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Documentary Lone Survivor – Paul Speckmann and the story of Master soliciting funds

April 17, 2014 –

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Way back in the early 1980s, a band in the Chicago area began making the transition from speed metal to a proto-death metal style. It transitioned through punk and oddly retained a lot of elements of 1960s rock, but was part of the formative path toward death metal along with Bathory, Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Sepultura and Sodom before Death or Morbid Angel had ever recorded.

Three decades after that rocky start, two metal journalists are attempting to record the life and times of Paul Speckmann with a documentary entitled Lone Survivor – Paul Speckmann and the story of Master. The filmmakers bill the film as not just a Speckmann history, but “the story of anyone who has chased a dream and endured the victories and defeats that come with the journey.”

Filmmakers Jeff Tandy and Will Wulff are tackling this project from a zero-budget start. Wulff is a UC Irvine film graduate who attracted the attention of Paul Speckmann with a graduate project short film. Tandy is a 20-year music veteran and freelance metal journalist with extensive experience in the death metal field.

Record Store Day 2014

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International Record Store Day, an attempt at preservation by celebration for the category of independent record stores, kicks off this week on April 19. The general idea is that indie record stores offer up some vinyl and rarities on sale and hope for higher attendance.

Some of the participating stores are offering metal (such as Vinal Edge Records in the Heights, above). If you don’t mind fending off the hipsters with a machete and elbowing aside diehards (nostalgia buffs), you might be able to find some good deals and fight back against the digital encroachment on record collecting at the same time.

Interview with - - - 

April 13, 2014 –

- - -

For those who caught our review of the - - - /Dawning split some months ago, the intentional mystery behind - - -  may have created some interest. Artists disguising themselves is nothing new; all of black metal disguised themselves under pseudonyms and paint like nocturnal vigilantes. Authors such as Thomas Pynchon are famous for their reclusive refusal to be photographed or interviewed. And in occult and ambient music, the situation gets even more obscure.

- - -  create music that sounds like a heavy metal hybrid with the vaguely occult black metal of the style that Deathspell Omega made famous, but with a mix of heavy metal in the balance such as one might find from Paradise Lost or Primordial. The result floats gently through the speakers and is both familiar and highly distant. We were fortunate to gain access to the concealed personality behind - - -  for a short interview on the nature of existence, music and possibly why black metal has lost its way.

When did - - -  originate, and what can you tell us about the lineup?

I wrote a lot of minimalistic music when I was about 15-16 years old. Back then I didn’t have a guitar, just an old keyboard. All the music I wrote, I wrote down with the help of some MIDI-software. I didn’t think I would do anything with the MIDI-files, I just wanted to write some music. Several years later I found all those MIDI-files (about 50-60 tracks) and thought it would be fun to add drums and some guitars. Thus was the music of - - -  born.

The lineup is just me. On some tracks a friend of mine sings.

The music you play has a lot in common with both avantgarde black metal and the type of instrumentally advanced heavy metal that Therion ventured into with its third album. What style do you identify as your own, and what are your biggest influences?

When people ask in general what music I play, I usually answer that I play heavy metal. There are so many genres in the metal corpus so just to begin answering what kind of metal one is playing is rather impossible. And if heavy metal doesn’t suffice I’d say I play dragon metal.

For the piano compositions I’ve had the great Flemish composer Wim Mertens as a big influence. Also Michael Nyman, Roberto Cacciapaglia and Ludovico Einaudi. The guitars are just buzzing tremolo melodies to accompany the piano tracks.

Much of your work seems to be based around the notion of secrets; if not outright secrets themselves, the revelation of hidden meaning. Do you think there are hidden meanings in life around us? Are these metaphysical or material?

To answer the first question: Yes, I do think there are meanings in life around us. If this meaning is hidden or not I can’t really tell. To acknowledge that there is meaning around us is in itself a great step toward a life that isn’t nihilistic and/or fatalistic. But then you’ll have to validate whether these meanings are good or bad. I’ve chosen to believe that the meanings I’ve found in life are good ones. I don’t know this by necessity and I can’t persuade anyone that this is the right path. I believe that there is a reality and that I, as a human being, am capable of knowing something about it.

Since I have to relate to a material world to even begin to grasp the metaphysics, I’d have to say “yes” on this question (I interpreted it as an inclusive disjunction). I don’t think any materialistic substance can hold a Principle (of something higher). We interact bodily with the materialistic world and with our mind (soul), through the study of metaphysics, the Principles (how to know the meanings epistemologically).

