Following the example of Kreator in Phantom Antichrist, Scythian unite riffing approaches from different metal subgenres under the banner of traditional heavy metal and growled or barked vocals, with a result along the lines of the so-called melodic death metal. In contrast with the noteworthy release Thy Black Destiny, by Sacramentum, Hubris in Excelsis does not coalesce into a thing of its own but just floats around as the result of spare parts being put together to form an undefined, impersonal and disparate heavy metal record. In this, and its revolving around the vocals it is more akin to the Iron Maiden – inclined heavy metal which sets one foot on hard-rock land, using disconnected riffs only as rhythm and harmony to carry the voice.
We hear doom metal proceedings and textures typical of black metal, but these are usually encapsulated within sections. These sections are used in conventional rock-song functionality. What determines this rock versus metal approach? Basically, the total relationship of riffs and sections to voice and in between themselves. Rock (and hard rock after it) carries the music after the vocal lines (thus we can see the slight influence of hard rock over Slayer in South of Heaven even though it doesn’t fully give in to the tendency to disqualify it as a metal record). The key tell-tale sign after this is the lack or at least a downplay of motif-relation between parts of the song, the support for main melody or vocal line becoming the most important and prominent element. The effect of this often results in something similar but in the end different from metalcore: disparate parts tied loosely by a certain background consistency (usually harmony for rock and rhythms or motifs drowned in an ocean of contrasts for metalcore).
The plentiful references to many different genres extending all the way to cliche-ridden pagan black metal may throw off the attempts of most to nail down what Hubris in Excelsis actually is, what it consists of and what its essence ultimately is. Hubris in Excelsis is indeed a title that reflects this album beyond their intended concept. Hubris, an excess of self-confidence, often at the expense of prudence and seemliness, is placed in a position of glory, giving way to veiled expressions of ego that disregard any sense of coherence and little consistency beyond the most superficial.
When future history is written, either on the scraps of a dead civilization or the new frontiers of a restored one, it may include a mention of Generation X as a precipice between old and new. In 1989, waves of thought were already concentrating on the idea Francis Fukuyama would express a few years later, which was that history was pretty much over and a final human form had been found. Now, the thought ran, we only had to figure out the parts of life that were not government or economics.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure dropped into this fertile climate like a bomb of pleasant discomfiture. Its ostensibly pleasant message resonated with a nation caught in indecision. The 1960s had legitimized every behavior, but lacking the comforting direction of the 1940s, it felt adrift. It was somewhat clear the Cold War was winding down and change would happen soon. It would arrive in a void of purpose that unsettled Americans. We had prosperity, relative peace and working social institutions, but life still echoed with a basic emptiness.
The plot involves two Southern California kids who, coming from unstable families, have decided to chuck everything and be in a hard rock band. Their challenge awaiting them is that, being disengaged from public reality entirely, they are about to fail history and with it, a year of high school, which will lead to their separation and the death of the band. With the help of a visitor from the future (George Carlin) the two set off to explore history in order to learn what school could not teach them.
Science-fiction nerds will note rather cruelly that this movie may have borrowed its basic plot device from a British series of the 1960s, Dr. Who. Where the Doctor ventured in a call box, American time travelers got a phone booth. Otherwise, the devices resemble each other to a great degree. The plot follows a simple course of introducing the dilemma, then a series of essentially short skits involving a mockery of different historical periods, followed by a somewhat complex confrontation between historical characters and the 1989 world and then a pleasant and satisfying conclusion.
It would be a mistake to write this movie off as shallow, however. Bill and Ted are two of the most wounded characters to occupy the screen during the 1980s. Both have shattered family origins, low self-esteem, and are perplexed by a world that seems like commercials projected onto screens behind which people wallow in insecurity, doubt and meaninglessness. As many did during the 1980s, they hide behind idiocy as a way of shielding themselves from expectations. They find adults hard to take seriously because adults are focused on methods and results, but not quality of experience. Bill and Ted delineate themselves as characters by their pursuit of something above what they know as life, starting with actually having purpose, even if they have no idea how to go about it.
They launch into their adventure with a jovial carefree attitude that dramatically contrasts the adults of the day. Where 1980s authority figures are rigid and demanding, Bill and Ted look to the value of a given experience in itself. As they go through history, this makes them able to adapt to many different circumstances from which they borrow historical personages. On being brought to the setting of the movie in San Dimas, CA, these figures interact with modern locals and quickly show themselves to be far more competent than your average citizen of the modern era. This movie makes contemporary people look like blockheads who depend on rules and rigid social order to keep themselves from drifting into oblivion, and quickly show a kinship between Bill, Ted and their historical counterparts: all of them dream not only bigger, but of something better, even when simply pursuing their own pleasures. In contrast to the spraypaint color and fake tans of Southern California, the historical humans are a flash of brightness like lightning.
