Mountains Are Mountains

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Guest post by former editor David Rosales

 

老僧三十年前未參禪時、見山是山、見水是水、及至後夾親見知識、有箇入處、見山不是山、見水不是水、而今得箇體歇處、依然見山秪是山、見水秪是水

Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.

— Ch’ing-yüan Wei-hsin, Ch’uan Teng Lu

Those who thirst for knowledge and wisdom move in cycles of understanding delimited by internalization and externalization. These transitions are not tied to fixed degrees and their own depth as well as their distance from the next phase varies from one person to the next. The cycles of understanding can be exemplified by the process of finding out how an electronic or mechanical device works: we first pry it open and find ourselves faced with a multitude of components whose nature we usually do not even begin to understand. It is only after a while that we slowly start to identify the function pertaining each of these elements.

At first, and as we acquire basic information on the system, we are taken aback by the complexity of the relations between the different pieces working with each other in interlocked patterns. Even after understanding the purpose and function that each of the pieces has, one is not assured a proper grasp of the bigger picture. The reason for this is that this is not simply the result of the mechanical output of wheels and cogs, but something else arising from the total.

And so, after a first wave of study, analysis and pondering, a first picture is obtained. The student may think he now knows what’s going on, and that all undetermined parts are simply “subjective” or “random” and cannot be considered relevant. Some would call it a day and leave it at that. Others would continue from this higher ground, recharging batteries and pushing forth theories and testing them for incongruences until a newer picture emerges, one where what he considered parts of a whole are only parts of a partial system, embedded in either a greater mesh or having a completely different shape or balance of parts.

In dealing with the enigma of true learning, the conscious human mind is impaired with an understanding that remains clear only up to very straightforward deterministic causal relations and requires its most powerful tool to attain its full potential: the underestimated intuition. If anyone has doubts regarding the role of intuition and the subconscious (unconscious?) in learning (the attaining of understanding), one only has to think that cramming on a particular subject yields instant information on the most direct and obvious levels, but that it is only after one has “slept on it” that repercussions and otherwise unimagined dependencies are revealed to the mind.

Most valuable information, of course, can also come through experience and a scientific exploration of any subject, which provides the springboard of systematized analysis that scientific thought is. Unfortunately for humanity, “science” has slowly become a synonym for “materialist close-mindedness” ever since the so-called Enlightenment, and anything that is not “scientifically proven” (which is an interesting parallel to reducing any idea to the lowest common denominator in its requirement of the idea in question being universally reproducible in laboratory conditions) is held to be unreliable and irrelevant – unless the establishment likes the idea (for political or ego reasons, more often than not), making the profit-based scientific research advance at an unbearably slow speed towards the fabrication of commodities and pointless lifespan prolongation.

Applying this description of universal acquisition of human wisdom to music appreciation cannot only afford us with a clearer way of realizing the value of art but may as well arm us with the steel necessary to combat the nonsensical idea of complete subjectivity in the perception of music which cripples any discussion on its value in favor of modernist un-human experimentalism and post-modernist adoration for the recycled novelty. Modernist and post-modernist ideas about art arise from the same so-called-scientific materialist thinking that spawned infantile Marxist thought. All of these have in common that they use the word “science” and “objectivity” as a shield while they naively ignore human nature in favor of completely biased ideas on how civilization should proceed in their consideration of either arts, politics or economy. The haughty claim is made that there is no such thing as human nature or that nobody understands what this even means. As if its imperfect understanding were enough to discard it as irrelevant, all evidence to the contrary.

In the true spirit of the scientist, the learner, the explorer, the experimenter, the reader and avid metal fan is encouraged to never stop considering the reasons behind the effects of music, the role of structures and textures and how they can be perceived, how they relate to meaning and in what contexts, as well as any other ideas that lead to understanding rather than to an obfuscation into which unscientific thought has lead the establishment while at the same time they hijack the word “science” for their personal views! Just because a problem is hard to solve, just because the variables involved are complex, and just because the obtaining of a knowledge does not represent life or death it does not mean it need not be pursued. Humans thrive on the tackling of problems, and the supplying of baser needs such as food and clothing should only mean that human intellect is now more free than ever to delve into higher mysteries.

