Infamous – Of Solitude and Silence

January 14, 2015 –

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Black metal like most underground metal compares to Romantic art because it has a passion for nature, the raw power of the universe and the emotions which are true in the human being. This inherently rejects the false madness of the madding crowd but most fans of Romantic literature never get to that phase and translate its meaning into nature fetishism and self-pity. Infamous restore the Romanticism to metal with a dark nature worship album that preserves the savage beauty of this genre.

Deriving its basic approach from what can only be described as the more ambitious early Ancient compositions applied to the thematic material of early Enslaved, albeit translated to a country far from the frozen north, Of Solitude and Silence drops into a lush series of melodies that maintain distinctive shape and expression in both rhythm and tone, allowing Infamous to weave songs of multiple contrasting themes that conclude in a beautiful rising of mood from within. These are outright sentimental, like work from Graveland, Sorcier des Glaces or Immortal on Pure Holocaust, but if you can get over that vulnerable yet accessible and stately violent emotion, much excellent songwriting is found therein. Infamous primarily rely on the renowned black metal high speed tremolo strum overly slowly changing drum patterns, aided by reverb and closet-muffled production in achieving its atmospheric ends, but the strength of each song comes from the ability to put riffs together in a coherent form which nonetheless maintains internal contrast to create the sensation of motion and change outside the individual, which is where the essence of the black metal sound (and Romantic poetry) originates.

Instrumentation takes a path for simple but effective, with guitars avoiding complex technique in favor of complex riffs of basic power chords and arpeggiated chords at a slower polyrhythmic strum. At some point, this drummer has listened to a fair amount of hardcore or Oi, possibly even verging into Ildjarn-worship. But the essence of this release remains the flowing longer instrumentals of early black metal experimentation, a source of great potential it never followed up on, and by indulging these in a layered sense of emotion Infamous creates an entirely transporting musical journey. While this one fell off the radar for most of us, it presents one of the more capable and visionary concepts of black metal after the first wave from Norway.

Did Accept invent speed metal with “Fast as a Shark” on Restless and Wild?

January 12, 2015 –

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Wolf Hoffmann asserts that Accept wrote the first speed metal song ever with “Fast as a Shark” from Restless and Wild way back in 1982. While the debate rages across the internet, now the equivalent of 1980s daytime television, the question can be answered by looking to what speed metal is.

Speed metal — as distinct from thrash a genre popularized by Thrasher magazine devotees and skaters making hardcore/metal crossover such as Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and Cryptic Slaughter — originated in the use of a single technique: the muted strummed downpicked power chord. This technique combined the repetitive downpicking of punk with palm muting, previously used only to emphasize specific notes. Much of its appeal came from the changes in amplification and production since the previous decade which allowed louder music to exist. Much like the 1980s itself, the muted strum conveyed a sound of clashing absolutes and decreased the amount of harmony heard in each chord, making the music more purely percussive like techno and early industrial. Even more, it gained the volume punks had always aspired to with its explosive and uncompromising sound. In the process, it inspired more use of accidentals leading to more chromatic fills, which in the next generation with death metal became a form of riffs themselves, where speed metal relied more on the NWOBHM song form and harmony.

Generally regarded as starting in 1983 with Metallica Kill ‘Em All, speed metal presented a radically new sound which had precursors in extreme (for the time) bands like Motorhead, Judas Priest, Blitzkrieg, Tank and Satan. However, no bands had fully adopted the new technique as the basis of their composition until the early cluster of Metallica, Exodus, Mercyful Fate, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax and Megadeth. During the 1980s these bands were the most extreme metal that most people could find in their local record stores, which were how most people got music back then, with the exception of Slayer which was a speed/death hybrid and Venom which was a punk-influenced form of NWOBHM. Accept does not measure up to this standard on the basis of technique, since its song fits within older heavy metal format and does not use the muted strum.