Why did you choose the name “- - - “?

I used to name my music project files that way. And then the name stuck.

As - - -  goes on, do you think you have “matured” or “improved”? Is there a difference?

Maybe lyrically, but not musically. I still use the old MIDI-files I wrote several years ago.

Where will you go next with - - - ? Will there be more recordings, a change in style or a different look at things?

I have no idea. I think I will try to write something new from scratch. It will probably not sound exactly the same.

What personally attracted you about underground metal, and keeps you bonded to it twenty years past its glory days?

Probably the creativity. There are a lot of interesting bands that have a genuine sound or have really talented musicians. There is always something new and fresh that you can find in the great sea of underground bands. You don’t see the same creativity around the big names in metal.

Are your songs based around symbolism from which riffs are created, or do you base them around riffs and layer symbolism on top of those?

If by symbolism you mean the lyrics then: yes. I usually have some tracks ready when I begin writing the lyrics. Then I puzzle them all together.

If by symbolism you mean that I have a clear idea about what the tracks is going to be about, then: no. The lyrics are written separately from the music.

If someone wanted to find out more — but not too much — about - - - , where should they look?

Look toward where the sunrise, and in to the names of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite’s divine. Otherwise you should try google: “- - - “.

Goatcraft – The Blasphemer

April 12, 2014 –

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While dark ambient provides a set of moods that metal listeners can relate to, it generally aims for simpler instrumentation than metal fans are accustomed to, and falls short of the dark yet violent atmosphere of death metal. Goatcraft merges horror movie soundtracks and dark ambient into “necroclassical,” a form of music created with a digital piano as its leading voice that creates a dense texture of melodic development underneath the soaring and expanding moods of dark ambient.

Created by the mastermind behind some of the music of After Death and other post-death metal projects, Goatcraft expands on the style of its previous work All For Naught with a greater tendency toward melodic development and more distinctive songs. This in itself is a great achievement, since solo piano is somewhat limited in that a certain number of techniques must be repeated to maintain the rhythmic clarity that fans are accustomed to from drum-commanded genres. But where All For Naught attempted to hammer out a death metal-like rhythm, on The Blasphemer Goatcraft shows greater enmeshing of the eerie melodies that could underscore a horror movie and the sustained atmospheres of the darker side of electronic music such as Danzig’s Black Aria or Dead Can Dance.

What makes Goatcraft compelling is that it ventures beyond the somewhat static loops of dark ambient and the more pop/rock-oriented music of electronica. The artist has stopped trying to translate rock and metal into a piano sound, and instead is seeking his own voice. While technique is often very similar, melodies diverge greatly which gives each song its own distinctive feel. These melodies also grow and develop beyond the circularity of most radio music which repeats everything twice and then reformulates it, developing instead more like the scenes of movie of futile and suicidal battle. To keep the level of ambiguity high, Goatcraft often develops its songs to a peak and then recapitulates its themes in a new direction before fading away, stating less rather than more and gesturing toward what exists behind the curtain of time.

The Blasphemer represents a maturation of the approach of All For Naught with new songs that take greater advantage of the musical prowess of its progenitor. In this more distinctive voice, Goatcraft is able to get beyond technique and aim more toward the crafting of melodies to fit a situation, which is why this concept album based on the paintings of William Blake stands out. If Goatcraft has a new frontier, it is to continue developing technique alongside melody to make songs even more distinct, but the band has shaped “necroclassical” into a unique and distinctive style in the process of its own growth. While much of this material sounds straight out of an occult horror movie centered in misty graveyards, the more aggressive and pummeling piano attack underscores these dark themes with a more physical presence, grafting onto them a menace that most dark keyboard music cannot provide. It will be interesting to see how this band refines itself further in the future.

GOATCRAFT began as a vision of frustration. Occult music had died a crass death, imitated into candy piece fragments of its original vision. Death metal had been absorbed by the insatiable obese monster that is rock music and had lost its spirit of tempestuous power, replaced instead by lite jazz and creeling self-pitying children. Even the rising dark ambient and neoclassical scenes seemed afloat on a river of fast food grease; sweltering in their own indirection.

