Few things in life are more masculine than Castlevania. In fact, the New York Times bestselling book The Alphabet of Manliness includes on its short list of “definitive winners in history” the likes of Castlevania 1-4 and Symphony of the Night. Castlevania is also the most metal non-metal piece of Western creativity outside of Lord of the Rings. I mean shit, you’re out crusading and fucking up demons and monsters on behalf of the church, shoving crucifixes up asses and drowning degeneracy in holy water. It’s exactly the kind of shit that true metalhead Hessians and Templars should be doing to SJW the soy metal mutants infesting the underground in incredibly large numbers (who can be open-endedly interpreted to be the grotesque villains of Castlevania lore). DEUS VULT- butcher and savage them all! Even those who think video games are gay (most of them are) can appreciate how based Castlevania is.
But on that note, the relationship between video games and metal is strikingly more prevalent than people realize. The artwork for Burzum’s legendary first two albums are based off of a strategy guide for an RPG game called The Temple of Elemental Evil and much of the music also sounds like it could be lifted from a video game soundtrack. Fucking Dimmu Borgir’s Stormblast (much respected around these parts as indicated in the DLA) actually had a track that was ripped straight from a video game, meaning that that weirdo top hat wearing son of a bitch probably jacked even more of their keyboard melodies from video game soundtracks. What a fucking scumbag! But truthfully, as the goofy ass 8-bit black metal YouTube trend indicated- a lot of black metal was heavily influenced by video games. And honestly, coming from a 32 year old millennial who got into metal at the tail end of the 90s- my first dose of minor key melodies was from the boss battles and last levels of video games.
I hope you neckbeard philosofags are paying attention, because there’s an important fucking point to be made: the next generation of metal musicians will be heavily influenced by video games. And so whether video games are a staple of life-failure nerd culture or not, they will have a hand at crafting the next wave of metal. But as we’ll find in Megadriver’s Metalvania album, this may not at all be a bad thing…
Metal music inherited the album concept from pop music. Originally, records could only hold about 3-5 minutes of sound on each side. In the 1940s new techniques allowed each side of a record to hold around 20 minutes of music on each side. Because of these limitations, the ‘single’ became the standard composition in popular music. As LPs became more prominent, the single, played over the radio, was used as the marketing device to sell albums: a couple of catchy singles swimming in a thin grey soup of filler material. Because it is only marginally more difficult and expensive to record and produce a whole album, there are much higher profit margins on LPs than on singles. That a pop album was not a consciously constructed artistic whole is borne by the fact that pop ‘greatest hits’ albums are easy to listen to, straightforward affairs. Consider a greatest hits album from a metal artist… at best it is off-putting and at worst it is a flaccid, confusing affair because all the songs have been removed from their appropriate context.
(Join DMU Legend Johan Pettersson for what may be the most expansive analysis of power metal ever presented in the first of a 3 part series. Listen to the accompanying suggested listening here)
Of all the subgenres and styles that fall within the metal spectrum (hence excluding unmitigated relapses into rock such as death’n’roll, stoner, nu- and indie metal), power metal most definitely counts as the one that has received the highest amount of scorn and ridicule from critics, fans and outsiders alike. (more…)
Received a transmission of a new single by Cynic. Feeling a bit disappointed in this tune, called ‘Humanoid’. While it has the great active warm fretless sounding bass-lines, and Y. Malmsteen styled solos, the vocals are a completely different style than on Focus and Traced in Air. Normally their vocals have the flanged-out robo. voice. On this new track, the vocals don’t sound metal enough. They are too Pink Floyd or Lincoln Park-ish for me. The guitars have tons of solos, but leave the bass to carry the rhythm, and this doesn’t work. It makes it too light. The whole thing comes off sounding funky rather than heavy. I would like them to go back and at least out a flanger on the vocals and add another heavier rhythm guitar tracking along with the bass.
The last two decades has witnessed an exponential growth of studies devoted to popular music, coupled with a re-evaluation of past theories and models for interpretation and analysis. This paradigm shift has sparked interest in music “at the fringes” which in turn has led to the unlikely emergence of “metal studies”: a multi-disciplinary field of research centered around all things related to metal music.
Abigor are back with their 9th album, which is sadly a continuation of the ideas on Leytmotif Luzifer. Hailing from Vienna in Austria, Abigor definitely have the style and look associated with their hometown but even in arguably their last bad work : Nacthymnen ( From the Twilight Kingdom) they have always lacked substance in comparison to the greats in the European black metal style. Leytmotif Luzifer was Deathspell Omega worship with the remnants of what could be qualified as generic second wave black metal. Here they continue in that substanceless yet somewhat more refined method of songcraft….