Most of us will find the ending to this film somewhat cheesy, but there is no way to avoid it with a plot that completes itself with a finite achievement; emotional closure does not occur, so the filmmakers allow us a few moments of comedic absurdity with one exception. Look for psychoanalysis to make an appearance and underline a vital plot point in the final few minutes of the film. As always, this movie shows a clash between Baby Boomers, who grew up in a world with order and assume it still exists, and Bill and Ted — symbols for Generation X — who awoke in a world that made no sense, was vapid and had no sense of its own history.
In undertaking their journey through greatness of the past, Bill and Ted in many ways summarize their own time. It struggled with literal threats like the Wild West, political instability, invasions, religious wars and neurosis, but now returns back to its roots in the Socratic questions about the value in life itself. This alludes to what Fukuyama wrote about, which is the question before humanity: become mere materialists, or rise above? Bill and Ted answer with a resounding Be excellent to each other, a message that resonated with many back at the end of the Cold War in its transformative formula for a quantitative world to improve itself instead of stagnating.
Now that our society has fallen apart further, the 1980s like simple and honest like the 1950s did to people exhausted of modern society in the 1980s. A better outlook might be that however our fallen time, it is a more fallen version of the 1980s, with the same pitfalls and failures. Those who lived through it can tell you how much a time of terror it was, with nuclear warfare and social collapse at every turn, and how this propelled some artists to put their most sacred hopes and fears into music. Excel was not one of them.
Excel created this “crossover thrash” back in the 1980s but really, this album belongs in with the Pantera/Biohazard school of bouncy hard rock in punk form with some added metal riffs. The problem with hard rock is that it relies on a simple mentality behind its riffs and that it aims to attract, so it is the equivalent of carnival music or a dinner theater side-show, which is really obvious music that gratifies really basic desires. That keeps the interest less than something articulated and involved like DRI, which offers its own riff style that obviously derives influence from many places, but does not parrot them. The only hidden influence here would be a more pronounced version of the Orange County surf-rock sound that incorporates novelty and party music into basic rock and projects it onto whatever genre can serve as canvas, in this case the basic punk of Excel. The tendency toward riffs based on playing a consistent trope, then interrupting it so the audience can get excited for it to return, while a technique to some degree in most music here becomes a staple in the most basic, drunk football fan throwing feces at the stage way.
The “crossover” part here consists of faster punk riffs that pick up after the chunky bounce-metal riffs and grandstanding hard rock riffs run out. Over this, a vocalist essentially speaks his lines and ends them on a melodic uptake, and although he deserves some note for periodically sounding like Snake from Voivod, these vocals bring out nothing in the music and mostly try to draw attention to themselves with the rest of the music as background atmosphere. Drums sound like a jogger trying to keep up with the vocals and far too often fall into the same syncopated beat that adds nothing but background noise, since the guitar and vocal hooks are nearly in unison and provide all the rhythm we need. While from a distance this album will appear to be no different than DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and Suicidal Tendencies, it lacks the fundamental spirit toward the expression itself as something distinct from and not pandering to the crowd. There is too much pander in Excel, and it dumbs down the music.
Like thrash before it, grindcorewas born out of a convergence of elements of punk and metal. Where thrash combined metal song structure and intensity with the brevity and minimalism of punk, grindcore merged the most abrasive aspects of hardcore punk with the techniques of death metal of the oldest school, arriving at an uncompromisingly direct and streamlined torrent of atavistic rage.
To be a writer, if you are any good, is to be a blasphemer. Humanity is an entropy engine because each person decides on what view of the world makes them look the best, and so the constant weight pushing down on us is that of the herd, of a group of individuals united only by selfishness, come together into a mob for the purpose of asserting their right to be different and unique, constantly leading away from an understanding of the world around us and any meaning that can be found in it.
With the fiftieth anniversary of metal music around the corner, forthcoming years will witness an increase of publications dealing with the history, legacy and defining characteristics of the genre. This could finally resolve the lack of consensus that still exists regarding the definition and origins of heavy metal.
Music serves many roles in our lives, but the one closest to our sense of well-being is a rediscovery of beauty and purpose in the world. While neither is universal, or experienced by all people, the former is closer to the objective, meaning that it concerns the world itself, and the latter is closer to subjective, in that we each find our own path and so our purpose — while a descendant of broader purpose like adaptation, excellence, or knowledge — reflects our discernment and choice of that path in the moment.