the final thing, must always be left over for it to do.
– Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Inner Nature of Art
Black metal music is one of these great arts. There is no religion mixed with Black metal! When religions are mixed to music it result feeble feelings, pseudo-art.
– Wlad Drakkheim (Vlad Tepes)
Histories of early black metal are dime a dozen nowadays and by now you probably know how Mayhem and Burzum came about, if you are interested, and have figured out why the churches were burnt, if you are intelligent. However, what happened after 1995 is rarely put under reasonable scrutiny because as in politics, recent events contain too much unexposed lies and hidden agendas to bear daylight.
This article intends to take the bull by the horns and explain through an eyewitness’s observation the development of the philosophy of black metal from the first divide (the cultist vs. the crowdist) that occurred around 1996 to the second divide (the realist vs. the hipster) that occurred approximately ten years later.
When the blaze in the northern sky had died out and the geniuses of the previous generation were either rotting in a jail or in a pub, a new generation sought to rediscover the meaning of black metal as a lifestyle and as a Weltanschauung. The masses, representatives of mediocrity, had already found their way into black metal when most of the original acts had betrayed the ancestral trust by developing into a theatre of gothic makeups, glam rock attitudes and weak synth-based pseudo-heroic anthems.
The Internet grew into a unifying, though disputed and hated, medium for the black metal underground to bicker about trivialities, form projects and spread news and gossip. Forums and websites contained information about hundreds of new bands, far from the old realm of tape traders and fanatics who kept meticulous contact with friends abroad through letters and phone calls. Also, the beloved underground zine, responsible for establishing the mystique around the early 90s black metal scene, was relegated to minor status as an upholder of the cursed movement.
Because the crowds present were in no way contributing to the development of black metal, as opposed to practically everyone in the beginning of 90s who was interested, the scene started to show the same fissures that had obliterated punk, hardcore and a whole lot of other once-radical artistic movements to relic status. The scene grew introverted because the outside did not seem to be interested in participating in the original barbaric-Faustian quest for freedom in darkness, even if hoarding information and releases. The scene rotated around people who, despite their intelligence, were reluctant to break genre barriers because their attitude was commitment, not innovation.
Purity of intent became mangled in a scene setting; the desire to bring power and authenticity back, to solidify black metal fans into a commando force for opposing the democratic spinelessness of modern life, was mostly a disguise. The greatest psychological motivation was the worship of one’s own personality and identity and it’s separateness from others by self-aggrandizement, by wallowing in ideas such that one is extreme, unique and important. They were like the proud fallen angels but only in the surface aspects; the core was a youth subculture among many others who share exactly the same kind of attitudes and personality types.
The black metal underground adopted more and more extreme stances to make them impenetrable to the masses that were threatening to turn black metal into a parody and a freakshow. One of these positions was the National Socialist black metal, which had been already perpetrated in the early 90s by Absurd and Lord of Evil but failed to become a widespread movement until the end of the decade when the Allgermanische Heidnische Front and the Pagan Front along with, intentionally or not, Moynihan’s and Søderlund’s book Lords of Chaos promoted the mixture of national traditionalism and romantic black metal, to the disgust of the part of the scene retaining the leftist influence from grindcore.
For another segment of the underground, the message chosen was as corrupted, cryptic and vile as possible. Inspired by the first incarnation of black metal and of everything that was filthy and anti-social in the underground, satanic nihilists waged war on everything, as exemplified by the album titles Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan (Antaeus) and Kill Yourself or Someone You Love (Krieg). The actual message was hidden under the surface, for it utilized spewed vitriol for an introverted self-study, which was concealed as an attack. The Satanists and nihilists considered worldly things as folly, a curse imposed by God or nature upon the Faustian soul – all attachment and love in fleshly things was false figments of illusion, much like the Gnostic Christians believed.
