Why write bad reviews at all? Good music is rare, and bad is everywhere, but if you do not explicitly identify the failings of bad, most people will find it appealing because it does not interrupt their steady stream of self-centered thoughts and is easier than seeking good. If you like good music and want more of it, you must bash as well as praise, as Machiavelli would tell you. And with that, the latest installment of the Sadistic Metal Reviews…
This interview was completed with Blender Jeremy Reeves, Adam O’Neill and Ted Swearingen.
Like many Hessians, I enjoy Nicotine, not only for its calming mental state but for its cognitive benefits. While I love cigarettes, snuff, chew, cigars and cigarillos, my ultimate love is the pipe: a method of absorbing Nicotine slowly, with maximum flavor, that rewards the contemplative mind.
As a result, I have become a fan of not only Cornell & Diehl tobacco blenders, but also occultist Aleister Crowley’s blend of “rum soaked Perique” which he smoked to prepare for mystic rituals. When I heard that Cornell & Diehl’s new “Small Batch” division was planning on releasing a Crowley-themed tobacco named The Beast, I reached out to the C&D blenders with a few questions about the worlds beyond, heavy metal and pipe tobacco.
Cornell & Diehl is releasing a new The Beast tobacco blend. Some have said this is just an extended April Fool’s joke. Is it for real? When does it come out?
The Beast is certainly for real, and will be C&D’s second Small Batch release. There will be 777 tins made, and the official retail release date is April 29th.
What will The Beast be like, and will it feature tribute to Crowley’s lore-famed mixture of rum-soaked Perique?
The Beast is quite powerful and very heavy, being mostly Perique, and the whole blend has been soaked in rum for 7 days. It is undeniably Crowley inspired, and that in and of itself is our tribute.
Have you ever smoked rum-soaked Perique straight and if so, what did you think of it? How will The Beast compare?
I have and honestly I rather enjoyed it. I actually smoke our long-cut Perique straight occasionally on my drive home. If you puff like a freight train, it will knock your socks off, but if you just keep it simmering, the depth of flavor is mesmerizing, and the nicotine is slow to come on and builds nicely.
The Beast is a powerhouse, but it is not straight Perique. I like to think that we have tamed the beast a bit.
How long does it take you guys to invent a new blend recipe? Is there a lot of trial and error? What’s the most fun part?
That all depends on the specific blend in question. I always make several versions of a blend and try different approaches or methods. Sometimes I get it in the first few tries, and sometimes it takes weeks or months of experimentation. There are two blends that I have been working on for about 6 months, and they are getting close to completion but still aren’t quite right.
In the case of The Beast, Ted Swearingen and I collaborated on the blending. We each came up with several recipes and then smoked through the lot together with Shane Ireland and Sykes Wilford. What a time that was! Four guys in a little room smoking seven different versions of this really heavy, rum-soaked Perique blend for about an hour. By the end of it, we all were glazed over, dazed, sweating, and dizzy!
With the new C&D “small batch” line, you’re trying something different. Is this a way for C&D to “test the waters” with new blends? About how much of each small batch do you initially produce?
Yes and no. I don’t necessarily think of Small Batch as a way to test the waters for large scale production, but rather a way for us to be creative and try new things without having to commit to a blend that may be too niche to produce on a more permanent basis.
The C&D line is quite large already, so this model gives us more freedom to try things that might be be difficult in regular production or to use special ingredients that are in limited supply. The possibilities are a lot more open in Small Batch, because we are only going to make the blend one time.
The first round of Small Batch was “Straight Up English,” and we did 400 tins. They all sold in two hours. There will be 777 tins of The Beast released. Next time? That’s anybody’s guess.
Did this approach grow out of a previous marketing strategy by C&D? It seems like you were very adventurous in putting a lot of blends out there and seeing what “stuck” with the audience. How do you know if a blend “sticks”?
That’s actually a remarkably pertinent question given that The Beast is coming out under our Small Batch label. Our main vision for this line was to be able to be more flexible and creative in the blending process without having to commit to production of a large run. In the case of Straight Up English, we’d received some particularly good bright Virginias from Canada and wanted to showcase the interplay between those leaves and Latakia. In the case of “The Beast,” we just wanted a chance to tinker with Crowley’s famous blend, which is an idea we’d always toyed with, but we could never do before now.
As for whether or not a blend “sticks,” we use a combination of feedback and sales. Some blends might not sell so well, but get a lot of positive feedback. In these cases, we’ll usually just scale back production and keep the blend around.
When your team designs a blend, how do you handle the balance between “I would like this” and “our customers would like this,” or are the two very similar?
My approach is to blend things that taste like I want them to and then to consider whether there is broader appeal by taking it around the office and getting feedback. With a quite diverse group of pipe smokers with varied style and taste preferences all in one building, this approach helps me to hone ideas, improve blends, and gain insight into what other members of the pipe smoking community might think of whatever the blend in question might be.
Did you read any Crowley, practice any rituals or listen to any occult-influenced tunes during the invention and production of the blend?
Ted has read quite a bit of Crowley’s work, including The Book of Law, The Book of Lies, The Book of Thoth, and Liber 777 — the title that inspired the number of tins for this blend.
There was not enough room in the production area to make a proper altar, and not enough time in the work day to draw a sigil, but I listen to a lot of occult inspired music of many different genres. Pentagram, Diecide, Asphyx, Possessed, the Devil’s Blood, Celtic Frost, Bathory, Diamanda Galas, Skip James, Iron Maiden, Axe, Black Widow, Sabbat, Black Sabbath all find their way into my regular listening rotation.
Why a tribute to Crowley? Will you be doing tributes to other “interesting” writers?
It seems that Crowley’s idea of smoking Perique soaked in rum in order to reach an altered state for the purpose of performing the dark arts has really resonated with a number of people in the pipe community, inspiring many to try it, and many more to talk about it with varying tones of trepidation, disgust, or fascination.
We wanted to do something that was evocative of Crowley’s mixture but would also be a little tamer and more interesting than just Perique and rum.
I can think of no other author who has inspired such an intriguing bit of pipe lore than Aleister Crowley. That said, you never know where our next inspiration might spring from.
I write for the net’s oldest underground metal site and our audience are rabid death metal fans. Do you all listen to any heavy metal or death metal over there, especially when mixing up Perique? Why should a death metal fan adopt the pipe?
That’s really cool to know! I will have to check out your site!
As I mentioned earlier, I do listen to a lot of metal, and old school death metal is some of my favorite music. Cancer, Disembowelment, Death, Slayer, Onslaught, Monstrosity, Exhorder, Goreguts, Cannibal Corpse, Pestilence…. not counting my physical collection, digitally I have over four months of music, and I’d guess that about 60% of that is metal of various styles (doom, thrash, death, tech, grind, classic, prog, shoegaze, etc.). A couple of the other guys here listen to metal as well.
I think that pipe smoking goes beautifully with classic doom like Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus, or even the sludgy kind of stuff like Crowbar. I find that I have to concentrate a bit more on keeping my smoking cadence slow if I am jamming to something really speedy like Origin or Pig Destroyer.
How did you get into smoking pipes, blending and eventually working for an innovator like C&D?
