Varg Vikernes posted a video a few weeks ago to his ThuleanPerspective Youtube channel listing the ten metal albums most influential to Burzum. We forced a lowly, supple-assed Death Metal Underground junior staffer/catamite to type them up into a play list for our readers:
If the motive is to pander, not find adventure, the music will be worthless
If you’re faced with a problem, you fix it through the scientific method. You come up with a number of possible solutions, test them against reality, pick the ones that succeed — looping through a few times to refine them so they’re accurate — and use those. You throw away the ones that did not work.
Our universe is mathematically stable because it has something (reality) to test solutions against, and because it allows the discarding of bad solutions. This avoids a state of entropy, or a condition where every solution possible has about the same effectiveness. Entropy afflicts everything we do through a type of organizational decay, but when it becomes the state of a situation, all motion and change ceases. Heat death, or the lack of motion to energy and hence its dissipation, occurs.
This information logic to our world underlies natural selection just as much as it describes how our brains work. Imagine multiple ideas; pick the ones that converge; throw out the rest. In the case of heavy metal music, we strengthen the genre when we as fans pick only the best bands and albums. We weaken it when we tolerate mediocre metal, because then being mediocre is just about as important as being good, so people stop trying to be good — heat death.
While heat death is comforting because it enables us to avoid challenging ourselves, and to feel like we’re heroes and geniuses for recording any metal music, it means that we no longer have great metal music — the kind that makes you sit up, pay attention, and rediscover life through a worship of power, saying a kind of cosmic yes (in the James Joyce sense) to accepting life as constant conflict for a few rare, beautiful possible outcomes.
For those who still have red blood coursing through their veins and so aren’t so afraid of failure that they’re unwilling to try, it’s imperative to pick good metal music. This means not making the categorical mistake of buying an album just because the band that made it was good once, or because that band is trendy, has some novel implementation like flutes and tubas, or because you know the people in the band and you want to make them happy. It’s important to know when to stop listening and throw out the bad ideas.
What makes music bad?
Bad music is all the same. Most bands record music that is competent but fails to articulate anything that makes us sit up and take notice, because they’re either repeating the past or suggesting something unrealistic, which means we cannot feel that sense of the music being vital to our lives because we have to live in reality. At least 99% of music falls into this category, but perhaps more, because out of tens of thousands of metal bands, only a few hundred stand the test of time.
In that mindset, we can see that what makes “bad metal” is not that it’s unmusical, or stupid, except in a few cases. In most cases, it is simply unremarkable because it hasn’t challenged itself to find meaning in life and sing about it. This is why almost all reviews of albums that are destined to fail go like this:
This CD recombines past methods that worked, without knowledge of the reasons why they worked. Quirky as a result, it is a unique collage of instruments and techniques. Yet it is without direction because it imitates the effects of the past without knowing the causes, like someone looking into the genre from outside. Therefore, it’s not bad, but not great, and so we’ll forget it soon because time is valuable and this CD is not going to make us feel a sense of connection to life through power.
In other words, the CD is bringing us to a state of entropy. It isn’t bad, it isn’t good, which means by default that it’s not good. You will see this review format on many metal sites. It usually looks like this:
I don’t normally like ultra-brutal death metal, but this CD combines ultra-brutal death metal with hardcore vocals and black metal riffs. I have never before heard a flute used to make brutal riffs come slamming home. Guitar solos are like fire in the veins of a poisoned dragon. Although it’s really brutal, parts of this CD are riff salad where they get confused about whether they are black metal or death metal. But the end result isn’t bad, even if it won’t make my top ten for this year. If you really like brutal death metal with flutes, get this CD.
That’s a review done by a fan, a zine, or another band. What does it look like when we combine the art of making people think they should buy something — marketing — with this review type?
Brutal death metal fans have waited too long for a real masterpiece, but [ name redacted ] is going to change all that. With pummeling brutal riffs, you might think this band were closed-minded, but they have a full-time flute player who brings a progressive, liberal touch to the old and musty genre of brutal death metal. This groundbreaking act goes where no metal band has gone before! Don’t expect mercy from these powerful slamming riffs. This CD is brutal and it’ll tear your fuckin head off!