An Involution of Easter

Bill and Ted found themselves wandering through the middle east, somewhere. The time machine had finally shorted out when Ted connected it to his iPad, causing a brief detour through 1968 Christopher Street in New York and a Royal Navy frigate in 1780 at rum ration time before crashing somewhere into this Semitic wonderland.

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Other Black Metal Recommendations


Article by David Rosales.

The following is a short list of black metal releases (with a commentary on each) that would general fall off the edge of the usual stylistic lines that Death Metal Underground follows when looking at genre releases. These are all exceptional and form part of what could, in hindsight, be described as the lone wolves of an established and matured black metal genre — generally unnoticed or passed by without receiving substantial attention among the waves of excess of the 21st century; treasures hidden in plain sight for those with a developed sense beyond mere form.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 1-22-2017

Everything you love is eventually butchered, emulsified, digested, and squeezed out by lesser life forms ranging from head hunters to bacterium to mediocre metal bands. Here are some Sadistic Metal Reviews for our readers’ pleasure:

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Immortal Recording New Album Next Month

Immortal are recording a new album next month. Demonaz will be the primary songwriting for the first time in almost twenty years. Will the KISS of All Shall Fall continue with Abbath kicked out of the band for refusing to kick drinking and drugs? Will Demonaz continue from March of the Norse or Blizzard Beasts? Let’s find out!

Continue reading Immortal Recording New Album Next Month

Sadistic Metal Reviews 9/24/2016

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Some sorry schmuck has to shovel it into a hole and set it on fire.

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Yes – Fragile (1971)

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By Johan P, with the amiable assistance of David Rosales. This review continues Death Metal Underground’s 1970s Progressive Rock for Hessians series.

In this part of the article series “1970s Progressive Rock for Hessians”, I have chosen to take on the English group Yes‘ fourth album Fragile from 1971. While their fifth effort, Close to the Edge, is generally regarded as their creative peak and definite statement, Fragile was more important for the development of the nascent progressive rock genre, and perhaps a more suitable entry point for someone who is getting into prog rock from a metal background. There is definitely a sense of power in the works of Yes even if it takes on a different form than what we are used to in metal music. Where early metal bands like Black Sabbath expressed a gritty, doom-laden heaviness through guitar-centered power chord riffing, Yes opted to build momentum through a more instrumentally integrated approach. That is not to say that there are no heavy guitar parts on ‘Fragile’, but here the guitars assume a somewhat different role than in metal.

Continue reading Yes – Fragile (1971)

Kawir – Isotheos (2012)

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Article by David Rosales

Kawir is a band that belongs to that side of metal whose discussion allows the true metal nihilist to distinguish between free minds who embrace the spirit of metal’s independence from political or religious doctrine. Metal has been characterized by its portrayals of power, courage and strength, while looking down on sheepish behavior, compliance with the system and general cowardice. When bands who openly express musical worship of Pagan ideals as a source for racial/national power, it gives one the opportunity to weed out the sheep in metal guise. The metal nihilist will find in the concept of the pagan theme in metal yet another expression of pride and power apt for the narrative of timeless natural struggle. He may dispassionately nod its head to the idea without necessarily embracing it as something that speaks to him, personally. He holds the burning flame of life in front of him, observing the destroying consumption that drives action in eternal co-dependence with passive materia. He stares at it directly without fear of having the miserable protective borders of human-society constructs burn away, nay, welcoming this removal of the illusory.