Exmortus is a speed metal band with leanings towards what is commonly called ‘power metal’, although the general public seems to lump them in the mixed bag that so-called melodic death metal is due to their use of angsty growled-barked vocals. Exmortus have built up quite a following in the young, mainstream metal community. Ride Forth is the exciting fourth album these youngsters and guitar enthusiasts have been awaiting. This album features ‘neo-classical’ metal gestures that were first introduced in very small quantities by NWOBHM bands in combination with pentatonic soloing. It took the likes of Malmsteen and Randy Rhodes to bring this aspect to the fore. Exmortus themselves highlight it to the point of making it more than just the center of the music; enlarging it to be all the relevant music to be found herein.
In Ride Forth, Exmortus wears their infatuation with Beethoven and outward classical aesthetics on their sleeves and include a metal cover of the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 (“Appasionata“). Their previous album also included a track based on the third movement of his Piano Sonata No. 14 (aka “Moonlight”). Compare this to other bands that have gone beyond mere adaptation and have used them to expand compositions that take the themes and scale runs of the original piece such as ‘Pathway To The Moon’, by Pathfinder, based on the same Beethoven. Right at the top of the list lie the adaptations done by the Italian band Rhapsody, who only use the themes themselves for arrangements of interludes within otherwise completely original compositions. ‘Heroes Of The Waterfall’s Kingdom” sees Rhapsody using the main theme from the 4th movement (“Prestissimo”) of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 1.
Exmortus Ride Forth can be vivisected for analysis in at least two ways. The first is in terms of the functions and performance of each of the three functional layers of metal; namely rhythm, leads and vocals. The second concerns the structuring of songs, the quality of the sequence of ideas exposed throughout the album. We may take a look at each of these individually and then at how they interact to produce a result.
The three layers are executed with metronomic precision, echoing the modern classical musician’s obsession with machine-like performance. The drums are standard and give no sign of humanity. The bass is functional but rigidly moves under the needs of the alto-soprano guitars. The guitars themselves have a clearly leading role. The whole instrumental texture is very reminiscent of C.P.E. Bach’s classical music, in which all layers are in the service of a main melody. The vocal department is not only out of place but also overdone, although this may have been somewhat enhanced and disfigured by a too clear-cut, synthetic production.
As a an aural story, Ride Forth shows the audience two faces. The first is what gives them what they think is their distinctive taste, their blatant and superficial imitation of classical music. The second is a mechanical speed metal without character that serves as neutral receptor for the former pretensions. The strongest contributor to the personality of the music on the side of metal is the vocalist. But just as Exmortus interpretation of classical music remains on the level of reflected shadows, their take on metal is that of a rebellious attitude that is closer to a child’s tantrum whose candy has been taken away than to a raiding viking.
The downplaying of the whole of instrumentation to emphasize guitar action along with the simplification on the metal side as mere bridge and support for pseudo-classical posturing give rise to the worst incarnation of Yingwie that one can imagine. In regards to the content, it has very poor communication value, as it takes music as pretty wallpaper noise. While these now cliched patterns were born out of the lingos of late 18th-century classical music and the incipient NWOBHM of the late 1970s, it is now presented as mere paper-mache for the fabrication of shiny toys; symbols without depth or reflection, enjoyed sensually in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Here, we may insert a more general critique of the general ignorance the public suffers when it comes to genre significance and the importance of its ‘sub-cultural’ context for it to acquire meaning. We may assume that the reason why two genres are smashed carelessly in this way is because whatever gestures are native to each are considered mere adornments. However, we have reason to think that the particular tropes of different genres are very specific reflections of a very particular group’s intuitional understanding, so to speak, so that without understanding its proper setting, its depth is lost.
Exmortus’ guitarist obviously worships Ludwig van Beethoven, but instead of being inspired by the deeper aspects of the late master’s work, he seems content to masturbate to the angry German’s portrait while wearing a man-bikini made out of fur. The general metal ‘critic’ (haha…) will love this for its easy-going technically appeal and comical value, perhaps giving them the typical, meaningless high scores they hand out cheaply like condoms at a gay-fest. A more critical mind unmoved by gimmicks may see through the ruse and form a useful opinion. It is, therefore, that Death Metal Underground hereby assigns Ride Forth a score of 133/666 Bleeding Anuses.