Really, that all started in 2003, when I took a position as a sales clerk at a cigar shop in Chicago called Blue Havana. The owner of the shop rented a number of properties in the area, and as it turned out, one of his tenants was our shop’s Lane sales representative, Jeff. I smoked cigars and cigarettes at this point, but Jeff was a dedicated pipe smoker and gave me my first pipe, an old Stanwell sandblasted Billiard that was well smoked.
This pipe and Jeff’s careful tutelage really started my curiosity and interest in pipes and pipe smoking, but it wasn’t until I left that position in 2006 and went to work at Iwan Ries that pipes really clicked. I have always been an adventurous smoker, always looking to smoke something new, and Iwan Ries certainly offered more pipe tobacco and pipes in one place than any other shop. Suffice to say, I tried as much as I could get my hands on. It was also while employed at Iwan Ries that I first became aware of the greater pipe smoking community, eclectic and strange as it is. This was also the first time that I became aware of Smokingpipes.com.
When I left Iwan Ries in 2007, I went back to working in restaurants, and when I left Chicago to move to Portland, OR, Smokingpipes became my primary source of pipes and pipe tobacco. I was continuing to work in food service, making wood-fired pizza at Pyro Pizza. We were using local ingredients, making our own mozzarella, butchering, and curing our own meats, making our own sodas, growing our own herbs, etc. I had always cooked from a young age, but this was really creating food on a whole new level. I also had the opportunity to build two wood fire ovens for the company, which was really cool.
After a few years at Pyro, I learned of a job opening at Smokingpipes and decided, at the urging of my girlfriend at the time, to apply. They called me the next day, and a week later I flew to South Carolina to interview. I was hired in the Customer Service department for Smokingpipes.com. Cornell and Diehl had become my favorite blending house, and I was delighted to learn that they were merging with Laudisi, SPC’s parent company. Later it came to light that when C&D was to South Carolina, head blender Ted Connolly would be taking retirement, and toward the end of 2014, I was offered the position as his replacement, which I gladly accepted.
I began traveling to Morganton to train with Ted C. and the team in the beginning of 2015, and in May of that year the company relocated to join the rest of Laudisi in the new facility, located in Longs, SC. That’s the condensed version, anyway.
If people like what you’re up to, how do they follow your activities and those of C&D online? Is there a C&D tobacco you’d recommend to start with?
We’re pretty active on all of the usual platforms — Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube — plus, as you know, we tend to lurk around the forums.
New pipe smokers tend to roll with Aromatics when they first start out. As such, Autumn Evening (by far our most popular Aromatic) is perfect for newbies, as it smokes dry and cool, which means less relights and tongue bite. Plus it has the same unique red Virginia Cavendish we’ve used in The Beast, only with a topping of boozy maple.
There is an experience like deja vu which feels more like parallax motion. This sensation is that of seeing parallels between two things which, visually at least, seem to have nothing in common. And yet it also feels like racing over open ground in a landscape of discovery. Consider this observation from a pipe collecting writer:
Some innovations are not innovative at all. They are ideas that have been explored–and even made–long before. That the current experimenter is ignorant of previous attempts does not make the effort novel. It also does not make revising an idea or revisiting a solution unworthy. But don’t make untrue claims. Socrates’ observation that “There is nothing new under the sun” is almost always true.
Other “innovations” are transparent attempts at attention-getting. Putting products out there that exclaim “Look at me! I’m SO leading edge! I’m an artist!” might work for Miley Cyrus, but the average pipemaker’s target audience is somewhat less naïve nor impressionable, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at some of the work being touted on Facebook pipe groups these days.
What amazes me even more is that the work on the ridiculous end of the sublime-to-ridiculous continuum attracts its champions, and they seem eager to whoop and hurrah without engaging in any critical discourse at all. It’s hype, hype, hype. In my view, hyping isn’t helpful because it inhibits thoughtful conversations that might contribute to improving or at least refining the innovations being touted.
He draws a distinction between what we might call invention, or application of new ideas to a realistic use, as distinct from novelty, which is the creation of “new” ideas for newness’ sake. In metal terms, it takes some brains and guts to create a sublime form of a metal genre, but any idiot can add ska, jazz and rockabilly to Pantera and come up with something “new.”
Metalcore in particular is consumed by this view of novelty as a target. Since its songs are built in the post-hardcore random collage style, just about anything fits into a metalcore band, which is why it has aesthetically-diverse but musically-similar acts like Animals as Leaders, Obscura, Behemoth, The Haunted and The Red Chord under the same genre banner. Each riff is like a different act in a variety show. This is why it has the “carnival music” approach: its compositional structure is verse chorus with an extended musical appositive in which the random is prized more than the coherent, or that which flows from one point to another in a sensible narrative.
Some would say this is its artistic appeal, that metalcore expresses the randomness and purposeless directionless consumption of our time. That may be true, but the best art does not merely protest, but forms beauty out of sense and makes it compelling in a new way. Others might defend metalcore as “open-minded,” as was popular with bad gimmick death metal bands in the early 1990s, and even early mathcore experiments. Yet randomness is not open-mindedness; it is refusal to make up one’s mind, and by burying the audience under different elements, essentially hiding what one thinks and hedging one’s bests. How do you criticize a band that has a riff from every imaginable style in each song, except to note that greater randomness produces greater proximity to background noise? Andy Warhol might sell metalcore as an avant garde representation of the background noise of the city.
And yet, we had two-riffs plus breakdowns bands back in the day. Metalcore itself is an extension of post-hardcore, which was a late 1980s thing. None of this “innovation” is in fact new; it is merely recycling the same old sad elements, like the clichés in movies where every rebellious character has to ride a Harley, drink Jack Daniels, smoke Reds and listen to heavy metal. Generally the pattern for metalcore bands is that they find something that people want but do not understand, then make a simplified — in this case, random — version of it, and then pimp it out. Opeth for example made their career off the idea of being too deep for most people, but were basically a re-hash of what Cemetary and Tiamat did five years before. Meshuggah took what Exhorder and Vio-lence did with speed metal riffs but made it more obvious, simplified and put it to a jazz-style complex offbeat structure, but added nothing new musically, and in fact took away most of the musicality. Cradle of Filth figured out that if someone made a heavy metal band that sounded like black metal, it would outsell the original. And so on.
Here is a useful definition regarding metalcore:
A blend of hardcore and metal music that evolved in the mid-to-late 90’s with bands like Unbroken, Earth Crisis, Harvest, Endeavor, Poison The Well and Unearth. There is a liberal use of breakdowns in the music and the lyrical themes range from the political to the personal.
Compare to a similar definition for deathcore:
Deathcore is a style of extreme music often confused by its fans with death metal. Deathcore draws heavily from the “malcore” style of metalcore in the sense that elements of its sound, both in composition and production, are rejected by the more conservative metal culture (ex. death/black/thrash/sludge metal). Deathcore differs from metalcore in the sense that it is generally faster, more heavy, and tending toward darker themes such as are present in death metal. Deathcore is also notorious for the excessive use of breakdowns, an element also present (but less frequent) in death metal and other ‘true’ metal genres. Hardcore dancing, a dance style in which fans swing their arms and legs violently in rhythm, has become hugely popular among deathcore fans, and is a trademark of live deathcore shows.
