Don’t Break the Oath turns 31 today

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Mercyful Fate Don’t Break the Oath was released on September 7, 1984. Back then, you most likely purchased the album on vinyl or cassette. King Diamond, the vocalist of Mercyful Fate, expanded on the image that Kiss and Alice Cooper had adopted years earlier, but he backed it up with powerful speed/heavy metal with melodic vocals and lyrics informed by more than a passing acquaintance with the occult.

If you ask me, Don’t Break the Oath was the peak of his career. The band picked up on the speed metal techniques of rhythm and used them to expand heavy metal with more fluid tempo and riff styles, then built epic songs out of that which did not over-emphasize the vocals but let them aid the songs, much like on the second Iron Maiden album. In the 1980s, just about every metal band listened to this classic.

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Deiphago accused of violent assault

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Aggressive war metal band Deiphago are rumored to be violent in other ways, too: Curt Johnson’s (Iron Force, Mutant Supremacy) girlfriend Natalia alleges that Sidalpa of Deiphago punched her in the face when she went backstage to get a beer from the beers left there for the bands.

Johnson relates:

I wasn’t present at the time but I guess Natalia was backstage and went for a beer from one of the bins and sidalpa from deiphago punched her in the face and knocked her out. I was watching inquisition and came out right before they finished and saw her face, apparently they left right after the shit happened.

Some observers have noted that Natalia was not approved to go backstage, and the beers there may have been for the bands only and not girlfriends. The full story has yet to emerge, and apparently there is no police report.

The problem with situations like this — as we saw with the Duke Lacrosse case, the Columbia rape case, and other false accusations — is that jumping to conclusions and forming a lynch mob to destroy someone based solely on one person’s accusation is a terrible idea that will lead to misery. There is a reason we have police, courts and law and use those to objectively (as much as possible) determine guilt and innocence, instead of taking one person’s word as fact and using it to ruin the life of another.

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As you can see, the usual forces are ready to jump to conclusions and are getting excited for a righteous justification for destroying someone else. The revenge-instinct of the herd is strong in them. Sadly, others who should know better are making the same mistake (I was unfriended by this person shortly after the exchange you see here):

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This statement shows the mentality of the mob:

they are going to the police to try to press charges. if you’re the type who is going to defend a guy who punched a gal in the face for grabbing a beer, then fled the club…you need to unfriend me now

The technique used above is to attempt to say that demanding a fair trial before kicking off the lynch mob and defending the accused are the same thing, when in fact nothing in his defense was said. All that was said was: we should figure out the actual facts before firing up the lynch mob.

No proof has been established yet other than (1) a photo of a woman who could have received those injuries in any number of ways and (2) a story from Mr. Johnson. Those are not by themselves proof, and the lack of a police report is puzzling, since at least around here, the cops are pretty excited to investigate assaults. Pattison wants you to believe that anyone who demands a fair trial is in fact defending this guy against unproven accusations. By all means bring him to trial, if you have the evidence, but do not accuse me of “defending” him when what I am asking for is actual facts and not gossip, rumors and hearsay.

While apparently this kind of anti-factual commentary is the normal on the internet, it is also the norm among people who burn witches, lynch black people, stone heretics and bully non-conformists. It is the logic of the herd and the angry, defensive, spiteful and resentful animal inside of every human being. It is the low point of our species, not its moral height as these over-excited and angry people want you to believe.

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We’ll post more as the story develops, including the crucial questions: (1) are the facts true as reported by Natalia and those who claim to be witnesses? (2) are the injuries from the assault, or from impact with the floor or another object, and were they self-inflicted? (3) was a police report filed, since people with a strong case tend to file police reports, while people with weak cases tend to go to the internet for revenge as a means of hitting back at the other guy, not establishing justice?