The heirs of the nihilist black metal culture became known as the religious black metal scene, because in the original sense of the word religare, the artists sought to strip the world of its importance by detachment, perversion, self-flagellation and insanity to reach the transcendental quietude of the noumenalworld, perceived as a spiritual death. The ideal was modelled on characters like Dead and Euronymous of Mayhem, who were seen as the original martyrs of black metal.
The aesthetic defined by Mayhem on the classic De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, an amalgamation of the theological and the heretical, a re-interpretation of the sacred writings of Christianity, was given a full treatment by bands that musically attempted to find a balance between the creation of “experimental” black metal and “true” black metal (essentially two trends that had been around since new black metal became mostly home recorded and free of quality expectations).
The audience who felt more kinship with pagan ideals, heroism and warfare grew over the years to hate the depressive Satan-worshipping bands, not because they would oppose the best of their music, but because the scene concentrated into seeking whatever seemed most radical and hateful in the limited perspective of a Scandinavian middle class young man from an atheistic family. It was a very limited world and while some occultists were able to discuss their way around this problem, the limitation culminated artistically in satanic black metal bands going by hordes to the modern equivalent of Sunlight studios, the Necromorbus, to create endless similar sounding clones, many of which were pleasing listens but historically nothing more than footnotes.
The prime motivation to create this new style of theistic black metal was that newly found emphasis on production and melody that gave them a chance to try out their hand on professional musicianship combined with literate Satanism, and thus escape the falsely assumed impression of the last decade that you were either a capable musician or an extremist, not both.
The target audience, which was mostly composed of young, sensitive, intelligent and fragmented personalities with an emotional attachment to the mystique of Satan and Christianity, mostly liked it since the music was tried and true melodic black metal not far from that of the eternal crowd favorites Marduk and Dissection, with updated imagery and lyrics. It was also suitable to the retro-purist tendency to reject political developments in black metal on the grounds that such were not originally a part of it, despite the fact that they themselves introduced many aspects such as the Bible quotations and theological analysis which belonged to it even less.
The pagan warriors fared a little better on the quest for Romantic, neo-classical black metal art. The core bands of nationalist pagan black metal, such as Totenburg, Heldentum and Eisenwinter, realized a synthesis of the street punks’ (through Oi and RAC) music with folk and heavy metal and some of the naturalistic black metal instinct of Ildjarn and Burzum. These bands steered clean from pleasing the public with melodic death metal influences or digital production standards, while many others such as Temnozor, Kroda, later Forest and Graveland, led their epics by vocal and folk instrument melodies, influences from symphonic soundtracks and recurring Hammerheart–era Bathory riffs, mostly in rock format.
Despite the extreme horror incited in some countries and scenes by the open admiration of the principles of Hitler and the SS, part of its power in the mind of the participants was also that it was positive: encouraging respect for ancient tradition, working for society and appreciating love and friendship.
Norway’s black metal had played ruthlessly upon a reputation of morbid obsession and criminal darkness, preying upon the minds of weak-willed individuals who were seeking a chance to submit to the will towards death. NS influences in black metal had been a natural development for many key practitioners from Darkthrone to Impaled Nazarene regardless of whether or not they ever admitted to anything more than a slight inspiration and a shock statement. It gave a chance to balance the darkness of witch-cults with the light of European virtue.
An esoteric nationalism, inspired by traditionalists Evola and Guénon and by philosophers Nietzsche and Bergson, also emerged, and was more sophisticated than the crude hedonism of LaVey or the superstitions of Elizabethan Devil worshippers. But when presented to the working class it meant believing that the sickness of the world is a manifestation of the plots of other races, particularly the Jews, for the subversion of the higher culture of the White Aryan.
In fact, only a small part of the fans of NSBM ever were devotees of pure National Socialism. The movement of nationalist pagan black metal was united by the opposition of globalization, multiculturalism, crime and vice perceived by them to be the import of African and Semitic races to Europe: drugs, rape, apathy and disrespect for the local authority, which a regular Scandinavian tends to trust implicitly. Additionally, communism and anarchism were seen as anti-national and anti-cultural forces that have the power to assume control in the media under various guises.
