Slayer – Show No Mercy

December 4, 2014 –

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On December 3, 1983, a force of unparalleled musical terror was unleashed upon a more innocent world. Combining the high speed strum detached from percussion used by Discharge with the architectural riffing of Judas Priest and the melodic understructure used by Iron Maiden, Slayer created a new style of heavy metal which exceeded all previous efforts.

While Show No Mercy sounds tame compared to later Slayer effort Reign in Blood (1986), for the time it revolutionized metal and punk alike. Most metal of the era was still recovering from the mid-1970s slump that occurred when Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were hybridized into a new rock-based style, manifesting after a brief revolution in the NWOBHM as the usual lowest-common-denominator crowd pleaser in acts like Motley Crue. Slayer brought back the longer phrasal riffs used by Black Sabbath and through the tremolo strum added greater flexibility and detached chord changes from the beat of the snare, which allowed the guitar to dominate composition and relegated drums to timekeeping. This in turn gave the band more options for varying riffs within a phrase and escaping the verse-chorus pop radio song format that had infected metal in the previous years.

Even outdoing other hardcore punk/NWOBHM hybrids like speed metal bands (Metallica) and thrash (DRI), Slayer created a fury that could also be beautiful. To this they added a mythological view of humanity and the ongoing collapse of Western civilization, placing us into a mode of viewing it as a conflict between good and evil with the prize being survival more than a spiritual state of obedience. In doing so, Slayer laid the foundation both musically and topically for the future death metal genre, while also spurring speed metal on to greater intensity. Most of what we cover on this site would not have existed when it did without Slayer and contemporaries such as Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom who opened the gates to this new style.

Blaspherian – Upon the Throne​.​.​.​of Eternal Blasphemous Death

December 2, 2014 –

blaspherian-upon_the_throne_of_eternal_blasphemous_death

Texas old school death metal (which is to say, “death metal”) band Blaspherian return after the triumphant Allegiance to the Will of Damnation with a two-song EP showcasing a newer style which is both more brooding and more raw, chaotic and abrupt.

These two songs show the Celtic Frost influence in the way riffs are arranged to contrast one another, as if by competing groups of demons howling blasphemies across a chasm in Hell, each building the intensity of its own blasphemy based on the statements of the others. “Awakened Into Impious Absolvement” starts with a relatively simple charging riff, than breaks into another one and picks up the narrative there by adding textural variation, then creates an interplay between competing riffs that allows a return to the original pattern with greater strength. “Phoenix Of Uncreation” on the other hand shows a fully intense influence of early Incantation (most intensely “Profanation”) by building from a fast riff to an extensive doomy passage which is developed into a series of mid-paced riffs which alternate between the textures already introduced, as if preparing us through a long journey for something revelatory found at the end, which comes through an atmospheric detour into a riff played at the pace of doom metal with the fast death metal strum. That creates an otherworldly atmosphere which is resolved in return to earlier themes which like a snowball build intensity with each break and restatement. The song ends in blazing fury as its contrary impulses collide, culminating in faster and streamlined versions of earlier patterns exploding into a final theme.

Upon the Throne​.​.​.​of Eternal Blasphemous Death shows Blaspherian exploring its roots in more idiosyncratic and chaotic death metal with the application of songwriting principles learned from the last full-length. This creates a more moody sound and one which requires more from the listener, but like the more polished works reflected on the unpolished days of their demos, resurrects the sense of a detached and irrational world manifested through evil intent.

    Tracklist:

  1. Awakened Into Impious Absolvement (5:58)
  2. Phoenix Of Uncreation (5:30)

Blaspherian – Upon the Throne…of Eternal Blasphemous Death

blaspherian-upon_the_throne_of_eternal_blasphemous_death

Texas old school death metal (which is to say, “death metal”) band Blaspherian return after the triumphant Allegiance to the Will of Damnation with a two-song EP showcasing a newer style which is both more brooding and more raw, chaotic and abrupt.