Despite many fans’ beliefs, deathcore is vastly different from traditional death metal. Musically, the deathcore song structure is generally much more formulaic than that of death metal; songs tend to have one or two guitar riffs, several breakdowns, and possibly a chorus. Deathcore composition is also much less complex, many songs featuring doubled guitar parts or simple guitar harmonies, with the bass guitar being almost entirely indistinguishable.
Our normal impulse is to say “Well, you listen to what you like, and I will listen to what I like.” That is the socially correct answer at least which is one reason why it is wrong: social preference selects for the unreal because people prefer illusion. The problem is that when idiot music shows up, idiots show up, and they outnumber anyone competent. If they can appropriate the style of your genre and make a dumbed-down sugar, salt and fat added version of it, they will replace you. You will not keep listening to what you like because no new versions of it will come out because no musician will touch a genre infested by idiots unless he or she wants to profit from idiots. Your genre will be assimilated and replaced. That is exactly what happened to metal since 1994.
Some people moan any time a person wants to connect metal with social trends, history or other traditional forms of analysis. that is because those people want to keep metal as a hobby, a product and something special removed from everything else that is just there to be enjoyed. But on the other hand, many artists have given up more comfortable lives cranking out alt-country, indie rock or rap to spend their time trying to make quality metal, and it seems pointless to disrespect and ignore that. If we look at metal through the historical development of an artistic movement, it becomes clear that it offers not just another version of the same rock ‘n’ roll idea, but an entirely different idea. Rock is, like all post-Enlightenment thought, about the primacy of the individual. Metal rebels against that with hard realism.
Perhaps the hard realism is right. After all, this society is miserable — another one of those things that metal reminds us of daily — and besotted with lies, committing ecocide against nature, forcing people into miserable jobs, and specializes in tearing down beautiful things to replace them with strip malls and endless rules. I would go so far as to say this is the worst age of humanity, except for the mindlessly selfish, who sure love that 500-channel cable and easy jobs and fast credit that make them feel like kings in the tiny little fraction of the universe that they notice. Over time I have come to observe that the smarter someone is, the more aware they are not just of particular ideas or facts but of space, area, time and their own smallness. An idiot thinks he is the sole occupant of the planet; a medium-intelligence person is aware of his community; a genius is aware of the cosmos, the past and future of humanity as a whole, and the people even far from him. Metal rebels against our society both on the basis that it is formed of affectionate-sounding lies, and that it is ugly, pointless, boring and crass.
But that is “alternative history” to the majority of people. They believe — because they want to believe — that our time is the apex of humanity. And technologically, surely it is, although most of this stuff seems like fumbly-fidgety rehashes of 1970s inventions like UNIX and networking. They ignore the vast misery not just among the impoverished, but among the successful, and the utter boredom of the purposeless nature of modern life. Every generation, social order decays further and people become more like witches, of dishonest, selfish, petty, and oblivious character. Each generation can say to the one after, “Stuff’s worse than when I was a kid, so have an iPod and we’ll call it even, OK?” As long as we stick with official history there is nothing we can do with that. As others have noted, perhaps the root of invention as opposed to novelty is a willingness to leap off the platform of official history and look into other reasons, not new but realistic and truthful instead of merely socially popular ones.
Speaking of alternative history, I encountered this passage today. You might call it Libertarians for Monarchy. It takes an economist’s view of the change in history, and shows how alternative history might have been right, after all, and how we might all just be living in denial and cruising on the wealth of the past (Hans-Hermann Hoppe via Outside In:
A king owned the territory and could hand it on to his son, and thus tried to preserve its value. A democratic ruler was and is a temporary caretaker and thus tries to maximize current government income of all sorts at the expense of capital values, and thus wastes. […] Here are some of the consequences: during the monarchical age before World War I, government expenditure as a percent of GNP was rarely higher than 5%. Since then it has typically risen to around 50%. Prior to World War I, government employment was typically less than 3% of total employment. Since then it has increased to between 15 and 20%. The monarchical age was characterized by a commodity money (gold) and the purchasing power of money gradually increased. In contrast, the democratic age is the age of paper money whose purchasing power has permanently decreased. […] Kings went deeper and deeper into debt, but at least during peacetime they typically reduced their debt load. During the democratic era government debt has increased in war and in peace to incredible heights. Real interest rates during the monarchical age had gradually fallen to somewhere around 2½%. Since then, real interest rates (nominal rates adjusted for inflation) have risen to somewhere around 5% — equal to 15th-century rates. Legislation virtually did not exist until the end of the 19th century. Today, in a single year, tens of thousands of laws and regulations are passed. Savings rates are declining instead of increasing with increasing incomes, and indicators of family disintegration and crime are moving constantly upward.
In a time when popularity determines success, appearance is more important than reality. This is what gives rise to novelty, or essentially — as our pipe smoker above reminded us — re-visiting of old ideas in bizarre new forms that entice the herd because they are different and unique, which is how all of those bonobos view themselves and want to assert as their reason for having importance. We call most of them hipsters, but the phenomenon is broader than that; we live in a time that is appearance-over-substance, and as long as metal panders to that demographic, its fortunes will not improve.
As the internet dies a slow death from both information overload and undue concentration (and thus agenda enforced) in sites like Wikipedia and Metal-Archives, many metalheads are returning to zines. Zine editors choose what to focus on and tend to specialize in certain levels of quality and types of metal, so if you find one you like, it becomes a combination learning experience and shopping guide.
Noticing a void of information on Texas specifically, JH (his lawyers insist that no identifying details are used) has started the process of bringing Under the Sign of the Lone Star to print. As part of the new wave of underground metal zines, this Texas-centric zine will focus on that which the mainstream media and internet chatter alike ignore.
We were lucky enough to get a few minutes with JH as he was loading suspiciously heavy blue barrels into a panel truck outside Lubbock…
When did this idea hit you, and what was your intent? What sorts of zines do you admire?
I’ve written on-and-off for years, and about two years ago I had the idea to put my thoughts to print instead of in a digital medium. Life got in the way and since I didn’t have any real focus other than “bands I liked”, the idea fell by the wayside. Fast-forward to the tail-end of 2014 and I found myself staring at a magazine rack full of “metal” magazines with, surprise surprise, no actual metal (or at least, with the actual metal de-emphasized in favor of flavor-of-the-month trash). I found myself compelled to write again as a reaction against those publications and began writing the zine as soon as I realized the concept.
I like my zines the way I like my metal demo covers: black-and-white, fairly minimal layout/presentation, and without pulling any punches if that makes sense. Some of my favorite (and most influential) metal releases are underground demos and I feel as the final result of UtSotLS is a printed equivalent of a tape demo (not that I’m comparing it to something as good as “Evil Metal”, of course). Also I’m not a talented writer in the technical sense, but I do feel a passion for putting thoughts to pen. I see it as similar to older releases that lacked by-the-book musicianship but had a near-tangible fire in their recordings.
Zines that get my support: Codex Obscurum, Slaves (#2 has killer interviews from Lust, Amputator, and more), Trident Nation, Chips & Beer, Zombie Danz, and Serpentscope which gets an A+ for original concept. And Slayer was killer, obviously.
What is the topic of the zine, and what will it cover, and will there be enough material?