This statement does not decrease the importance of Accept in the creation of speed metal. A long line of innovations occurred leading to speed metal, starting with the incredibly rough sound of Motorhead in 1976 but aided by progressive bands like King Crimson and Greenslade as well as a chain of punk acts who pushed the envelope such as Discharge, The Exploited, Amebix and the Cro-Mags. Below you can hear “Fast as a Shark” and see this heritage for yourself, contrasted with the archetypal speed metal song, “Creeping Death” from the second Metallica work Ride the Lightning and Blitzkrieg’s self-titled track from their 1981 EP Buried and Alive.

Amebix – Redux

January 11, 2015 –

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“You know kid, uhh, usually when someone pulls shit like that my first reaction is I want to punch his fucking lights out. But you know something? You’re all right!” Most re-visions of older works by popular musicians end in tears and terror. This one re-creates three classic Amebix tracks in a form the band suggested was always intended but was not possible owing to the primitive production and living conditions of the day, and Amebix surely knew that their fanbase — who grew up on the versions as they were — would approach this with trepidation and skepticism. But there is no easy review for this disk.

Redux does not fall into the usual trap of making a glamorized and overly-slick version of the past. Instead, Amebix restyle their foundational songs more as if Metallica and Prong had collaborated to emit a dystopian metal album. Double-picked muted downstrumming and faster tremolo strumming all make an appearance, along with approximately half the vocals which are a hybrid of the Amebix style of Motorhead-influenced distorted vocals and the bassier, gnarlier death metal vocals to follow. But what is really surprising here is how these songs work very well given the high intensity treatment, which transitions them from a kind of contemplative and mournful look at our world to a savage Nietzschean attack of those who want to hoist the black flag and slit some throats. There are times when, much as happened on the first Burzum LP, these vocals are simultaneously so vulnerable and savage that they convey a sense of total commitment to desperate acts.

In addition, the more rigid playing of these riffs and uptempo approach gives the entire EP a malevolent vibe. These songs were great in the past, and they would be known as great here as well had this been the past. That being said, it will offend many punk purists and metal purists alike, despite having faithfully upheld the spirit of both genres. Not only that, but the haunting and unsettling sense of peering under the skin of our society and seeing underneath the makeup and credentials a swarming mass of crawling horror remains and may be intensified by this more assertive re-creation. While I liked the album that followed, I would gladly sign up for a full album of Amebix songs in this style as well.

Sympathy for the Hipster

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I write a lot about hipsters because I am fascinated by subcultures and how they attempt to find meaning independent of the center. You can join the ska kids, Goths, rivetheads, wi-fi hobos, ecolos or channers. You might have a thedic identity, a de facto tribe combined of ethnic pride and politics, or an outright political group like the earth firsters, crypto-coms or far-right. In a time of no actual commonality to our deconstructed societies, you know you will be a cog in the machine: working a job, paying taxes and housing, and doing all the day-to-day stuff like shopping at Costco that is about as romantic as math homework. To counter-balance that, people seek an identity which shows why their lives are important. All of these are extensions of the original “keeping up with the Joneses” that saw people trying to out-consume each other, but now we are consuming the image of ideas instead of pure product.

Modern life represents at its core a long slow grinding compromise. Any idea is taken from where it is found and made into a product by simplifying it, exaggerating its surface features, and then presenting it for mass consumption. Joining an identity first involves a shopping trip for music, books, clothing and personal accessories including tattoos, piercings, scarification and hitting the gym. Through this process, unique identities are gradually “assimilated,” or made into variants of the mainstream. Every ideation operator declares the gradual entry of those who perpetuate this process into their chosen identity — the falses, the poseurs, the day-trippers, scenesters and imitators — because when enough of them arrive, the unique group becomes overwhelmed and as happens in democracy, what is popular and easily understood wins out over the original idea, which then fades into a distant memory and a cartoon of itself.