But the infiltrator will often reveal himself by expressing typical modern-urban discomfort in the face of the tribal roots of these ideas, deeming them not sophisticated enough and the product of ignorant naturalists and superstitious people– because they have obviously never even read Karl Marx, let alone Michel Foucault or Noam Chomsky. We also find the majority of undecided metal fans who can guiltily accept these “rash” ideas in the context of artistic expression, although not without signs of rubor on their cheeks and heavy perspiration on trembling hands, more characteristic of virtuous maidens than courageous warriors. Yes, metal is masculine, and no, it does not imply misogyny. These last at least exhibit the intellectual honesty towards which metal tends to gravitate, even if the shackles of their own societies and times can still be felt as they adopt a tongue-in-cheek disposition and keep their fingers crossed behind their backs in a sort of secular modern superstitious fear. One may still find them making quick apologies for the band or comical quips that prove their allegiance to their in-time, humanist ideals, putting their puny minds at rest that they have not incurred in heresy.

Isotheos (ίσο – θεος, ‘equal [to] god’ — Godlike) is the Apollonian in-time expression through metal and minimalist Hellenic elements of Dionysian timelessness, the underlying human genetic memory of survival that Nietzsche wisely derived and intuited and that Jung demonstrated empirically. This collective unconscious speaks to us in mental images, flashes of emotion and conceptual ephemeral . A sign that Kawir places utmost importance on the core and significance, rather than on the temporary expression of these, is that although there is a clear embracing of the products of Greek pre-classical antiquity as the heritage of its nation and people, references to both pre-Hellenic and Roman outward manifestations are admitted into the concept of the album. The album deals with the transcendental aspect of Greek symbology, not as temporary and superficial expressions of this or that period, but as evidence to the unique evolutionary path of Greek survival arising as fumes from boiling blood.

Musically, Isotheos revolves completely around simple, modal themes, which in no moment cede to any other element. While there are vocals, rhythm guitars and often more than one melody line, the centrality of the theme is never, even for one moment, lost. Kawir simultaneously achieves the high-energy, dense locomotive character of metal that rides on thundering drums, as well as the melodious, inspiring horizon-gazing sounds of primeval Greece. These, we have now come to associate with the ancient temples and oracles through reconstructions of that ancient European music. Rhythm depends on power chord phrases closer to the approach of Witchfinder General than Iron Maiden, thus a stronger backbone and less distraction. Despite this adherence to simplicity (the beautiful simplicity, the ‘good simplicity’ of Plato’s Socrates), there is no lack of variety, and through smart use of economical and effective use of a close-style repertoire of techniques achieves a strong and fluent expression.

Particularly stamped on the capable listener’s mind will be the natural consistency with which themes are treated, the healthy growth of variations without even the slightest hint of pretension. In no moment does technique supersede communication and structure, a balanced sort of modest beauty that maintains its worth by carefully and sparingly choosing climaxes that never come beforehand. This is achieved through gradually evolving the theme, so that a structure of cyclic transformation is represented. Each song makes use of one theme only, usually, tying it poetically with the concept, and making absolutely revolve around it. This is not a theme on a melody dancing above moving harmony with an occasional quote and echo, but rather the whole of the music adds a grain to the theme itself, as it assumes no definite form and all forms. While the classical variation starts from a primordial seed that is represented in increasingly complex forms, the ancient spirit of Kawir’s music lends no particular importance to any of the manifold incarnations of Dionysian memory. To be more precise, what we find on Isotheos are not the strict romantic themes, but motific variations that are kept at relatively close Levenshtein distances, thereby guarding them from disfiguration.

In this music, every single aspect is important and none of them are. Their preservation in transfomations is immortal, but their temporary forms or manifestations are only suitable for that instant and hold no value in and of themselves. Each moment is distinctive but strongly related to future and past, as water raining on the tops of mountains, running through ravines, precipitating down waterfalls and reinvading the ocean uncountable times as no single drop of water survives but is reincarnated. If there ever was an album that explicitly collects the Nietzschean balance of the Apollonian and Dionysian, it is Isotheos. If there is any place in metal which takes one closer to the Platonic musical ideal through appropriate forms, it is Isotheos.

Isotheos may be purchased from Deathrune Records.

Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

Chthe’ilist’s debut has been expected by underground death metal fans for some time.  To them, it seems like a promising project faithful to the ideals of atmospheric technical bands such as Demilich and Timeghoul, from whom it takes unmistakable cues. Less fortunate are the influences of popular (in the underground) but ultimately less effective acts Rippikoulu and Crematory. The first two lend a constructive helping hand while Crematory’s contribution distracts with purely technical and empty nonsense detached from clear evocation, and the unimpressive Rippikoulu lends its spacious approach that suffers from the blunders of Wagnerian operas: sparsely located treasures in a sea of boredom. Worth mentioning are a couple of very Voivodesque moments that are surprisingly integrated in a way that they do not seem out of place.

There are several reasons why this release is worth taking a close look at independently of how close we consider it to come to a masterpiece. Existing reviews come awfully short of a real musical insight, opting instead to spend a huge chunk of the time in talking about how cool the guys in the band are, or how ‘awesome’ the vibe is. They are utterly useless when they reach their faux attempts at providing any meaningful observations on the technical side of things. At most, they manage a colorful picture of the mental impressions that the music gives them; this at least is inspiring. Chthe’ilist’s album gives us so much more to discuss not only from its plentiful contents but what they relate to as descendants and composers.

In the interest of a well-rounded critique, Le Dernier Crépuscule should be observed from two different vantage points. The first is to place it within its historical context, and keep present whatever musical influences it appears to have. The second is to ignore everything but our intuition (which is dependent on past experience and understanding, in any case), so that we allow it to articulate and speak out for itself as it draws energy from predecessors we take notice only as an afterthought.

I. Technical Overview

Le Dernier Crépuscule can be roughly divided into two sections, the first consisting of the first five tracks and the second of the remaining two. The first track itself should probably be excluded as it is little more than an intro. The structuring of the next four follows a certain pattern while the last two each follow a freer approach than the one preceding them. The first is Crematory-dominated, while the last increasingly shows a predominant Timeghoul presence. Throughout the record one finds Demilich’s riff style in about half of the individual riffs. This emulation ranges from almost outright shoplifting from Nespithe to more respectable yet still recognizable inspiration. The rest of the riffs also contain the less distinct (read as ‘more random’) but technically recognizable influence of Crematory and some war metal filler while the more creative and original single sections probably come from general Timeghoul influence, which allows for more open interpretation.

Tracks two to five follow a rough plan of riff variations1 lined up one after the other until the solo comes to mark a climax, after which there is a reiteration of previous material and the song ends. It is the “easy way out” of death metal structures, albeit expanded by a greater quantity of riffs. Le Dernier Crépuscule takes the most relaxed route when it comes to conceptualization as well, choosing to go for Crematory’s2 brand of strands of riff variations connected in riff salad manner. Now, Crematory’s style is marked by another particular aspect, and that is that it places technical flare and variety at the top of its priority list. Its choice of allowing runs of related riffs is more the following of what was in vogue at the time, since one can observe that songwise, there is very little keeping it all together but the general tag of the genre. Something similar happens to these first songs by Chthe’ilist.

The sixth and seventh tracks are clearly steeped in a more progressive mindset, allowing for creativity to bubble up as the band tries to craft a narrative. This is conducted with far more success on the last track, ‘Tales of the Majora Mythos Part 1″, than on the hybrid ‘Vecoiitn’aphnaat’smaala’. This emphasis on following a far-reaching narrative reaches formidable proportions in this last track where I would venture to call it a storyline. Variety in riff type is actually richer here than anywhere else in the album, yet through this story-telling technique (that is very much reminiscent of the dramatic flair of Timeghoul on Panaramic Twilight) Chthe’ilist achieves something beyond mere coherence — a smooth flow of ideas connected through careful considerations in texture and rhythmic contrast between sections. These considerations must reach further than adjacent riffs or mere riff-strands so that the song itself does not fall apart.