The topic of the zine is bands from Texas that people should know about. Lots of reviews (including a few live ones), some interviews, and additional content that will hopefully open a few eyes to the metal that rules in this state.
As for whether there will be enough material; that will be for the readers to decide. Personally I prefer to keep things short and to-the-point rather than drag things out longer than necessary. I’d rather read a 20-page zine with interesting content than an 80-page behemoth with maybe four good articles. I’m finalizing the layout at the moment but it will be over thirty pages which works for me.
What is the Texas scene like? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
The Texas metal scene could probably be summed up in three adjectives: loud, aggressive, and hot. Admittedly I would say that it is fairer to split each city into its own scene rather than Texas as a whole for reasons elaborated on below, but just about every city has killer bands in their own right.
Strengths: The bands. That should speak for itself, but also the abundance of shows. There’s always something going on in at least one city (although you may have to drive for a while, see below). Also a lot of awesome bands from other states or countries play here often. Destroying Texas Fest XI with Blood Storm, Nocturnus A.D., Hades Archer, and Force of Darkness is an example of one that will crush.
Weaknesses: The state itself is gigantic. It’s pretty common to find yourself driving for hours to see a show in another city that would be the distance between states up North, or even countries in Europe. Also the summers are pretty brutal. Any time you’re in a venue and the AC is busted it’s borderline unbearable. But it’s always worth it in the end. Live for metal, get heat stroke for metal.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to get involved with metal? Are there other staff?
I’m a mid-twenties bassist who drinks black coffee and plays faster than he should. I am also a native Texan, if anyone cared. I started with Metallica at age 14 and the first “gaze into the abyss” was Slayer. Progressed through classic metal (Sabbath, Motorhead), then thrash (Sepultura, Exhorder, Hirax), then death/thrash (Voor, Slaughter (Can.)), then death (Obituary, Morbid Angel), then black (Averse Sefira, Emperor), and so on and so forth (this is a rough timeline and far from in-depth). Started consistently going to local underground shows in 2010 with a Hexlust/Birth A.D. show and haven’t stopped since, tinnitus and neckaches be damned.
No staff other than my girlfriend who drew the cover, provided some layout assistance, and took the photo of myself for the author section. UtSotLS is a personal project at the end of the day and I prefer there to be a consistent voice throughout the whole issue.
Why do you advertise as “anti-clickbait”? What does this mean in your own lexicon?
I wouldn’t necessarily call the above an advertisement since it was just a personal statement on my own Facebook page, but I do see it as a relevant approach. “Clickbait” refers to online publications that post eye-grabbing headlines or articles (often misleading) with the intention of bringing a lot of traffic to their site to make money off advertisement revenue (this doesn’t refer to the DMU obviously, haha). I write out of passion for writing and for the music that means more to me than any worldly possessions, not out of the need to fill my bank account. As a reflection of this, no band solicited a single review and there is not one advertisement in “Under the Sign of the Lone Star”: the content is there because I wanted to write about it, 100%.
The full statement “ANTI-CLICKBAIT RAG” was a tribute to Rok from Sadistik Exekution writing “ANTI-NORWAY SHIT” on his chest ages ago and I always love to cite SadEx (and Bathory, for that matter).
If someone wanted to know what bands/zines from Texas that they MUST know, who would you list?
– Older: Necrovore, Hellpreacher, Blood Spill, Divine Eve, Dolmen, Absu, Averse Sefira, Rigor Mortis, Imprecation, Obeisance, dead horse, D.R.I, Devastation
– Newer: Hod, Hexlust, Birth A.D., Blaspherian, Morbus 666, Spectral Manifest, War Master, The Blood Royale, Church of Disgust (They’re split between TX and Florida, but that’s good enough for me), Funeral Ash, Whore of Bethlehem, Maiestas, Oath of Cruelty (who have members that are now in Morbosidad who get 666% support), Nexul/Hellvetron/Nyogthaeblisz, Termination Force, Skan, Id, Cleric, and Sigil. I’m just going to stop here since I can’t possibly list everyone – read issue #1 for plenty of examples!
Feral Noise was a killer one, as is Underworld Zine which I believe is based out of Houston if I’m not mistaken.
I understand you’re involved with the Metal Enema radio show. What’s that like? Do you consider yourself a ‘metal activist’?
Metalenema is no-holds barred insanity. I’m somewhat amazed that I haven’t been driven mad over my three-year tenure on the show, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. In all seriousness it’s a blast and one of the key ways that I myself find out about newer music from Undertaker’s contributions to our mixes (otherwise I would probably hole up in my cave listening to nothing but the same four Celtic Frost songs over and over again). We are proud to wave the flag of extreme metal over the airwaves and hopefully enlighten listeners to the way of death/black/thrash.
In all honesty I wouldn’t use the term “activist” to describe the way I live since it makes me think of stereotypical naïve teenagers with well-meaning-but-misguided political affiliations, but I do live for this music that burns inside of my soul. I enjoy plenty of other music, but metal is what set me free. Ad Majorem Metallum Gloriam : To the Death.
Many thanks to DMU for the interview! For the interested, a preview of the zine with a few interview scans is available at the link below:
Despite efforts by nearly all parties to deny it, the underlying tension in metal that created #metalgate continues: the “new fans” who want music more like indie rock or punk versus the metal fans who want metal for metal’s sake. The metal fans realize that to be metal is to be an outsider to society and all of its rationalization for its own failure, including “reforms” and “revolutions,” while the punk/indie fans want metal to endorse some of those rationalizations.
The most recent victim may have been Pantera guitarist Darrell Abbot’s grave, which was referenced in an instagram post by the (ex-) vocalist of a crust/black band which embodies the worst of both veins of metal sell-outs, both the sensitive guy indie rocks who like crustcore and the tryhard war metal types who pose as being as hardcore as possible. According to the desecrator:
We paid douchebag darrell a visit, we spit on his grave, stole a pair of cowboy boots, and i wrote “FAG” on his grave… im not a homophobe but i hope all the panturrra fans see this and shit themselves with anger… FUCK DIMEBAG, buncha racist hillbillies
Only forty-eight hours later, the apologies were flowing forth:
The fact of the matter is I feel awful and guilty and this will stick with me forever, just like the Seinfeld guy using the N word… I can not express how sorry I am to Vinnie Paul and the Abbott family for the distress I caused, and the other members of Pantera and other acts Darrell was a part of. I owe everyone an apology for my actions because they were uncalled for, and horrible, despicable, and I went way too far. Some jokes are NOT funny and this is one of them. I took a joke way too far with a piece of paper and some hurtful words and as I’ve expressed, I don’t expect any sort of acceptance or sympathy…I hope at least someone will accept this and I hope for a better future for everyone…
What is shared between both of these sentiments? They are SJW ideas. He attacks Darrell because he thinks Pantera fans are a “buncha racist hillbillies” and excuses using the word FAG because he’s not a “homophobe.” This is SJW language here, first being concerned about policing whether or not other people approve of homosexuality and second in justifying violence or worse against those who are not pro-diversity, a.k.a. “racists.” When he apologizes, he uses the term “hurtful words” and compares his actions to “the Seinfeld guy using the N word” and then states he hopes for “a better future for everyone.” His motivation as a sensitive guy with social justice ideals is revealed in both of his statements.
