Metallica – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (2016)

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Review contributed to Death Metal Underground by the Peckerwood Boys. The audio review may he heard here.

Yep, just me here. A new Metallica album of all 45 rpms of pure American metal! 180 grams, limited to 500 copies. I’m gonna spin this bitch like NASCAR!

Lookin’ under the hood here, you got your Black Album riffs, you got your Pantera, and that sir, that’s gonna get you over to your cousin’s house faster than her boyfriend so you can propose to her. Now this album right here has really got me saying, “I’m glad, I’m glad it was Cliff!” That Master of Muppets there album had a lot on it I couldn’t understand in it. It was like tryin’ to make sense of one of them pieces of paper with scribbles on it, them black scribbles man.

Continue reading Metallica – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (2016)

Gridlink – Longhena (2014)

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Longhena is grindcore that is actually musical. Takafumi Matsubara (Mortalized) became the sole guitarist after Orphan and brought a longer, more narrative, heavy metal sense of songwriting to Gridlink’s hyper proficient blend of their musical influences. The riffing varies from post-hardcore chord progressions to New Wave of British Heavy Metal harmonies of the type originated by Thin Lizzy. Somewhat shocking for a grindcore band not Carcass or Bolt Thrower, Matsubara actually progressive his riffs to tell short narratives in short, cyclical compositions varying from one to three minutes in length, usually climaxing in a bittersweet, often melancholic solo. The drumming is blasting, inspired, and semi-tasteful, with fills that feel almost as if they are about to go off the rails but return to be properly enslaved by the riffing. Vocals are reminiscent of Assuck with lyrical topics ranging from nuclear holocaust to anime and lamentations of the destruction of the player-controlled spaceship in shoot ’em up arcade game. All melodically and lyrically reflect upon listeners certain Buddhist mental concepts of the emptiness, nothingness, and meaninglessness of human existence and suffering.

Continue reading Gridlink – Longhena (2014)

Interview: Frank Stöver of Voices from the Darkside (2015)

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Many of you know Frank Stöver from his days editing the classic death metal fanzine Voices from the Darkside, but many more have come to know him through his website of the same time. Having read his material for years, this writer jumped on the chance to ask him a few questions about what he does and how he keeps putting out high-quality material after all these years…

What do you look for in a metal band that makes them appealing to you? How important is imagery, packaging and production?

First and foremost it’s of course the music that I will have to enjoy, but to me that sometimes goes hand in hand with the band’s imagery or packaging as well. I often experience that bands that are really dedicated to what they’re doing come up with a better visual side as well, because they really know how they would like to present themselves. But a band with a shitty xeroxed cover and a poor looking logo can of course also be killer musically.

Since I’ve been involved in the tape-trading era myself I’m still used to poor sounding rehearsal- and live-tapes, so production definitely isn’t that important in the first place to discover great bands. Just remember the early Mantas/Death recordings… But then again killer songs could be even more killer with a fitting and crushing production of course, as long as the production really fits the band.

When you prepare to interview a band, how do you prepare? How much of this is research? How much of it is listening to their demos/albums?

Since I only interview bands that I personally really like it’s almost exclusively research. I do read a lot of reviews and other interviews, check out their discography, member changes etc. I ask questions that I personally would like to get answers for and hope that the readers find that of interest as well.

In one of your past interviews, you mention a zine as being “narrowminded” in a positive way. Is it important to be narrow-minded? Or is that a term for being open-minded and then making your mind up? Does death metal risk infiltration by imitators, poseurs, fakers, etc.?

Good question… I wouldn’t say it’s important, it’s just a matter of your personal tastes. Even though I’m musically totally open-minded, I still prefer zines that stick to certain styles exclusively. Otherwise I could also pick up one of the colored major magazines that are being sold at shops and supermarkets every month. Same with music itself. I have a lot of respect for bands that try to break boundaries by mixing new elements into established styles.

I ask questions that I personally would like to get answers for and hope that the readers find that of interest as well.

But when I’m in the mood for some brutal Death Metal, I don’t wanna hear that combined with clean vocals, a funky bass or whatever. Considering the fact that there’s constantly so much new music out, it also makes it a bit easier to select releases / bands for a zine. You gotta draw a line somewhere, otherwise you would have to feature 4251166898089090 and more releases every month.

You were manager for Kreator and Destruction back in the day. Why do you think Germany led the world in their kind of speed/death hybrid, but was less participatory in death metal as a complete genre?

