Communist metalcore blog MetalSucks lobbed some epithets at death and black metal fans in their recent pathetic comparison of metal and hard rock subgenres to their fanbases:
Article by Johan P.
This text is a continuation of the previously published article, The Difficulties of Folk Metal. As stated in Part I, the threefold aim of this multi-part article is, in rough terms, to: 1. Give a short introduction to the subject, 2. Point out some of the difficulties connected with integrating folk music into metal and finally, 3. Provide alternative methods of integration. Part II will be dedicated to the second part of this quest.
Naturally, there are limits regarding the scope of my endeavor – the most obvious demarcation being that the article primarily focuses on Swedish folk music. In my view, the critique of folk metal is an ongoing project, and this article should not be seen as an exhaustive treatment of the subject at hand.
So, if someone else out there finds the subject interesting, you are more than welcome to make contributions. It could be in the form of additional material (metal or folk related) and complementary ideas to enhance the project. For example, the depth and applicability of the arguments presented below would surely benefit if the scope could be expanded to include other forms of traditional music.
Gothic rock band Fields Of The Nephilim are famous for their ability to mix the industrial-dance edge of underground goth music with the driving guitars of punk and rock. On their newest release, Prophecy, the band go in a new direction — one that will be familiar to metal fans.
Article by David Rosales.
I. A Romantic Art
In the past, we have likened the spirit of metal that culminates in death and black metal to that of the literary, romantic movement in Europe. Romanticism was meant to embody ideals of naturalism and individualism in a return to primeval spirituality connecting us with our origins, our surroundings, and a more conscious future. The romantic character of the 19th century stands in glaring opposition to the heavy industrialist upsurge and man-centered utilitarianism of that time. Epitomized metal contrasts with this idea in one important aspect: while artists two centuries ago strived to bring attention to the importance of human subjectivity, underground metal stressed irrelevance of the human vantage point.
In describing metal as a neo-romantic artform we may well be undermining the aspects that define it in its historical and psychological contexts. Historical as each movement is encased in a flow of events linked by causality and psychological, on the other hand because of the relative independence and unpredictability with which leading individuals affront these inevitable developments. Together, these two factors account for freedom of choice within predestination. Even though romanticism and metal were both reactions to the same decadence at different points in time, the latter rejects the former’s inclination towards universal human rights and other products of higher civilization in exchange for a nihilistic realism arising from the laws of nature. Underground metal is a detached representation of a Dark Age; one where power and violence are the rule in which all forms of humanism are hopelessly deluded or simply hypocritical.
The uncontrolled and contrarian character of metal stands at odds with the more self-aware and progressive bent of romanticism. Metal, at least in its purest incarnations, can never be assimilated – something that cannot be said of the older art movement. Pathetic attempts at dragging metal under the mainstream umbrella that abides by status quo ideals often fail catastrophically. When forcefully drawn out before dawn’s break it will inevitably miserably perish upon contact with the sun’s rays like a creature of catacombs and dark night-forests.
Attempting to define metal is as elusive as trying to pinpoint ‘magic’. Outsiders cannot even begin to recognize its boundaries. The mystical, ungraspable, and intuitive nature it possesses attests to this and sets it apart from romanticism in that not even those belonging to it are able to crystallize a proper description. The very substance of the genre is felt everywhere but the innermost sanctum always dissipates under the gaze of the mind’s eye.
II. Romantic Anti-Modernism
Even though it cannot be said that the one defines or encompasses the other, the connection between romanticism and metal nevertheless exists. Aside from the concrete musical link between them which helps us describe metal as a minimalist and electronic romantic art, the abstract connection is more tenuous and related to cyclic recurrence1. Metal is not a revival of romanticism nor its evolution, but perhaps something more akin to its rebellious disciple: a romantic anti-modernism.
The foundation of this anti-modernism is a Nietzschean nihilism standing in stark contrast with hypocritical modernist dogma; it spits in the face of the semantic stupidity of post-modernism. This is a sensible and ever-searching nihilism2 that does not attach itself to a particular point of view but parts from a point of disbelief in any authority. It is a scientific and mystic nihilism for those who can understand this juxtaposition of terms. It does not specialize in what is known as critical thinking but in the empirical openness to possibilities taken with a grain of salt. The first dismisses anything that does not conform to its rigid schemata; the second one allows relativism as a tool with the intention of having subjective views float around while transcending all of them and moving towards unattainable objectivity.
Such transcendentalism connects metal with Plato and Theodoric the Great rather than with Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius. Metal looks beyond modern illusions of so-called freedom and the pleasure-based seeking of happiness. It recognizes that without struggle there can be no treasure and that today’s perennial slack will only lead to complacent self-annihilation. This is why, instead of representing the blossoming of nature in man through the sentimentalisms of romanticism in its attitude above time, to use the words of a wise woman, metal stands stoutly as a form of art against time.
III. Essential Reading for the Metal Nihilist
As an attempt to communicate our understanding of the essence and spirit of underground metal, below are some books through which to start the abstract journey through metal and the metaphysics that moves it.
Theodore John Kaczynski – Industrial Society and Its Future
Albert Mudrian – Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore
Homer – The Illiad
The Bhagavad Gita
J.R.R. Tolkein – The Children of Húrin
Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason
IV. Some Music Recommendations for the Metal Nihilist
We have traditionally presented a certain pantheon of underground death and black metal to which most readers can be redirected at any moment. A different set is presented below that is nonetheless consistent with the writer’s interpretation of Death Metal Underground’s vision.
Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir – Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares
Julian Bream – La Guitarra Barroca
Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time
Not being a connoisseur of cinema in general, the following is but a friendly gesture. This is a loose collection for the transmission of a basic underground metal pathos.