These two songs show the Celtic Frost influence in the way riffs are arranged to contrast one another, as if by competing groups of demons howling blasphemies across a chasm in Hell, each building the intensity of its own blasphemy based on the statements of the others. “Awakened Into Impious Absolvement” starts with a relatively simple charging riff, than breaks into another one and picks up the narrative there by adding textural variation, then creates an interplay between competing riffs that allows a return to the original pattern with greater strength. “Phoenix Of Uncreation” on the other hand shows a fully intense influence of early Incantation (most intensely “Profanation”) by building from a fast riff to an extensive doomy passage which is developed into a series of mid-paced riffs which alternate between the textures already introduced, as if preparing us through a long journey for something revelatory found at the end, which comes through an atmospheric detour into a riff played at the pace of doom metal with the fast death metal strum. That creates an otherworldly atmosphere which is resolved in return to earlier themes which like a snowball build intensity with each break and restatement. The song ends in blazing fury as its contrary impulses collide, culminating in faster and streamlined versions of earlier patterns exploding into a final theme.

Upon the Throne​.​.​.​of Eternal Blasphemous Death shows Blaspherian exploring its roots in more idiosyncratic and chaotic death metal with the application of songwriting principles learned from the last full-length. This creates a more moody sound and one which requires more from the listener, but like the more polished works reflected on the unpolished days of their demos, resurrects the sense of a detached and irrational world manifested through evil intent.

    Tracklist:

  1. Awakened Into Impious Absolvement (5:58)
  2. Phoenix Of Uncreation (5:30)

Witchfinder General – Death Penalty

November 29, 2014 –

witchfinder_general-death_penalty

After Black Sabbath invented proto-metal, people mixed together hard rock like Led Zeppelin and came up with a new hybrid they called heavy metal, but it lacked the intensity of Black Sabbath. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) fused the energy of punk and garage rock back into the music to restore the alienated energy, and Witchfinder General numbered among its strongest arguments.

Bands making music of this nature face a challenge: the entire rock community is based on making things sound smooth and grandiose in the kind of narcissistic ecstasy that people who want to be the center of attention for their 15 minutes exhibit, and this clashes with the need to sound like a combat unit taking a break to bash out a few tunes. As the Witchfinder General Live ’83 release shows us, this band had great intensity when they could focus their energies in that fashion.

While Death Penalty features the same excellent songwriting, matching vocal melodies that evoke the ambition without regard for convention that made Ozzy Osbourne the favorite Black Sabbath vocalist, and powerful riffing that expanded beyond the rock vocabulary to the side door of speed metal, the more refined production convinced Witchfinder General to play these songs more slowly and to layer on additional lead guitar and production effects to “enhance” the sound. The result is that much of the energy dissipates into a 1970s rock filter, and the production emphasizes a thin guitar tone to which the band adapts. Other than this disadvantage, Death Penalty shows us Witchfinder General at their most powerful.

Like the best of NWOBHM bands, Witchfinder General used shorter riffs than Black Sabbath and focused more on melodic guitar composition that echoed the previous generation of British heavy guitar rock. In addition, the band injected fast rhythmic riffing using a muted strum, and fast lead fills that allowed more flexibility in riff placement, but also borrowed from many of the progressive bands a more flexible sense of song structure. There will be the verse-chorus cycle, but it often transitions with a break that emphasizes some aspect of the song and allows the band to use variants of riffs for great contrast, before returning to the original cycle. To death metal fans, it may seem tame, but in the day it was a revolution against heavy metal convention, and these songs still stand tall with a power that all those artists who wish to be more polished than pugnacious cannot capture.

Much of the focus of songwriting wraps around the vocals which guide each song ably by taking the high register and infusing just enough melody into these riffs to give each passage a hook. Sometimes this limits what the band could spend its energy on, as we can hear through many of the incidental guitar passages such as the fade-out instrumental break in “Death Penalty,” but it also helps hold together these sounds which are bursting with energy and musical creativity. Much of this album sounds like later Black Sabbath with more caffeinated leads, but that is its voice and not its essence, which is a flexible view of songwriting that never loses the need for a charge of the light brigade in power chords against the pleasant illusions of the average rock fan, then or now.

Grave – Necropsy: The Complete Demo Recordings 1986-1991

grave-necropsy_the_complete_demo_recordings_1986-1991

Back around 1991 or so, Grave Into the Grave lived in every Hessian room across the land. It combined an intense rhythmic attack with a type of accessibility that did not on the surface resemble the pop music — generally downtempo bittersweet wailing indie-rock — of the age. Then the band seemed to drop out of reality.