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Cornell and Diehl – Engine #99

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If you like strong English blends like Dunhill Nightcap, the full English offering plus Burley and strong Nicotine named Engine #99 from Cornell & Diehl should appeal to you as well. Where your standard English pipe tobacco comprises Virginia, Latakia and Oriental/Turkish strains, the Americanized English will add Burley and/or Perique as happens here. The result blends many textures into an identifiable form, much like a shag carpet turns all colors into a motion blur of difference.

In the case of Engine #99, the magic arises from the ability to restrain the incense-like Latakia with the more vinegar bittersweet Oriental tobaccos, then add some sweet and peppery Perique to thrust that forward, all while cruising on the base power of a mix of Burley and Virginia tobaccos. Like most blenders, Cornell & Diehl specialize in making many tobaccos out of a few ingredients, and they blend Engine #99 from the components of two other tobaccos, Red Odessa and Pirate Kake. This creates a tobacco of greater strength than most English tobaccos, but also more internal balance than the worst of them, similar to Dunhill Nightcap even if the ingredients differ with the omission of Burley in the the latter. As a result Engine #99 offers a velveteen full flavor with the Latakia and Orientals but smooths it out with the Burley and lets the Virginia, both sweet and powerful, do its work behind the scenes. This creates a tobacco suitable for all-day smoking if necessary but generally so intense in flavor and strength that it serves best as a coda to an event, if even the day itself.

Like most Cornell & Diehl blends, this recipe shows multiple stages of blending and treating the tobacco to not just marry it but ensure no jagged edges, even if part of the appeal of this tobacco is its over-the-top intensity. The components do not war with one another as they do with poorly conceived English knockoffs but instead harmonize with their differences balancing one another. Engine #99 does not take the English tobacco style anywhere it was not already going, but expands one of its paths to make the English flavor even more powerful. For this reason, it has cultivated an audience of English-lovers who nonetheless want more fire in their smoke and less of the sweet piquant nothing that many English tobaccos, under the influence of popular opinion, have become.

Quality rating:

4/5

Purchase rating:

5/5

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David Ingram (Benediction, Bolt Thrower) has tantrum over defense of free speech

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Popular music is a hard gig. To maximize your chances, you quit doing everything else and it becomes your only option in life. Then if that turns out poorly, you have the choice of being a 40-year-old shelf stocker at the local grocery, or swallowing your pride and becoming a cheesy third-ring entertainment figure. For this reason, musicians — especially those who first bands did not make the final cut of election to “favorite” of the public — tend to pander, flatter and provoke the public whenever they can. The resulting drama is the only thing standing between them and putting those cans on the shelves.

And yet, drama finds us all. It started on Twitter. Drama often starts on Twitter:

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To clarify what is happening here: some armchair white knight decides that because some guy out there does not like homosexuals, there must be a social activity consisting of people gathering to hate on this guy. As usual, I point out the reality-based analysis which is that his opinion does not concern us; let him do his thing, and you do yours, and stop being a busybody nanny state jackbooted interloper simply because your life is boring and your society is failing and you want a scapegoat for all your problems. Grow up, in other words.

That set off a chain of nasty replies. According to David Ingram (Benediction, Bolt Thrower): if you defend free speech, you are on the side of “hate” and you are a very, very bad person. To him, defending the right of people to coexist is the same as endorsing the most extreme of their opinions, even though I never said anything in support of what the guy said, only his right to say it and the maturity of letting him enjoy that freedom over there without our action against him. Free speech works when the other guy says what he wants, and you say what you want, and you do not directly intervene in one another. Boycotts and mob attacks change that, even if non-violent, and we all suffer as a result.

Not wanting to let a good dialogue drop, I took it up with Ingram when one of his promotional spams hit our inbox:

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Again we see the formula: defend free speech and you are a Nazi.

Join the angry mob and you are “good.”

Interesting to see Mr. Ingram cave to this. I suspect he is just doing it to try to keep his (flagging) career alive, and I have sympathy for that. But one can never truly have sympathy for those who use bad logic and are motivated more by hatred (of anyone who disagrees with them) than a desire to do right.