Tous les Matins du Monde
The Witch: A New-England Folktale
Until the Light Takes Us
A 2008 documentary film by Aaron Aites
and Audrey Ewellabout the early 90s
black metal scene in Norway.
Andrei Tarkovsky – Stalker
1This is not the re-happening of the exact same universe that Nietzsche is supposed to have been talking about, but a transcendental recurrence of sorts. What I am trying to express here is the cyclic reappearance of abstract and collective concepts among humans, because they are also part of this universe and as such are subject to such underlying pendulum swings in the forces that move it. Perhaps a better descriptor could have been abstract collective concept reincarnation, but that seemed to convoluted, and cyclic recurrence captures the wider phenomenon, irrespective of what definition academia wants to adhere to.
2This somewhat liberal use of the term nihilism deserves to be explained a little further in order to avoid confusion. By this it is not meant that metal’s outlook consists of nihilism in the ultra-pessimistic sense, in the sense of total defeat, which seems to be the expectancy of most people from nihilism. The idea here is that as an art movement born in the post-modern era, in a civilization that has already been ravaged by nihilism, stripped from relevant cults, metal begins from a posture of extreme skepticism that is extended to everything and everyone. This skepticism is nihilistic because no intrinsic value is placed on anything, yet it is scientific because it is curious and will experiment. Metal’s development dances between nihilism and individualistic transcendentalism.
Over the four decades that heavy metal has been with us, people in responsible positions in society have gradually become more accepting of it as an art form and a message from its fanbase.
Such acceptance could not exist without people like Dr. Martin Jacobsen, who by teaching a class on heavy metal as literature has introduced academics to the depth and richness of this genre.
For the past semester, Dr. Jacobsen has been teaching “Heavy Metal as a Literary Genre” at WTAMU, where he introduces students to the literary and artistic aspects of heavy metal. In addition, he writes for Death Metal Underground and is a world-recognized expert in death metal who is active in his local death metal scene.
Jacobsen has returned to teach another semester of the class, which seems to be attracting more students as word of it spreads. We were able to follow up on our first interview with Professor Jacobsen to get a feel for what has changed between the years.
This is the second time you’re offering your class on heavy metal, “Heavy Metal as a Literary Genre.” Was the last time a success?
It was beyond successful. Our local paper did a story on us that went viral — ultimately being translated into 7 or 8 languages, and garnering a spot on Brazilian TV and an Canadian Public Radio. Our 15 minutes of fame. DMU was the first to pick up the story, and we are very grateful for your support of our class.
How have you changed the class? Is the class format the same?
It’ll be a discussion class with lots of music-about 50-50. I have added a lecture devoted to death metal, and I plan to add others about other forms. I’m going to require more writing and much more stringent guidelines for that writing. I’ve also invited local recording and performing artists speak about the lifestyle, the recording process, touring.
What is a typical class period like?
We will begin each day with a student presentation of a song . There will be a required PowerPoint slide with it to show the group, album, lyrics, and so on, in proper style-sheet format. It’s a quantity/quality thing. That will be the first 10 minutes or so. There we will have a lesson in which a sub-genre, group, musician or other germane idea is presented in a standard format: Premises, basically the context behind the thesis; thesis, the point of the lecture; and evidence, documented proof of the point and sample songs to let the students hear it for themselves. I am hoping that we will have a Metal God Profile or two, and if we run across something important as we listen and discuss, we will go with it. We will also, I’m hoping, have guest speakers, and I do plan to bring my guitar in to define certain musical structures and so on.
What disciplines does HMLG touch on? It’s a literature class about music; does that influence what you teach?
We will treat music as if it were literature, looking at its structures, motifs, themes. We will identify the features of heavy metal and how those features are altered to signify different sub-genres. There will be a strong trans-historical structure to the class. I like to think of the history of heavy metal as dominoes standing up. Black Sabbath kicked off the genre and their early albums really set the dominoes in motion. But rather than falling, the dominoes rose like headstones.
You were recently quoted in the Amarillo Globe-News with a definition of death metal:
“Death Metal is an extreme form of metal that tends to privilege growled vocals, blast-beat drumming and virtuosic guitar work. Death metal often uses lengthy compositions featuring minor keys and multiple tempo changes. Thematically, death metal often focuses on violence and gore, but themes of all kinds are interrogated by death metal bands, usually reflecting a pessimistic, even hopeless, outlook. Multiple subgenres exist under the banner of death metal.”
Do you teach such things in the class? Do you realize how totally awesome it is to be quoted in your local newspaper as a death metal expert?
We do work with definitions. And it’s damned cool to be quoted as an expert.
You have become a proficient guitarist over the last few months. What has this taught you about metal?
It is sophisticated music. It’s pushing the edges most of the time. In so many ways, it’s like classical music. It uses tempo changes, it’s riff-driven, it features instrumental virtuosity. Learning how to play again has given me a hands-on, ears-on ability to both understand and interrogate elements that would have been only something I’d have talked about before. I’m thinking about taking my guitar to class for some illustrative lessons. Last term, I had students who didn’t know what a riff is. And amp in the room will quickly solve that. Anyway, It’s given me the musical part of the class in a way no other practice could. Knowing a solo or riff enhances my ability to articulate the ways that such elements differentiate or sustain a genre.
This recent guitar-playing is following up on a youthful musical career. Can you tell us about that? What groups were you in, and what styles did they play?
Career is a bit of an overstatement, but I did play in a couple of local groups. One comprised classmates of mine, and we played mostly pop. I was lead guitarist. The other band was a metal band. I played rhythm guitar. We did mostly well-known metal of the early 1980s-Dio, Def Leppard, Scorpions, AC/DC. It was kid stuff in many ways.
What forms of music do you listen to, when you have no agenda at hand? Does this correspond to what was current when you were of high school – college age?