Among internet metal sites, Metal-Rules.com has a unique niche as being both popular with newer fans and proud of classic metal. During the last few melees over censorship, I encountered the Managing Editor there, a relaxed fellow by the name of Joshua Wood. Since we are both metal nerds, it seemed an interview was in order, and to his credit, it ended up being more interesting and more metal than people might suspect. Give a big hand in welcoming Joshua Wood, and read on…
What first attracted you to heavy metal?
Easy! Kiss Destroyer, 1976. The excitement, the fire, the blood, the power and the electric energy of it all. The top mainstream bands of the time were all soft rock and disco and along came…Kiss! They just totally blew everyone away.
What first attracted you to writing?
It’s funny, I don’t really consider myself a ‘writer.’ I’m just a guy with lots of strong opinions about metal! My main goal always was, and I suspect always will be, to support the underground and ‘real’ Metal bands, as per our site’s tagline, ‘Supporting Real Metal’ since 1995.” I’m not a critic; I want to support a band I enjoy and feel could use the support and or exposure. I don’t waste my time criticizing bands I don’t like, why bother? Live and let die, they can find their own audience. I’d rather write a positive review of a band and help them instead of slagging one of many, many crappy bands. As a result I write very, very few negative type reviews, whereas some mean-spirited critics seem to revel in finding new and amusing ways to insult bands. Those reviews are funny to read though!
How did you get involved with Metal-Rules.com? Today, as I understand it, you are the Managing Editor. How did you get into this job?
I started as a ‘Guest Writer’ (like all of our staff) back in 2001. Overtime I contributed and showed I was reliable, could meet simple deadlines, brought some creativity to the table and generally showed a passion to support the site. Back then there were very few website dedicated to metal, especially the metal I loved, not the nu-metal that was infecting the scene at the time and it was the perfect forum to show that there were still killer new bands out there besides the crappy/trendy sub-genres. Over time, I became the Managing Editor. It is strictly volunteer.
Sometimes when some crappy rap-rock and mallcore band sends me stuff or is asking for help I feel like saying, “Dude! Do you even LOOK at our site? We are so against the kind of music you make, why did you waste your time contacting us?”
What does the job entail? What are the fun parts, and the harder parts?
I tend to oversee our writers/photographers, give people encouragement, support and direction. I contact labels, agents, bands promoters on behalf of the site, give out assignments and of course add and edit the content to the site. It’s always fun talking to fellow like-minded metal heads about metal and I suppose doing the book and DVD reviews is my favourite part. I’ve written over 1000 reviews for the site over the years! We have a private Metal-Rules Staff Facebook page where we discuss the months assignments, who is covering or reviewing what so we keep it all straight.
The least fun part is having to reject bands or labels that just don’t fit our mandate or interest, but I always try to be supportive and suggest they try other avenues. Sometimes when some crappy rap-rock and mallcore band sends me stuff or is asking for help I feel like saying, “Dude! Do you even LOOK at our site? We are so against the kind of music you make, why did you waste your time contacting us?” lol. Sometimes fixing the countless little mistakes of submissions can get laborious, but I just put on an album and type away!
What sort of metal do you like? Do you distinguish by genre, quality of bands or some other traits that they have?
I’m a fan of many forms/styles/sub-genres of hard rock and metal. It’s almost easier to say what I don’t like which are:
I’ve been actively buying and collecting metal since the late 70s so I have a substantial personal collection of just over 10,000 items, albums, books, DVDs, cassettes, magazines, etc, including a decent stock of rarities, and I love it all! If you include authorized digital promo copies my collection swells to 15,000 items. Thrash, Death, Black, Doom, Power, etc have lots of every style to suit my mood. I do distinguish between genres but I try to keep it to a dozen or so broader genres, but I also enjoy micro-analyzing the subtle differences in bands styles, scenes and sounds.
I’m also the co-chair of the Heavy Metal committee for CARAS (Canadian Academy of Recording Arts And Sciences) the group who host/present Canada’s national music award program, the Juno awards…the equivalent to the Grammys. I tend to use those analytical skills in that role to see what really qualifies as ‘metal’ when it comes time to screen submissions for the awards program. You would be surprised the amount of crap that people consider ‘metal’ and submit to us!
What do you think distinguishes heavy metal from rock music?