With this massive failure pressing on his nerves like a forgotten shell fragment from a war long lost, GOATCRAFT’s sole member Lonegoat decided in 2010 to overcome doubts and re-double the attack. What was at first a keyboard attack to rival the sonic intensity of death metal quickly became layers of neoclassical piano centering on dark concepts, and later, with the addition of soundtrack-like dark ambient lush atmosphere, an entirely new type of music, baptized by Lonegoat himself as Necroclassical.

After the underground success of GOATCRAFT’s 2013 debut All For Naught, Lonegoat is back with its best and most mature work to date: The Blasphemer, a concept album themed around the works of the famous English painter and poet William Blake.

“Written and recorded from July to November 2013 under the influence of William Blake’s paintings and theological observations, the album represents my quest to reconcile the mystical side of GOATCRAFT with its nihilistic side.” sole-member Lonegoat explains.

Sinister plans release of The Post-Apocalyptic Servant in May 2014

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Thunderous Dutch death metal assailants Sinister return with a new album entitled The Post-Apocalyptic Servant which is slated for release in May 2014. The album will be released on Massacre Records and includes covers of songs by Morbid Angel, Agent Steel and Paradise Lost.

Sinister have released a sample track, “The Burden of Mayhem” in advance of the album’s entry into the market. The band made its name in the early death metal years with Cross the Styx which combined the percussive and fast tremolo sounds with an underpinning of melody, creating a mood between the aggressive darkness of American death metal and the melancholic emptiness of its European cousins.

Although it was legendary for Cross the Styx, Sinister probably peaked with 1996′s Hate, which combined the best riffology of percussive death metal (Suffocation, Pyrexia) with the type of unsettling melodies previously only found in black metal. The Post-Apocalyptic Servant (which is hopefully about Satan as the cover hints) will contain the following tracks:

  1. The Science Of Prophecy
  2. The Macabre God
  3. The Sculpture Of Insanity
  4. The End Of All That Conquers
  5. The Masquerade Of An Angel
  6. The Dome Of Pleasure
  7. The Post-Apocalyptic Servant
  8. The Art Of Skin Decoration
  9. The Saviour
  10. The Burden Of Mayhem
  11. Fall From Grace (Morbid Angel)
  12. Deadly Inner Sense (Paradise Lost)
  13. Unstoppable Force (Agent Steel)

The difference between metal and punk, rock: it’s not literal

April 10, 2014 –

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As author of The Heavy Metal FAQ, I have wrestled with the question of how to define metal over the years. Since it uses the same techniques as any other form of music, but used in different proportions and combinations, I have always focused on the idea that unites these uses which makes metal so obviously distinct from rock, punk and other forms of music.

To this I’d like to add another idea: metal is not literal. That is, metal tends to view the world through a symbolic or mythological lens. It does so to reflect our inward sensations about what is going on, plus a historical viewpoint which requires a more high-level view. The details don’t matter as much as the form, in metal, and we pay attention to the form and then put it in a folk-wisdom format.

Archetypal examples of this can be found in classic metal like “War Pigs” (Black Sabbath), “Hardening of the Arteries” (Slayer), “Painkiller” (Judas Priest) and “My Journey to the Stars” (Burzum). In these songs, mythological forces clash to reveal a truth of everyday life. They inform us about our time and put us into a symbolic and emotional framework with it in which we want to fight it out, fix it, struggle and win.

In contrast, most music is either sensuality-based or protest music. Sensuality-based music is exemplified by stuff like Shakira. Protest music really exploded in the 1960s, but reformed itself with punk, which took a more abstract and yet earthy view. Where the 60s bands sang about politics, punks sang about everyday life and the insanity of existence. This finally culminated in thrash, which used hints of metal’s mythology to make the personal into the universal, as in “Give My Taxes Back” (DRI), “M.A.D.” (Cryptic Slaughter), “Minds are Controlled” (COC) and “Man Unkind” (DRI).

Metal does go wrong sometimes and get literal. The worst of these are the ego-based songs, as in Pantera, or the songs about being metal and going to shows and the like, which are generally just dumb. It is not surprising that these are not favorites of the genre because they drop away from that 30,000-foot view and instead become more personal drama like the rest of our society, which explains why its institutions don’t function and its ideas are corrupt.

Interestingly, other genres are not literal either. Progressive rock was famous for songs about weird adventures in fantasy worlds that had striking parallels to our own (compare to JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis). Classical music tends toward fantastic descriptions from literature and history. These are genres of the weighty and impersonal, not the direct and immediate and personal. They have a different scope and internal language.