My tastes have gotten heavier as I’ve gotten older. I didn’t listen to anything really heavy in high school. I started metal as a young adult. I returned to it about ten years ago. I like classic metal best. I’m starting to like death metal bands that end up progressive bands, like Opeth. But I like heavy music. Black Sabbath is my favorite group.
I also listen to a lot of prog, Yes and Kansas being my favorites. I like the Flying Colors supergroup. I like some southern rock, but I don’t have a systematic understanding of it in the same way as I do about metal.
What is heavy metal? Is it distinct from rock music? Is death metal distinct from other forms of heavy metal?
We actually sought to define heavy metal as a a group last time. We ended up with this: “Heavy metal is a form of rock music with a heavy, distorted, menacing sound and concerned with dark, disturbing, and pessimistic themes.”
Death Metal is distinct from other forms. It’s often more thematically disturbing than other forms, but in many instances beside the obviously shock-based bands and motifs, it’s disturbing because it’s asking the questions other forms of art — or even metal — do not ask. I’m also really taken with instrumental virtuosity. Death metal tends to privilege excellent playing. It’s a boundary extension thing. And the structures of good death metal are frequently quite elaborate, even symphonic. I think it’s also interesting that some death metal masterminds, say Schuldiner or Åkerfeldt-become proggy later. It’s another type of boundary testing. As I say so often, metal is in so many ways similar to classical music. It’s not surprising that death metal sometimes veers into other genres. Compare that with black metal, which so often seems to have simplicity and even homogeneity as elements of its ethos.
You have said, in the past that much of heavy metal’s content is similar to Romanticism. What was Romanticism? Does it still walk among us?
It totally does. I think of Romanticism as applied Platonic philosophy. Metal at its best offers a way of thinking about music and thinking that breaks the boundaries and lays before us the larger patterns of musical and thematic expression. It’s the boundaries that are interesting to me. And the Romantics did that. They looked at classical sources and wrote (or expressed via many art forms) about their own experiences within that frame.
Has heavy metal changed the way you look at literature?
I think so. I think all art sharpens perceptions and adds ways of experiencing other forms. I’ve taken up the guitar again after a very long time. And while my playing is a work-in-progress, playing again sharpens my listening and adds a critical lens I didn’t have last time. I’m not sure this is a very good answer to your question. I think the way metal expresses itself is literary in its basic constructions, so engaging that enhances how I think. Analyzing lyrics is literary analysis, so from that standpoint I am definitely applying my training to the process and gaining from doing so. And metal also has other ethos-building elements that any humanities scholar would find interesting.
Contact with your students has deepened your own experience of metal apparently. Can you tell us about this?
I have bonded with several students from the earlier class, and I’ve actually met some of my future students at shows. Some of my former students play in local bands. I think it’s incumbent upon me to know my local scene. But the local scene here has become much more to me than metalheads I know. They’ve become my community.
Do you think the administration at WTAMU have become more open to heavy metal thanks to the first semester of this class and the response to it?
Yes. It’s a permanent addition to our course offerings in an era when core classes are evaporating.
Do you think or have experience that this class has made students more motivated to check out more literature?
Yes. I was able to get them to think about books and to read closely for class discussion. Again, it’s a humanities class and the title is a little misleading. We are embracing other forms. But in identifying the literary influences in metal, I have been able to get students to try literature they may not otherwise have tried.
You’re now one of the foremost instructors using metal in classes in the world. What advice do you have for other educators along these lines?
Well, thank you. That’s very kind. The advice I’d give is to proceed only if you have the freedom to do it right. My department and university totally backed me. I’ll also say that you should tap into student knowledge. This is a class where the students may know as much or more about “their” metal as I do about mine. It’s a bit of a partnership. A Facebook page is a good idea too. It takes the learning into their lives where metal is a constant and collects their experiences for the class.
Will there be a open course / distance learning version of the class? Have you considered packaging it as videos like the classes on Coursera or MIT’s open courseware?
We can do it. And the idea of podcasts has been bandied about.
Black Sabbath’s new album, 13, is a marvel. The first single “God Is Dead?” didn’t adequately prepare me for the experience of the whole work. This album contrasts the old sound and the new sound. The band frequently harkens back to their former work. I’ll note these instances when I treat the individual songs later in the review. In fact, some fans think 13 is too much like the earlier material. But they’re wrong. Surely we want them to recapture their earlier sound to some degree, but this album does much more than that. While surely somewhat nostalgic, this album does NOT fling itself into the market as a refurbished rehashing of used riffs. It’s a GREAT album. The original vibe remains as strong as ever. Fans agree and have propelled this album to #1 on the charts.
Let’s just talk about the players for a minute. Black Sabbath-for better or worse-always rests on the genius of guitarist extraordinaire, Tony Iommi. He has lost NOTHING on this album. He includes riffs and architectonic elements from ALL of his work with Black Sabbath, his recent work with Heaven and Hell, his solo albums, and perhaps even some of the blues roots that preceded Black Sabbath. His solos are as good as, or better than, his earlier work. When they do echo earlier compositions, they echo the very best soloing of his career.
Geezer Butler also plays as well here as he ever has, and a fan would do well to find anything on an earlier Sabbath album any better than his work here. Tony and Geezer seem to be playing for posterity. The lyrics of the entire album hint at the band’s contemplation of their own mortality, and surely Dio’s passing and Tony’s own illness make that inevitable. Ozzy Osbourne sounds pretty strong. His voice gets stronger as the album progresses, and some of the vocal melodies capture an Ozzy Osbourne solo sound — which was already developing on Never Say Die! (1978) back in the day. The synergy that made Black Sabbath a revolutionary band still exists in these three guys.
Brad Wilk’s drumming rounds out the record. The fan base made its displeasure at Bill’s absence very clear. Brad had a very big job trying to fill Bill Ward’s shoes. To his credit, he filled them well. We don’t hear the Butler/Ward swing anywhere on this record. Nor should we. Trying to imitate Bill would have been insulting. Brad did the job well, and he gets a big thumb’s up from this reviewer. All of these musicians in top form.