Hipsters represent those who have given up on the idea of idea itself. They realize early on that this society is a kicked clip, empty of ammunition and fit only to be returned to the pocket and another retrieved, starting over. But discovering what we want for a future represents a good deal more ambiguity and risk than knowing simply what we detest, and in the meantime, people need an identity to distinguish themselves from the faceless mass. The hipster was born out of this situation by Generation X, who combined slacker culture with counter-culture and added the suburban desperation of their parents, who were only to happen to discuss in detail how the world was going to hell, in front of their children. As a result a new identity formed based on those who have dropped out of society but still seek a way to distinguish themselves, and instead of doing so through strong group identity, they base their concept of self on self-image alone. Thus the hipster opposes the idea itself, and instead seeks a different kind of center: what everyone else is doing, but with some unique conceit for the individual itself. Hipsters are bog-standard people who have hobbies in craft beer, tattooing, making artisanal objects, odd collections, activities chosen for their apparent randomness, and of course art, art and more art, because nothing makes a person look profound like the boho artist lifestyle.

As the definitive article on this topic says:

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.

People who seek an idea loathe hipsters because hipsters are the anti-idea. They reject the notion that we can have purpose outside of ourselves, and instead make their time by adorning the self with new fascinating attributes which are always bizarre because their sole goal is to distinguish themselves from the rest, and so whatever is sensible and normal is verboten. The hipster seeks to be unique, individual and different (UID) so that they do not get mistaken for the rest. Part of this is a counter-culture style protest saying that they do not endorse or enjoy the mainstream, and in fact oppose it so should not be held accountable for its failings; the rest comes from the simple need to distinguish oneself in a social scene flooded with people who are all trying to be noticed. Where in the 1920s doing stunts on the lawn might have worked, and in the 1980s it was enough to join an indie band, for the people who come after the reunion of right and left in the 1990s there is no longer an obvious majority culture to oppose. There is only the gradual compromise, and trying to stand out in its midst.

Hipsters suffer for the time into which they were born and the lack of easy and safe ways to rebel against it. Smoking weed and living in a VW van involved relatively few risks; at worst, an arrest occurred in some random little town in Ohio and dear old Dad had to dispatch money and lawyers to fix it. But opposing the conglomeration of democracy, capitalism, liberalism, consumerism and patriotism takes some guts and some time on the thinking couch, because it is not like The Establishment an easy thing to identify. Who can blame these people for laboring as poor cogs just trying to have normal lives? They can laugh at them but not indict them as the problem itself. The focus of the hipster becomes not reform of a society that is already lost, but saving oneself by at least being socially competitive through appearance and having a life independent from concern about the inward collapse — an idea — which might obligate one to sacrifice time otherwise spent on self toward some purpose.

That tendency reveals the problem with hipsters: they are perpetual entryists. Their only idea is the self, so any identity they discover they will turn into a product just as surely as their grandfathers did back in the 1950s. In essence, hipsters are the same consumers that people have always been, except now they are casting around for an appearance of having an idea and thus always sacrifice the idea itself because they are fundamentally opposed to ideas. Subcultures fear the hipster because to admit the hipster is to abolish the subculture and allow it to live on in zombie form as another branch of the great compromise but now as an adornment, like the “French bread” flavoring in the industrial-processed bread aisle or the “exotic scales” used in bog-ordinary rock music to dress it up and disguise its ordinariness. The hipster is indeed the dead end not of just Western civilization, but all civilization, because civilization requires an idea and with hipsterdom, all ideas have been sacrificed to the self.

At the same time, hipsters deserve our sympathy. They are the people on the deck of the Titanic, watching the unstoppable disaster that will inevitably compose them, choosing to get another pint from the bar and bum another cigarillo while bravely chatting about the inconsequential. The water grows incrementally closer and the lifeboats are long gone. Nothing remains except to live it up a little, stand out from the crowd and have your fun, before the darkness inexorably takes over. If you wonder why hipsters look as stressed and miserable as their parents, even when they have trust funds (and an alarming number of them do) and hip indie bands with the flavoring of metal, it is because they too see the approaching disaster and have found nothing to do about it.