Well, I just helped out Kreator a little bit with merchandise and fan club activities, I never managed them… But to answer your actual question: I can only guess. Maybe it’s because all the younger bands in Germany at the time simply looked up to the bands that had already become bigger (Destruction, Sodom, Kreator, etc.) and felt musically inspired by them. And since all of them are rooted in thrash metal, it probably resulted in a pretty healthy thrash scene. If Morgoth would’ve been one of our first extreme bands in those days maybe everything would’ve developed in a different direction, who knows…

Why do you think 1980s bands were so varied, and bands now sound more similar? Is the “market” flooded? How can metal recover from this? Or is it just harder to come up with something new, because everything has “been done”? Or is style less important, and content what drives uniqueness in bands?

I think you pretty much answered this yourself already. The number of bands simply exploded over the years, and almost everything has already been done in one way or another, so there’s not much room left anymore for fresh, unique bands that still deliver brutal music.

Back in the day everything was still fresh and new, so whenever a new band appeared on the scene, it still sounded a little different to the already more established names. I think something like that is almost impossible nowadays. I hardly find enough time to listen to all the new releases I receive every week, so I’m glad that I don’t have to write music in a band that tries to make it.

Why did you switch from print to internet-only distribution of your writings? Are you able to reach the same audience? Did you gain more readers? What are the advantages from print that you miss, and what does online do better?

That’s an easy one: lack of time and money were the main reasons not to continue on with the printed version of the zine. The advantages are obvious: you can easily update a site on a daily base if you like, while a printed zine always takes a lot of time until it’s finished and distributed. It’s easier, because you don’t have to do layouts, ship the finished magazines, deal with printing companies and the postal service and as a result you also safe a lot of money, which you usually spend on postage and printing.

The number of readers has exploded ever since we went online. Our last issue (# 10) was printed in 1,000 copies; with our website we have approximately 2,000 – 2,500 visitors each day nowadays. But of course I miss the print era. I just love the cut and paste type old school layouts… and reading stuff where ever I like is probably the biggest plus (reading in front of a monitor screen is really annoying).

Is it hard to get volunteers to work with? Is apathy a problem in the metal community?

Never really had any problems in that department at all. But maybe it’s that easy because Voices From The Darkside is already an established name that people are aware of and respect. So, whoever I work with (or have worked with in the past) is first of all a fan of the music and the zine. I guess that makes it a lot easier.

How did fanzines help shape the metal underground? Did this change from your days in Horror Infernal to when you started Voices from the Darkside in 1993? Do you think fanzines played a role in shaping what people liked, and made some bands into “favorites”? If so, was this good or bad?

Without fanzines there probably would be no underground, at least not in the way we know it. I don’t think it changed in any way. Fanzines have been around for ages and I received some of them already back when I started out in the early 80s. I personally found out about a lot of amazing bands through fanzines, flyers and tape-trading.

If a band is honest in what they do and they don’t sell out or change in order to reach a bigger audience, they deserve to get noticed by bigger crowds for sure.

I suppose without this great network, I probably wouldn’t have discovered a lot of the bands this early. A good example is Metallica. I got a live show from 1982 on tape very early on, even before I got to hear their demos and that made me follow them right from the start, which was really exciting.

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Should underground metal stay underground? Is this even possible?

No, I don’t think so. If a band is honest in what they do and they don’t sell out or change in order to reach a bigger audience, they deserve to get noticed by bigger crowds for sure. Of course it’s always a bitter feeling for the fans of day one to see that all of a sudden people like “their” bands, who probably don’t know anything about them, their roots or anything. But that doesn’t mean the newer fans are less dedicated. Some of them often turn into total diehards as well, they just discovered the band later.

The German scene is fascinating to me. From thousands of kilometers away, it looks as if German fans are fans first of heavy metal as a whole, not specialized into death metal, black metal, etc. Does this have some benefits? What about downsides?

Yeah, Germany is really a cool place for metal and all its sub-genres. The scene is very healthy with lots of venues, bands, magazines, etc. That’s probably also one of the reasons why big festivals such as Wacken work out so well. Metal fans are often more open-minded than one might think. They don’t have a problem with having their Terrorizer record next to a Thin Lizzy record in their collection (at least I don’t have). I don’t think that has a downside to it at all.

I wrote about how hacking was a parallel community to underground metal found similarities between the two. Do you think the metal underground had a lot in common with other undergrounds? What made it “underground,” in the first place? Was it only lack of commercial acceptance, or also of social acceptance?