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4noggins – Jesse’s Own (2015)

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Pipe smokers can be divided into several camps. Some favor the over-the-counter (OTC) blends like Prince Albert, others like full aromatics with interesting flavors, and some others prefer the naturals which use minimal or no flavoring. All tobacco is cultivated from a relatively bland-tasting plant into something with discernible flavor, and in the process blenders use “casing” to give the tobacco background and moisture, and may add a “top flavouring” that is either like a second casing, or what we know of as the defining trait of aromatics, a syrup of sugar, flavorings and humectants that renders the taste of the original tobacco moot.

Jesse’s Own seems designed to lead smokers away from aromatics toward the more interesting but less “safe” world of natural blends. With aromatics, if you want your tobacco to taste like watermelon, it is possible as it is with soft drinks or the scent of air fresheners. With naturals, you will taste the tobacco with possible complementary flavors that do not obscure the original tobacco. It takes time and experience to want to taste tobacco in closer to its natural state, as the range of flavors decreases as does their vividity. Like a fine steak or wine, this requires a sensitive exploration of different flavors within a single taste, rather than obscuring them with a uniform sweetened sensation. Like aromatics, Jesse’s Own is sweet and spicy in flavor, and mild in nicotine and smoke. It brings out the variety of flavors in naturals, built on a base of Maryland and Virginia tobaccos with Oriental, Latakia and Perique added as condiments.

The result is a gentle smoke which first presents its Latakia component, giving way to the reedy vinegar taste of the Orientals, then blooming into the spicy fruit texture and taste of the Perique backed by a broad warm harmony of Virginia and Maryland tobaccos, which are very similar and both fairly sweet. No matter the pipe experience of the user, this tobacco blend will be easy to light and enjoy for an all-day smoke. Its light nicotine content guarantees that no one will get a rumbly tummy from too much of the Dark Lady, and its sweet flavor provides a perfect framing to the spicy — like General Joe’s Chicken at a Chinese restaurant — which puzzles and delights the tongue. Hardcore naturals smokers can enjoy this as well for its lack of sugary flavor replacements. Its unusual mixture providing what one commentator called an “American English” style tobacco, Jesse’s Own seems aimed at the middle ground currently occupied by Dunhill (BB1938, Early Morning Pipe, Standard Mixture Mild) and other all-day English blends. While Jesse’s Own may not be intensive enough for the grizzled naturals smoker, it provides an excellent transition for the new pipe smoker and a flavorful, gentle smoke for the rest of us.

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What thrived and what died from the 1990s (Part I)

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While the new last.fm redesign seems to me another exercise in pointless self-justification by middle management, the ability to see statistics on my listening has entirely changed how I view the music held closest to my heart. Seeing the numbers has shown me how it is one thing to list a band as a favorite or recommendation, and one far different animal to listen to it on a monthly basis. One is assessment alone, as if listening were your sole task, and the other utility, showing that this piece of music has a place in your life of many tasks and goals.

This assessment filters among the upper level of the highest echelon of metal. The assessment itself filters out the nonsense, all of which suffers from a single sin — disorganization — which takes many different forms but reveals a lack of will, purpose and principle in constructing art and always red-flags a directionless listen. But among those bands who have escaped the madness, there is no equality in listening. Some have risen and some have fallen over 20 years of pounding out metal from my speakers as I work or relax at home. In most cases, the reaction was first shock and then realization that the seeds of this knowledge were there all along. Let us look at a few pairs where listening habits elevated one album over a similar one…

Blasphemy Fallen Angel of Doom vs. Blood Impulse to Destroy

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Over the years metal has frequently benefited from punk influences because metal, as befits its partially progressive rock heritage, has a tendency to create layers of abstraction and complex musical discourse where punk cuts to the chase. This is both a strength and weakness for each genre; metal is abstract, which makes imitators very obvious but can get lost in muddle-headed musical wanderings, and punk is concrete, which makes it effective but imitation easy. Blasphemy introduced a punk-based genre, grindcore, into black metal. It adopted the aesthetic approach of Sarcofago but underneath applied the percussive lower-five-frets texture musik of grindcore. The result is very effective, and easy to listen to, but also — if you have many other options — kind of boring. In fact, many of these riff patterns are the same ones, albeit simplified, that speed metal bands tried and failed to use to revitalize that genre. As raw motivational material, the music is fantastic, but over time, it fades a bit as one realizes that its strength as low-complexity high impact music also means that its content is one-dimensional. Over the past 20 years, I have thrown this record on five times and apparently terminated it early each time.