That is a tough question! I think Metal has a bit more aggression, speed, power attitude, rebelliousness, negativity, skill, dynamics, sincerity, than the ‘average’ rock band.
Can you name the metal bands that have influenced you most, as well as the writers and other non-musical influences who shape what you do?
The bands that influence me the most are some old favourites, W.A.S.P., Manowar, Thor, Anvil, Raven, and Yngwie Malmsteen. These guys get it. The never bow to trends, they never break, they are all underdogs, survivors, productive and reliable! Many younger fans make fun of those bands but they could learn a lesson or two on how it done to persevere and survive to create real metal art. I doubt many of the new, trendy bands will ever have a 15-20 album, 30-40 year career like the above list.
Martin Popoff is a big influence, we have become personal friends over the years which is cool. Non-musical influences would be the normal day to day stuff, playing sports (soccer) my career, family, hobbies and volunteer work. It all keeps me busy, I wish I had more time to dedicate to the site as you can tell by how long it took me to respond to your kind request for an interview!
I recently wrote that modern metal — nu-metal, post-metal, metalcore and indie-metal — have one thing in common, which is that they are composed like rock bands but use metal riffs sometimes. What do you think distinguishes older heavy metal, underground metal and modern metal from each other?
I think I would agree! I feel much of the younger modern Metal bands confuse ‘heaviness’ with volume and screaming. I understand that there is a natural extension of Metal to want to go after, louder, more extreme etc but often they loose site of some of the key elements that attracted me to Metal…the riffs, technicality, proficiency, speed, power all that stuff. Some bands are so busy trying too hard to look or sound what they think Metal is, that they miss the point.
I’ve seen groups like the PMRC or MTV come and go and after waging deliberate anti-metal campaigns (and losing) so I lumped the SJW into that category.
How important is technicality to you in assessing bands? What about production?
To me technicality is extremely important. I love bands like Dragonforce, Immortal Guardian, Joe Stump, Pathfinder, Dream Theater. I love guitar heroes; I have dozens of guitar/instrumental shred albums so that ranks very highly for my enjoyment. As for production, I don’t feel like I have a very refined ear. It amuses me that some people can say, “The production ruined the album or made it unlistenable”, but that is pretty subjective. I’ve never heard a truly horrible production job that radically diminishes my enjoyment of an album. I listen to two-track Death Metal demos from 30 years ago and I listen to full-on, 120 digital track albums from Prog Metal bands with orchestras and infinite layers of sound (like Devin Townsend for example) and I enjoy each for what they are.
Of all the things that you have written, what are your favourites?
I have a few editorials (and or rants) I have done that are more for my own amusement to point out trends or odd facts. One recent one I did was a piece that stated Slayer has copied W.A.S.P. their entire career. Of course, most people in their right mind would disagree but it was fun to find 10 or so interesting little facts and coincidences about the two bands and do a creative piece. Again, the book reviews are really fun to write. I’ve written close to 300 now. Film/DVD reviews are great as well, they can be more in-depth than just another CD review that ten other websites have already reviewed that month as well. Our site we believe has the largest collection of metal DVD and book reviews on the web, with the exception of the big (not-metal) sales portals like Amazon.
A few years back I was contacted by Dr. Niall Scott of the University of Central Lancashire in England. He is the Chair for the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) and he said he uses my book review section for a reference which I thought was very nice, so the book reviews is probably my #1 fave for now. It’s nice, as the only site that really does many metal themed book reviews people constantly send me books to review which is an awesome perk.
What do you think of #MetalGate? Does metal have its own response to these issues, and not need an outsider view, or should it take influence from other rock genres and consider the SJW agenda?
I have to admit I was not knee deep in that battle. For one, I’m not heavily involved in social media, I don’t do Twitter or any of that stuff so it sort of went under my radar. Secondly, I really don’t care about or put stock into people who criticize Metal. People, the music industry, the church, the government, academics, parents, the media, watchdog groups and even (so-called) fans have been attacking metal from the beginning so I tend to ignore those ignorant fools. I was like, ‘Yup, another bunch of clueless morons with nothing better to do taking aim at Metal’. It was almost a non-issue for me. I’ve seen groups like the PMRC or MTV come and go and after waging deliberate anti-metal campaigns (and losing) so I lumped the SJW into that category. There are but a vocal minority seeking attention by using music (or art, or literature etc) to promote a specific social agenda…it’s like buzzing housefly or yapping little dog, you just ignore it even though you have the power to crush it. I would not want to dignify the SJW clan with a response because the wolf does not concern himself with the opinion of the sheep. Like Jack Black and Tenacious D said, “You cannot kill the metal!” However…. I do admire and support the warriors who picked up the sword and went into battle in the name of metal!
