The economics of metal evolution

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The DLA/DMU has taken flak over the years for being unwilling to embrace new trends, but this criticism forgets that we also avoided endorsing older bad ideas. Our writers have generally avoided jumping on the bandwagon for the “trve kvlt” just as much as the new, millennial-friendly indie-rock version of metal. The reason we can do this is that we apply a simple quality standard instead of using the consensus of others to determine truth.

Despite having many editors, each of whom had somewhat varied opinions on the process, if viewed on the large scale the site has kept a generally consistent opinion. That is: some of the so-called classics are good, and few of the new school releases are good, but the determination is not made by category, but by analyzing each release on its own merits. This leads to sudden shock for some who expected us to be cheerleaders for anything that seems to “uphold the true spirit of the underground,” and dismay for those who like the newer material as release after release fails our test.

Metal is in a slump and has been since 1994, in quality. Correspondingly, it has been in a boom in terms of quantity of fans. We have more “metalheads” (cough) now than ever before. However, anyone who is not in denial — and most are — can tell you that quality has fallen off dramatically. The music has lost its energy, its nerve and its insight and been buried under a wave of bands that are either obedient and docile system products, or slaves to the underground record-collecting audience that does not care about quality so long as the aesthetics of previous generations are preserved. Both groups unfortunately are useful idiots for industry, which can keep producing low-cost clone bands and reaping the profits.

We discard bands for two reasons: not being metal, and not being good. The bands that are simply not good tend to have the most fans, ironically. Who among us can claim that, for example, Blazebirth Hall bands and Drudkh offered anything musical or artistic to metal? They cloned Graveland in a light and breezy melodic form that is essentially music for children. In the same way we refuse to celebrate underground “favorites” that consist of ranting and disorganized music like Sepulchral Aura, or avantgarde prog fanboy-bait like Fanisk and Deathspell Omega.

In addition, we discard that which does not uphold the artistic, intellectual and philosophical spirit of metal. There is quite a bit of overlap here with “not being good.” We would not endorse Cradle of Filth; nor would we endorse Opeth, back in the day, or Cannibal Corpse, on the basis that they were essentially rock bands trying to assimilate metal and thus produced a moronic mindset. Similarly Pantera and to a lesser degree, Anthrax. Back in the day we thought SOD was inferior to Cryptic Slaughter, DRI, and Corrosion of Conformity. We refused to endorse Wolves in the Throne Room, Animals as Leaders, Gojira, Mastodon and other indie-rock pretending to be metal. We ignore Pelican and all stoner doom bands because they are boring and terrible. This music is distraction from metal, not metal, but its fans make a big show of being “very metal,” which tells you exactly what they are hiding and deflecting your attention from.

This approach wins us zero friends in the short term, but trusted readers in the long term. People — especially those who lead purposeful lives and do not have lots of time, nor enjoy, combing through catalogs and blogs trying to figure out which 1% of the reviews are not lies — like getting the low-down on quality metal. They enjoy that moment of discovery when they find something really good, something they can listen to not just this week and six months or a year from now, but for future decades. That is ultimately the standard by which any music fan operates; they like music, so they veer toward the best, not just at a level of mechanics (technicality) but artistically, or its relevance to the ongoing philosophical and moral maturation of humankind. Most of humanity likes mediocrity or at least convinces itself that it likes those bands. After all, Third Eye Blind has sold more records than most segments of the metal genre. But popularity — whether among credulous hipsters or gormless mass media fans — has never determined quality. Consensus is not reality. Only reality is reality, and we make our best stab at it.

With that in mind, you may ask: why write negative reviews? The answer may surprise you. We seek to give music fans the intellectual tools they need to fight back the onslaught of Opeth, Pantera, Ulver, Cradle of Filth, Meshuggah, Vattnet Viskar, Cannibal Corpse and Deathspell Omega styled bands. We use both positive and negative examples to illustrate, to the best of our ability, what metal is and which approaches to it have produced the quality level necessary for prolonged listening. This puts us at odds with most metal journalists, for whom writing is a day job and as a result, is interpreted as endless enthusiasm for whatever is new and exciting because the consensus likes it. They are essentially advertisers because they are writing ad copy about these bands, not a look into what makes their music function. It is designed to make you buy music, because journalists who can sell music get famous and become editors. You will notice that major publications run almost no negative reviews. Why is that, you might ask? Because their job is to sell music, not review it, even if they call it “review.”