I often compare the metal underground with the early punk movement (before both scenes got commercialized by the industry). This whole DIY mentality with self-organized shows, flyers, cut and paste fanzines etc. most certainly had a big influence on the origin of the metal underground. Also this “fuck off” mentality and trying to rebel against parents, employers or the mainstream is pretty similar. But all this probably makes it scenes on their own. To me being underground means that you’re different to the mainstream in certain aspects and you most certainly have that in various other sub-genres as well.

It seems to me that with the rise of the internet, we have information overload. Meaning that there are too many bands, sites, labels, radio/podcasts, etc. to possibly keep track of. Do you think that zines and some websites can be helpful in reducing this overload? Is that a positive goal? Can websites achieve the same effect that zines did?

I totally agree… and to be perfectly honest with you: I really hate this overkill! I’m sick and tired of receiving a shitload of download links for new albums every fuckin’ day. I mean, who’s supposed to listen to all this, not to mention who shall buy all the records? Today there’s probably more labels than we had bands in the 80s and each one of them releases as many records as possible. From old poor sounding rehearsal tapes, to compilations, split releases, re-releases, EPs, live albums, full lengths etc.

Today there’s probably more labels than we had bands in the 80s and each one of them releases as many records as possible.

The industry always mentions that record sales are going down, but at the same time they are releasing more albums than ever before. Websites such as ours can indeed be helpful by being more selective in what they review and feature in general. And that leads us back to the “narrow-minded” question: if we would be less narrow-minded, Voices From The Darkside would quickly turn into a fulltime job for sure. But luckily most people still care about quality. So, no matter what it is: a record, a band, a label or even a website — if it’s of poor quality people will sooner or later search for something better. Since our website is already online for almost 15 years by now with a steady growing number of visitors, I suppose we’re doing something right.

You have mentioned in several past interviews that you do not collect rare discs, but are interested in having the complete recordings. Do you think the “collector’s mentality” was good for metal? Why do you avoid it, or is this just a practical/personal decision?

I think this “collector’s mentality” opened a lot of doors for the just mentioned release overkill. Many metal fans tend to buy their favorite records in every fuckin’ re-release format there is. If a label re-releases a record with only one single bonus track or a different packaging some diehards most certainly will spend their hard earned money on it again, no matter how often they already have it in their collection. I don’t like that, but somehow I’m infected by that as well.

If I like a band, I try to get their entire material in one way or another. But I don’t keep a record in various formats then. I replace the older version with the newer expanded edition. That’s equally stupid (if not more), but at least I don’t have to spend a shitload of many for rare first press releases, hahaha.

What are your plans for the future with Voices from the Darkside? Do you have any other projects brewing? Ever think of writing a book (of new text, not compilation of the older zines)? If people like your work, how should they stay updated on what you do?

The website already keeps me extremely busy since I take care of all the daily updates myself. Every single review and interview that ends up on the site is being formatted, proof-read etc. by yours truly. And I also compile all the news, tour dates and so on. All that takes a lot of time every single day, so no – I don’t have any other projects in the pipeline at the moment, I’m afraid. All I can offer at the moment can be found at www.voicesfromthedarkside.de. Thanks a lot Brett, for this highly interesting interview and your support! All the best!

Riot V – Unleash The Fire

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Riot founder and guitarist Mark Reale died in 2012 after releasing the consistently engaging Immortal Soul. Under-appreciated for their entire careers, Riot never quite managed to do as well as they should have in the underground credibility sweepstakes. Manilla Road and Virgin Steele have both acquired formidable reputations with the passing of time, and deservedly so too, but Riot has been relegated to a footnote in metal history for the most part.

Like W.A.S.P. and early Manilla Road, Riot spent the early years as a fun-loving hard rock band teetering on the edges of heavy metal, without compromising their knack for tasteful songwriting or acute, insightful storytelling. Greater musical awareness dawned with the classic Thundersteel, no doubt influenced by the heavier, more intense developments in the contemporary metal of the time. Their run since then till the present day contains many undiscovered gems sure to appeal to all lovers of classic heavy metal.

How does one judge an album like Unleash The Fire? Created by those that have survived Reale’s death, and containing no original members, it is a tribute to a fallen comrade whose essence yet permeates all that is contained within it. As opposed to the more extreme strains of metal, everything in this music is geared towards a culmination in the big vocal chorus, new singer Todd Michael Hall recalling the late Guy Speranza’s clean, distilled tones. Riot’s talent, however, has always been to imbue this deterministic course of things with intensely melodic — but never melodramatic — embellishments and minute detours, thus greatly enhancing the overall fabric of songs. A wealth of detail lies hidden within the simplest of chord progressions, allowing the listener to enjoy the moment regardless of general predictability. Picking technique relies on tighter, speed metal chugging for creating and maintaining tension, and conventional, open power chords to convey a sense of epic release. Neoclassical virtuosity finds comfortable home amidst an undeniable individuality that is touched with the harmonic sensitivity of old practitioners like Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, and Iron Maiden.