Jazz is the outlier. When sung, it tends toward protest and sensual lyrics. When instrumental, the sound of it suggests a combination of the two: a kind of secular (no meaning greater than the material and immediate) version of imagination, but applied to literal experience, such that it forms a kind of texture without a unifying core. It communicates the loneliness of modern isolation and a retreat into the personal complexity of the mind.

Where metal stands out among modern genres is that it still embraces this viewpoint, or at least did until the nu/mod-metal started appearing. Part of what makes such a viewpoint necessary is that metal, despite being about killer riffs, is not about the riff. It’s about many riffs stitched together to make an experience so that when the killer riff comes out, it has a meaning in context that makes it heavy. No song is heavy from just one riff. It’s heavy because when you get to that super-heavy riff, everything else has set it up to resonate.

This in part explains the audience of metal. Mythology, historical significance and topics of philosophy do not inspire the honor students, who are busy working on their careers (and the obedience-profitability nexus that these entail), or the average student, who is busy in a world of his/her own pleasures and delights. They do however appeal to the outliers, the dreamers and dissidents, who might find class boring because they find society boring and purposeless, and instead turn toward fantasy and a bigger, more abstract realism to express themselves.

Dave Mustaine explores classical-metal hybrid

April 8, 2014 –

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Speed metal tyrant Dave Mustaine (Metallica, Megadeth) takes to the stage with the San Diego Symphony to play guitar solos in place of violin leads.

He will play along with “Summer” and “Winter” from Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air,” Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” and Antonín Dvořák’s “New World Symphony.” Mustaine described these pieces as shredding, fast and melodic.

In addition, the guitarist revealed some surprising background to his own music:

Mustaine also talked about Megadeth’s classical influence since its formation.

“On the very first song on our very first record, I actually played piano … Funny thing was, it was a very, very, hacked up version of Beethoven’s Fugue in D Minor and going back and listening to the actual performance of Beethoven, it’s kind of like, ‘Nice try Dave’ because it was close to it, but I mean, I was a gutter kid that grew up on the street and was playing from memory. I was surprised I could even play the piano.”

For the full story, head on over to The Daily Aztec.

Metal Music Studies journal selling subscriptions directly

April 2, 2014 –

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The journal of the International Society of Metal Music Studies (ISMMS), Metal Music Studies, is now available via subscription through direct purchase from the publisher Intellect Books. Editors Karl Spracklen and Niall Scott have been at the forefront of integrating heavy metal and academia so that the latter may study the former.

Until 2016, when membership in the International Society of Metal Music Studies comes with a subscription to Metal Music Studies, interested parties — whether members of ISMMS or not — will need to purchase a subscription at the following location. Volume One of Metal Music Studies is available in three issues over 2014 and 2015.

Subscriptions will become available for sale in May. We’re hoping for heavy coverage (hehe) of early primitive death metal.

Burzum announces release of The Ways of Yore on June 2, 2014

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Burzum, the sometimes black metal and sometimes ambient project of Norwegian-descended French national Varg Vikernes, announced the release of new album The Ways of Yore on Byelobog Productions/Plastic Head for June 2, 2014. No further information is given about whether the album will continue with the post-modern black metal style of Umskiptar or the folkish dark ambient style of Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, which was one of our “Best of 2013″.

Emerging from the same locus of intensity in Norway that produced Immortal, Mayhem, Emperor and Ildjarn, Burzum began in the early 1990s as a complex riff-narrative style of black metal with unnerving vocals that combines a feral animality with emotional sensitivity. Early works attempted to integrate elements of ambient music and create a sense of ritual designed to “stimulate the fantasy of mortals.” This era ended with Filosofem and composer Varg Vikernes being jailed for the murder of Euronymous of Mayhem.

During the incarceration years, Burzum shifted direction to full ambient with Dauði Baldrs and Hliðskjálf. These albums allowed Vikernes to escape the monolithic sound of guitar/bass/drums and work with multiple instruments, culminating in the lush creative density of Hliðskjálf (which was revisited somewhat in Sôl austan, Mâni vestan).

After prison, Burzum entered a period of post-modern black metal influenced by droning indie-pop variants of NSBM such as Drudkh and other Eastern European bands. This music reflected pop song structures, a shoegaze-style approach to melody but with the longer phrasing — albeit recursive — of black metal like early Ancient, and extensive use of North mythology. It is unclear whether this period continues now with folkish dark ambient album Sôl austan, Mâni vestan in 2013 being a temporary detour, or whether Vikernes will launch Burzum into a fourth period with the more complex instrumentation and hence compositional density of that album and Hliðskjálf.

