The “metal bubble” bursts

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Humanity follows this pattern: someone breaks away from doing the same stuff everyone else is doing, does something different and it resonates with smart people, so everyone else starts doing it but they use it as a new flavor for doing the same stuff everyone else is doing. They think this will let them be both new and familiar at the same time, and it attracts an audience who thinks like them, and then the different thing is destroyed.

Heavy metal goes through these bubbles every decade. Black Sabbath set the scene with proto-metal in 1970, but by 1976 most bands had hybridized that with heavy rock like Cream, Led Zeppelin, the Kinks, Deep Purple and and The Who. The result was “heavy metal” the sub-genre of the larger metal genre, and it quickly got so bad that the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) rebelled against it with do-it-yourself (DIY) albums that hit hard but never quite got to the long phrasal riffs that Black Sabbath had innovated, in part in emulation of horror movie soundtracks. In the early 1980s, speed metal, thrash and proto-underground metal emerged to counter the calcified edifice of heavy metal which was currently dominated by glam metal, a Californian crossover between European heavy metal, surf rock and American album-oriented-rock (AOR). By the late 1980s, that bubble too had burst as speed metal bands very publicly sold out, and death metal and later black metal formalized themselves in response. But by 1994, both had spent their momentum and languished in inertia. What came in their place was a rapid succession of bad imitators, war metal, indie-metal, metalcore and finally a breath of fresh air with revitalized speed metal and classic heavy metal merged into power metal.

That was 21 years ago.

Currently, the metal scene languishes. The nu-underground fascinates itself with FMP/NWN bands that resemble three-chord punk translated to metal aesthetics, while the mainstream extreme metal scene uses late hardcore songs with metal riffs in random order. No “greats” have emerged, but there are plenty of favorites, and if you read most review sites, you will see praise heaped on the release of the week without any concern for its actual staying power. However, the audience who surged in to take advantage of the new metal-rock hybrids remains large, and therefore there are profits to be made, creating a “metal bubble”: a zombie genre kept afloat by inertia, lacking any real substance, and worst of all, one that blocks any actual innovation by the sheer popularity of imitation.

Current bands are distinguished by being hipster bands. A hipster is someone who has nothing to believe in, so uses things that might be worth believing in as a way of accessorizing and making himself look interesting. Hipsters love bands that no one else listens to, ironic use of instruments or lyrics, and most of all, anything that sounds like nostalgic indie rock but with new exciting combinations of flavors. Hipsters love pirate metal, jazz-metal, post-metal and other variants of the late punk songs with metal riffs in random order that is metalcore. Witness the hipster:

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

Hipsters also have their own ideology, called “social justice,” which is their way of one-upping you by being better than you on a level that joins morality and politics. It is like the neighbors who, on hearing you went on vacation, inform you that instead of going on vacation they went to some impoverished country to help the poor. It is the people in the office who make a show of giving lavish gifts to charity. It is politicians kissing babies and making speeches on the site of tragedies. In short, hipster is everything wrong with humanity, and its ideology is not even an ideology; like all things hipster, it is a pose designed to convey that the person making it is morally superior, politically more well-informed, socially more empathetic and compassionate, and most of all just more interesting than you. That is hipsterism in a nutshell.

The point is not that their ideology would be wrong, if it were adopted out of belief, because that is beyond the topic of this article. Their ideology is fake like their bad metal bands which created and maintain the metal bubble. You may be a hipster if you only listen to metal bands with theremin because they are different, or if you collect rare kvlt underground tapes that only 42 other people have because they are obscure, or only listen to bands with “socially conscious” (a more antiquated cliché is hard to find) lyrics because they are more righteous. Most people in metal now are either hipsters or the mainstay of metal’s transient audience, which is suburban kids desperate for some way to rebel against their parents that will not get them in actual trouble, like a school shooting or hacking the local newspaper, among other alienated white kid pastimes.

In the meantime, the metal bubble is popping because of a dearth of bands of actual musical importance, which makes metal just like everything else on television an oversold nostalgia item from previous generations foisted on today’s youth because aging once-hip people in media are desperate for a tangible symbol of rebellion that is simultaneously innocuous enough to sell products for their advertisers. Metal itself has become clich&ecaute;. Think of the big name movies: when a character is introduced as rebellious, they trot out the hackneyed symbols of conformity safe rebellion like heavy metal, motorcycles, tattoos and cigarettes. These things no longer threaten any social order and are generally accepted, so they can be used to sell an image. At the same time, the audience recognizes these tropes to signal rebellion, so they are useful when you want your brand of artisanal organic free-trade rooibos tea to stand out from the rest as being “edgy” and “different.” Cliché is a language that advertisers and consumers speak to one another.