Musically, this album is VERY heavy in places. As mentioned, several of Tony’s solos equal anything he’s done so far, and his riffing remains the best there is. Lyrically, the darkness of this album stands with anything the band has ever done. The Grim Reaper peers over the horizon in nearly every song, and the tension between God and Satan (or at least the tension between the concepts of good and evil) emerges explicitly many times, as it did in their early work, when even the band were frightened by their own songs!
This review will address only the album proper, no bonus tracks. I may get an argument or two from some fans, but in general, I’ll say that the bonus tracks fail to achieve the same quality as the songs on the album. Perhaps more to the point, they do not “fit” the mood of the album proper.
“The End of the Beginning” strikes me as the perfect title for the first track of this album. The return of the Ozzy-era line-up marks a new beginning for these elder statesmen of heavy metal. The main body of the song pays homage to the first Black Sabbath song “Black Sabbath” off the album Black Sabbath (1970). This song reflects Tony Iommi’s growth and range as a guitarist. The track opens with a heavy, doomy march of separated chords similar to “Shadow of the Wind” (The Dio Years – 2006) or “Atom and Evil” off The Devil You Know — a rather recent development used here to great effect. There are tempo changes, and the classic break that we hear on the first four albums. Some listeners may remark that they use the same sort of break in four of eight songs on the album, thus leaving them repetitive and even self-derivative. I don’t agree, but I concede they lean on this approach. It’s a part of their style and fits.
He plays two solos, as we see in Dehumanizer’s (1992) “Computer God”, using the same basic architectonics. The solos themselves soar into prominence. The first, at 4:42 or so, lasts 50 seconds, and features not only a fantastic Iommi-style lead but also a tempo change into a bluesy sound at the end. The second solo closes the song, and for around 90 seconds grows in intensity, rising to an effort VERY similar to “Lonely Is the Word” from Heaven and Hell (1980). Again, we are not talking about a mimeograph album. Tony taps into EVERYTHING he’s done. And he plays with abandon, with emotion.
Lyrically, we see a fresh address of the theme Society vs. the Individual, especially in terms of the former controlling the latter. This theme has been interrogated throughout the entire history of the band, dealing with societal issues like family collapse in “Wicked World” off Black Sabbath, economics in “Cornucopia” (Vol. 4 – 1972), psychology in “Johnny Blade,” (Never Say Die!) television in “Zero the Hero” (Born Again – 1983) and the eponymous “Mob Rules” (1983) and “Computer God” ( both self-explanatory). This song updates for the pervasiveness of the simulacrum, urging the “Reanimation of your cybersonic soul” and concluding “You don’t want to be a robot ghost / Occupied inside a human host / Analyzed and cloned relentlessly / Synthesized until they set you free.” This eight-minute opus is pure Black Sabbath.
“God Is Dead?,” the first single, at almost nine minutes, seems like two songs. The first 4:00 or so offer a kinder, gentler sound. Then the chorus hits at 2:16 and at 2:26 that super-doomy descending lick hints at the Sabbath sound. Then they go back for the next verse. At 4:05 that Sabbath discord starts and at 4:09-4:10 Tony “shakes” the chord as only he does. Then a classic Iommi riff (4:17-4:18), a reprise of the aforementioned descending lick, and an expansion the power chords at 4:10 into back-and-forth riff, classic Black Sabbath-relentless, hypnotic. At 5:38 we get to the chorus with that descending lick again. Then at 5:48 they reprise the power chords from :30 into the song that form a bridge to the break at 6:19 that seems like something off the first album or Vol. 4 (or “Falling off the Edge of the World” off Mob Rules). Then at 6:27 Geezer Butler kicks it into high gear and never lets up. All the musicians do the same thing, classic Black Sabbath. Then Geezer starts what will be one of the best performances on bass guitar in the Black Sabbath oeuvre. Even when the song slows, his playing does not. The 15-second solo (7:38–7:53) has a bluesy, 60′s sound to it. Some listeners may have preferred a longer solo, but the musicianship and intensity so far have been so powerful that a solo isn’t needed for the song to have a high point. In fact, Geezer’s playing behind the solo almost equates with soloing itself as he’s playing much faster than Tony. The final minute is the descending lick behind repeated “God is dead” chorus. The chorus leaves us with a rather definitive statement “I don’t believe that God is dead.” The supremely dark lyrics offer the good vs. evil motif that this band has defined. These lines typify the questions asked in this song: “Nowhere to run / Nowhere to hide / Wondering if we will meet again on the other side / Do you believe a word / What the good book said? / Or is it just a holy fairy tale and god is dead?” Nothing says Black Sabbath like two songs in excess of eight minutes offering pessimism and plodding riffs. What a one-two punch!
“Loner” rocks: a flat-out, straight-ahead headbanger. Some say it reminds them of “N.I.B.” It actually recalls the basic riff pattern of the main riffs from “Black Oblivion” and “Flame On” from the 2000 solo album Iommi. Lyrically, the song speaks of isolation, and the head-banging groove of the song contrasts with the seriousness of the message, tied up in the final verse: “Communication’s an impossibility / His own best friend but he’s his own worst enemy / The secrets of his past locked deep inside his head / I wonder if he will be happy when he’s dead.” Perhaps one of the hallmarks of Black Sabbath and of the metal music they pioneered is an understanding of the angst — even depression – that their listeners experience. The strong of grounding in existentialism in their work makes even an up-tempo frolic cuts into the heart of the listener. The irony of the seriousness of the theme and the elation of the riff-similar in a way to “TV Crimes” off Dehumanizer bespeaks a long-standing Sabbath tradition as well.