I will not use his real name in this article, for the record, because public shaming can cause repercussions in this person’s real life, including career and social ostracization. No honest and decent person tries to do that because it is a passive but effective way at destroying the life of another. Nor will I name or link to his band, which has been utterly forgettable and forgotten from lack of any originality as well as blatant bandwagon-riding, because this like the sucker punch at Danzig is simply a publicity stunt that generated more notoriety than was expected. Let the media trick fail on its own.
But this leads us to an ugly point: a metalhead may well be divided by this event. It would be hypocritical for metalheads to start complaining about grave desecrations now after several thousand band photos in cemetaries. It is also nonsense to complain about damage to Darrell’s grave because, as noted by a number of sources, as with Jim Morrison’s grave the majority of the damage comes from fans of the artist and not enemies.
At the same time, however, many metalheads do not feel all that great about this desecration. The reason is that the motivation behind it is wrong. Like the rest of the SJW incursion that prompted #metalgate, the desecration of Darrell Abbott’s grave was justified by SJW-logic: Pantera fans are (allegedly) racist hillbillies, and “homophobes,” so it’s not only OK but “good” (like, in the Church sense) to desecrate his grave because he and his fans are bad. This alone makes the desecration stand out as not wrong in a moral sense, but broken. Someone is using society’s logic against metal to justify making metalheads second-class citizens whose graves may be desecrated, at least for reasons other than the usual war/satan/death that make a good grave desecration. Like the metal fans who object to grave desecrations in general, or the metalheads who claimed that Pantera fans are “nationalist Juggalos”, I feel this misses the point. Society hates metal, and it uses terms like “nationalist” and “homophobe” to justify bullying metalheads, much like it used claims of Satanism and murder back in the 80s to do the same. Its goal remains unchanged: destroy metal.
We should also draw some parallels between Pantera and SJWs. Like the SJW incursion, Pantera was an invasion designed to sell-out metal so it could be assimilated by rock music, with profit for all. Metal sells well, but rock music that has the “rebellious” cachet of metal would sell even better, because rock music has been designed from its inception to be the most easily-digested and emotionally simplistic form of music ever created, like music made into baby food. It sells well because it is a compromise, both inoffensive enough that most people will tolerate it, and thoughtless enough that people like to project onto it their own emotions and needs. Rock music is basically 1950s advertising jingles set to guitars, and people buy it to stay “relevant” or to seem hip, when really it has always been and always will be a product from the same people who sell us junk we can barely afford to address problems we do not have in order to achieve an image we do not need.
The reason many of us detest Pantera is purely musical: it is part of the great Dumbing Down of heavy metal, trying to make it closer to rock/blues so that all the people in sports bars, hair salons, show-off gyms and cube farms can tap their feet to the beat just like they did every other form of rock ‘n roll. Pantera is heavy metal made into a lengthy television commercial, and in doing so, it solicited social approval in a way that is decidely against all that metal stands for and lives by. Pantera heard Exodus Impact is Imminent and Exhorder, maybe Prong Beg to Differ and realized they could make a bundle if they combined a tough guy/sensitive guy approach — a lot like what nu-metal did, come to think of it — and made the music sound a lot more like Bruce Springsteen or John Cougar Mellencamp, both of whom sold more albums than God and retired rich. That was the goal in Pantera: metal as product. For that reason, the Pantera guys abandoned their glam/hair metal and hard rock stylings, and went into Metallica style speed metal with Cowboys From Hell, giving it their Southern rock spin, and then upgraded their sound to angry brocore with the following albums before returning to a blues-saturated swamp rock sound. It worked and people bought it.
Metalheads tend to hate Pantera because it brought in the elements of society that we go to metal in order to avoid: the sleeveless shirt angry guys who start fights in cell phone stores, the blockhead rock fans who are faithless toward any ideal but their own gratification right now, and the musical circle of conformity that forms rock music. Pantera is the anti-metal disguised as metal, much like SJW music like the black/punk (lol) band who desecrated Abbott’s grave is. Pantera not just represents, but embodies, all that metal opposes and all that will destroy metal. If we look back on this story from the future, we will see how both Pantera and these grave desecrators came from the same movement, which is an attempt by the mainstream to destroy and then absorb the once-independent genre of heavy metal.
Coming from the French-Canadian progressive metal powerhouse that later loaned members to Gorguts, Extracting the Core shows us Martyr playing a live set of their classic works. Before you wince: this is one of the better-produced live albums available such that it is indiscernible from a good but not excellent studio job; all instruments are clear and mixed in a way that fits expectations of studio recordings, and crowd noise is minimal. As a live album, it preserves everything you might want to hear from a band on record or live with a bit of extra energy in the vocals as musicians trying to cram ten thousand notes into six-minute songs howl at the audience with a high rate of exertion. The real question regards the style of this musically-erudite band, which brings up the question of poetry versus burritos.
A burrito, as you may know, is one of nature’s most perfect foods. A wrap of flour and lard encloses ingredients ranging from guacamole, pico de gallo, and carne asada to Spanish rice, sour cream and refried beans, and the whole thing is then consumed with the aid of delicious picante and verde sauces. What makes a burrito excellent is that instead of choosing what to have for dinner, you have everything, but in a form more convenient even than a sandwich. One cannot praise this Mexican-Spanish-Texican-Californian dish enough. But when composing metal, it becomes a brutal force. As Socrates tells us, all events have causes. What is the cause of a song? One either intends it to tell a story, or assembles a few musical theories into contrasting elements and makes a burrito of it. As with the burrito, uniqueness is lost in favor of a kind of sameness of differentness, where each song has everything and the kitchen sink, but over time — much like the constant pounding brutality of early Napalm Death or later Suffocation-inspired bands — it all starts to become the same, different variants of essentially an identical idea. With a poem, the form of the song and techniques used reflect the content; with a burrito, the content of the song reflects the need to include many different things in the form. You can analogize to variety shows, pluralism, unitarianism, and even Christianity itself — a compilation of a dozen religions, mostly Greek, Hindu, Jewish, Nordic, Babylonian and Egyptian — if you feel the need. But the point is that while the burrito pleases everyone, it does not achieve the distinctive expression that makes a song evocative of experience, thought or perception, which is what makes a poem or song stand out. It feels like something you have encountered, or something you wish to, and more than creating a solid impression it creates a space of balanced parts ambiguity and clarity, which makes you want to launch into it and battle for the beautiful to win out over the mundane, boring, pointless, directionless and entropic. In a burrito, this space does not exist because it is being used to hold all those delicious ingredients together.
Extracting the Core overflows with delicious ingredients. Head shredder Daniel Mongrain may be one of the most interesting guitarists in popular music. His jazz-influenced leads — this means dialing back the simplicity of rock music and accepting more complex harmony and corresponding technique — both display impressive technique and the ability to write a melodic solo with multiple emotions. All instruments show great proficiency, from the adept technical drumming that avoids overshadowing other instruments, to a subtle but present bass and complex riffing with difficult time signatures all nailed perfectly. The problem is the means by which this band composes: requiring a burrito means that a band must default to, at the core of each song, the simplest possible construction which can include all of its elements. When the randomness is removed, what remains is a simple speed metal song, with Meshuggah-style abrupt off-beat (as opposed to cadenced, like Metallica) speed metal riffing that alternates with hard rock and thinly-disguised jazz fusion riffs.