Unfortunately, although this last track shows us the brightest future for Chthe’ilist, Monsieur Tougas has yet to learn how to finish a song, and what could be an incredible opus is watered down by an unsure appendage after the coda following the solo, a four-minute long welling up of unnecessary nothingness. Content-wise, this adds nothing to the song except confusion, since it is mostly noise and blast beats, which we may presume is an ill-achieved attempt at creating ambience3. The rest of the song itself might be as clear-minded as Timeghoul’s best work, but it is still a work in progress.

I. Aural Impressions

Le Dernier Crépuscule is constantly touted as “Lovecraftian death metal”, and while I get the reference, it seems to me that the character of the music is much more cartoonish than even the original stories, which is saying a lot considering that Lovecraft’s work is already minimalist pulp horror. Taking only a chunk from this author’s work and making a concept album out of it becomes a bit redundant after 2 or 3 songs, and in this album I mostly hear At the Mountains of Madness with some more general references to the Cthulhu mythos towards the end. This limitation results in a bloated album with more words than actual things to say.

In fact, I’d say that for a Lovecraftian experience this is too limited. Timeghoul’s sound, for instance, is very appropriate for expanding on the whole range of cloudy feelings and visages that Lovecraft exposes, not only the mouth-tentacles of his famous monster-deity. Proof of this is that while a Demilich sound on a Crematory template can at most show entrails and guts and an in-your-face horror, the last track had me catching glimpses of R’lyeh through the oceanmist. In Lovecraft you find not only the gnarly gore of slimy and ghoulish creatures, but visitations to otherworldly views in a variety of dream states, alienation from reality expressed through either an increasingly horrifying vision of the world or just not knowing at which side of the sleep curtain it lies.

Lovecraft condenses the very essence of the death metal spirit in its several manifestations and a project with the gigantic potential of Chthe’ilist is surprisingly limited in its choice of evocation, while playing around withtoo many riffs than needed in what appears to be that Crematory-like bloating of content for its own sake with little reference to anything beyond it. Chthe’ilist has a potential of ‘epic proportions’, as the common saying goes. It could have us contemplating at Algol, wondering… it could take us on a bizarre journey through perilous Kadath, and it could make us doubt the very truthfulness of our material existence. In short, it could be the long-awaited metal Messiah that crystallizes the whole of Lovecraftian experience from the essence of the most meaningful obscure acts of the past. But it isn’t.

III. Integral Critique

Bringing together the last two discussions allows us to properly discuss the results Chthe’ilist has achieved. Most bands seem to create a division between music making and lyrical topics, which is not necessarily a bad decision if everything is flowing from a same wellspring of inspiration. The pitfall of this approach is that the sources could end up being distinct, even if compatible, so that the impact of either is dulled by even the slightest hint of cognitive dissonance. This dissonance may even occur in music that is supposedly unified with its lyrical content, and in the case of technically-oriented bands like Chthe’ilist it usually comes about in the form of what could be called ‘riff distraction’.

Riff distraction is a phenomenon that consists of the metal artist losing sight of perspective as he lies on the floor, dull-sensed on proverbial soma. This sends riff-writers off in a mythical quest for the perfect riff combination until they end up with a mass of exciting but ultimately meaningless mumbo jumbo. This is the plague that afflicts this release; its most obvious priority seems to be riff-making, and the clearest sign of a climax is the guitar solo. This album’s is very intentional and varied, but with no precise evocative purpose in mind, so that this huge ball of varied rhythms ends up being a uniform mass when seen from afar. The guitar solo, then, becomes the only way of bringing the song to a breaking point so that at least something in the landscape stands out as a signaling agent for the ending to come with at least a semblance of an excuse.

Alas, the limitation that is holding back Chthe’ilist lies in the mindset of Master Tougas: his towering talent and creative juices ooze with latent power, but his imagination appears to be held back by rationalist prejudices of modern thought that reduce a powerful mythos to mere cartoon. This results in tongue-in-cheek funny horror, which may be an overplaying of the purposely awkward feeling of Demilich that is often perceived simply as funny yet interesting. Timeghoul’s immense aural depth could be the answer here, as the flexibility of its approach lies in the dramatic expansion of predefined techniques within a limited (yet more varied, at the same time) vocabulary that makes even its most complex statements convincing and manifestly intelligible4.