While many of the aesthetic ideals of NSBM, such as respect, healthiness, personal integrity, constructive activity and diligence in work, were close to being acceptable in mainstream European societies, in general the involved characters were dedicated individuals facing hatred and opposition in all directions and actively treating life as a battle-like challenge. The movement could act as a representation of the tradition and
will of any social class in Europe, so that both those with lower and higher education could find their own ways to see the core ideal: an agreement of a very common sense rooted resistance to multiculturalism, runes and the metaphysics of Wiligut and Heidegger.
The ideology did not encourage escapism through occult and religious experience, or delving deep into the decadent side of modern society. Nor did it deny any of the basic wishes and instincts of man such as having a constructive job, raising a family or having a good time with friends and warriors. But the stigma — and in some countries, criminality — of the symbology forced the adherents to always be careful, prepare for confrontation and face all the consequences of the living the worst possible implications of his ideal.
The youth took this by the face value and were excited about the chance to do something on the streets, be it simply dressing in camo pants and Dr. Martens or actually joining local skinheads or political organizations. Many of them were of the opinion that the virtue of the message and imparted “Aryan” aesthetics, and the right attitude (underground, intolerant, street credible) behind it are what makes black metal worthwhile, not intellectual satisfaction or beauty.
The emphasis on action and practical message differentiated “Aryan” black metal from what has been the crux of the satanic black metal of the new millennium, which in the spirit of Emperor and particularly Dissection has been creating requiems and sonatas to Him from a more learned and encyclopedic background, quoting the likes of Dali, thus creating hipster-friendly amalgamations of styles that suggest intelligence and taste but only little activity and spirit, or in the words of Vlad Tepes, “pseudo-art”.
In nihilist, depressive and theistic black metal rhetoric, the most vile and offensive threats were brought upon mankind and society in praise of the Devil while concepts such as rape, abuse and suicide were glorified. In some circles it became a game of how low one can sink into the medievalist approach to Satanism, inspired by nothing so much as a Euronymous statement taken out of context: “We are but slaves of the one with horns.” But since the masquerade was obvious, satanic black metallers never seemed like criminals to society except in cases where the adherents actively sought participation in drugs and assaults.
It was one of the most two-faced cults seen in metal – extremely powerful symbolism and literature was abused by people who constantly admitted to failure and self-defeated feelings in the guise of a reborn Gnostic/Jesuit theology that denies the world having anything of value. Artists and philosophers gave long and explanatory answers in interviews that were too difficult for the majority to understand and thus ended up taken out of context. Many, though, considered this the natural way of “evil”: the weak and the stupid deserve to be corrupted, driven into suicide, fear and madness by the power of Lucifer’s light.
What seemed to make Devil worshipping black metal dangerous and potent was its mercurial nature; unlike in the nationalist pagan scene, one’s class and education completely determined the understanding of the given compulsory Bible, Bataille and Sitra Ahra quotations. A son of a religious family with no higher education would see the Devil worshippers’ theology in a totally different perspective from a university student of comparative religion or literature.
Especially through the down-to-earth, joyless Protestantism of Scandinavia, faith and belief in gods and the supernatural are approached with mania, neuroses and fetishism and the resulting phenomenon glorified anyone who committed atrocities in the name of primitive Devil worship. The educated middle and upper classes both loathed and envied the non-educated and thus “untamed” madman because he seemed more capable of spontaneous action and breaking free of the foulest captor of the middle class: the desire for comfort and to avoid suffering.
The will to join the masquerade, to choose for oneself the identity of a “pagan warrior” or “a Devil worshipper” has fed the black metal market for the last decade. Despite some achievements and innovations in philosophical and musical expression, it has contributed to the downfall of black metal in that it has been all too easy for the crowd to gather under the banners, to create redundant projects that copy the originals without understanding the message and to buy everything that conforms exactly to the imagery one wishes to associate oneself with.