Albums like this are the reason why it is possible to be optimistic for the future health of metal despite much evidence suggesting that the rot has already set from within. There is a naive, guileless innocence to be found here, refreshingly free of the cynicism that reduces the best among us to surly curmudgeons at times. Unleash The Fire is a well spring of inspiration for all real strains of metal, as disparate as they may feel on the surface, if not always through its cosmetics then most definitely in what it aims to represent.

In its spirit, the way forward for metal can be seen much more clearly, by opening the eye at the back of the head, and keeping steady sight of what has gone before. What may appear as anachronistic or overly sentimental are actually the eternal universals; honour, beauty, pride, a respect for the past and, above all else, the debt to oneself to live up to these notions in the best way possible. These ideas may seem to be out of vogue in a transitory world but that doesn’t make them singular; it only means that they lie buried under the detritus of sensory overload and cultural conditioning, most people being unable to detect them or give them sufficient credence, and, if they do, unwilling to act on them due to conflicting interests. Their embers, however, occupy a perpetually smoldering space in all human consciousness, waiting to be stoked into the fullest of fires. As long as this stays true, heavy metal will endure.

Why metal is better than “social justice”

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As #metalgate rages on on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr, the people who are trying to force these views on metal are defending themselves by claiming that #metalgate doesn’t exist or is insignificant. The truth is that this agenda has been advancing for some time and it has a dirty secret.

The dirty secret of the “SJW” agenda in metal is that it is totally unnecessary. Despite my own sympathies with many of the ideas they hope to achieve, like better treatment of human beings, I suspect most of these people are just poseurs. They are adopting certain viewpoints that they think are necessary to get ahead socially. Nothing makes a person feel more powerful than to be able to call someone else ignorant and selfish, while (in their own minds) looking superior, intelligent and altruistic. Especially if you are coming from behind and feeling ashamed about your family origins or stature in life, it can make you feel like a god to have moral right on your side and to look much more advanced than those around you. This is just another shade of the broken social life in the modern world coming home to visit metal and use metal for its own ends.

But even more, these “helpful” demands from SJWs are totally unnecessary. This is metal, where if you can create the music, you can join in the fun. We have always had something better than feminism with women being present and respected in Nuclear Death, Mythic and Bolt Thrower. People of color have always been here in Thin Lizzy, Suffocation, Blasphemy and Mystifier. Metal bands come from all over the world and from every tribe, culture and religion imaginable. We tend not to mark a little box each time someone who is non-heterosexual, non-white and/or non-male joins our ranks, but they are there and always have been. In metal, there is no need for a crusade for equality because we already have it. Even better, we have done so without turning that into a crusade against those who are heterosexual, white and/or male. We just accept people as they are.

When #metalgate upsets people it is because they do not want to face the conflict between outsiders and metal, as is shown in this article on MetalSucks:

But my ultimate problem with #metalgate is that it’s entirely manufactured. No one, or no group, is banding together to try and change metal in any one specific way — the threat is entirely imagined. Certain social values enter the metalsphere simply because those values are spreading throughout society as a whole — this idea that “SJWs” failed with #gamergate so they’re now moving on to a different cause is total bologna. They’re entirely separate people!

Personally, I enjoy what Vince Neilstein writes but don’t read it that often, mainly because I don’t visit sites with ironic names that censor out the word “fuck” for reasons unknown. But while I think he’s normally on point, here he confuses a few things. First “those values are spreading throughout society as a whole” means society outside of metal is adopting these values, and now wants metal to bow down and conform. He’s basically taking a pro-#metalgate point of view there but I’m not sure he intended two. Second, he assumes that the people involved in resisting the SJW incursion are #gamergate people, when actually it’s people like myself in metal who are not from either side of the political spectrum. We hate politics in our music, metal has already addressed this issue, and we don’t want to follow the herd in whatever flavor-of-the-month the iconoclastic hipsters behind the SJW fad think is important.

Metal has never been about doing what everyone else is doing but it has also never been about being “ironic” and trying to be different so hard that we act randomly. Metal is its own law and has its own culture. From outside of that culture, as Neilstein writes, people are trying to push conformist social values on us. The best “activism” for all of us who love metal is to push back against that dominant paradigm and go our own way instead.