Listening to Necropsy: The Complete Demo Recordings 1986-1991 has clarified for me exactly what I like and detest about this band. Unlike most bands of that era, Grave understood the concept of hook, in this case a rhythm that is fascinating enough to be instantly memorable. On the downside, the hook swims in what are ultimately predictable song structures borrowed from the lower echelons of 1980s speed metal. These demos show Grave developing its style from an early Possessed/Kreator hybrid into full-fledged death metal, yet the band never really breaks into what made death metal powerful. These songs cycle through verse-chorus with exceptions made to fit in some transitional riffs, but never construct themselves around an idea expressed in both riff and song. As a result, they come across as random outside of the one moment of clarity for the hook, at which point the brain goes to sleep waiting for the random power chord slamming to end and the hook to come around again.

The good parts of Grave should not be understated. At a time when most bands were trying to make themselves presentable to the average music listener by reining in their extreme tendencies, Grave leaped howling into the abyss with rigid and abrupt riffs that slammed home with the intensity of the big American bands. Much like style-mates Seance and Hypocrisy, Grave took Swedish death metal away from the melodic riffs and restraint into full-on textural assault with primitive rhythm as its guide. And yet listening back over this, one might wish for a little bit more of Carnage and Entombed in with the Malevolent Creation style riffs. The song structures are too simple to give these riffs room to breathe, so they just cycle, which is to say raw repetition “one removed” by introduction of a contrary or at least different theme. If tied together with some melody, more structure, or even a greater sense of internal dialogue between the songs, the early work from Grave would have been legendary and far surpassed Entombed and others who made big names for themselves in Swedish metal.

These demos progress from the prescient in style works of the 1986-1988 period in which bands were still figuring out how to work with the fertile ferment of Bathory, Hellhammer, Possessed, Sepultura, Sodom and Slayer. The Grave tracks from this era sound like a second-rate speed metal band imitating Possessed as death vocals ring out around clumsier versions of riff patterns you might find on a Heathen or Dark Angel album. As time goes on, the riffs pick up more technique and the clumsiness becomes an aggressive slamming rhythm mated to an adroit sense of pick-up rhythm that conserves and intensifies the energy of each riff. But, much as with Kreator, the riff is the hook and the “sweet spot” in the midst of relatively unrelated material, which means songs keep clunking along on the rhythm of the drums and vocals while the guitars do random stuff. It’s as if these bands never fully come together and are just too individualistic for their own good, Kreator especially. As the demos accelerate toward 1991, the technique streamlines into recognizable full death metal, but the song structures revert to the 1986 styles and despite increased proficiency remain just as clumsy in end result.

What emerges from these demos as a result is a crash-course in how to write great death metal riffs without writing great death metal. Grave faded before its time because it never knitted these power riffs into full songs, and went after the German model of a friendly rhythm with great hook in a song where everything else is essentially linear. This makes the listener fade in for the hook, then fade out, and end the listening session with no sense of continuity or overall impression of an event, emotion or attitude. In this, Grave — despite having mastered the science of death metal riffcraft — missed the boat on the innovation that death metal brought to the wider world of heavy music, and this explains why their work has not obtained the staying power assigned easily to bands with less-powerful riffing but more focus on integrative songwriting.

The best metal music for cooking

November 27, 2014 –

thanksgiving_turkey

Like many of our American readers, the Hessians around here will be sitting down to eat a huge meal tomorrow and then unceremoniously lose consciousness in a tryptophan coma before rallying for dessert and shooting guns at the moon. But before we can eat, we must cook, which leads to the topic of metal for cooking.

Unlike the average musical genre, heavy metal is very easy to do but very hard to do well. Maybe one in a thousand bands are worth hearing for more than a week, and one in ten of those worth buying. But some albums adapt more than others to playing in the background while a Hessian cooks.

The following are the suggestions endorsed not only for you, but that will be playing in our house as the feast is prepared.

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Metallica – Kill ‘Em All

Metallica took the mixture of heavy metal and hard rock with punk spirit that was NWOBHM and re-hybridized it with a new generation of punk. These hardcore punk bands used maximum distortion and as a result could get a chopppy abrasive sound out of their guitars. Metallica applied to this the muted strum technique that other bands used periodically and created from it a genre that used guitars as explosive percussion instruments. Kill ‘Em All uses the classic melodic riffs of NWOBHM, the open chords of an adventurous metal band, and the new speed metal riff style to make an album of high energy and relentless impact. While it sounds ancient now, most ancient things are good, because if it has survived this long, it has more going for it than the flash-in-the-pan stuff that pops up a dime a dozen anytime someone thinks a shekel or dinar can be made from them. The first Metallica album still compels but in the simple-hearted way that teenage ambition wants to conquer and/or destroy the world, but would settle for just raising hell and then passing out early.