If one is allowed to bluntly generalize, one tends to see on message boards nationalists expressing themselves with a crude, uneducated language reminiscent of trailer park fascism, yet having a solid idea worthy of being developed further, a meaning behind the words. On the other hand a Theistic Satanist can easily lecture you on the Blavatskyan concept of Ego as Lucifer, or on the problems of empirical science, but one is left quite unsure why it is important.
The best black metal of the decade has not been revolutionary in any sense, rather interesting explorations on encoding message into either a rediscovered sense of classical melody or the soothing but barbaric minimalism of ambient. A minority still tries to seek out the best amongst the piles of waste created by the attention seekers; many from the original scene have lost interest in practically all black metal created since ‘95.
Master purveyors of black metal have sought to describe a world of fallen souls and unremembered voices, as if they have brought to life the curses of our ancestors who scream in the Abyss their indictment of the world of man, which has failed to uphold ancient, heroic and traditional laws and to pay the proper respect to the spirits of death and of darkness.
If we could catch for an instant a glimpse of the might and terror of the pure universe, unfettered by the shackles of human perception, our paths would be revealed as singular paths of light amidst infinite space, strands weaving patterns of complexity and beauty, constantly changing nature through an evolution borne by the battle waged by opposing principles.
Written by Devamitra
Maryland Deathfest VII
May 23, 24 and 25, 2009
Sonar, Baltimore, Maryland
The summer metal festival — Europe has a number of them: Obscene Extreme Fest, Party San, Wacken. Seemingly long gone are the days when North Americans had their own Milwaukee Metalfest to make pilgrimage to at the end of every summer. Fortunately, after several years of festival lull, two metal fans decided to put on a show that featured “real” metal bands again.
The Maryland Deathfest is now an annual event that takes place for three days near the end of May. This past year featured an impeccable lineup, perhaps the very best seen at MDF thus far, a strong hint that quality and old-school death metal and grindcore remain vital forces in the greater metal world.
After making the trip down the coast to Baltimore a day early, my cohorts and I decided to attend the pre-show for a mere ten dollars. Not much was of note during this “pre-fest”. Czech grindcore band Jig-Ai showed themselves as instrumentally competent, and able to cook up a good riff, but a lack of dynamics and irritating pig squeals prevented their music from being enjoyed further. Following Jig-Ai came a few more bands that were not significant, so relaxing outside in the cool spring night was much preferred.
It was not until Lethal Aggression that the pre-fest picked up. This reviewer had never heard said band before, but they presented a charming fusion of crossover thrash, early grindcore, and the best of hardcore punk. It could be likened to Cryptic Slaughter mixed with Siege and a hint of speed metal. Their performance was quite spirited, and the band ripped through an assortment of songs with professionalism and an impermeable cohesiveness as a group.
The headliner of the night was Ghoul, a “supergroup” of sorts made up of members from Exhumed, Impaled, and Dystopia, among others. Musically, this outfit melds together speed metal, hints of death metal riffing, and a surface aesthetic very much like Danzig-era Misfits. From their ridicule of the new, ridiculous “retro-thrash” trend to their spraying of liquid all over the audience in a bottle labeled “swine flu,” their performance did not disappoint for pure satirical entertainment.
Despite the “deathfest” name, grindcore has always figured prominently into Maryland Deathfest’s festival repertoire. The grindcore scene, as with death and black metal, has come upon hard times, with very little of excitement being generated. Still, this general trend was not enough to prevent several fantastic grindcore bands (as well as a few merely good ones) from appearing on the Friday bill.
Following a good night’s sleep, my cohorts and I met with up with other friends from around the city and trekked back to the venue. It became readily apparent that Sweden’s blast-and-forget black metal crew Marduk would not be playing, due to troubles concerning their visas, which was of little loss to festival quality as a whole.