Interview: Argus

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As recent writings from Keith Kahn-Harris and others indicate, metal may be suffering from too much: too many bands, too huge an information flow, too many blogs, too much focus on surface aesthetics.

Contrasting this flood of “too much” is a true metal movement designed to emphasize what metal has always done well, but done anew by new generations. One member of this movement is Argus, whose album Beyond the Martyrs caught our attention for its NWOBHM/Candlemass classic metal fusion.

Luckily, frontman Butch Balich was available to answer a few profile questions and some existential ones via email. His answers strike me as relatively without contrivance, and show us this band both as it presents itself and as it is likely to be experienced.

Can you tell us how Argus formed? Did you come together on a mutual love of existing music, or a desire to create something that didn’t exist at the time?

The band was put together by Erik and Kevin out of friendship and a desire to jam and play some tunes. I don’t think it was ever envisioned it would become what it has. Our goal has always been simply to write great songs. We don’t concern ourselves with whether or not we are forging new paths or treading well worn ones. Its all about playing music we love and infusing our personality into it.

What is a “working class metal sound” (from your official biography)? Do the members of Argus identify with working-class or blue-collar roots?

Those guys grew up here in Western, PA and I think definitely identify with a working-class, blue-collar set of roots. We see ourselves as hard working and our music as fairly straightforward — what you hear is what you get — we aren’t overly complex and fancy in either our writing or our performance yet both are powerful. So I think we meant to portray the band as a straight up true metal band that works hard and is not pretentious in any way.

What would you identify as your primary and enduring influences?

We’re all over the map really. If you separated us and asked each of us you’d hear everything from Sabbath to Slayer, KISS to The Beatles, Maiden to NOFX, Marvin Gaye to Slough Feg. Collectively I think we draw from a common pool of Maiden, Thin Lizzy, some doom like Candlemass, old Metallica… We know what we want the band to sound like though so you’ll hear big riffs, great harmonies… sometimes the bands that those things remind of are coincidental, for instance “The Ladder” from Boldly Stride the Doomed has a real Solitude Aeturnus vibe even though I’m probably the one guy in the band who loves them. We are also influenced/pushed by bands like Slough Feg or Valkyrie.

You’ve picked an amalgamation of older styles for your music, instead of trying to keep up with the cutting edge or invent something. Why did you make this choice? Is there anything new under the sun, musically?

Let’s be honest — there really aren’t any combinations of riffs or notes that haven’t been used. There is NO ONE reinventing the wheel musically anymore. SO, our goal is to write great songs that we love — it is the goal of any good band. Our goal has never been to create something wholly unique as that is impossible. We draw from what we love about the music we listen to and enjoy playing and hopefully our personality comes across enough — and that is what makes us special. The notes/riffs/melodies may not always be something unheard of but we each have way of playing our instruments that adds up to ARGUS sounding like ARGUS instead of a mere rate retro metal knockoff.

Do you think the style you play selects the audience you receive, and that some audiences are more supportive than others?

I think any fan of true metal would like the band. We are neither overly refined or simplistic. I think our music has the ability to appeal to folks across different spectrums as it mixes bits and pieces of things and has strong melodies. I do think we’ve been most accepted by true metal and doom crowds so far. So far every audience we’ve played for has been pretty damn supportive to be honest. I do feel there is a niche market for what we do even though it has the potential to grow larger. If you play the style we play you do need to be prepared to accept that the fanbase is fairly limited and it will take a great amount of touring, perseverance and luck to advance beyond cult level.

There has been a movement in metal over the past four or five years called “True Metal,” in which people are less interested in outward-looking hybrids and more in an inward-looking, metal-centric attempt to continue the spirit of classic bands, although not necessarily the details. Have you seen this? Would it apply to Argus?

There is a segment of folks who aren’t interested so much in modernism and would prefer new bands to play in the old style. This is me to extent though I prefer bands not to be complete ripoffs of a specific band. I prefer bands like Slough Feg, Pharaoh, Twisted Tower Dire, Enforcer who have obvious influences but whose own personality comes through and who don’t consign themselves to 80s production values 24-7. I think Argus fits in with a retro tag though I have to say I think we manage to sound modern without sounding modern (if that makes sense). Like we don’t sound dated even though we’re playing metal based on the classic metal and hard rock bands.

This is your third album, after an EP and a demo. How has your sound changed during this time? Do you see it going in another direction as time goes on?

I don’t see that our sound has changed so much as streamlined a bit. We’re trying to capture the vibe and point of each song without belaboring the point in endless repetitions of the same riff. Why take ten minutes to say what can be said in six? I think it’s been a gradual transition. We’ve definitely become better songwriters over 7 years. Stylistically though we’ve been fairly constant. Maybe less doomy but no less moody.