“Zeitgeist” immediately reminds us of “Planet Caravan” off Paranoid. In a larger sense, perhaps the beauty of “Zeitgeist” is to recall Black Sabbath’s numerous slower and/or psychedelic tunes, such as the aforementioned, “Planet Caravan,” “Solitude” off Master of Reality, and admittedly, to a much lesser degree “Changes” off Vol. 4, “Spiral Architect” off Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), “She’s Gone” off Technical Ecstasy (1976), and others off Dio-era albums. No innovation exists here vis-à-vis older Sabbath tunes of a similar nature. No doubt people will like this one-especially, perhaps, people who weren’t hardcore Sabbath fans. Unremarkable in comparison to the other songs on the album, it provides a break in the heaviness — much as the other songs noted here did for those albums — this song reminds us that Black Sabbath did this too. Insofar as this album may well become a historical document, “Zeitgeist” proves a worthy inclusion.
The opening of “Age of Reason” sounds a bit like the opening of “Follow the Tears” off The Devil You Know. Another elaborately structured offering marked by numerous genre and tempo changes, reminiscent of “Dirty Women” off Technical Ecstasy, give this song an almost proggy feeling. The opening riff while really quite doom-laden, is also rather bluesy. While the structure and overall sound of the song unmistakably heralds Black Sabbath, the melody suggests Ozzy’s solo work (not to mention an echo of “Junior’s Eyes” off Never Say Die! which presaged the Ozzy Osbourne sound in many ways). The marvelous solo in this song recalls “Zero the Hero” a bit. Tony takes his time, and the solo carries us away as only an Iommi solo can. At the risk of being repetitive, Tony Iommi has lost nothing. The guitar work here stands up to anything he’s done. Similar to the general theme of “The End of the Beginning” and many other Black Sabbath songs, the lyrics describe a hopelessness accepted by people who have lost their will to be themselves: “Sustainable extinction / A fractured human race / A jaded revolution / Disappears without a trace.”
The opening progression of “Live Forever” bears a similarity to the opening of “Lord of this World” off Master of Reality (with, again, a touch of that march of separated chords noted in “The End of the Beginning”) and then steps up the tempo to a riff strikingly similar to the up-tempo movement of “Cornucopia” off Vol. 4. This one really harkens back to the older groove. Even Brad’s use of cymbals seems rather Bill Ward-esque. While clearly adapting these older tunes, the nuanced use of the newer aesthetic and burnished sound of excellent production renders it a new song. Ozzy sings as only he can-with all the soaring menace of that same era. The lyrics of the song sustain the motif of aging and the looming presence of impending death. This song lacks the depth of the others on this album. For instance, the closing lines, “I may be dreaming or whatever / Watching my life go by / And I don’t wanna live forever / But I don’t wanna die!” certainly do not rise to the more profound, sometimes poetic, expression of the same uneasiness. I’ll neither label this song as filler nor dispute the inaccuracy of said label.
“Damaged Soul” is monumental. Clearly a tribute to their roots in the blues, this song amalgamates everything Black Sabbath not only does, but can do. Black Sabbath has made forays into the blues before, notable on the Seventh Star (1986) and the song “Dying for Love” off Cross Purposes proves a stunning blues song. But Sabbath hasn’t done this anywhere else. My first thought upon hearing it was that it sounds like Robin Trower, but heavier. There are moments in this song that sound like Electric Wizard. It almost demands a genre definition of “Doom-Blues.” Again, the soloing echoes “Lonely Is the Word.” The first solo at 3:49, lasts for about 45 seconds and never deviates from a standard blues structure. He means to play the blues here. Then at 5:26 we get another 30 seconds or so until a break takes us to another tempo. The harmonica wails into this change, and then Tony returns at 6:36 and serves up a solo of his own. While the rest of the players play the blues (and Ozzy even sustains a fine harmonica riff), the exit solo is pure Iommi. Lyrically, this may be the darkest song on this album and in the running for the darkest song they’ve ever made. Lyrically, the song calls up the career-long (or age-old?) subject of possession and reprises this album’s motif of impending death and the tension between good and evil: “I don’t mind dying ’cause I’m already dead / Pray not for the living; I’ll live in your head / Dying is easy; it’s living that’s hard / I’m losing the battle between Satan and God.”
“Dear Father” proves an indictment of Catholic Church’s priest sexual abuse tragedy, every bit as scathing and pessimistic an attack on this issue as “Wicked World,” “War Pigs” off Paranoid, or “Into the Void” off Master of Reality.” This song boasts a rather complex overall structure, featuring multiple tempo and style changes. But nothing in this song equals the rest of the album, musically. The reason for this appears to be that the band wants us to listen to the words. An album this good, with Tony and Geezer playing as well as they have ever played, with Tony playing his heart out in more than one place, would not forgo a solo without a reason. That reason must be to focus our attention on the message. The music changes every time the message changes, intensifying the merciless dissection of those merciless crimes. The closing lyrics sum up the song with perfect clarity: “Dear father forsaken, you knew what you were doing / In silence your violence has left my life in ruin.” The song closes with a repeating “In ruin, yeah” phrase, symbolizing the vile and on-going suffering caused by these atrocities. After this song ends, the rain sound effect from the beginning of the first album fades in for a few seconds, reminding us that this album not only provides a resurrection of the original line-up and sound but also offers a vital viewpoint on religion and music, contemporary issues and timeless questions.
In 13, Black Sabbath reflects both the original Black Sabbath sound, imagery, and philosophy and the influences of all their musical experience from their solo work, other incarnations of Black Sabbath, and their inherent genius. They recast the system of rock music 43 years ago, and in this “reanimation of the sequence,” they have again recast the system.
I think if you’d ask most hessians, they would say that we live in the age of kali yuga. If you get a chance to speak with lower-case-c conservative people, they express the same feeling: that something is lost. That some form of refinement, culture, and civility is gone from modern culture, if you could even call it that.