To directly answer your question: No, metal should never compromise and consider the agenda of others; that would be the polar opposite of Metal is. Metal is not about compromise, friendship, or trying to be some happy, all-inclusive, friendly, hippy, group-hug, drum-circle (despite what Sepultura did on Roots!) It never has been and never will be. Embracing that agenda would be one of the worst possible outcomes and it would dilute the purity and beauty of the genre. I think Alice Cooper said it best. He said, (roughly paraphrased) “Metal is not about politics. It is about sex, money and violence. Leave the politics to the punks.”
Can you tell us more about “Metal Mental Meltdown”? Is it true that you’re planning a digital version?
That is a whole other story. The brief version is that I created a heavy metal board game back in 1999. I sold it around the world and it was my full-time job for a short while. Overtime the game ran its course and I returned to the real world of work. I had written some genre-based extension packs but time, energy and money were the enemy. I have often flirted with ideas of some sort of digital version, an app, an on-line game but have yet to put it in motion. The hard copies are still for sale.
What is your radio show, Megawatt Mayhem, like? How do you pick bands to be on the show?
Megawatt Mayhem is one of the world’s longest running metal radio shows. We have been on air for over 29 years every Saturday night on CJSW 90.9FM in the city of Calgary, here in Western Canada. We are a two-hour magazine style show with news, views, reviews, interviews, concert listings and local bands. We have an open door policy for local bands, if a Calgary or area band wants to visit, as long as they have some recorded product of a minimal level of quality we invite them on. The host of the show champions local acts, I am more selective, but it is part of our mandate as a local station to support local artists. We have interviewed tons of bands from the brand new local band in the garage to Metallica.
I also host a more melodic Metal show called Attention Surplus Overdrive which features the more melodic side of the genres; guitar heroes, Prog Metal, symphonic Metal, Melodic Metal etc… it runs for three hours late at night so I can play entire albums by Nightwish or Steve Vai or whoever. I’ve been doing it for almost two years now. It is on the same station, right after Megawatt Mayhem, so I do a really fun five-hour stint every Saturday night/Sunday morning!
If people are interested in what you do, where do they go to find more information and keep up with the latest from you?
Anyone can drop me a line via one of my five (!) Facebook pages! lol. I’d be glad to discuss my involvement in the Metal industry over the last 20 years, from being a promoter, an Assistant Producer of a huge Metal festival, a hosting a Metal nights, and countless small metal-themed projects with anyone who wants to chat!
US. heavy metal band Obsession will be releasing a re-issue of their album Carnival of Lies (a reunion album originally released in 2006 that is now out of print) through Inner Wound Recordings. Carnival of Lies is set to be released on July 27th in Europe and on Jul 24th in the U.S.
Carnival of Lies
In for the Kill
I Don’t Belong
Written in Blood
Guilty as Charged
Panic in the Streets
Obsession “Carnival of Lies” line-up:
Michael Vescera [Animetal USA, ex Loudness, Yngwie Malmsteen] – Vocals
Jay Mezias – Drums
Scott Boland [MVP] – Guitars
John Bruno [X Factor X] – Guitars
Chris Mccarvill [House of Lords, ex Dokken, Jeff Scott Soto] – Bass
As part of our exploration of academia in metal, we meet all sorts of interesting academics with different relationships to metal. Some are more on the academic side, some on the musical, and some in-between. Ross Hagen straddles both extremes by being both a musician and an academic with a focus on teaching metal. As a result, he brings both personal experience and delight in the genre to the otherwise more abstract academic view. We were lucky to get in a few questions with this interesting person and teacher.
You’ve got two degrees in music and one in musicology. What launched you along this direction? Did you intend to become an academic, or did the music lead you there?
I think this career path resulted from my love of music coupled with the fact that I didn’t really have the discipline for seriously practicing a musical instrument so I could play professionally. I’d much rather spend six hours a day in the library. Graduate school was also a nice way to extend my adolescence and avoid adult responsibilities for a few years after college. But when I think about it, I suppose that academia was always an intention of mine, whether I thought about it consciously or not. Both of my parents were educators, so I guess I’m something of a poster child for following the path laid out by my upbringing.