In all human endeavors our social impulses, which because we are selfish beings are actually self-interested impulses translated to altruism to flatter and manipulate others, override any sense of quality or purpose. The task ceases to become the task and becomes the process of creating the appearance of results instead of results; bands stop trying to be good, and focus on replicating what has worked before in new forms. The “best” (by consensus) bands “sound” different on the surface, but musically are extremely similar, because that formula has worked in the past. That is a social impulse: make what people like because it does not challenge them and makes them feel smart, profound or at least “with the crowd” to be listening to it. This social impulse has ruined metal since 1994.

Metal thrives — as it did during the mid-70s, early 80s and early 90s — under two factors: (1) it is ignored by most people, so it is free from the manipulations of those who want to sell rebellion-flavored rock to morons, and (2) it has some truly great artists to kickstart it and establish a standard. The former is self-evident, but the latter can be explained as follows. When early Norse black metal came out, it set a standard of quality and allowed fans, by simply choosing to spend their money on what was more rewarding, to exclude bands that did not meet that standard. Why would you buy Forgotten Wolves when you can get Darkthrone? Why would you pick up another speed metal clone when you can have top-quality death metal? Metal thrived when it was elitist, closed-minded and viciously competitive. Now that it has become a group hug, quality has suffered and no one seems to have noticed. Except us — and we are watching.

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Blaspherian to release next album on Dark Descent Records

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Roaring subterranean primitive occult death metal band Blaspherian have signed to Dark Descent Records and plan to release their yet-untitled next album on that label in 2016. Comprised of eight tracks of Satanic blasphemy, the new album follows up on the Imprecation/Blaspherian split showing an increasingly focused style for this primeval band.

Blaspherian released the following statement:

By the blessing of SATAN, and the blasphemous pride we are excited to announce that BLASPHERIAN will be working with Dark Descent records, for our next full length release.
This full length will feature 8 tracks of old school SATANIC DEATH METAL….and is slated for a 2016 release….

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Iskra – Ruins

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Another day, another pretender. Iskra claim to be black/crust, which is a nonsense genre in itself that insults both of its origins, but in actuality are more like an Angelcorpse style band with occasional flashes of melody and to avoid the un-PC Nietzschean narrative of black metal, lyrics about war and politics.

All of the above presents zero problem if well-executed, but the problem here is that Ruins is a collection of tropes from those genres held together by sheer momentum, which means that at the time of listening it is inoffensive but there is zero reason to pick it up. It is based on previous forms without injecting any essential spirit or direction of its. Like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul, it is cleverly designed from a commercial perspective, in that underneath the fast tremolo riffs and breathless raspy howl the songs are very convention riff-chorus with one transition between what are essentially identical halves. Its other clever business strategy is realizing that people might enjoy a version of Angelcorpse that like Napalm Death Fear, Emptiness, Despair introduced a bit of melody and broke down the blitzkrieg drive into more recognizable song patterns.

Unlike most of these bands, Iskra do one thing well: they know when to break rhythm and transition tempo to avoid the monolithic wall of sound that war metal bands too often engage in, but they also miss the outsider perspective of crust and the atmosphere of black metal. If you were one of those people who were satisfied with all-ahead-go speed metal bands that did not write their own melodies, you will not be offended by this, but do not be surprised when it has a staying power measured in days and not weeks or years.

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Festering – From the Grave (2015)

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Most of us now forget how much of the early death metal experience was shaped by the speed metal story arc: starting in 1983 as a rebellion against the glam explosion of hard rock, it re-metalized NWOBHM with more complex riffs using the muted strum to expand rhythm, and then promptly began selling out. Most fans got queasy when Metallica came out with Master of Puppets, but there are other culprits to just as easily finger. The point is that everything sells out in humanity when it gets exposes to the masses because the masses demand the same old crap in new form, instead of new ideas deviating from the same old crap, and that took down speed metal, which caused death metal bands to try to be more aesthetically extreme.

“How would you ever sell out this?” a friend asked once when I was listening to Incantation. My response to him was that aesthetics does not correspond to composition. I can take a Justin Bieber song, translate it to guitar and transpose it to a lower key, then play it with lots of tremolo picking, guitar squeals and crunchy power chords, doubling the tempo and adding distorted vocals. To most people, that will be “death metal.” To a death metal fan, it is a sheep in the clothing of a wolf. Death metal is not its aesthetic traits alone; those exist to aid the composition, which is (1) phrasal with complex song structures to support (2) collective without individual superstars (3) emphasizes cadence and melodic development over off-beat, quirkiness, ironism, etc. Death metal is musically distinct from rock and blues, themselves only a simplification of European music from the past century with a false label of African-American origin added to sell them as “unique” and “different,” which makes it one of the few genres which is not fake in all of popular music. Accept what you know to be true: popular music is just as fake as Big Macs, Cokes or reality TV. It has always been fake because it has always been a product with a conveniently oddball but totally untrue history. If you have heard the music of the African coast, you realize it is far more complex than the limply distilled methods of rock and blues. Similarly, European folk music had much more going for it than country or rock. Death metal threw all of this back in their faces, and their revenge was to sell it out. This does not involve evil indie rock musicians creeping into death metal band studios late at night to covertly record disguised rock themed as death metal; rather, it involves the transmission of social memes and attitudes about what constitutes death metal, which then lowers the bar so “everyone” can participate. At that point, you get the same old crap dressed up as a revolution.