Why do you think heavy metal remains popular after forty years of existence?

Because it is powerful, honest, hits-you-in-the-gut music. Because lyrically it provides escape. It provides understanding. It’s a very gut level thing… metal. There is an energy to it that few other forms of music capture — …and power, volume… I also think metal is also where you will find musicians whose level of integrity and devotion to their fans is high as opposed to more throwaway styles of music where musicians are chasing dollars exclusively rather than the art.

What’s next for Argus? Are you going to tour, or write more material?

We’re about to start writing for album 4. We hope to get over to Europe again the Summer of 2014. We have a festival appearance booked at the Ragnarokkr Festival in Chicago the weekend of April 4-5, 2014. Other than that we’re looking at some possible US dates… we’ll see what happens. Are discussing plans for small releases like a possible 7″, an EP and maybe a split.

Interview with Matt Harvey of Exhumed

matt_harvey-exhumedNorthern California’s Exhumed made themselves a name back in the late 1990s by fusing Carcass-style grindcore with energetic and melodic death metal of the Swedish style, injecting a lot of punk along the way.

Although this created more of a popular form of death metal than the original underground style, it introduced many new fans to the genre and created a framework for an integration of punk into the style. Its enduring popularity has provided Exhumed with a legion of fans.

We were fortunate to be able to talk to Matt Harvey, who has been “the voice of Exhumed” for almost two decades now. Most of our questions focused on Exhumed’s latest album, Necrocracy, and what the band’s been up to since.

I realize genre names aren’t all that popular, but what genre is Exhumed these days? Are you grindcore, or death metal, or did you invent something new?

I think we are what we’ve always been: Gore Fucking Metal. I don’t know that it’s something completely new, but it’s a combination of all the stuff we’ve always been influenced by, Death Metal, Grindcore, Thrash, NWOBHM, Powerviolence… All the good stuff, haha!

What is the ideal environment in which to enjoy an Exhumed album?

As long as there’s beer and lots of volume, then it’s good. I think that’s up to the individual. For me, I’d say you’d want a 12-pack of beer, some expendable furniture to smash, and a few friends would be the best accoutrements to a listening session.

Necrocracy is quite provocative. It seems to suggest that the world is not as peachy as my television tells me it is. Can you tell me more about the concept of this album?

Yeah, I’d say the world is not that peachy keen. The lyrics still revolve around death and gore, but they use those concepts as a metaphor to discuss a lot of the things going on in the current US political and socio-economic climate. The songs usually revolve around stuff like the destructive influence of corporate greed (Ravening), the gross inequalities inherent in the taxation / medical system (Coins Upon The Eyes), the meaningless pandering of the electoral system (Necrocracy), and the distorted perception that Americans have of their way of life and country’s role in the world (Dysmorphic).

You’re back after a hiatus. What made you personally and all of Exhumed decide to return?

It was one of those thing where it just made sense to do a new record. I had had enough of the break, and was just getting back into writing these kinds of riffs and songs and stuff. And it was one of those things that just kind of came together and took on a life of its own which was pretty awesome.

What are you most looking forward to on tour?

Free beer and seeing friends in different cities and states. Same as always! Plus I get a lot of reading done on tour, haha!

Do you think metal’s in bad shape? A lot of people seem to think it has become redundant. What do you think about modern metal, metalcore, etc?

I actually think metal is really healthy. There’s all kinds of niches and sub-genres all over the place, and every form of metal, from 70s proto-metal to the most modern math-rock stuff has an audience. If you think about it, the first Sabbath record came out over 40 years ago, and in order for the genre to move forward and stay viable, creatively and commercially, it has to change and evolve. Me personally, I’m really only into 70s / 80s / early 90s metal, but I’m in my late thirties. By the time my Dad was my age, I was thirteen, and it seems silly to think that a thirteen or fifteen year old kid is going to be into the same music as a guy that’s 37 years old. It’s easy to be nostalgic or think that one specific generation has “nailed it” and everything else is false – people into Blue Oyster Cult and Thin Lizzy thought “Kill ’em All” was just noise when it came out, people into Exodus and Slayer thought “Scum” was crap when it came out too. Things move forward. You don’t have to like it all, but you have to accept that it’s the way things work. While a lot of the modern stuff isn’t my personal cup of tea, it’s good that things keep moving forward and the genre stays viable.

How do you think Exhumed has grown and dare I say…… “progressed” ….over the years?