What got you involved with heavy metal? Were you a fan before you studied it? What appeals about it to you, both as a research subject and as a personal listening experience?
I was definitely a fan before I began pursuing it as a topic of study. My father was a college professor and his students would occasionally loan him tapes and CDs so I was listening to a lot of college rock and industrial music (well, NIN anyway) in my early teens. At one point he had a student who loaned him some of the early albums by Amorphis, Samael, Tiamat, and My Dying Bride and I dug them a lot. It wasn’t until college that I found other people who liked that kind of stuff and expanded my listening though. I feel like I’m still playing catch-up on a lot of older material from the 70s and 80s especially. I also got into musicology as an undergraduate and began including metal in my studies there.
…blast beats and tremolo picking seem to suspend rhythmic momentum and time in black metal when coupled with more slowly changing harmonies and hazy-sounding production. I also related the use of full chord voicings and the use of parallel minor 3rds and 6ths (in Emperor’s music especially) to an interest in chaotic sorts of sounds…
From a personal standpoint, I suppose I find it empowering in some respects, but I also like that black metal especially is a style where it’s easy to just get lost in the sound. As a bassist and composer I like that metal is challenging to perform and that it’s a style that is quite malleable in some respects even as its fundamental ingredients remain relatively stable. I think that’s part of what I like about it as a researcher as well; the tension between the metal’s core attributes and its desire to evolve and change.
You’ve contributed a piece, “Musical Style, Ideology, and Mythology in Norwegian Black Metal,” in the compilation Metal Rules the Globe. Can you tell us about this writing, and what your thesis generally was?
This was a version of my 2005 Master’s degree thesis where I wrote about some of the key elements of the “second wave” black metal musical style and related them to the genre’s interest in the supernatural and mythical. In particular I looked into the way that blast beats and tremolo picking seem to suspend rhythmic momentum and time in black metal when coupled with more slowly changing harmonies and hazy-sounding production.
I also related the use of full chord voicings and the use of parallel minor 3rds and 6ths (in Emperor’s music especially) to an interest in chaotic sorts of sounds since those types of chords are much less focused and resonant than the typical metal power chord when played with lots of distortion. I considered these musical conventions as evocations of trance experiences because they create a sense of stasis and timelessness (in a literal sense) by obscuring rhythmic propulsion and harmonic clarity.
I was at the time interested in connecting these musical devices to the sort of Norse revivalist rhetoric that was regularly coming from people like Varg Vikernes and that also underpins Michael Moynihan’s Lords of Chaos, especially mythical figures like the berserker…that black metal seems to reward an ideal of virtuosity based on physical endurance rather than dexterity and nimbleness, things like that. I do think that there was a certain aesthetic affinity with these mythical ideals for some black metallers, that they envisioned themselves as warriors or as part of a charivari tradition trying to bring back a romanticized ideal of pre-modern Europe. However, I think that the chapter’s main contribution is the articulation of the musical style…or at least when I go back and read it those are the parts that I think hold up the best.
You teach courses on popular music, music appreciation, and music history at Utah Valley University. Does this include metal? How do students respond to it? Does their response change depending on whether they are metalheads or not?
Most of them seem to respond fairly positively to it when I do teach it, which usually only happens in the course specifically centered around popular music. I do include bits of Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen in my schtick on musical virtuosity in the music appreciation classes, but more as a side comparison. Students in the popular music courses seem to respond well to it even if they aren’t fans, since by the time we get into it most of the students understand that “liking” a genre of music is not a prerequisite for investigating its musical style and influence. Metalheads or former metalheads (I actually hear that a lot here…metal is something they used to like as teenagers) tend get a little more into it, but I’m often pleasantly surprised as well when students who have no personal affinity with the style offer thoughtful considerations of it.
I find it interesting that you’ve composed music for the production of two ancient Greek plays at UVU. Are these going to be released? Is there any overlap between ancient Greco-Roman music and heavy metal?
Actually only one of them (Antigone) was an ancient Greek play. The other one, Eurydice, was a modern play by Sarah Ruhl that is built around the myth but definitely takes its own path (and was directed by my very talented and lovely wife Lisa). Oddly enough, my music cues for Eurydice actually did include a bit of Rammstein-ish heavy metal…the script called for it when the Lord of the Underworld enters dressed like a child and riding a tricycle.
I’m not planning to release recordings of Eurydice‘s music cues themselves since they wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense on their own (15 seconds of heavy metal, 45 seconds of lounge music, etc.) but I did put together a suite of sorts called gravity is very compelling out of the soundscapes from Eurydice. The Antigone score is likewise kind of boring out of context, but I’ve repurposed parts of it in other works here and there.