How to make a digital promo kit (DPK) or electronic promo kit (EPK)

January 9, 2015 –

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Bands: if you want to get signed, you will need to send promos. First you will send them to labels, which will sign you eventually. Then you will send them to media, including record reviewers. Labels: you will do the same. Promoters: ditto. So how do you send a promo in this day and age?

The current standard, which thankfully does away with piles of physical promos, is to send an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) or Digital Promotions Kit (DPK) which mean roughly the same thing. Your EPK will be a zip archive containing your release in MP3, photos and a press release/biography. Each of these parts offers its own challenge.

MP3s should be of a decent bitrate, usually 256k or Variable Bit Rate (VBS) equivalent, and should be tagged appropriately with band name, album name and track name correct and consistent. The MP3s themselves should be in a folder within the archive named Band Name – Album Name. This enables writers to extract it completely and view the files as they write. If you are using Exact Audio Copy or a similar program, settings allow you to specific correct tagging by default. I also recommend installing Windows Media Player 11 and using the Fraunhofer MP3 codec which is superior to the LaME codec which tends to make heavily distorted music sound plastic. I use the following naming scheme in EAC:

Individual artist:

%artist%\%artist% - %albumtitle%\%artist% - %tracknr2% - %title%

Various artists:

various\%albumtitle%\%albumtitle% - %tracknr2% - %artist% - %title%

Press releases should fit standard format, which is an entirely different article, and include full contact information for the label and promotions agency. If you include band contact information, people will contact the band; if the band does not reply, do not include this information and have them contact the band through the promotions agency. Include the biography in here, generally a paragraph or two but not more. Also useful to include are all band public sites such as Facebook where the band might post more images or information as needed.

Images should include at least the cover art and a band photo, but many bands include logos as well for use as headers. These pictures should all be large (800px+) and in a format such as JPG or ideally PNG, which is not lossy like JPG.

Once you do all of the above, put the files into a zip archive and make it available to reviewers. Many use services like Haulix to make it easy to limit downloads to specific reviewers, and to embed codes in the work which identify who each package went to in case it gets leaked. In my view, labels should worry less about piracy from this angle because the release will inevitably be pirated and your only real recourse is to DMCA search engines to keep it out of the listings so that people are encouraged to buy it or stream it through a licensed streaming service like Spotify, Pandora or Last.fm. For this reason, lately more labels have simply been linking to their DropBox folders in acknowledgement of the impossibility of stopping all leaks, and it takes just one to spread it everywhere — or someone at a record store who drops the album into a computer for ten minutes to rip and upload it, as seems to happen in Russia and Latin America much to the delight of downloaders worldwide.

The above is written in the hopes of receiving fewer incomplete or botched promo packages. As stated elsewhere, most labels spend little time on getting these right because they want reviewers to spend as little time on the music as possible, and because the people who write the reviews the labels will republish are those who are making a personal connection with staff at the label in hopes of future hiring or collaboration. But for a starting band or label this advice may be helpful.

Demoncy – Joined in Darkness re-issue on Forever Plagued Records

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This re-issue gives a classic black metal treatment to this underground powerhouse, which previously was heard as being more of a death metal album owing to its production more resembling that of the Incantation/Revenant vein of metal, in addition to many of its riffs fitting within the same form. With more spacious sound, the album sounds more distant and less loud which gives it a background resembling that of the Norse black metal which inspired the first wave of black metal. This more resonant sound brings out more of the tone in these songs and allows the melodic sense to shine, giving the album as a whole less abrasion but more atmosphere. As if to underscore this choice, the re-issue includes “The Ode to Eternal Darkness,” a nine-minute song which emphasizes the building of mood through repetition with internal melody in the style of black metal bands recognized more for their melodic sensibility. Although I am a sentimental bastard prone to like what I know, I prefer this mix to the original or the intermediate re-issue and hope the same treatment is given to other Demoncy albums which remain under-recognized despite their high quality.