Instead, the outdoor stage schedule was modified to include Cephalic Carnage, and the indoor show would end earlier than planned. The first band of my day was Sayyadina, who sounded much like a more aggressive Nasum. The Swedegrind sound has never been terribly interesting, as most bands who are involved with it are wont to make it much too technical and polished. This contrasts readily with the unrefined edge required of grindcore; instead the entire experience is spoiled with a big budget and nice, “clean,” rock-n-roll production. Fortunately, based on their live performance, Sayyadina seem to integrate much of the early 1990s American grindcore style into their take on the genre. The downside would be their insistence on blasting — way too much of it — and not enough variation in rhythm. Further investigation will be needed to determine this band’s ultimate listenability.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most anticipated band of the night was Mayhem. The band took the stage and opened with “Pagan Fears.” What was immediately apparent were two things: the first being how truly inhuman Attila Csihar’s voice is, and the second being that the sound engineers had absolutely no idea how to mix black metal in a live setting. The guitars were so unbelievably screechy that I had to move back from the stage in order to prevent my eardrums from imploding. Apart from this problem (which was only partly fixed roughly halfway into the set), Mayhem delivered a commendable performance, with plenty of highlights (“Deathcrush”; “Freezing Moon”), and even a very surprising presentation of the title track off De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Atilla’s presence was undeniable, almost messianic, as he warped his vocal chords into his own plaything: screeching, bellowing, chanting, and growling to great effect. The two new guitarists had a decent understanding of Mayhem’s material, apparent despite the detriment of the horrific sound.
One strange thing to see was how many people turned up for Mayhem, and how about half of them looked like they had never heard the band in their life. Given Mayhem’s controversial past, one might be inclined to believe that half of the people there were just turning up in the hopes of seeing some immature novelty act. Further proof that in the underground metal world, hipsters unfortunately abound.
Up next was the legendary Dutch death metal group Asphyx, playing their first-ever American show, which was accompanied by a unanimously great reception by the large crowd. For the occasion, they were given the honor of wrapping up the first day of the outdoor stage. Vocalist Martin Van Drunen, though becoming a death metal gray-hair, was easily one of the most engaging and sincere frontmen this reviewer has had the pleasure to see live. His banter with the audience and habit of high-fiving crowd surfers contributed to the sense of fun that permeated Asphyx’s performance. In blazing through several tracks from a variety of studio albums (save for the embarrassing God Cries), Asphyx even managed to play “Abomination Echoes” from the Crush the Cenotaph demo. Unfortunately, Mayhem’s longer-than-anticipated set forced Asphyx to cut theirs short in accordance with the ludicrously early outdoor sound curfew of 11 pm. Ending with the massive title track offThe Rack, the sound engineers axed the power to the amps with only about a minute left in the song. Coincidentally, the original recording ends by fading out, so in essence the audience was able to experience a full studio version of it. Asphyx bowed off the stage to massive applause.
Upon heading inside, I caught the set of crossover/hardcore “supergroup” Venomous Concept. Made up of half of Napalm Death and half of Brutal Truth, this quartet retains interest through their exploration of embryonic extreme metal and hardcore styles. A very energetic and very intoxicated Kevin Sharpe kept the crowd on their toes, even cutting his forehead open after smashing it with the microphone. After pummeling their way through a half-hour set, Venomous Concept left the stage, and this reviewer hiked back to his hotel room.
The next day, feeling energized and with ears freshly ringing, my group headed down to Sonar for day two of the festival. After skipping over the many bands of no interest, the first band of day two we encountered was P.L.F. (formerly known as Pretty Little Flower, now apparently going by the name Pulverizing Lethal Force). This Texas grindcore trio was highly impressive with their regressive style, revealing influences from the best of the genre, chiefly Assuck andTerrorizer. The singer/guitarist joked that their merch was available in the back room, and that they brought plenty of long-sleeved shirts, as only true Hessians wear them in such obscenely hot weather. Despite a very short set time, P.L.F. managed to rumble through their setlist with a few minutes to spare, and received mostly positive reactions from the audience.