We’e always had the same kind of riffs and stuff, based our shit around the Repulsion / Terrorizer / Carcass / Napalm Death / Death / Autopsy template, but we’ve definitely gotten better at structuring songs, incorporating melody, using tasteful guitar solos and shit like that. It’s all been a very slow and gradual, so sometimes it seems to me like we haven’t progressed at all, but then I listen to some of our old stuff and I realize that we have come a bit of a ways through the years, which again, is a positive thing.

Are you planning to continue for another album or more, after Necrocracy?

We don’t have any plans of stopping, if that’s what you mean, haha! I have an idea for the next album title already, but we’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it, haha!

What do you think made death metal and grindcore what they were? Did it take a state of mind to make music like that? Can it return?

I don’t think it can ever “return” or be the way that it was, which is as it should be. At the same time, the same spirit of wanting to play more intense music, pushing the boundaries, it’s still alive, it just manifests itself differently because of the context of the times. There are still tons of great grind bands out there, Nails is awesome, Teething is great, and those bands are about as traditional grind as it gets. Same with Death Metal, there’s a resurgence of bands playing in the older style that’s awesome to see. There’s at least a nostalgia and a place for that kind of music that isn’t going away and that’s awesome and gratifying to see.

The song “Coins Upon The Eyes” is super-catchy and yet really abrasive. How do you write material like that? Do you just think up a riff, or sit down and design it?

We actually have a bunch of multi-colored balls that represent different riffs, then we throw the balls into a pool full of seals, and whatever order the seals flip the balls back to us is the order that we play the riffs in. It’s basically a foolproof hit factory!

Honestly we just think of things in terms of songs, not in terms of “brutality” or something ephemeral or subjective. With “Coins,” it’s almost like what we did with Waxwork, where you have one main riff (the chorus) and most of the other riffs build from the note choices and movement within the main theme. From there, the pre-chorus and the guitar solo parts serve as the contrast points, being in different keys with different rhythmic structures to build tension.

Of course, it’s not quite so scientific when you’re coming up with the riffs, there’s a fair amount of playing from the gut that kind of pulls you in the direction that the song wants to go. After you have something that works, you can analyze it, and that analysis will help you know what works next time around. I’m a big adherent to the pop songwriting philosophy and we try to always include some hooky choruses and catchy stuff in every song.

That’s really the ultimate goal, now that we know how to be heavy and brutal and all that stuff – whatever that means, haha!

Carcass – Surgical Steel

carcass-surgical_steelFrom the opening dual guitar harmonies straight out of 1985 that bring to mind the live intro to a Europe or Stryper set, it’s obvious that this album will be more in line with the guitar hero pop-metal of Arch Enemy than anything from Symphonies of Sickness or Reek of Putrefaction.

To some degree, that’s to be expected. Carcass threw in the towel on forward momentum long ago (1991) and have resorted to playing up their namesake for the purpose of phoning in stadium metal for the aesthetically overblown Wacken age, and Surgical Steel is perhaps their most commercially flexible attempt at filtering late model radio format speed metal through a death metal aesthetic filter, where actual death metal technique is limited to tremolo picking, blast beats, and Jeff Walkers vocals.

Carcass joining an elite cadre of financially successful bands by doing so, starting with At the Gates’s Slaughter of the Soul and even Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven. Let me state it again for those who wish to be millionaires: the appearance of being an outsider to a society nearly universally loathed by its inhabitants, with an underhanded delivery of comfortingly familiar derivative works that by their obedience affirm the social order, will always be a financial success. It allows the appearance of rebellion with none of the actual costs. It’s like artistic insurgency tourism.

Surgical Steel ends up being a mix of Swansong‘s Thin Lizzy-isms applied to the framework of songs like “This Mortal Coil” and “Doctrinal Expletives.” These songs have more to do with Mike Amott’s recent Wacken pandering than anything on Heartwork. “A Congealed Clot of Blood” resembles a “revisited”, more uptempo version of Swansong‘s “Don’t Believe a Word” and the last song, brings to mind the best years of Sanctuary with its sentimental melodic guitar intro, or evokes the Overkill ballads “The Years of Decay” and “Soulitude” with its emotional framing and pacing.

Some tracks like “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” attempt aggression by utilizing the same speed metal meets extreme music technique as “Carnal Forge” from Heartwork, but with the obvious “money riff” effect of the dual harmony guitar part that is the focus of these songs. The reversion to old lyrical themes (based off the song titles and album artwork) seems like misdirected fan service as these songs would probably win over more people from the Century Media crowd if the lyrics had the same simple “emotional” topics that songs such as “No Love Lost” had.