With art by Chris Moyen and this powerful new sound, the Forever Plagued Records re-issue of Joined in Darkness stands poised to introduce a new generation of fans to one of the top handful of black metal releases to come from the New World.

War Master add drummer Dobber Beverly to their lineup

January 8, 2015 –

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Texas death metal revivalists War Master announce the addition of Dobber Beverly (Insect Warfare, Oceans of Slumber) to the lineup as they move forward toward recording a new cassette demo tentatively titled Primitive Evil slated for release in late winter.

Beverly formerly played with members Neal Dossey and Rahi Germifar in Insect Warfare, but now joins the band as both drummer and songwriter. “I ran into Rahi at a show and he asked me if I was interested in jamming some old school death metal, and at the time I didn’t have any space in my schedule for it,” said Beverly. “Fast forward a few months and they were still without a drummer. Neal and Rahi then talked to me about helping them write new material, I’m a guitarist too, and I said ‘hell yeah.'” He plans to co-engineer the new demo which will be recorded at Craig Douglas’ Origin Sound.

Primitive Evil will showcase a faster style from the band with better production. It follows War Master carving themselves a following from metal and grindcore fans for their Bolt Thrower-influenced type of classic grinding death metal with epic focus, as seen as their releases Pyramid of the Necropolis and Blood Dawn EP.

Funerus – The Black Death

January 6, 2015 –

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Following up on its doom-death full-length Reduced to Sludge released in 2011, Funerus surges forth with three new tracks on a 7″ entitled The Black Death to be released on Dark Descent Records within the next few weeks. This short work shows that where Reduced to Sludge finalized the Funerus style, newer works further intensify the strong doom-death sound which has propelled this band for decades of enjoyment in the death metal underworld.

Sounding very much in company with widely varied acts such as Divine Eve, Cianide and Asphyx, Funerus writes grinding death metal riffs which develop over the course of a song with hints of melody and layers of texture, building an incrementally crushing atmosphere around a strong theme. On The Black Death, melodic elements serve a stronger role but entirely without becoming fluff or reducing the impact. Funerus uses melody in death metal correctly, which is to underscore the evocative vocal rhythm of a chorus and bring out variation in riffs so that repetition increases the crushing sense of morbid doom instead of adulterating it. These songs build like the experience of descending into a deep cave, with the heaviness of the air growing more oppressive and the fear surging with each foot further into the void that return from this abyss will be impossible. Where older Funerus relied on more varied technique and sometimes conflicted with the pure power of its doom-death riffs, this new incarnation clears out everything but the essentials and uses them to complement the fiery riffing to give it a further sense of oppressive hopeless violence.

In addition, vocals provided by bassist Jill McEntee, who shares instrumental duties with her husband John McEntee of Incantation, both through clarity of production and greater savagery produce an effect of urgent despair like chanted emergency messages broadcast by loudspeaker in the ruins of a dystopian city. Of the three tracks on this album, “The Black Death” grinds almost like a Bolt Thrower track but builds to a staggering sledgehammer doom-death riff instead of a melodic counterpoint to the abrasive chromatic dirge. The second track “The Minding” applies a melodic Swedish-style death metal riff much as might appear on a Carnage or Amorphis record but throws behind it a bulldozer of rhythmic momentum. Closing out the record, “On the Edge of Death” charges more like early Asphyx and keeps the intensity higher at a mid-paced speed with relentless vocals calling forth like battle command. Together these three tracks show a streamlined, stripped-down and more articulate Funerus that intends greater malice and achieves a sound competitive with the best of the underground that shows us this band at its greatest power yet.