Since the next batch of bands was not of interest in any way, my friends and I skipped them in favor of finding some food, after which we returned to catch Sweden’s Rotten Sound. Although one may look upon them unfavorably because of their association with the Nasum/groovy-grindcore scene, Rotten Sound are not, sonically at least, deserving of such condemnation. Their music is like Dead Infection or Sweden’s Dawn: wholly unoriginal, but executed in such a manner that one cannot find much fault in what they do. Their brand of grindcore is much more “British” (for lack of a better description), in that it takes more influence from early crust and hardcore than it does groove metal.
Following Rotten Sound, this reviewer chose to relax in the shade with a cool water and rest while Hail Of Bullets played on stage. Their album was not impressive in the slightest, and neither was their performance, despite the ever-present charm of the previous night’s star vocalist Martin Van Drunen. It is quite probable that if the lineup did not include such prominent members of the death metal scene, the album would not have received a second thought or listen by anyone.
Thankfully, Brutal Truth took to the stage next, alleviating the crushing boredom wrought by Hail of Bullets, immediately stirring me from my needed respite. Bassist Dan Lilker commented that his throat was hoarse, and he would be unable to do backup vocals; luckily, their performance was not hindered by this revelation in any way. Frontman Kevin Sharpe, sporting a nice cut in the middle of his forehead from the previous night’s on-stage chaos, was as engaging as ever as the band merged classic and new in a seamless display of veteran competency.
After a short stint of watching Misery Index (who were capable, though nearly totally unfamiliar to this reviewer,), the ever-anticipated Immolation was up next on the outside stage. Baffling is the fact that Immolation is not a more recognized band in the death metal community; they have been together for over two decades, and have received a good deal of praise and notoriety, but when the heavy hitters of the genre are mentioned, Immolation is rarely on the list — modern audiences seem, unfortunately, to be fixated on flashy technicality, blast beats and other novelties rather than on songwriting, one of the talents at which Immolation has always excelled.
A highlight of Immolation’s set was a favorite off of Dawn of Possession, “Into Everlasting Fire.” Unfortunately for them, equipment problems at the beginning of their set forced the band to shorten their playing time. Nonetheless, their performance was top-notch, and those who have not witnessed them in a live setting are truly missing out on one of death metal’s legendary acts.
Atheist was poised to perform shortly thereafter on the outside stage. The long-awaited return of Atheist was most certainly a reason for many who attended MDF. Before their initial arrival, the feeling that one was about to hear such classics as “Mother Man” and “Piece of Time” in a live setting seemed almost unreal. Despite this overwhelming anticipation, it seemed almost immediately that their performance that night would be good, but not great, as might be expected on such a fortunate occasion from these exemplary musicians. Vocalist Kelly Shaffer (who, thanks to his well-known tendonitis affliction, was not playing any instruments) apparently smokes a lot of cigarettes, and it showed in his strained performance almost as if it hurt him intensely to do his characteristic snarl. Despite the slight disappointments, it was a welcome sight to see Atheist performing together again, and musically there were few real mishaps.
Up next outdoors was one of the bands that I specifically wished to see: Napalm Death. Their material from 1985 to 1992 is some of my favorite music from any genre. After that period, a lot of mediocrity and occasional awfulness plagued the band. More recently,The Code is Red had enough fire in it to be a moderately enjoyable album — a breath of fresh air for old time fans. Despite their last two albums feeling more like a band having totally given up, rather than one whose enthusiasm and creative drive are intact, I was still eager to see them perform. All-time classic tracks — “It’s A! M.A.N.S. World,” “Deciever,” “Life?,” “Scum,” “The Kill,” and of course, “You Suffer” — were battered through with the confidence and poise of professionals clearly beyond comfortable with their abilities, inducing the crowd (including myself) to a violent moshing melee. With luck, this confidence will shine through in future recordings to provide the element of desire that has been conspicuously absent in their latest works.