Yet the signs appear on the wall. Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist Slash spoke out on the pop trend in heavy metal:

I think the music business itself sucks. It’s turned into a very corporate, materialistic… I mean, even artists are trying to conform to the record industry now. It used to be the artist was for the artist and there was a conflict of interest between the creative artist and the record company wanting to make a lot of money, and eventually they’d sort of work it out. Because then, they used to develop artists, and now it’s just like Top 40 — everybody’s trying to be Top 40. Even heavy metal bands are trying to be Top 40. So it’s not a big turn-on, like it was for me in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s where it was exciting and there was a sense of rebellion and whatever…And even if you have a good band — you’re talented musicians and songwriters and whatnot — it’s, like, if you don’t have a Top 40 success on your first single, there you’re done. And in order to get a Top 40 success on your first single, you have to make compromises for your material for the record business itself.

This followed commentary toward the same effect by Kerry King of Slayer and Rob Halford of Judas Priest. Halford made the damning statement that the metal community is essentially spamming itself and blocking the rise of quality bands:

And so this thing about the Internet, it’s great to get your music across quickly, it’s very simple to get your music to the world, but it’s very difficult to break through the clutter, break through all of the noise.

While he blames the internet, much as later underground metal musicians would, the question we must ask ourselves is whether the problem is breaking through the clutter or the clutter itself. When a genre is littered with many bands that sound different but offer nothing musically or artistically — a fancy word for the content of their music, what it expresses emotionally and as commentary on life — then quality will not be recognized because people are accustomed to mediocrity. They will buy what they recognize and literally pass over good bands in favor of more of the same old stuff because it is safer and their friends recognize it. Kerry King chimed in with another damning statement:

We were at a festival in South America a few years ago and we were watching a video feed of the band that was playing onstage. I was watching the screen and I just did not get why this band was popular at all. I pulled [EXODUS/SLAYER guitarist] Gary Holt aside. I pointed at the screen, and asked him, ‘Hey, Gary, would you aspire to be these guys?’ He said, ‘Not at all.’ It was because they were the most boring and lethargic guitar players I had ever seen. I would never want to be these guys. I’m looking at a lot of these bands and it looks like it’s the road crew soundchecking to me. There’s no vibe. There’s nothing that gives you aspirations to be awesome.

This sounds like the doldrums for metal. You cannot be a rebel if you are doing what is safe and what affirms the illusions by which most people live. Heavy metal has always been about smashing a single boundary, which is the line of denial that most people have about reality and from which they flee toward “socially accepted” pleasant illusions in fear of the difficult questions of reality itself, and when it fails to do that it fails to live. Its guitar heroes leave, its innovators go to other genres, and worst of all, its best up-and-coming musicians, writers, artists, producers, editors and photographers stay home or get into jazz. With that in mind, here is the latest installment the podcast from anti-censorship/anti-repression movement Metalgate, which hopes to renovate metal by smashing the denial line and popping every bubble it can:

Khand to release two new upcoming works

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Necrotic dungeon synth/cosmic ambient band Khand plans to release two upcoming albums. The band issued the following statement:

This hasn’t been announced yet, but there will be two albums released right around the same time: the aforementioned space/Mars concept album, and also one with Medieval/Fantasy elements. I have been working on both at the same time; recording the Mars album slowed down as I had to purchase some new equipment and and a new rig. But alas, I hope to have both of them out soon. As always, thanks for the support. There are still cassettes available as well, please contact me here if you would like some.
Album arts and/or newer track to be released soon.

Desecresy selling past albums

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Spacious death metal band Desecresy are selling copies of their past albums for anyone who has discovered them late and wants to capture all three, which are reviewed here. The band writes:

Still available from us:

Arches of Entropy CD 10 €
The Doom Skeptron CD 10 €
The Doom Skeptron LP 15 €
Chasmic Transcendence CD 10 €

and the last Arches of Entropy t-shirt 15 €

Shipping will be added to the price

Contact via Facebook or desecresy@hotmail.com

Requiescat in Pace: Jaime Gonzalez, Hogwild Records, San Antonio, Texas

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It is our sad duty to report that Jaime Gonzalez, manager at San Antonio, Texas, metal record cavern Hogwild Records has passed away on July 4, 2015 after a long battle with cancer. For those who remember Jaime, he was an affable man who adored heavy metal and did not hesitate to extend a kind word to fellow metalheads. He will be missed.