One of the complaints that repeats itself regards the state of the arts, and more specifically, music. It is simplistic, they complain. It is crass, uncultured, fatalistic, naval gazing, hedonistic, idiotic and stupefying. None of these is wrong.
It saddens me, then, when people complain about rap, rock, and Lady Gaga, they usually lump metal along with the complaint. I get it, though. The way metal appears to most of the world is not as a refined style. Some of it is also the product of the vast machine of idiocy that turned music into the nightmare that it is today. They made it safe, by making it mockable.
But some of the fault lies with hessians. Not all bands are Pantera and Slipknot. There is an entire world encapsulated in the metal genera. It is one of the only styles that keeps on expanding and developing. We have some commitment, as hessians, to support metal, in the great cultural discussion that extends through the generations.
Good metal will always be there, and will always be a legitimate art form. It would be sad, however, if those who could appreciate it (they don’t have to like it) would appreciate it, instead of buying into this elaborate hoax by the impetus of insignificance espoused by commercial music.
First and foremost, metal is a legitimate art form. A legitimate form of music. Yes, there is metal which is certainly not music. Pantera and Slipknot come to mind.
However, there is something in metal, a movement that existed since its advent in Black Sabbath’s first album, which expresses immortal truths. It feels as a sort of pessimistic conservative message.
Are things running down? Is there a process of degradation, a willful suicide enacted by modern culture? This observation was expressed by Black Sabbath, in an attempt to rain on the hippy party. We won’t go into why hippies are the end of civilization right now, but know that if some movement, since its advent, was diametrically opposed to such movement, there already is some root credibility to it. The hippies wanted to create a world without values, without temples or transcendence. Metal, on the other hand, constantly seeks transcendence, enlightenment, and a form of holiness. It is not base and animalistic, but in fact, a deeply religious experience.
In metal, there is encapsulated an idea that holiness cannot exist in a vacuum. If there is holiness in life, it must be whole. Blasphemy became an act of holiness and worship of life in its fullest.
To truly love life, you must love it completely, including the scary, red in tooth and claw parts. Metal expresses these aspects in purity and vicarious form. There is no need to describe beauty, truth, and love, because you cannot accept them until you have delved into pain, struggle, overcoming, violence, exposing hypocrisy, self reliance, heroism and individuality. These ideas are the bread and butter of metal music. It is not individualism, but individuality.
Undeniably, there is a nihilistic streak in metal. It is not the passive, fatalistic kind of nihilism, but the nihilism that views happiness, success and overcoming as dependent upon choices made by the self. No avoidance of consequences, looking ugly truths in the eye. There are inescapable things in life. Death, pain, lies, predators, and all the degeneration that arises from the human condition.
Do you deny these exist? Deny their necessity? It would be like denying rot and defecation. Ignore them and you’re in for a mess. Accept their inevitability, and you get a daily battle which never ends. It’s like mowing the lawn.
Metal is the tool which shapes this view of life. It might seem bleak, but the happy warrior never despairs. It’s an existential battle, and metal is the fuel, the blood in its veins, the fire burning in its soul.
I wouldn’t be who I am today without metal. Without these immortal truths as my guides and friends. I could be there, smoking the pipe-dreams of modernity. Drinking the kool-aid. Why chose suffering and a constant fight?
Maybe because I believe in tragedies.
After 17 years of silence, English grindcore pioneers Carcass are to release a new studio album early next year. According to an interview earlier this month, original members Jeff Walker and Bill Steer are at it again together with new drummer Daniel Wilding.
Carcass made metal history with their debut album Reek of Putrefaction (1988) and their masterpiece Symphonies of Sickness (1989) and hopes are of course that the band will revive some of the spirit from those days. On a more pessimistic note, the band’s last offering was Swansong…
We’ve done this recording firstly for ourselves—there’s no label backing even as you read this—in fact me and Bill have spent a small fortune out of our pocket to see this through—it’s more of an artistic/personal statement than anything.
Xasthur’s reclusive and asocial Malefic gave us a few moments of time to ask some esoterica and rewarded his listeners with the following interview, in which he gives some analysis of the interconnectivity of thoughts inside and outside of the black metal “scene.”
When you first started Xasthur, what factor of the project made you most uncomfortable?
Hmmm, that’s a real good question. There were two times when I ‘first started Xasthur’, the first time was a failure…constant losers,liars,trendies for bandmates; I was very upset. I felt that nobody believed in how serious I was in bringing forth a horrifing aura of blackness. The second time was just the same, but on the other hand better. I had totally given up on people, I admit I was uncomfortable when I decided to get a drum machine and do it all on my own, I didn’t know if it was possible,and still alot of poser fuckers didn’t believe in me, they thought their party heavy metal parking lot bands were more meaningful..well,the good news is that I’m planning on, and will have the last laugh!!! Another factor was the vocals, I had never done that before, but I knew that I would have to force myself to…it was never in my plans, but as a one person band, it had to be; other than that, everythng fell into place and I learned how to overcome certian difficulties such as drum programming, vocals, humans etc…
Had you been in any bands or musical apparati before Xasthur?
Yes, a couple death metal bands, back in 94-95 here in So.Cal..didn’t really work out. There was always some differences, they wanted to be unoriginal, and at the time I thought it would have been quite possible to mix death metal with darkness and doom. I can’t really get along with anyone in a band-like environment.
At the time, what bands inspired and/or motivated you? Writers? Visual artists? Movies?
Mütiilation and the black legions, Burzum, Graveland (Thousand Swords), Manes, Shining, Forgotten Woods, Funeral Winds and too many to mention. Hmmm, I don’t watch movies much…my favorite movie is Carrie (the old one from the 70s) as far as Visual Artists are concerned, whoever made the Aphex Twin video, what a perfect vision of the remains of an apocalypse, I always have that video in my head…but like I said ,I don’t watch TV really…
Where were you when you first thought the project had longterm potential for you?