While this album may appease the simple appetites of those who merrily purchase Arch Enemy and Children of Bodom albums, many songs try to deviate from the verse-chorus stylings with an overloaded, ill-fitting bridge that detract from their simple nature. This divided nature may keep Surgical Steel from being as successful as recent Hypocrisy or Slaughter of the Soul in the arena of stadium faux-death AOR metal for drunken Wacken attendees.

Again, we say: if your heart is no longer in death metal, don’t bother. Start up a project band and transition into progressive rock, classic rock, or whatever it is that actually appeals to you. Explore your new musical pathways. It’s just as much a sell-out to try to “stay true!” when you no longer care as it is to make Justin Bieber-styled pop because you know ten million teeny boppers from the ‘burbs will buy it. Musicians, chase your dreams. We get the best of your talent that way, even if we have to transition genres to appreciate it.

Metal is metal, not a grab-bag of other clichés

alt_nu_funk_rapNot for the first time I find myself reading a cringingly bad article from the Irish press about metal. This one is entitled Alt, Nu, Funk, Rap: there are many colours in the heavy metal rainbow and it ran in the Irish Times yesterday.

Ireland’s a frustrating country in which to be a metalhead. On the one hand, it’s the land that produced latter-day genre ambassadors Primordial and cool-as-fuck proto-metallers Thin Lizzy. On the other, metal in Ireland is stuck between a mass-culture slavishly obsessed with low-grade British TV and an arts/intelligentsia scene more interested in brushing up its phony posh Hiberno-English accent and patronising 3rd rate continental post-modern knock offs. Metal is a poorly-supported fringe genre; too morbid for popular culture and too loud and unpretentious to fit in with ‘sophisticated’ culture.

Because of this, as great as many Irish metallers are, the Irish metal scene is infected with a section of people with an attitude that is both happy to accept and produce novelty trash, and is simultaneously chronically under-confident about being a metaller – berating anyone who to takes it seriously. “Sure it’s only a bit of craic.”

Other than sneering at it, Irish Journalists and other arbiters of public opinion rarely take notice of metal unless they want to leech some of its credibility; an act that apparently doesn’t require any research beyond wheeling out a few tired anecdotes about barely relevant 50s/60s bands.

It’s no coincidence that today metal is growing fastest in countries with oppressive regimes, notably Iran and China. For all its genre- splitting, commercialisation and in-fighting, metal remains, in the broader socio-political field,a transgressive form of music signifying individuality and defiance of authority.

Last month leading Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei released the first single off his “avant-garde heavy metal” album. With lyrics railing against censorship and human rights abuses in China, it’s as potent – in a political way – as the opening chords of You Really Got Me must have sounded in 1964.

Sorry pal, but metal is not some nice, cuddly, inclusive sausage-fest, where everyone can listen to whatever flavour they like and we all finish off holding hands in a circle, smiling dumbly to the sound of “Kumbaya.” It is not about giving your parents the finger and escaping the oppression of society to go live in a vegan organic farm where everyone lives by love, tolerance and inclusivity.

Some of the best metal has been made by people with beliefs considered unacceptable in polite society. Metal isn’t a rejection of authority; it’s a rejection of the idea that society is the answer to our problems. Metal says: we can’t all get along. To a metaller, a greater ill than an extreme and unfriendly ideology is a wimpy attempt to pretend that the reality is more sanitary than it actually is.

Sadly for this, much of the metal he cites as counter-examples either doesn’t exist, or is of such painfully low quality as to be of no significance. Like many a media forgery, he has used one example of something — despite it getting nowhere in the genre — as an example of a “trend.” There is of course a healthy scene in Israel, but I suspect Israeli Jews would be more annoyed than flattered to read themselves being used as examples of un-metal sounding metal.

Even worse, like a salesman after a three-martini lunch, he’s trying the old trick of making metal palatable to us by claiming that it’s something we already recognize and accept. Citing ‘alt’ ‘rap’ and ‘funk’ as leading genres of metal shows almost no awareness of what defines metal and makes no account for it as anything other than an interchangeable synonym for rock. But that’s what he wants — he fears that metal might be something by itself and for itself, beyond the control of the society and social thinking he so slavishly obeys.

Whether the writer likes it or not (perhaps that should be ‘whether he knows it or not’, given the extent of investigation done appears to be sub-Wikipedia?) metal is not about fitting into a trendy political creed, but about exploring the dangerous, the feral and the ugly for the sake of transcending moralism and understanding the world as it is, not as it should be according to any given utopian outlook.