Kaeck – Stormkult (2015)

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Kaeck — a collaboration between members of Sammath, Kjeld and Noordelingen — introduces itself to black metal at a time when the genre has lost the momentum of two decades ago and replaced it with primitive but mostly uninspired, very similar music. Of that music, the clear forerunner is war metal, which takes the extremity of black metal to new heights but simultaneously reduces it to sawing high-speed chromatic riffs like later hardcore punk. Gone are the epic melodies and entrancing adaptive song structures. Through this, the techniques of black metal outlive the genre.

Combining the raw intensity of black metal, the odd vocals of pagan metal, and the melodic understructure of early 1990s black metal, Kaeck produces a high-intensity blast that resembles a more technical version of Blasphemy fused with early Immortal and Isengard. Where Zyklon-B created high-intensity black metal around simple melodies, and Dawn used constant melody over raging war-drums, or even Impaled Nazarene shaped songs from simple riffs rounding out into melodies over high-powered percussion, Kaeck keeps the melodic center to songs and uses it as a flavoring to otherwise savage riffs, but lets songs structure themselves to fit the melody. On top of this, vocalist Oovenmeester layers epic vocals that resemble those of Isengard, Storm or Mayhem “Life Eternal,” using these to produce both texture and melody to complement the raging guitars and resonant melody.

With that as the basis of its style, Kaeck varies the formula across the album, with each song being its own chapter with a different approach, but crafted admirably within the same consistent style to give the band a unified voice. Fast mid-range power chord melodies over blasting drums, in the Immortal Pure Holocaust style, give Stormkult an otherworldly feel that quickly descends into untamed rushing chaos and then emerges on the other side as a complementary melody. Keeping energy high, and using bass and guitars as a lead phrasal instrument over drums which frame them with less chaos than Immortal but a more flexible structure than most black metal bands short of Sarcófago can handle, Kaeck slashes out anthems of the abyss with a silver lining which suggests a divinity of thought in animalistic, irrational and feral assertion of the nature within. The result takes the best from war metal and fuses it with the best of classic black metal, creating the album we might have wished for when desiring Zyklon-B to be more complex or Dawn to be less drenched in melody as a technique.

Coming from a merger of the New Wave of Dutch Black Metal bands such as Kjeld, whose Skym roared up the black metal charts but features less internal variation in the style of Dawn with more varied riffing, and Sammath whose Godless Arrogance paid tribute to both Immortal and the most savage members of the black and death metal pantheon, this approach develops a consistent sound for these bands: old world melody, new world violence, and a fusion of the two that delivers both emotional and visceral satisfaction. Stormkult creates a world of its own and then soars above it like an avenging spirit crossing through the clouds before the sun, then allows its inner being to expand without indulging in any extraneous material. With this approach, and songwriting that taps into the melancholic rage and alienation coupled with a warlike desire to set the world right that defined early black metal, Kaeck stands poised to conquer much of the black metal world.

Released via Folter Records on August 28, 2015. Hear streaming track “De Kult,” exclusive to DeathMetal.org, streaming here.

Gawaith Hoggarth TT Ltd. – Coniston Cut Plug (“Unscented”)