Essentially, this album is Pantera after music graduate school, much as Meshuggah simplified Suffocation and Exhorder and then amplified the degree of texture at oddball timings to produce their overrated material. While it is mournful to admit this, it kills the album and makes the listening experience one of tuning out the over-dramatic and busy riffing to get to the solos. In addition, in order to support the burrito, Martyr adopt many different voices of composition, from Supuration-style alternative-progressive metal to nearly hardcore, and the result injects further randomness. It would be better, as Gorguts did, to give this band a song template varied enough to tempt them but purposeful enough to channel these energies toward more musical profundity through instantial contrast in a prolonged and developing narrative.
When a band is accused of “selling out,” the first instinct most people have is to attack the definition of that phrase. In reality, “selling out” is easily delineated: changing your music/art/writing to reflect what the audience expects.
In metal, selling out usually consists of making the music happier, simpler, less tormented and more pretentious. This allows the people who are dedicated to not noticing anything real about their world to listen to it and have it confirm their existing bias that the best course in life will be to “keep on keeping on” by shopping, voting, bragging at the water cooler, watching television, eating fast food and otherwise being oblivious to everything.
Selling out can be compared to the difference between a home-grilled hamburger and a fast food burger. The home-grilled burger uses real meat, spiced and cooked with care, and does not look elegant but is a good balance of taste and nutrition. The fast food burger is made from ground-up bits of animals, filled out with soybeans and sugar, and most people prefer it because it tastes more like candy and nutrition, lol.
When a metal band sells out, it makes the conscious decision to alter its music to appeal to some audience. This can include an “outsider” audience that only likes ultra-lofi two-chord bands, or the usual meaning, where the music gets closer to big radio pop. When metal bands sell out, they damage metal by bringing in all the stuff metal tried to escape in the first place.
These five albums represent some of the worst sellouts in metal history.
At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul
The first At the Gates album took our breath away. A weird mix of metal, folk, progressive and classical, it achieved an idiosyncratic voice of its own the way early death metal was prone to do. Then the band faltered, losing a key member and recording albums that did not feel with albums. Suddenly, this new album burst onto the scene and the old school death metal heads rushed forward to find… the exact opposite of what made this band great. Instead of inventive death metal, Slaughter of the Soul brought a warmed-over version of Metallica Ride the Lightning that had been given the Swedish melodic metal treatment. Songs swung easily with simple melodies that would have fit better in a television commercial or schoolyard song, and song structures fit an entirely predictable mold. Nothing challenged the listener; everything was sweetened, like biting into a hot glazed donut with extra icing. It made you feel icky inside, as if you had just been assimilated by the vast mass of people in modern culture who forcibly ignore any incoming ideas which do not fit into their own ego-worship and denial. However, the album was a stunning commercial success and inspired the metalcore movement, in which post-At the Gates band The Haunted applied this template to late hardcore and created a whole new audience.
Metallica – Metallica
When metalheads first heard “One” on the radio, the general sentiment was worry. We all knew of the temptation of radio metal where bands toured in luxury buses and got loads of cocaine, chicks and fast cars. But …And Justice For All had its musical moments despite the awful rock-style drumming and simplified catchy songs, so the hope was that Metallica had gotten it out of their system. Then came the self-titled monstrosity. The first hint was the choice of eponymous name late in the career of Metallica, which suggested a break with the past. Then, the new logo: silver foil-embossed, stylized and slick. Then we heard “Enter Sandman” on the radio and fears were realized. Gone were the complex song structures and innovative riffs, but the use of melodic composition on guitar persisted from …And Justice For All, albeit in a form that fit well into the MTV lineup. Songs backed away from topics that might unsettle people into fairy tales about fears and personal drama, including the rage drama that Pantera was making famous. Metallica fans hung their heads, neatly folded their tshirts and put them at the back of the drawer, and covered their tattoos with black bars. Metallica had finally sold out.
Death – Individual Thought Patterns
As the 1990s progressed, death metal emerged as the clear next big thing. This came after nearly a decade of the music industry denying its existence, mocking it, and doing their best to conceal it. A number of them made overtures: if you could just drop the scary alienation, anger and post-human view of the world, maybe The Industry would work for you like it did for the Crue, AC/DC, etc. At this point, Chuck Schuldiner of Death was putting a lot of effort into making himself the founding father of death metal, and he fired his previous band for a mostly new group who came up with a heavy metal/death metal hybrid. That alone would have been bad, but what was worse was that he changed the music artistically as well as stylistically. The rage at a numb, callous and selfish world was replaced with personal drama, overplayed public compassion, and the kind of hollow rage that people sitting in air-conditioned homes direct at a world that “just doesn’t understand me.” Even worse, the music itself became saccharine. The wild lion of death metal became a neutered animal dependent on daily feedings of peer group approval. Not surprisingly, people loved it then and hardly mention it now.
Morbid Angel – Domination
After the public hounding that Ilud Divinum Insanus received, most fans forgot the previous great Morbid Angel disappointment that essentially fragmented the band. Thousands of death metal bands languishing in obscurity perked up when they saw Far Beyond Driven flirt with Exhorder-styled extreme metal and still make hordes of money. In the timeless and impeccably insane logic of record labels, it was suggested that death metal bands take the same route even though it would mean abandoning their fans and yet not being able to fully dumb down enough for the brocore generation. Morbid Angel came out with this disaster of a fourth album in order to try to bridge the gap and ended up (predictably) failing both. Where previous Morbid Angel albums showed inventive songs, Domination featured one interesting riff per song slowed down and mated with another couple of sludgy, partially doomy, and unforgivably bouncy Pantera-styled riffs. To accommodate the injection of nonsense into death metal songs, Morbid Angel broke them down into simpler songs that resembled the happy go lucky “beer metal” songs of the past: verse-chorus, chanty foot-tapping title of song repeated, and an artistic outlook which more resembled wounded anger than any kind of delving toward a hidden truth. After this album, the band fell apart and reconstituted itself in new forms, trying to recapture some vein of composition that might appeal to lots of MTV-reprogrammed listeners and yet still be death metal. Much like Bigfoot and the perpetual motion machine, it might be out there somewhere, but as of yet Morbid Angel has not found it.
Dimmu Borgir – Enthrone Darkness Triumphant
As soon as black metal hit the newsstands with stories of church arson and murder, record company stooges devoted many hours of thought to the simple question of how they could re-package it for the Hot Topic kids. Dimmu Borgir found the first workable solution with Enthrone Darkness Triumphant which mixed mall-goth, Cradle of Filth, and carnival music to come up with a style that reveled in its own randomness and made its listeners feel profound for having picked up an incoherent but inscrutable mess. The lush keyboards of mainstream Gothic dance music mixed with the darker rhythms of Nine Inch Nails and guitar influences from rock/metal/rap hybrids in order to interrupt the occasional black metal riff so it never came to fruition. The result became the artistic equivalent of a pop tart: thin bread crust around mystery ingredients mixed with sugar. Naturally, people loved it because it allowed them to “be black metal” (ist krieg!) without leaving behind the same digestible pap they had been swallowing for years under the rock banner. But the CDs seemed to fly out of stores, and black metal fans changed from lonely dissidents to bloated mall denizens looking for a new thrill to blot out the days of tedium as they tried to pretend they wanted to even be alive. Even more importantly, this album opened the door to “black metal” as a container for whatever you wanted to throw in it, which made the truly dark hearts of the record company execs jump with joy and visions of bank transfers.
