Satan‘s Court in the Act exists in a unique space between the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and speed metal. As a wholly metal album that attempts no pandering to mainstream radio rock unlike seemingly every other NWOBHM band, Court in the Act is by far the strongest studio album of that sub-genre/movement and incredibly influential to American speed metal bands Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer.
Article contributed to Death Metal Underground by George Psalmanazar, continuing his series of Judas Priest reviews.
Painkiller is Judas Priest‘s most consistent studio album coming out right after the band spent the entire decade of the 80s pandering to mainstream arena and glam rock fans. Slayer were a tremendous influence this time around; Judas Priest toured toured with them in the late 80s and subsequently listened to most of Slayer’s studio catalog. Painkiller there is a heavy metal album heavily influenced by the heaviest speed metal bordering on early death metal. Early power metal took a similar approach but in much more limp-wristed way.
Article contributed to Death Metal Underground by George Psalmanazer.
Judas Priest started life as just another Led Zeppelin influenced band in the early 1970s. Quickly they became massively influenced by Black Sabbath and especially Thin Lizzy. Priest adapting the counterpointed riffing and harmonzied melodic guitar leads of Thin Lizzy into a mixture of progressive rock and the then new heavy metal of Black Sabbath but with operatic vocals instead of Ozzy “singing” the riff through his nose kicked off the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the late 1970s.
The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was the simultaneous, sudden emergence of hundreds of heavy metal bands in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and early eighties. The NWOBHM was prompted by the collapse en masse of earlier hard rock bands and heavy metal originators. Led Zeppelin and other blues-based riff rock bands had collapsed into meandering stadium rock with only a couple listenable songs per record at best (“Achilles Last Stand” on Presence). Black Sabbath fell flat on their faces after Sabotage, making the meandering duo of Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die. Punk declined from almost-progressive works as the The Stooges’ Fun House to boy bands such as the Sex Pistols playing radio pop. Deep Purple regressed to playing what their former guitarist Ritchie Blackmore termed “Shoeshine music.”
Review contributed to Death Metal Underground by the Peckerwood Boys. The audio review may be 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.