As in #metalgate, Islam finds metal has wrong opinions

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People do not want to admit that there is a war on for control of what you think. Some of this is what we consider innocuous, like the constant advertising on the roadsides, internet and in print. Other forms are more insidious, like people in your social group trying to bias you against people they do not like, or governments attempting to make certain ideas seem off-limits.

We know that in modern Western civilization, government both uses and allows Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) to enforce its strict taboos on un-democratic — the new term for “un-American” — thought. But other societies have not followed this same path and instead are limiting what people can say by excluding certain forms of music view religious decree. In particular, Malaysia has declared black metal and death metal off limits for its citizens:

All Muslims know pork, booze and premarital canoodling violates Islamic teachings. But in Malaysia, home to a rising tide of fundamentalist Islam, senior clerics are warning against more insidious dangers to the faith.

Such as death metal. And puppies. And Valentine’s Day.

“Black Metal” — Malaysian authorities have been fretting the influence of death metal since the 1990s. According to an official ruling against “Black Metal,” it’s powerful enough to force a Muslim to forsake his faith.

This approach is at least more honest than instead of banning a genre sending SJWs in to flood it with poor quality imitations of itself in the indie rock style, then taking over with a legion of *core fans who look like tattooed greebos who just stepped out of mental health treatment for low self-esteem. Speaking of which, recent research at Stanford suggests that people find “equality” a compelling goal in inverse proportion to how attractive and intelligent they feel. When you have low self-esteem, you make equality your life’s quest, and this explains why SJWs are moths drawn to that flame, in addition to their fundamentally hipster insincerity which has them using a political viewpoint to demand their own inclusion.

As we saw in #gamergate, #metalgate SJWs are not exactly competent. In fact, the only reason they talk about equality so much is that they could not advance themselves based on competence alone. This differentiates the SJW incursion from moral panics such as the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in the 1980s in USA, or the type of fatwa issued in Malaysia, which seems to be a decree of general behavioral guidelines rather than an attempt to promote the fatwa-issuer based on how cool, hip and Pabst-swilling skinny-jeans wearing socially acceptable his opinions are. But the end result of both is the same: metal does not bow to their imaginary rules, and so they want metal destroyed.

Atriarch – An Unending Pathway

January 5, 2015 –

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Generic post-metal with bassier distorted power chords and doom metal pacing, Atriarch would like you to think that they are ” a living entity comprised of four parts, offering catharsis through sonic ritual. Our aim is to tear a hole in the veil that blinds us from our true selves. We are bombarded with ideals of a superficial shallow lifestyle, that we are enslaved to maintain.”

Even more, their press release states that Atriarch is “a mesmerizing death/doom metal force encompassing haunting atmospheres and droning avalanches of ritualistic sludge, a living entity comprised of four parts, offering catharsis through sonic ritual.” It then mentions their two “critically adored” previous records. Then the band adds: “Our aim is to tear a hole in the veil that blinds us from our true selves. We are bombarded with ideals of a superficial shallow lifestyle, that we are enslaved to maintain. This veil has become so powerful and overwhelming that we ignore our spirits to worship our shells, as money stokes the fires that burns our immortal souls. Greed corruption fear and hate is the true face of this Self Serving way of life that we have come to call ‘normal.’ While we believe in opening our minds and expanding our spirits we cannot forget our ability to fight. The spiritual battle for freedom of mind and body can be fought on all levels and violence is in our nature. There is no god there is no devil there is an All Encompassing force that connects all living things. Embrace the ritual and the veil will come crashing down…”

While we do not want to commmit the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, it seems that critical adoration increases the closer a band approximates the mainstream norm, which in this age is indie rock. If you take indie rock, slow it down and play it in power chords instead of open chords, then add a ton of screaming in an “emotional” way, you get something like Atriarch. While no individual part of this is offensive, the album adds up to a heap of boredom. You have heard these chord progressions before in a similar context. These rhythms you have also heard fit together in similar ways. It is just slower, bassier and with more screaming. Perhaps if they added a dying hyena it would get even more critical acclaim.