In the above, you will see something all smart marketers do. They find an audience for something, and then try to convince them that a product is better than others. If you can’t sell it on “better,” you sell it on novelty. It’s unique. It does something others don’t do. What you really want to do is avoid mentioning whether or not this is important. For example, who cares if a band uses a flute if their music is just as boring as if they did not?
What is pandering?
Most people will recognize, after hearing enough music, that while good music is made to be bought, it isn’t designed so that it will make the most money by offering the least challenging listen. If you’re not listening to radio pop, it’s because you got tired of melodic hooks and three-minute songs using verse-chorus structures. The riffs in such songs may be good, but since they achieve a state and cycle in it, but don’t really change, it’s hard to call them art — or claim they’ll inspire our lives. They’re like pretty wallpaper or television shows: background noise to make life pleasant, not give it meaning.
What separates good music from bad music is what separates scientific information from marketing: marketing is designed to appeal to a need that’s already there, and exploit it as a way of making money. Where good music/art is designed to make life more meaningful by showing us a new vision of it, marketing is designed to affirm our current vision of life so we can fit a product into it. Marketing panders. Art doesn’t.
Pandering – We use the panda image to suggest that music panders, and so has not only suspect motivations but minimal joy in listening. You may think this is sorta neat for a couple weeks, but then you’ll forget it. In the meantime, the band and others like them will start making more of this crap, so that instead of getting albums you can listen to for years, you’ll get lots of new albums you have to buy that won’t really satisfy you.
Selling Out – When a band goes from having made quality music to a state of extreme pandering, we realize that a psychological change has occurred in the artists. Instead of trying to make good music so that they can make money, they bypass the middle step and make music that makes money not because it’s good, but because it panders. We use the tombstone image to suggest that this band has left the reservation and headed for pop territory, so we’re not going to bother reviewing any of their other stuff until this changes.
Why so judgmental? — you are trained to ask. Why not just write about the music as it is? The answer is that mediocre music far outnumbers good music, and we are interested in preserving the good, and so instead of leaving you wondering about why we stopped reviewing a band, we’re just going to point out that they have changed motivation and results. It’s no different from reviewing every metal album ever made, and writing the generic review above 99% of the time and not telling you that there’s something all bad albums have in common.
You’re also trained to ask: Who made you the judge? Who are you to decide? — these questions are illogical. In a relative universe, we all decide, and our value is decided by the decisions we make, although it takes someone who has a clue to see that. Who made you the judge to decide we’re not the judge? Who are you to decide who is to decide? These questions make light of how ridiculous those common questions are.
If you want to know why a band’s CD or performance is referred to this page, it is because the above is the best that can be said about it, and we do not wish to be ironic or condescending to you, our reader. We are here to praise the art in the genre and its best incarnations, and we treat you and the artists with greater respect by having such reverence for the art.
What Makes Good Metal?
Metal is Romantic art, much as the novel Frankenstein or the opera Parsifal are: discovery of transcendent meaning in life by embracing its struggle and suffering as means to a higher end, an idea beyond material satisfaction or fear. To those who see the greatness of this idea, it is a worldview and a life-philosophy, and metal is one of its voices.
When we say metal expresses this idea, we are speaking only secondarily of imagery and lyrics (which mainstream academics prefer to study because they’re easy). We speak of the music and the spirit it evokes. Much like songs can convey sadness, fear, anger or hope, like the leitmotifs of Wagner different impulses are encoded in metal music that together suggest a Romantic worldview.
As art, heavy metal music is unique among popular genres for this viewpoint. What makes sonic art “metal” is its expression of this spirit more than any dogma or musical conceits; after all, other bands have appropriated metal riffs for years but without grasping this idea, much like innumerable Hollywood soundtracks have borrowed from Wagner without capturing his ideal.
When a metal band ceases to make Romantic art and becomes another voice for the easy, non-transcendent answers of life — material comfort, self-satiation, revengeful morality or simply self-obsession — it is no longer metal, but an imitation of metal, much like advertising jingles often “sound like” a genre without having its artistry or ideas.