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I chose Impulse to Destroy because Germany’s Blood also occupies the narrow space of grindcore bands who think like black metal or death metal bands. Grindcore generally self-reduces to extreme minimums and must, like junk food, reintroduce sugar and salt at the surface to spice up the otherwise one-dimensional utilitarian approach. Death metal on the other hand is not utilitarian, while it is consequentialist (“only death is real” being the ultimate statement of that belief) and yet also has a highly aesthetically-motivated but not aesthetically-expressed transcendental outlook. At its best, grindcore overcomes its utilitarian tendencies for a ludic or playful view of the collapsing world, and from that some of the best material emerges. Blood for example creates a dark and morbid absurdism which brings to light all that our society suppresses with itself, and like Blasphemy, creates it through patterning cut from the chromatic strips of the lower registers of guitar. In this case, however, the textures take on a life of their own, like a three-dimensional house made from flat punch-out cards. Different riffs interact with one another and dramatic pauses and collisions give rise to interesting song structures. Like Disharmonic Orchestra Expositions Prophylaxe, Impulse to Destroy provides a wealth of riff archetypes applied with enough personality and purpose to create unique compositions which may be enjoyed for decades or longer despite their simplicity.

Napalm Death Scum vs. Carbonized For the Security

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This is one of those albums that most people get for the sake of novelty. “But check these guys out, they’ve got one second songs and stuff, it’s just about noise…” — rock music does not get more ironic than that. And ultimately, that was the power of grindcore. Like punk a decade before, it removed all the pretense of rock and boiled it down to simple songs. It then sometimes added in new flourishes of song structure which made those songs more interesting than radio pop, which had been studied by MBAs and PhDs and reduced to a simple formula distinguished only (barely) by rhythm, production, instrumentation and vocals. But once the money men and white lab coats were able to look at rock as a product like any other, they saw that to please enough people in the audience to make it a hit, they did not have to innovate at all. They only needed a new skin for the same basic patterns and they could produce it over and over again with high margins (well, until digital piracy hit). Like the punk rock and then hardcore punk, grindcore stripped away illusion and replaced it with innovation. The problem here is that these songs are very similar themselves because they rely on dramatic confrontation within each song, which like all things “turned up to 11” becomes expected and thus a sort of background noise. Every time I have listened to this album it has made itself into sonic wallpaper before the halfway point.

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Some of the albums which were considered “also-rans” back in the 1990s had more to them than people initially considered. This one has been a favorite for me, along with the second album from Carbonized but not the third, for two decades. I listen to it regularly, finish the whole thing, and sometimes start it over. Record labels tried to shoehorn Carbonized into the “death metal” model despite some clear warning signs, and consequently bungled — the root of all evils is incompetence at some level, starting with the ability to be honest — the career of this promising band, but for those of us who lumped this in with aggressive grindcore like Terrorizer and Repulsion, the similarities outweighed the differences. For the Security expresses paranoia, existential insecurity, melancholic doubt of the future and a desire to explore all that life offers in depth, all within and as part of the same outlook. This is the music of a brighter-than-average teenager who perceives the world honestly and rejects the foolishness but wants to look deeper into the interesting stuff that, because it does not affirm the dominant lie, is rejected by the herd. Chunky riffs alternate with broader rhythms derived from punk and yet are dominated by a desire to make song structure vary with content inherited through metal from progressive rock. Each song forms a sonic sigil to the topic at hand and the response of the artist, making each bursting with personality and reality portrayed in finely-observed ways at the same time. This is a masterful album which will never bore.