Festering, on an aesthetic level, is perfect for death metal fans. It sounds like Swedish death metal played with the rhythmic precision of speed metal. It has gnarly vocals, great distortion, and uses the right techniques: it layers each new riff, applies tremolo in the right pattern to introduce secondary ideas as new primaries, and drifts into tempi at about the right pace to have cadence. But it also works in the static-style rock riffs, the cheesy color notes as the basis of riffs from the blues, and the constant off-beat that sounds to me like a labrador running with its tongue out of its mouth. Not to mention the constant verse-chorus song structures that remind me of Bruce Springsteen. In short, this band is a well-executed forgery that conceals rock within death metal, and so while I want to like it for aesthetic reasons, the music itself remains unsatisfying and leaves me with a queasy feeling. Good effort that should be avoided by all death metal fans, but rock fans weekending as death metallers should love it.

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Graveland to play live dates

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Flowing black metal band Graveland will play its first live dates ever in August of this year. Composer, guitarist and vocalist Robert Fudali announced his intent to play live on Facebook with the tantalizing detail that most of the set will be older songs with several new ones thrown in the mix, “more or less.”

To longtime underground metal aficionados, this represents a sort of holy grail as like many early black metal acts, Graveland never played live. Formed of a hybrid between grinding Oi and melodic black metal, Graveland distinguished itself early on for its landscape-like melodies and ambient atmosphere, but has since developed its sound to be more like movie soundtracks with layers of instrumentation and composition inspired by ancient traditions in European music, as well as epic soundtracks such as those from the Conan movies by Vangelis. To hear the full evolution in a single show would be of great interest to most black metal fans.

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Why heavy metal fans are well-adjusted

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Where previous studies have shown that heavy metal fans are smarter than some thought, newer research suggests they are more well-adjusted too. According to the original study, heavy metal fans have happier times of youth and end up as “better adjusted” adults as well.

The authors of the study give several reasons for this, notably that heavy metal fans have a stronger support group than most other types of teenager and that having an identity protected them against getting lost in the ego-death of adolescent anonymity, but the study might look at another factor: heavy metal is dedicated to reality and against authority for its own sake. This keeps teenagers away from the manipulations of others and simultaneously point them toward the only thing that ultimately makes any person well-adjusted, which is a strong outer realism and thriving “inner self” or core of personality adapted to that realism.

The study did hit a dark note regarding survivorship bias however:

The research comes with a caveat: The study featured “relatively high functioning individuals who volunteered to participate and report on their lives.” If some people really were so drawn into a dark lifestyle that they became drug addicts or suicide victims, they’d obviously not be around decades later to take an hour-long survey.

In other words, because metalheads pursue life to its extremes, the only metalheads left today to report these positive results are the ones who did not self-destruct during their youth. One might be able to get the same results from a group of octogenarian heroin addicts. However, study results also showed that fans from other genres faced similar struggles but did not have as positive of results.

With the above in mind, as well as the inherent musicality and artistry of the music, it is no wonder that heavy metal attracts the most loyal audience. This recent research helps obliterate past shoddy research seemingly designed to malign heavy metal and defame its fans.

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Bride of Jaws torments sharks with metalcore

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Sharks love death metal. Or so we are told by the title of the video below, part of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, but those who have watched the video have reported that instead, the poor sharks were subjected to metalcore.

This artistic and ethical travesty must be rectified immediately. Metalcore uses rock-styled repetitive song structures layered in random influences from metal and other genres, and can potentially cause these sharks to experience existential fatalism. Death metal, on the other hand, knits together disparate riffs into a nihilistic narrative of denial of human illusion. Sharks do indeed like death metal — many of them participate in the comments on our posts — but are, like all good things in nature, opposed to metalcore, nu-metal and other “modern metal” excremental distractions.

Luckily, Discovery Channel is interested in the ethical side of this equation:

To contact the Ethics Hotline in the U.S. and Canada, please dial (800) 398-6395.

Outside of the U.S. and Canada, please dial +1-800-398-6395 and use the appropriate toll-free access code listed below.

In addition, you can contact Discovery Channel online through their Viewer Relations page.

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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:

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