Regarding ancient Greek and Roman music, I can say with some certainty (even though ancient music isn’t a specialty of mine) that there’s not any overlap with heavy metal in terms of musical content. A lot of the theoretical ideas and writings helped lay the foundations for the European art music tradition in the medieval period, though. Plato’s famous concerns about the dangerous moral and social effects of “disordered” music also echo through the centuries to inform the various moral panics around heavy metal and other musical styles.
According to your biography, you’ve participated in more than a dozen album releases on various American and European labels, and perform in the ambient bands encomiast and Schrei aus Stein as well as two local metal bands. Can you tell us a bit about your musical history?
I started making ambient music with encomiast in the late 1990s, when I had access to a proper electronic music studio at college. That sort of whetted my appetite for it and I’ve continued recording stuff like it ever since, often drawing my friends into the mix as well. Most of the catalog from that project is available at encomiast.bandcamp.com, although I think my favorite is the 139 Nevada 2xCD that grew out of an attempt to record ghostly voices at a haunted theater. I started Schrei aus Stein when I wanted to do something that mixed drones and noise with more of a black metal aesthetic. Beyond those projects, in the last decade I’ve played in the absurdist metal duo Spawn of the Matriarch, the stoner metal band Governors, a krautrock/free jazz trio, a one-off Mortician-worship solo project named Immensite, and a couple of cover bands.
Currently I play bass in Burn Your World, a band that mixes extreme metal styles with some hardcore punk influence. We also have a side project called Curseworship in which I play bass and compose a lot of harsh noise and analog synth freakouts. Both of those bands have recordings coming out soonish.
What do you think is the role of music? Is it to communicate ideas, express emotions, or make an aesthetic object for others to appreciate? Or none of the above?
I’d probably say it’s more like all of the above in my view, depending on the context and the person who is experiencing it. Your last role (aesthetic object) is probably closest to the way I think about the music I create — I tend to think structurally rather than in emotional or rhetorical terms.
Do you think metal is a subject that should be taught in schools? There’s two viewpoints to this: from academia’s point of view, and from metal’s point of view.
I think that from an academic point of view it’s as valid a subject as any, and to my mind it provides a rich musical and cultural well for all sorts of areas of study. I’d also be lying if I denied that it gives me a lot of pleasure to teach and write about music I love, so there’s a selfish end too I guess! I certainly also understand why some metalheads might not appreciate it because sometimes it does seem like once something has the stamp of approval from the ivory tower it loses a lot of its countercultural credentials.
Some might see it (possibly correctly!) as a misguided attempt to validate metal as an art form…or perhaps to validate academia by borrowing some of metal’s coolness. I personally try to avoid giving that impression in my classes, but my position as an academic may make it impossible for me dodge those bullets entirely. So I suppose my ultimate answer is “yes,” but with acknowledgement of some pitfalls.
You taught a couple of metal-centric classes at CU-Boulder while you were finishing your degree. What were these like? How did you “teach metal”?
One of them was a single Saturday course done through Continuing Education that was sort of a quick trip through some various issues (musical style, censorship, etc.). The longer course was a version of a course on Rock Music that I team-taught with Joel Burcham. In that one my idea was to use metal as a way to explore various aspects of popular music, including recording, performance, fandom, authenticity, etc. My goal was less to teach metal and more to allow metal to teach us, if that makes sense.
You’re an ethnomusicologist; those seem like a cross between music historian and music analyst. How does understanding metal at a musical level help you understand it at a culture level? Are there correlations between the two dimensions of metal?
I sometimes feel like the primary thing my musical training provides me with is a vocabulary with which to work. I do find it helpful in terms of articulating aspects of metal music and production that encourage particular responses and experiences among listeners. As I mentioned in my summary of the “Metal Rules the Globe” article, I do think that some musical ideas can evoke particular experiences and reflect certain values. I would stop short of saying that they necessarily correspond to the values of the performer and the audience though. Sometimes that might certainly be the case, but I’ve come to be skeptical of sweeping correlations, mostly because I want to avoid misrepresenting the culture of metal as a monolithic entity. The more time I spend with metal and with other metalheads, the more I appreciate the diversity of experience within it.
One of your research interests is ritualism. Are there ritual aspects to heavy metal, especially the black metal variety?