Roundup

As you can see, Dear Reader, these albums are both quite similar on the surface — and quite different underneath. That bands can do so much with a handful of power chords, and have such different outcomes, is endlessly fascinating. Yet not every metal-influenced album is, even among A-listers like these. It may be time for all of us to go back through our listening, search ourselves honestly, and see what has actually stood the test of time.

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Voivod – Negatron (1996)

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In the mid-1990s, it became clear that death metal and black metal had run through their formative and matured material and were now in decline, so bands experimented with developing older styles of metal using the new techniques. Voivod dropped Negatron into this period with a fusion of Ministry, old Voivod and Master of Puppets-era Metallica accented by alternative rock vocals. The result came about a decade before the audience was ready.

Continuity from classic Voivod remains present throughout in not the odd riffs, angular melodies, inverted guitar chords and challenging tempo changes but also the overall sensibility, which creates a sense of unease and infinite possibility at the same time as is appropriate for the sci-fi theme of the band. That impulse translates into Ministry-styled industrial-influenced percussion and the complex phrase-based but rhythmically-centered riffing of mid-period Metallica, creating a smooth fusion that can hold its own against mainstream heavyweights like Pantera, who dominated speed metal at the time. Instead of focusing on easy grooves however, Voivod center their music around disruption and order emerging from chaos, giving these alternative-rock style choruses built around the vocal a space to expand and a strong musical bedrock on which to develop. Vocalist/bassist Eric Forrest gives a strained vocal cord performance which adds to the urgency of the material, and creates a sinister suspension of what we normally think of as reality.

The creative riffs of classic Voivod are here, but bent and twisted around complex rhythms and given more standard power chords to anchor them around an increasingly irresistible rhythm. Like most of mid-90s metal, Negatron anticipates the underground being re-absorbed into the larger world of metal, and does so with distorted vocals and death metal strumming techniques mixed in with the progressive speed metal touches from earlier bands. What propels this album forward is its ability to bring out an underlying narrative and reveal a hidden side to the previous explanation for how its pieces fit together, causing — like good death metal, or even Carbonized which it periodically resembles — a sensation of discovery for the listener. Its task was Herculean because the type of listener who likes mainstream power metal will probably find this inscrutable, and underground listeners balked at the Nirvana-plus-Amebix vocal stylings. Their loss, because this album provides solid speed metal with the best integration of progressive and industrial influences yet seen.

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Codex Obscurum #8 available for pre-order

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Codex Obscurum arose in the 2010s to revive the utility and flavor of metal zines from the 1980s, but doing so in an internet age, chose to focus on selectivity over attempting to compete with the flood of raw (and mostly wrong) information. Now this zine is on its eighth issue and has featured most of the classic and new bands of stature which are active in the underground.

The eighth issue promises to have many new delights for the metal reader. According to the zine, this issue features:

  • The art of NecroMogarip
  • Blood Red Throne
  • Noisem
  • Zemial
  • Castrator
  • Blizzard
  • Morgengrau
  • Rawhide
  • PanzerBastard
  • The 3rd Attempt
  • Skelethal
  • Impenitent Thief
  • …and many more…

You can order your copy — they are now shipping — at the following location for $3 plus shipping:

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Sammath re-releasing Strijd in 2016

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Dutch-German black metal band Sammath will re-issue its first album Strijd on Hammerheart Records during the first quarter of 2016. This under-appreciated classic has made fans for its enduring emotional and technical power. As our review at the time opined:

Sammath achieve a vast sonic landscape with this release that merges fast black metal riffing with elegant melodies that rise out of the chaos and return to mesh with its themes and transit to a final state which expands upon the conflict. On Strijd, riffs are heuristics which evolve over time as more texture emerges.

The result feels like a land constantly wracked by war and disaster in which brief moments of intense beauty emerge. The majority of riffing here is consistent with what one might expect from late-1990s black metal, which is a stripped down but highly genre-conventioned vocabulary. Unlike most bands Sammath fits these riffs together into a language that fits each song, and as such there are no random bits floating around for the purpose of being faithful to a template.