Image: would you trust a cigarette company with marijuana? Most likely, they would do to it what they did to tobacco, which is remove variety in flavor and replace it with innocuous but consistent brand-perfect sensations.
If you create anything of beauty in this world, people will be attracted to it. They will want what it has, but because achieving that would require them to change themselves, they will instead make a version of your beautiful thing that fits their needs. This will become popular and soon idiots everywhere will adopt their dumbed-down version of your beautiful thing, effectively ruining what you have created.
Over the course of metal’s lifespan, it has several times been afflicted with the curse of popularity. During the middle 1970s, bands began cloning what Black Sabbath did and mixing it with the more radio-friendly sounds of Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who and Deep Purple. The result gave metal such a bad name it required an underground genre, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, to renovate it with punk energy and DIY spirit. Then in the late 1980s, speed metal bands started selling out and making radio-friendly jive that quickly destroyed the genre because no one wanted to associate with it anymore. Only a few years later in 1994, underground metal imploded as clone bands and outsiders began making imitations of the new sound that used songwriting conventions and “values” from other genres. Most recently in the 2000s metal became “socially acceptable” and became basically a cover story for lite jazz and indie/emo which now could claim they were groundbreaking and authentic.
But I digress. Let us look at a brief history of bands that helped ruin metal and see if we can figure out where their influences ended up in today’s milktoast hybrid metal.
Pantera – Cowboys From Hell
Before this album came along, speed metal had a certain gravitas to it. Songs were about war, human moral conflict, literature and the apocalypse. Then along came Pantera and injected a bro-sized dose of personal drama into it. After Pantera, speed metal included talking about how angry you are, getting drunk and starting fights about whose jeans are out of fashion this season, and raging about your inability to retain women who are not covered in naturally-growing wool. It was a strike of Idiocracy against the intense music of Metallica, Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Testament, Anthrax and Megadeth that dumbed it down to the Belieber level, just with more angsty testosterone. Not only that but the complex songs got replaced by verse-chorus and lots of “emotional” vocals accompanied by softer guitar parts. The path to death for speed metal started with this watered-down, dumbed-down, ego-drama path to stupidity. Luckily after they had made their money, Pantera disappeared and the band members went on to more reputable projects.
Cannibal Corpse – Tomb of the Mutilated
In the year that death metal reached its peak, Cannibal Corpse release an album that made death metal accessible and in doing so, made it a satire of itself. This is Dethklok before Dethklok. Borrowing from the percussive style that Suffocation innovated, Cannibal Corpse took out all the complex songwriting and replaced it with somewhat complex riffs in predictable format. It took away difficult rhythms and topics and replaced them with I-puke-blood style blockheaded lyrics. They also introduced Pantera-style songs about sexually mutilating women because women are difficult and sometimes all one can get is a brojob back at the frat house. This album crushed the growing death metal movement by putting a giant IDIOTS AND SYCOPHANTS WELCOME sign over the door to the genre and convincing people that songs with blockheaded gore lyrics and simplistic structures under grunting incoherent vocals were more “death metal” than the complex music of integrity that defined the genre at the time.
Cradle of Filth – The Principle of Evil Made Flesh
Point your TARDIS back to 1994. Black metal was in full-swing, having just put forth all of its founding works and then exploded in a media-fueled inferno of murder, anti-Christian and politically incorrect sentiments. In come the “smart” people who figure they can make a buck off this new phenomenon. Their formula: make Iron Maiden style metal with the new screechy vocals and make it emo so that kids can feel like it sympathizes with their horrible lives where their parents just totally control them and stuff. Then mix in the usual “teen paranormal romance” rambling about vampires and evil and you have baby food for coddled toddlers. It took some brains to like black metal, but Cradle of Filth asks nothing so challenging of its listeners! Even more, this band introduced the “carnival music” style of putting radically different riffs next to each other so that the listener loses track of song structure entirely. These songs are basically advertising jingles and warmed-over Goth rock stuck into second-rate metal, but all the kiddies brought their sweaty dollars to Hot Topic because they felt it “understood them.”
Meshuggah – None
Right in the middle of 1994 it became clear that black metal and death metal had left the building. They had said what they wanted to; people had to either top it or find some easier and sleazier way to do. Ripping off the percussive textures of Exhorder, Prong and Exodus, Meshuggah came up with a “new” style that consisted of over-extending ideas from previous and better bands. It’s worth mentioning that Meshuggah’s first album was 80s speed metal with death metal vocals, but that it was extremely boring. Meshuggah figured that if they just made their style more dramatic and used lots of choppy riffs with shiny new “complex” polyrhythms, they could fool a new generation into liking their stuff. Without fail, it worked, and now metal bands find it necessary to incorporate the worked-over 70s groove with two-chord texture riffs and claim a “djent” influence. At its core, this band remains the same bad 80s speed metal that failed on its first album.
Opeth – Orchid
You can pitch a market one of two ways: on one hand, you can be “just one of us regular guys” and pull a Bruce Springsteen (or warmed over punk); on the other, you can claim that you are so far out and deep that only a few deep people can understand you. The best is to hide the former in the latter so that you are selling the “profundity” of sing-song music for children but it gives them a chance to pop on a Fedora and think they are really so deep, you know totally deep, that no one can be as deep as they are. Opeth sold itself on being “open-minded,” which is this message: we are different from the rest of metal because we use acoustic passages instead of just solid heavy metal riffs. What they choose not to tell their fans is that they are more like everything else that is not metal, so to like this stuff is to admit you fail as a metal listener and go back to pumping radio pap through your Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. But every underconfident basement-dwelling pretentious geek loved this stuff even though it consisted of a simple formula, soft verse and hard chorus, that is most famous for its use among nu-metal bands. Nonetheless, Opeth opened the door for people who wanted to signal to the world how profound and different they were, and now most bands are tinged with the same simpering pander that makes this music sickly sweet and an inch deep.
Our minds quickly forget the vapidity of the 1990s amongst the greatest that some bands managed to achieve. In particular, its hangover from the 1980s was so unmemorable that the mind gratefully forgets it. That hangover was the attempt by industry and musicians to cash in on the notoriety of metal and the accessibility of rock by hybridizing the two.
In particular, this appealed to record execs. Why? They were all Baby Boomers. Their world defined itself through a search for the next Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. As a result they found death metal to be totally alien, black metal to be unlistenable, and even most punk to be incomprehensible. Why don’t they just throw in a flute solo?
Straight in the middle of this process Massacra release Sick in 1994. Everything about it screams middle-90s when computer technology hit the point where you really could do just about anything from a desktop, but not quite do it well. Thus everything hit the page in bold colors, funky font tricks, and so on. Looking back, it resembles the 1980s teased hair and bright colored clothing: technological convenience. Similarly, the style of speed metal erupting with Pantera represented technological convenience.