In my house, as usual…looking out my window and there was nothing there, When I was finishing a song and it actually disturbed me. That was like looking into a mirror and not liking what I saw….when it refected a nightmare, I thought it had some potential…but for what?”
Does anyone else work with you? Why or why not?
The only other person that really helped in the past was a good friend of mine, Mike/Draconis, but that was in ’99, before I just did this band on my own. Maybe it’s where I live that I can’t rely on ANYONE to help out…I don’t need anyones input, people here want to be famous like Cradle of Filth and write safe-normal riffs to impress their friends, get girls etc…that is all I have EVER seen…I don’t need that kind of input.
There is an obvious Burzum-influence (this is something of which to be proud, but hopefully you’re not going to be annoyed by it) in Xasthur’s music; what did Burzum do that no other bands have done?
No, I’m not annoyed by that…actually, thanks. Burzum is darkness, or has that word lost its meaning? All I know is that Burzum can take you anywhere but where you are…and it’s usually somewhere cold. I don’t want to be where I am, or anywhere for that matter.
A soldier once remarked, “we had to destroy the town to save it.” F.W. Nietzsche once offhandedly said that if Christianity had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent it. Do you think all things on planet earth are bound up in their opposites?
Yes, that F.W. Nietzsche quote makes sense to me…just cause something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it needs to be invented…we would still have a broom, if the streetcleaner or vaccum wasn’t invented, the broom cost only 4-5 dollars and the others several dollars more, plus they’re noisy and don’t save that much time…according to that quote, I’m not disagreeing with it, the quote to me is just based on human nature and what people will predictably do….or…maybe I have no clue?
Most black metal bands seem to aim for linear expansion, namely, riffs that stretch out of 2-3 notes across 3-5 frets within the same chord form. This produces a very clear pattern that requires a counterpoint. Burzum and others, including Xasthur, seem to structure counterpoint within a recursive phrase, more like a fugue. Is this true in your view?
I try to not have such few notes per song/riff. My instincts tell me when or when not to have such few notes, when to be this simple or not to be,there’s a time to be repetative. For example, something with a hardcore upbeat (like you mentioned somewhere else in this interview) shouldn’t be repeated 8-12-16 times ect…Across 3-5 frets? I’d say you’d better add a bunch of other ideas to accompany that kind of simplicity or its gonna get boring…but like I said else where, there are no rules. Slightly rehearsed, last minute improv can not only fool thyself, but the listener as well…or at least I’d like to think. Don’t wanna come across as someone trying to be an expert, ’cause these are just instincts talking here…there’s not much theory behind what it is that I do, ’cause I basically had to learn anything I know on my own…on my own, that’s what life really comes down to, and death as well.
How much of the black metal community do you feel is social time for wayward youth? How much of it is artistic?
Too much social time! To play this music and make it as dark as you can, one has to give up alot…like friends,sleep,money etc…Alot of people will be too busy being a part of “life” to take it further than bass,guitar,drums,vocals,pentagram and then they’re done! When this kind of work is done, I’ll be social with others who are into what I’m into..who the hell am I?
Negativity seems to me like a mental forest fire; with everything reduced to ashes, any new ideas seem fresh and hopeful. What have your experiences on this topic been?
Well, negativity is all around, weather you want it or not…how can one rebuild when only ashes remain? Whenever I look at my scars…I remember where I’ve been and where my state of mind always takes me.
Many view Varg as duplicitous in his representation of his own beliefs, but in the first interview I have with him, he refers to himself as a theosophist, and on his first album, he has a lyric making reference to his socially unacceptable political views. Do you fear the same thing with your own music and later, views? is there any way around being called “inconsistent” as one grows?
is there any way to summarize what you’ve learned about music since starting xasthur, or to find a few central points of change, and if so, can you list them here?
I have learned alot,I have learned things that I already knew and felt. I have learned that playing music is like solving puzzles that have no direction and are certianly not flat like puzzles usually are. I learned that many riffs of songs have infinite possibilities for harmonies/dis-harmonies with all instruments, having 4 or 5 different sounds in different octaves (yet all slightly similar) coming together finding a way to let out all the thousands of ideas in my head…painting a mix of sounds with the most bleak of colours, what to do, or what to add that will reflect the exact mood….I learned that being unpredictable with the changes in the song can work for me, instead of against me i.e, one of my friends used to tell me that 2 certian parts wouldn’t/didn’t go together, I say bullshit, I’ll find a way, and the best way i possibly can…there are no rules, no rules…its the one thing that can keep it interesting to me…I don’t know if this is the kind of answer you were looking for…
What do you think – if any – is the relationship between radical, terroristic environmentalism and black metal?
Hate!! Downfall of urban culture (or lack there of)..if I’m understanding the question properly.
Do you have a preference for type of equipment? In your mind, how important is equipment to the production of music?
I’ll tell you that it makes a difference. When getting a good guitar sound, that’s when just anything WON’T do. On some old recordings,I used a dist.pedal and all it picked up was alot of noise I didn’t even know I was hearing, plus it was very weak ad thin…then I switched to an effects processer rack mod. and that really helped take away all the noise and added some fullness…a way of mixing is important too. A 4track with mixing capabilities included, the effects processer and a cd-r burner for bouncing tracks…these are all the essentials and main ingredients.These things made a difference and made recording easier for me.
When you first conceive of a song, or a riff, is your starting point a boundary or a direction?
Neither. I don’t want a limit, and boundary makes me think of that…if there was a direction then it wouldn’t come from within,plus predictability in music makes it boring to play after a while.