Readers can probably infer from the title, logo, and cover of Unstoppable Power that this Condor are not the Colombian heavy metal / progressive rock act. Norwegian Condor plays rocking speed metal similar to the Canadians Exciter and Razor. Riffing is primarily in the Motorhead influenced style of those two mixed with the chromatic, tremolo-picked styles of early Slayer. Leads are Slayerian noise bursts or imitations of Kirk Hammet. Norwegian Condor’s drumming is mostly crusty, background d-beating which lends the music some extreme percussive aggression not found in many 80s speeding oldies.
I saw Mayhem play De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, the only album of theirs that actually counts of course, last week at the Howard Theater in Washington, DC so I wanted to tell my fellow Death Metal Underground readers what’s happening inside the ANUS of this tour. That was surely an ironic choice of venue the band made there. Playing a black theater in a historically black city was strange for a band whose drummer, Hellhammer, is a badass drummer who hits like a fucking beast like a German in a tank trying to conquer Africa back from his historic racial enemies, the Polish and the Africans and Hellhammer is Greek or something so how can these losers with nothing better to do claim he’s even racist you know? Also practicing under their swastika banners and shit like that they shouldve brought out to steam roll all the drunk hipsters instead of comic book covers to hide behind onstage. I had to check this shit out to see if some shit would go down. I wanted to see if the gig would rule or if any crazy shit from hipsters, communists, or any other idiot life forms that could come out of a UFO or something would be real you know and prevent Mayhem from pounding my face in you know.
The Oakland Police Department allied with antifascist and communist terrorists to get the Oakland Metro Operahouse to cancel Marduk‘s booked show with Incantation there today on February 18th according to a post on the venue’s Facebook page. Antifascists and communists had previously vowed to attack Marduk’s planned gigs in Oakland and Austin.
Antifascist and Communists have vowed to commit terrorists acts in protest of Swedish war metal (formerly black metal) band Marduk touring the US for the first time in years. The idiotic communist manlets are accusing Marduk of being a “crypto-fascist” band. They will not stop harassing the band, their fans, and concertgoers until all of them are sent to gulags (where work will set them free) or have hollow-point bullets shot into the back of their skulls in the bowels of police stations.
Loyal Death Metal Underground readers submitted various Imprecation members’ responses to David Herrera’s call for action against Antifa criminals who, aided by the actions of the Montreal police, shut down Messe des Morts and the Antifa Seven Hills cell of Richmond, Virginia slandering Imprecation. One of the guitarists threatened to break my jaw for posting how Antifascists Communists and their leftist supporters actually operate: violently silence anyone who doesn’t shout their slogans in the street.
Social justice warrior agitator and former Bestial Evil (USA) guitarist Kevin Rucker expressed desires to interview our very own Brett Stevens and “tryna come through and surprise this man like a blind date”.
The Americans invented speed metal with Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All, which came out the same year as Slayer’s Show No Mercy and early European projects like Bathory, Sodom and Hellhammer. The European scene fused these together into a speed metal that used proto-death riffing as exemplified by Destruction, Kreator and Merciless.
Ripper picks up in the Merciless vein and keeps that Swedish landmark as its guiding force. This band keeps the attention of listeners however through its spirit and its refusal to adopt clichés. It uses riff forms found before, but keeps them specific to the song so that they relate to the other parts, preventing songs from being “grab-bags” of former ideas.
Its weakness comes in one of the hardest tasks for any metal band: distinguishing songs from one another when they have a similar approach to tempo and vocal patterns. Here, Ripper lag behind their mentors. This is the only flaw. The Instrumentation is top-notch and creative: the riffing reflects the theme of each song and displays competence and wrestling complexity from simple power chord clusters while vocals are both harsh and complement the music.
Incorporating melodic and instrumental elements, Ripper keeps the intensity high. This creates the type of listening environment that bands like Angelcorpse perfected: both intense like aerobic activity in the presence of terror, and somewhat monolithic because so much of it hits the same sweet spot of rhythm and motion. But its spirit never flags and the resulting enjoyment of the music, for listener and musician, forms a bond that far surpasses what most of the underground has been doing for the past 20 years.