I tend to think that almost every musical activity has some sort of a ritual component to it, using the term broadly. With black metal, though, I’m particularly interested in the deployment of Ritual “with a capital R” as a conscious effort to connect the music and performance with some archaic imagined past. In some respects, I think the past black metal invokes is the past of black metal itself, a retro recycling and recreation that is common to all music in some degree, but which has perhaps increased lately (Simon Reynold’s recent book deals with this better than I).
Rather than celebrating the protean side of 21st century identity, metal seems to demand a higher level of “identity essentialism” in that respect. It promises some measure of stability.
Invoking ritual also feels like an appeal to an authoritative kind of authenticity, an assertion that black metal is not entertainment or theater, but instead that it is a stable and “timeless” tradition and (importantly) not beholden to the vagaries of taste or fashion. The use of a fairly standard and narrow set of musical gestures and sounds, deindividualizing costumes and pseudonyms, and staged evocations of sacrificial death all work to this end. Of course, the “appeal to ritual” is also in some ways merely a marketing term and a performance conceit. It might go hand-in-hand with the increased visibility of black metal over the past decade or so.
I’m currently working with these ideas as part of a research project on musical ritualism as an authenticating tactic in popular music…possibly with a parallel trajectory in musical representations of monstrosity and supernatural forces. I’m still gathering my dogs together to see if they hunt though.
How important do you think heavy metal is as a cultural indicator? What does it tell us about our society?
I think it certainly has a role there, although I think that what it says varies a lot depending on who is involved in it. Actually, I think that if we look at metal around the globe, I might consider a lack of metal in a society to be more significant. It seems to be an almost ubiquitous presence, even under circumstances of war and deprivation.
I do think that the value so much metal discourse seems to place on trueness and authenticity is perhaps symptomatic of a larger sense of uprootedness in (American?) society. Rather than celebrating the protean side of 21st century identity, metal seems to demand a higher level of “identity essentialism” in that respect. It promises some measure of stability.
In your view, why is metal such a distinctive genre, with such strong rules and boundaries (trueness, cultness)?
It seems that being embattled or marginalized is an integral part of the way metal views itself, even if in some cases we might consider that metalheads doth protest too much. This sense of being outside the mainstream probably creates this sense of cohesion and belonging, as well as a bit of suspicion and distrust of outsiders and “un-metal” musical influences.
I think that the boundaries have actually gotten more stringent over the past decade or so in underground metal, although it’s probably more likely that I’ve just become more aware of them. I might suggest that as the artifacts and symbols of insider-ness in metal have become more readily available, the concern with maintaining boundaries has risen accordingly. As it becomes easier and easier to amass knowledge about the most obscure bands, along with their recordings, that obscurity loses its power.
Patch jackets don’t seem to carry the same weight if you can purchase a whole collection of rare kvlt “merit badges” in 20 minutes on eBay. This situation makes metal’s system of cultural signifiers less trustworthy in terms of judging someone’s commitment to the genre, so it seems like the boundaries need more strict enforcement. It’s only exacerbated in cyberspace. But of course the best way to be kvlt is to deny that it matters if you’re kvlt or not…it’s square to be hip, right?
You’re on the editorial board of the journal Metal Music Studies. How has metal in academia expanded during the time you’ve been observing, and where do you see it going in the future?
To be totally accurate, I’m actually just on the editorial advisory board, which just means I’ll be on-call as a peer reviewer once we’re totally underway. I hope to continue my involvement in the future, however.
When I first began writing about heavy metal as a graduate student in the early/mid 2000s, it seemed that there was precious little academic writing about metal beyond Walser, Weinstein, and sociological studies beating the dead horse connecting metal and crime/delinquency. Over the following decade it’s just blossomed as a field of study, and I think it’s impressively diverse. I mean, we’ve got people from sociology, ethnomusicology, historical musicology, fan studies, philosophy, and interested practitioners all in the mix. I’ve been trying (and failing) to keep up with all the publications. It’s an exciting and inspiring field.
I think that we’re going to see more studies that question the conceptions of locality and place in metal, since the increasing digital networks around the world are making physical geography less relevant in some respects. I know some scholars are working on the exoticism in metal, which seems especially interesting because it binds together questions of intent (patriotism? parody?) with issues of reception. It also seems that Metal Studies has focused a lot on the more extreme and underground subgenres, so I hope we might see more people begin to explore the intersections between metal and mainstream pop culture, both currently and in the past.