What are your thoughts on Hegel’s theory of dialectics, namely that each thing (“thesis”) has an antithesis, and eventually a compromise between the two leads to the next thesis?
As in hypothesis, an educated guess? A part of being psychic? A mathematical algebra-like theory of prediction? If 2+ _ = 8 then what’s blank? If someone/something does 2, but is hiding the truth, that being blank, then why does their face have 8 written all over it…I don’t know,I’m so tired right now I don’t even know…
Many people are saying “black metal is dead” right now, and, while I understand their saying so, it seems to me like they mean “most of black metal is dead” when they declare its demise. What do you think is the difference between “living” and “dead” in this context?
Yes, I agree “most of black metal is dead” because if it was all dead,I would have one of the last significant reasons not to live. There are still some bands out there that can save at least the feeling or that bring back some nostalgia of the way it once was. I don’t think war metal does…war metal is just some kind of retro protest towards the norweigians?? This negativity of black metal is the only thing that brings me any pleasure or excitement anymore…ironic,or a contradiction?? It was “living” in the early 90’s when it was more of a threat to society, I suppose.
What were your earliest metal influences?
In the 1982-84 era, is when I first discovered metal, I was a bit young at the time…I liked Motley Crue,Iron Maiden,Quiet Riot,AC/DC ect…I rarley listen to those bands anymore..sometimes. Later on in the later 80’s I got into Mercyful Fate,Dark Angel,Megadeth,Slayer.. then death metal,black metal then…??
How much of metal do you think is derived from hardcore?
Hmmm, some of the drum beats are similar to hardcore. However, I think metal bands did alot more with hardcore beats than the hardcore bands did themselves..
The gentleman from Axis of Advance probably thinks I’m a fag because so much of this interview does not address metal itself, but abstract and possibly unrelated thoughts. Do you think there is a link between the sound that is produced and the thoughts that occurred to prompt the attitudes, values and ideas expressed?
Well, talking about real life is probably more grim than death itself….and metal too. Axis of Advance?? That link you talk about, yes I think there is…that is, if you’re talking about a persons mental state of mind, if you can hear a persons mental state of mind…I could probably hear where the guys in Axis of Advance are coming from when I hear their songs and I would hope that one would be able to hear where I’m coming from with mine, also these are from two different planes….
Do you believe it is necessary, as Keats did, to desire the end for its cessation of the activity of life, before one can see what is of value remaining?
Darkling I listen, and for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful death . . .
Now more than ever seems it reach to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain
If we could see the world through philosophical photonegative states of mind, what do you think would be the seat of evil? Would those who believe still conceive of “god” as an entity outside of this world?
Do you have any mystical belief?
Energy…hateful. Energy taken from souls. Believing in yourself,cause you can’t have faith in anything or anyone else
Many in black metal advocate a “fuck everything, do nothing” type political attitude that is more bitterness than ideology. Others overcorrect by becoming very-unliberal people with the liberal attitude that one “must” change the human situation. Where do you stand?
How about change the human situation for good by mass genocide since there’s no answer to everyone’s/anyone’s problems and everyone hates being alive, whether they can admit it or not. I’m sick of humans having so many rights…they just piss and shit on all that is given to them. To me, this is bitterness AND ideology.
What drugs do you think anus.com should explore as possible nutritional supplements for its writing staff?
“Explore the world of medication”
Please drop in here any additional comments, final words on this interview, or jokes about sodomy that you feel would fit.
Knock,knock. Who’s there? Clint. Clint who? Clint Torres….get it?! I am in the process of copyrightng this joke.
Thanks for the interview, Prozak…whether people know it or not you’re a pessimistic guy that goes back a long way…thanks to anyone that wastes their time reading this… suicide can be a relief.
Did we speak about “end” and “totality” in a way phenomenally apprporiate to Da-sein? Did the expression “death” have a biological significance or one that is existential and ontological, or indeed was it sufficiently and securely defined at all? And have we actually exhausted all the possibilities of making Da-sein accessible in its totality?
We have to answre these questions before the problem of the wholeness of Da-sein can be dismissed as nothing. The question of the wholeness of Da-sein, both the existentiell questiona bout a possible potentiality-for-being-a-whole, as well as the existential question about the constitution of being of “end” and “wholeness,” contain the task of a positive analysis of the phenomena of existence set aside up to now. In the center of these considerations we have the task of characterizing ontologically the being-toward-the-end of Da-sein and of achieving an existential concept of death.
– Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
Death metal uses tremolo strummed power chords in phrasal riffs, creating an internal dialogue of melody to project a narrative which takes us from a starting point through internal conflict to an ending radically removed from the start. This often complex music relies heavily on chromatic scales and solos that resemble sonic sculpture more than a reliance on scales or harmony, and use “modal stripes” or repeated interval patterns (such as a half interval followed by a whole) to maintain a mood. Inherently structuralist, death metal can be recognized by its “post-human” perspective, seeing the world through biology, history, warfare and mythology instead of the “I/me/mine” viewpoint of a modern society.
2. Deicide – Legion
3. Morbid Angel – Blessed Are the Sick
4. Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
5. Sepultura – Morbid Visions
6. Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
7. Morpheus Descends – Ritual of Infinity
8. Necrophobic – The Nocturnal Silence
9. Obituary – Cause of Death
10. Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten
11. Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
12. Dismember – Like an Ever-Flowing Stream
13. Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
14. At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
15. Demilich – Nespithe
16. Asphyx – The Rack
Projections of a Stained Mind (C.B.R. Records)
Harmony Dies Vol. 1 (Slayer Magazine)
Pantalgia (MBR Records)
Live Death: Vol 1 (Restless)
Sampler Volume I (JL America)
Deterioration of the Senses (Morbid Metal)
Book I: Induction (Hits Underground)
Reviews have mp3 sound samples for each album, coverscan, tracklist and label contact information.