The final performer on the outside stage at MDF was none other than England’s Bolt Thrower. After years of prodding by the event organizers, Bolt Thrower was finally convinced to cross the pond to headline Saturday’s show. A quick glance around the concert area told me that Bolt Thrower had quite possibly drawn the largest crowd of the fest thus far — with good reason, as this would be Bolt Thrower’s first show in the USA in 14 years. A thunderous ovation erupted as the band took the stage. It was a welcome return for some of the older spectators; for most on their first time through, it was a near-magical experience to see one of death metal’s stalwarts performing their numerous classics in the flesh. As expected, Bolt Thrower unleashed an audio barrage upon the helpless audience, the sound rolling over the crowd like an armored division. Particular highlights were “The IVth Crusade,” “Cenotaph,” and “For Victory,” though every song, old to new, was performed flawlessly. The fervent feedback from the audience fed the band members, who thrived off the positive energy.
Day three began like the other two days: with a bunch of bands no one gave a shit about. Apart from Magrudergrind’s violent intensity, there wasn’t much to see until Absu took the stage outside.
When Absu did finally take the stage, they began playing immediately. After a short ambient intro piece, Proscriptor greeted the rather large turnout. Strangely, Proscriptor mostly stuck to drumming, providing backup vocals through parts of the set, but only leading on a few songs. This choice proved to be a bit disheartening, as the new guitarist/singer is comparatively timid = vocally. Absu soldiered onward regardless, doing what they manage given their criminally short set time. With their latest album being a mishmash between excellent instrumental performance and less than stellar songwriting, it wise probably wise that only one song from the album was played.
After Abscess and Aura Noir, who were both competent (especially the latter), Destroyer 666 took the stage to end the final night of outdoor performances. The Australian quartet was greeted with an enthusiasm that was transferred directly to their fiery presentation. Like the other major acts present, D666 were tight instrumentally, and frontman KK Warslut was able to whip the crowd into a demonic frenzy. The booming choruses of “I Am The Wargod” and “Black City – Black Fire” were particularly memorable. All in all, an appropriate high point to conclude the outdoor stage.
Pestilence had apparently run into visa issues, and like Marduk, were not able to enter the USA. To compensate for this, the outdoor stage bands were given slightly longer set times, and it was announced that a surprise performer would take Pestilence’s time slot on the inside stage. Rumors abounded as to who this surprise would be, and it turned out to be Bolt Thrower, who had stayed behind to tear through a second set in top-notch fashion and enthusiasm, which will only further cement their weekend appearance as one of latter-day death metal legend.
Maryland Deathfest, while somewhat choked with vagabonds and hipsters — an inevitable side-effect of the longevity of the festivals themselves and urban environments in which they are nearly always held — was well-attended and exceptionally well-organized. Coupled with the amicable staff, this made for a superbly positive experience often lacking in metal gatherings at this scale. Besides the superb planning and execution in the background, the line-up was likely one of the best of any fest of recent vintage, including several notable reformed death metal acts and a number of rare appearances in the same three-day span.
Refreshing was the fact that the more hipster-oriented bands did not receive nearly the reception of the respectable and established bands; more refreshing still was the welcome that awaited the old guard death metal/grindcore bands — the likes of Asphyx, Bolt Thrower, Brutal Truth, Immolation and Atheist — who after years of struggling against the “deaths” of their respective genres and the attendant mediocre aftermath are finally again reaping the rewards of writing and performing music that embraces original ideals. Perhaps this is just a part of a potential rebirth of metal, hopefully one that MDF will continue to foster by providing sanctuary to the bands of quality that have made these genres exciting to listen to since the beginning.
– Written by deadite
Hail of Bullets
Wolves in the Throne Room
The Red Chord
Kill the Client
Lair of the Minotaur
Pretty Little Flower
The Endless Blockade
Agenda of Swine
Drugs of Faith