The emotional state of black metal is fragile because it is finely delineated and requires a great deal of background experience and understanding to parse. Sammath achieves the violence and yet arch beauty of black metal, a Romantic vision in which the lone thinker takes on the herd and triumphs by denying the human pretense which unites dying societies like our own. Strijd shows Sammath at simultaneously its most emotional and most violent. While not as technical as later releases from this band, Strijd won over fans for its plain-spoken truthfulness and elegant melodies.

A statement released by the band detailed the upcoming re-issue of Strijd:

Sammath to reissue debut LP on Hammerheart Records

In the first quarter of 2016 the long sold-out debut album “Strijd” from Sammath will be re-issued.

“Strijd” delivers black metal in high-powered generous doses but also maintains its introspective side, creating the perfect melancholic warrior album for a dying world.

The LP will be released on gold vinyl and is limited to 300 copies.

Many of us are also hoping for a CD re-issue so that new generations can own this powerhouse in a compact format.

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Camel – Music Inspired by The Snow Goose

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Those familiar with The Heavy Metal F.A.Q. and the The Dark Legions Archive will note the basic thesis of this site: heavy metal arose from the fusion of late-1960s punk, progressive rock and horror movie soundtracks, and this blossomed into its final form in the early 1980s with Hellhammer, Sodom, Bathory and Slayer. From that all underground metal emerged.

On the progressive rock side, the obvious influences are King Crimson and Jethro Tull, but the entire genre had its effect. Much in the vein of Jethro Tull, who wrote the rock equivalent of vast narratives united by leitmotifs in the Wagnerian style, Camel for their second album chose inspiration from The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk by Paul Gallico and crafted an epic instrumental album around it. Lore holds that this may have been in order to avoid a copyright complaint, but that seems ridiculous unless they literally quoted from the book; perhaps the authors always intended, as classical composers did, to translate rather than transliterate great writing into sonic form. The result was a sprawling instrumental work which used themes from the book to inspire melodies, around which it built songs, as a result decreasing the “rock” quanta of progressive rock and transitioning mostly to a new genre. As with most 1970s progressive rock, jazz-fusion and classical/soundtrack-inspired parts vie with bombastic ballad-style choruses and processionals. The absence of vocals allows the layers of guitar, bass, and keyboards to expand their roles, which gives this music both harmonic depth and the ability to transition themes through foreshadowing by different instruments.

The greatest strength of Music Inspired by The Snow Goose however comes in what it did to the songwriting abilities of this band, unleashing the guitarists to think outside the lead and instead write lead rhythm parts based on the motifs of the narrative. As if presaging what Joe Satriani would do for shredder guitar a decade later, Camel often allow single-string melodies to take point and walk through a theme cycle that is then repeated and expanded with stacks of keyboards and guitar harmony. Counterthemes appear as if from a darkened cloud, often transitioning between tracks, and then force a thunderous conclusion which finishes the story arc. That results in an album which is both emotionally satisfying like a myth, and deeply satisfying as a listen because each of its tracks gives itself fully over to purpose. This may be the peak of the progressive rock genre because it fully transcends its origins in those moments and creates a form of popular music which, like Greek theater, connects the listener to idea and sensation at once.

Each melody becomes delightfully distinct in its effort to exemplify a character or situation, and by giving itself fully to that purpose, loses much of the randomness of popular music. While Music Inspired by The Snow Goose may be a bit difficult for popular music listeners who are accustomed to a constant beat with vocals to guide them, a reasonably mentally alert person will find that the melody itself — transitioning between instruments, in the form of a leitmotif — has taken that role, and everything else follows like the reaction of forest creatures to the break of dawn. Forty years later, this album remains a favorite for many prog listeners, and those of us in the metal world can only hope it inspires someone to tackle a hybrid of its narrative approach and the more stentorian sounds of first album Immortal and Incantation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg75nFifO90

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