Recording studios finally grokked how to record heavy guitar sounds so that the precision of the muted palm technique could be heard, which encouraged bands to divide aggressive rhythms with internal syncopation and expanding recursion, so that one rhythm broke down into several internal rhythms all of which outlined a “bounce” or offbeat rhythm based on slightly delayed expectation. This mixed funk (arguably the roots of rap), rock and metal into an abomination uniquely suited for dumb obedient tools of the system who wanted to blow off some steam before another shift and another six-pack of watery beer.
Sick represents a higher intelligence approach to this tradition and cites freely from the speed metal world, including the album that almost every intelligent metalhead had in the early 1990s, Prong’s Beg to Differ (which along with Exhorder and Vio-Lence influenced the Pantera sound). The band make conscious attempts to be avant-garde, most of which consist piledriver series of riffs ending in non-distorted semi-classical passages. If you wondered, however, where Meshuggah got their sound starting at this time, Sick seems to be the place. The same polyrhythms, the same use of groove between aggressive passages. Sick came out in May, and None (the first EP where Meshuggah demonstrated its modern technique) in November. Even the production has similar coloring, but this tells you all you need to know the sound here: based on expectation, like dogs chasing laser pointers, lots of bounce, basically rock structures subdivided by a proliferation of related riffs using the same concepts.
Most modern metalheads will experience embarrassment upon hearing this record. Like most fads, the bounce-metal fad experienced only very narrow relevance within a certain time period, and now sounds dated and awkward. Worse still is that a band like Massacra, no matter what their record label thinks, possesses too much talent to successfully chase a trend. What you get instead is something split between the music that they are good at making, and the music that industry wishes they would make (rewarmed Hendrix and Zeppelin, themselves rewarmed blues, itself rewarmed country music, that in turn rewarmed European folk music).
The tragedy is that much of the innovation that late 1990s bands relied upon in connecting together musical passages of this nature came from Sick or the prior release. American fans may forget how influential Massacra was (and is) in Europe, and how many American musicians heard it even when fans couldn’t find it in stores or on MTV (then an important method for mainstream fans of finding metal). Among the riffs that our minds skip over because we have heard the archetype so many times, great riffs populate this album at a 1:3 ratio to the rest. Some of the soloing contains concepts we have not yet heard metal elaborate on, and clearly someone thought hard about how to structure these songs. Musicians might keep Sick around as part of their book of tricks.
As far as a listening experience goes, Sick falls short in the range somewhere between “fru-fru” and “embarrassing.” Most metalheads would not want to be caught dead listening to this album, which sounds like the underground finally adopting how the mainstream saw metal (i.e. angry groovy drunken rock ‘n roll). The irony of course is brutal. By the time 1994 rolled around, Shark Records had fixed its US distribution problems and was able to get a record into just about every store. This meant that American metalheads who had heard tape-traders raving about Massacra for years finally got a chance to buy some and found this turd of an album belching in their faces. This, and the thin production on the first two Massacra albums which bothered American metalheads more than Europeans who liked the mids-centric feel of Bathory’s Blood, Fire, Death, relegated Massacra to a ring outside the inner circle of famous underground metal bands. Hopefully that will change someday, but not through Sick it would seem.
Tom G. Warrior is a relentless innovator and amazing composer. As he details in his book Only Death is Real: An Illustrated History of Hellhammer he grew up in an abusive, uncertain environment within a broken home. He also grew up in “perfect” Switzerland, a place that has more rules than people. These events shaped his personality or rather, the limitations that are still imposed upon it.
What happened was that young Tom G’s ego was crushed and doubt was introduced into his mind. Doubt about the purpose of life, or even his own life. Doubt of self-worth. Fear that at any moment he might find himself without a justification for existing, and be truly discarded and alone. That’s a heavy load for a young person to carry, but the sequential success of Hellhammer and then Celtic Frost lifted Tom out of it. It also pushed aside a healing process.
When Celtic Frost evaporated, Tom launched on a series of attempts to find popularity again, but on his own terms. First, his highly inventive industrial music, and later, attempts to be contemporary. The latest two are below, and they are marked by a duality: a great underlying talent, desperately attempting to ingratiate itself with newer metal audiences. Like all things that do not take a clear direction, they are thus lost on both fronts.
This is not a hit piece on Tom G Warrior. Like many metalheads, I hold him in the highest regard. He is one of the great innovators and farseeing minds in metal. However, his tendency to try to adapt to what is current shows what is currently happening in metal: in a dearth of ideas, the genre is recombining past successes that represent the culmination of earlier genres, and is trying to recapture its lead by offering a buffet of different influences. But alas, like the music of Triptykon, these forays are lost causes.
Currently a morass of subgenre names exist. We can call it metalcore, or modern metal, or math metal, or tech-deth, or even djent, but all of it converges on a single goal: to make a form of that great 1980s speed metal — Metallica, Anthrax, Testament, Exodus, Nuclear Assault — that used choppy riffs made up of muted chords to encode complex rhythms into energetic songs. To that, the modern metal bands have added the carnival music tendency to pick entirely unrelated riffs to add variety, the grooves of later speed metal, and the vocals and chord voicings of late hardcore and its transition into emo.
What this represents is not a direction, but lack of one. By combining all known successes from late in these subgenres, modern metal is picking up where the past left off before death metal and black metal blew through and rewrote the book. The problem is that making music that is intense like those underground genres is difficult, and even more, unmarketable. It approaches the issues in life that most of us fear, like mortality and failure in the context of powerlessness and meaninglessness, and thus presents a dark and obscure sound that makes us uncertain about life itself. Like Tom G Warrior living through a shattered marriage of his parents and a society too concerned with order to notice its own boredom and misery, black metal and death metal shatter stability and replace it with alienated existential wandering.
On the other hand, late punk offered ideological certainty and heavy doses of emotion. Late speed metal, which Pantera cooked up out of heaping doses of Exhorder, Prong and Exodus, offers a groove and a sense of a party on the wild side. Inserting bits of death metal, especially its technical parts, and some of the frenetic riffing of Discordance Axis allows these bands to create a new kind of sound. But at its heart, this music is still speed metal. Where death metal played riff Jenga and put it all together in a sense that told a story, modern metal is based in variety and distraction. It exists to jar the mind, explore a thousand directions, and without coming to a conclusion ride out in the comforting emulation of the chaos of society around it.
But at its heart, these bands are speed metal. Like Triptykon who revitalize the E-string noodling and riff texture of more aggressive speed metal bands, with the bounce of Exodus and the groove of Pantera, these bands offer a smorgasbord combined into one. They mix in melodic metal, derived from what Sentenced and later Dissection made popular, to give it a popular edge. However, what they’re really doing is regressing to a mean. This has happened in metal before, when mid-1970s bands recombined Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath into rock-style metal, and in the mid-1980s when glam metal did the same thing but mixed in the gentler sounds of late 1970s guitar rock bands. When metal loses direction, it recombines and comes up with a mellower, less threatening version of itself.
All of this is well and good if we do one single but difficult thing: recognize that what we’re listening to now is a dressed-up version of what metal and punk were doing in the late 1980s. We’re walking backward in history, away from that scary underground death metal and black metal, and looking toward something less disturbing and more fun at parties. It seems no one has come out and said this, so I figured it must be said. Enjoy your weekend.