Tony Iommi – Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath

April 1, 2014 –

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When Black Sabbath shifted from trying to be a hard rock band to trying to make a horror movie sound appear in guitar music, they opened a new world. It was not a world that would resist opening for long anyway, since if you mix Iggy and the Stooges with the prog rock of the same era like Jethro Tull and King Crimson, you get something a lot like Black Sabbath.

But guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and drummer Bill Ward did it first, and during the first decade of their career fought through the enduring questions of the genre in prototype form. While Black Sabbath gets classed by most as “proto-metal,” or not quite yet metal, it is also clearly not quite still rock ‘n’ roll. In this perpetual liminal state Black Sabbath, like metal itself would a generation removed, rediscovers itself again and again as a way of outracing the calcification and corruption of message that is common in modern life.

In Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi writes his memoirs for a book that is both everything and Black Sabbath fan could want, and not enough. He writes about everything important and brings out some moments of great clarity, but then at some point the book expands like a drunken conversation and spills too much ink on the less important later Black Sabbath works. Iommi also has an offhand and conversational way of explaining things from his point of view that does not flesh out the details and background enough to let people know what was really going on. However, the juicy stories of rock ‘n’ roll excess, and most of the potent decision points in the Black Sabbath career, are not missed.

Those first songs are often described as scary. I liked horror films and so did Geezer. We used to go to the cinema across the street from our rehearsal place to see them, so maybe it was something that subconsciously directed us to that sort of thing. I know there is a Boris Karloff movie called Black Sabbath, but we never saw it at that time. Geezer came up with the name Black Sabbath and it just sounded like a good one to use. (54)

The narrative starts out fairly crisply and over time slouches into many unresolved threads the way most retrospectives do. The early days were clarity, but after that chaos reigns. Sensibly, Iommi does not spend too long on the days before Black Sabbath, but does set enough of the scene to get the narrative rolling. After that, very little detail is given, and the conversational takes over. Iommi will say that they went to a house or studio somewhere and mention no other detail, but he does spend a lot of time on human relationships. He describes people and their patterns. He also talks a good deal about relationships in the bands and the states of mind of the various players as albums were released.

It may be that a Black Sabbath fanbase wants to hear more about the mechanics behind the later Black Sabbath albums, solos and side projects, but to this writer much of this material was redundant. Not that it was mentioned at all, but that it was internally duplicative and went through similar patterns without identifying them. Like a night at the bar, the description of events begins with a clear context, direction and development of events, but devolves into a description of personalities and factual data that seems to focus on complexities.

I hope it is not insulting to say this, but people are not as interested in the later Black Sabbath works as they are the earlier ones. We would have preferred the same crispness, detail and narrative integration of the first three chapters be applied to the middle three, with the later ones giving less detail and more of a linear narrative. The reason for this is that the formation of those early albums and the Black Sabbath sound is what defined this band for eternity and will make it forever important. The later stuff shows us four guys out of their depth reacting to the changes in their lives.

We used one of Ronnie’s ideas in its entirety, which was ‘Atom and Evil’, the first track on the album. And we used bits of each other idea. Some of Geezer’s riffs would come halfway through, or some of mine. We just swapped them around, building songs. It was a great way of working. INstead of having to come up with everything myself, everybody was completely involved in it from day one, and that helped me immensely. We wrote about six songs this way. (352)

Details such as the above provide meaning to the listener because we are curious about such things. What made some albums more listenable or more interesting than others? In the compositional process, and the formation of decisions, we can see how they are distinct. Sometimes too much focus on personality and politics not only obscures the narrative, but is a substitute for discussing how decisions were made. Buried throughout are nuggets of clarity such as the above. These make the book not only memorable but poignant, as you can see why so much attachment occurs between these musicians, and how their knowledge of each other was more than practical, but a deep appreciation.

Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath will stay on the shelves because of its subject’s importance to rock music and heavy metal. It will also provide much fodder for others to discuss, as it touches on everything once. While some of us might prefer a two-volume set, with Volume I for the Black Sabbath albums from 1970-1976 and all of the depth of narrative that makes the creative decisions made during that time relevant still, as a quick read and overlook of the Black Sabbath experience Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath succeeds and also gives us rare if erratic insights into the story behind the band.