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Flake tobacco has a reputation for being for the more experienced pipe smoker because of its dense and hard-to-light form and the higher tobacco of most of these blends. Tobacco undergoes a process of refinement where it is picked, dried, cased and then cured by a number of methods. Some are fermented; others cooked; still others sun-dried or aged. The many varieties of tobacco come mostly from how the plant is grown, with varying degrees of nutrition and water, and how it is cased — a process where a small amount of flavoring is added — and cured, which also includes topping off with other scents, producing “aromatic” or flavored and scented tobacco. Coniston Cut Plug gets close to the raw tobacco with minimal casing and simple curing during which it is pressed in large blocks and allowed to age. When curing is done, these are sliced and those are somewhat broken up to produce lanky fibers of clumped tobacco leaf. This dense mixture has a reputation for being hard to light, although I have found that if you bend it in the middle and cram it loosely into the pipe with frayed ends pointing upward, two cardboard matches or one solid wood match will get it going. At that point, be ready for the gods of Nicotine. This alkaloid finds praise throughout history for those who mention its intoxicating powers. With Coniston Cut Plug, the gods of Nicotine ride in on a chariot of iron and whip your skull with burning flails. Many of us find this quite agreeable, but others pass along recommendations to smoke this while sitting down and after a full meal as you might feel it in your stomach. Glorious, rich smoke with a natural flavor somewhere between fresh-cut hay and charred wood-bark, Coniston Cut Plug provides a wonderful basis for a smoke that would be recommendable for all except for one horrific glitch: during the curing or casing, someone approaches this tobacco with a giant bucket of soapy rosewater and soaks it thoroughly. This creates a stench of noxious ammoniac rose around the tobacco that is so strong it is ill-advised to keep it in the same room where you sleep, lest it kick off a fit of sneezing. In addition, the rosewater smell permeates through the smoke, ruining an otherwise delightfully savage leaf-burning experience. Some writers speak of “ghosting” of the pipe, where former tobaccos can be detected in subsequent bowls. Coniston Cut Plug summons an entire army of undead zombie rosewater demons who infest the next several bowls, usually toward the end when the drippings ignite and momentarily haunt you again with the stench of decaying soap-slathered roses. If it were not for the rosewater infiltration, many of us would rank this among our favorites. Instead, it goes into the (far) back of the cupboard, where it will wait for a few years to see if the spectral roses will depart.

Tau Cross – Tau Cross (2015)

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A supergroup comprised of members of Amebix and Voivod among other bands, Tau Cross emerged just a few years after Amebix returned with a radio heavy metal album named Sonic Mass in 2011 that used the Iron Maiden styled epic take on heavy metal to deliver a traditional Amebix point of view. That album also revisited the second album from the band back in 1987, Monolith, which showed a Motorhead influence repurposing the raw energy of the crust punk from earlier albums. Together, those two albums from after the “pure” crust era of Amebix demonstrate a direction toward heavy metal that combines the best of the early 1980s with the energy and concrete focus of punk. Tau Cross picks up from that point with a more varied approach, spanning from quality indie rock (non-emo) through modern metal like Filter with a host of minor influences as varied as Killing Joke, Metallica, Celtic folk music and Oi punk. This intensely varied album manages the best form of emotion, which is subtly built and keyed by a shift in the entire song, and not just vocals, creating an avalanche effect once it hits its trigger point and all of the previous material starts making sense in that context. Much of this will appeal to fans of Queenrÿche and other bands who specialize in taking mainstream styles, recombining them, and then dominating them with an ethos that originates in underground punk or metal but thrives in a more listenable form. Vocals are often reminiscent of Nirvana crossed with Minor Threat applied by Motorhead at a later Discharge pace, while guitars alternate between high-speed punk in the style of Cro-Mags but with more on-beat energy, but songwriting comes from the same intensely visual style that appeared on Sonic Mass, as if designed for an epic video that leaves the listener wondering for the next few days if they correctly interpreted the song. Song structures are formed of roughly verse-chorus patterning that is interrupted and redirected at key points, with interludes and pauses. Paranoid and cynical, lyrics seem to reflect a sense of total frustration with the modern condition converted into a bittersweet discovery of meaning in opposing it and going another way. First listen to this album let it be written off as hard rock, much like Monolith at first, but Tau Cross shows the benefit of years of experience in songwriting and working with melody, in addition to more flexible tempo changes and supporting instrumentals, and so takes that style in a more powerful direction. In many ways, this album picks up where the modern mainstream metal like Filter should have gone, which is to take the emotionality of alternative rock, the energy of hardcore and the epic structures of early 80s metal and blend them together into something terrifying and beautiful.

Italian prog-death band Sadist put new album teaser online

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Longstanding Italian death metal band Sadist, famous for incorporating Pestilence/Atheist style progressive and jazz influences into their work in the early 1990s, have returned from retirement with a new album. This one features more bouncy and spacious speed metal rhythms, such as on Voivod Dimension Hatross or Anacrusis Screams and Whispers, but stays true to their habit of interweaving different styles and narratives with metal riffing.

Bizarrely, perhaps in some transposition of Nietzschean ideas, the album and band seem to be using the visual theme of hyenas against prey animals. While this is not the goofiest thing in death metal, it seems a bit ill-advised because of the general view of hyenas, which forgets what vicious predators — on par with wolves but more energetically violent — hyenas are. See for yourself what you think of this odd campaign and the music that supports it on the album teaser.