IV. Final Remarks

As pretentious as the thousands of words I’ve already written might make me sound, I would still like to encourage Monsieur Tougas to continue this general line of thinking, while paying closer attention to composition and evocation aspects that lead to a stronger narrative in longer songs. These seem to possess, at least in their present state, the greatest potential of his technical and atmospheric style. His work can bring to reality not only what Timeghoul could have become, but something beyond it, with a long-awaited deftly and graciously applied riffcraft inspired by Demilich. Ditch the Crematory when it comes to structuring decisions, and refactor out any content that isn’t completely indispensable5.

Personally, when it comes to heavily-charged albums such as Le Dernier Crépuscule, I hold a 10-time listening policy: testing how well and in what manner a music album holds up after listening to it completely the first ten times in less than a few days. This has several interesting effects, the first of which is that initial shock effects fade away, technical flare appears more fixed to context, everything gains perspective. Sadly, this album only made it to six listens before losing its luster, and this is mainly because the overall structure of songs and the character they evoke fall into place as an integral whole, revealing the utter simplicity lying behind the tons of riffs and tasty guitar licks.

The reason why the most convincing underground metal has almost always come from the minds that are most “out there” is because their music flows from deeply-ingrained convictions, veritable nightmares that are as real as the sun’s burning sensation, or the excruciating pain of sincere longing for a different reality. While your metal remains “meta”, while it remains only a “fun” way of exploring “spooky” images that are “not real”, your metal will also remain a laughable cartoon.

In earlier ages, as instinctive concepts welled up in the mind of man, his conscious mind could no doubt integrate them into a coherent psychic pattern. But the “civilized” man is no longer able to do this. His “advanced” consciousness has deprived itself of the means by which the auxiliary contributions of the instincts and the unconscious can be assimilated. These organs of assimilation and integration were numinous symbols, held holy by common consent.

In earlier times, these principles were worshiped in all sorts of rituals, which at least showed the psychic significance they held for man. But now they have become mere abstract concepts.

— Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols

1 By riff variation, I mean a grouping of related riffs that arise as variations from a seminal idea.

2 When taking Crematory’s Denial as a point of reference, we can observe how Crematory cannot hold a mood and a line of thought for too long. The music is based on providing variation; for instance, it introduces contrasting ideas in rhythm in extreme fashion so that even very Latin African rhythms pop up right besides more grindy ones with no particular purpose. It may be more difficult to notice, but Demilich already contains such range of variation, but it is much better organized, so that it does not feel haphazard. Furthermore, Demilich is able to stamp their own seal on each section by delimiting certain combinations of rhythm and mode, while Crematory pretty much just throws whatever it can find in your face as it desperately clutches for more content to display a different drum technique.

It’s not that Crematory plays no positive role in the music of Chthe’ilist, but it should be used within its effective scope: the riff variation; and taking note from those who excel at long-range composition when organizing structure.

3 This is a distractor that infects the mentality of modern death metal musicians; it’s almost as if they feel that the music is not enough, that they need to add more “stuff”, whatever it is. This fools the less-focused sort of listeners (apparently, the majority), but not those who would listen to music from multiple angles so as to extract all it contains and more.

4 That is to say, although the difference between the opposite styles within Timeghoul’s vocabulary (from pounding, crowded gnarly riffs to clean-vocal lamentations) may be wider than Crematory’s, the consistency with which they are used imbues them with a more meaningful sense of purpose.

5 A lesson might be learned from Ludwig van Beethoven’s own methods. He is probably the most respectable of classical composers with an inclination for “wild progressive” ideas, since he did not slip into avant-garde stupidity. Beethoven’s music was shocking in its own time for its juxtaposition of apparently contrasting ideas, but he would not leave them there. They were justified, as it were, through their careful development and envelopment throughout the rest of the piece or even in later movements, creating an unprecedented technique in bringing together content in long-range fashion through a process of entanglement.