Mixes well with: Iron Maiden, Exodus, Cathedral and Godflesh.

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Misfits – Static Age

Glenn Danzig reinvented music three times, at least. He started out composing melodic punk music that injected a sense of emotion into a genre that was otherwise close to droning refusal to conform, then turned down a metal path with Samhain and then modified that path to include a bluesy Doors-style hard rock in the mix with Danzig. Having had his fill of music for people who need a constant beat, he turned to soundtrack music but gave it a metal flair, coming out with Black Aria in 1992 and presaging the neofolk and dark ambient movements. Lately he has thrown southern rock into his metal mix but he continues to forge into paths that others did not see before him. On this early Misfits album, Danzig writes songs filled with longing, like a spirit soaring over a world composed of a daylight layer of pleasant lies and a nocturnal substrate of grim violence and bitter alienation. The result is one of the most Romantic statements to come out of punk, but it also produces the perfect environment for churning out turkey, stuffing and sweet potato mash.

Mixes well with: Cro-Mags, Repulsion, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and Suicidal Tendencies.

suffocation-breeding_the_spawn

Suffocation – Breeding the Spawn

How do you exceed the standard set by an album like Effigy of the Forgotten? Suffocation launched into their second record with large ideas that did not quite form into song, but it came together quickly enough and then ran out of time, plus had a production style that was less nuclear than the previous album. Nonetheless some of the best material from this innovative band, who took the percussive strumming of speed metal and worked it into death metal songs with complex jazz-inspired rhythms, appeared on the second album. This exploratory work sets the perfect mood for fudging your way through that recipe for cranberry sauce that you sort of remember from when Aunt Griselda made it fourteen years ago. It also satiates the palate that craves metal which is willing to throw aside everything that “works” and leap into the great unknown with the intent to reinvent metal as we know it.

Mixes well with: King Crimson, Bathory and Celtic Frost.

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Deicide – Once Upon the Cross

After exhausting their artistic energy with the legendary Legion, Deicide had to re-invent themselves as individuals and as a band in order to crank out this release. Written (rumor has it) primarily by drummer Steve Asheim, this album takes a look over past Deicide and strips it down to what it does best: rhythm, structure and even the occasional hint of melody. These songs muscle along with intense power and high energy and make for the perfect kitchen companion to those recipes which require slashing meat, smashing tubers and bashing berries. Not only that, but if you are experiencing guilt for having invited the mother-in-law over even though she is a Jehovah’s Witness, never fear! You will pay back any debt incurred to the gods of blasphemy with the absolute livid hatred of Jesus, Christians, God and the Bible that pulses through this album like the raging heart-rate of a murder suspect pursued by police helicopters through Ferguson, MO. Not only that, but if you are worried about people “backseat driving” during your cooking and they happen to be Christian, this album will guarantee you the kitchen to yourself.

Mixes well with: David Myatt, Ted Kaczynski and Charles Manson. Actually, anything… or nothing.

…and the best for last…

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Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath

There are no bad albums that make good albums to cook with, but there are albums which are bad albums to cook with despite being good albums. In addition to being the best of the King Diamond/Mercyful Fate oeuvre, Don’t Break the Oath represents the furthest into technical speed metal with the least amount of overdone musicality or theatrics. King Diamond and his team achieve the perfect balance of his Alice Cooper dramatics, the guitar pyrotechnics of Hank Sherman and Michael Denner, and the mainstay of this band which has always been their ability to write a song with dramatic changes and hints of melodic but a consistent ability to hit hard and with a sense of grandeur and mystery that is essential to any darkside metal. In particular, the rhythms of this album work really well with sword training, bear wrestling and cooking for the traditional highly critical American extended family. Crush eggs, beat flour, and pulverize tissue to this classic of speed metal with an edge of the dark occult side which gives metal its mystique and aura of the mythological. Not only does the music provide power, but the album as a whole provides a landscape that roughly fits the panicked improvisation at the heart of any good holiday meal.

Mixes well with: Metallica, Slayer, and the tears of your enemies or entrees.

Gorement – The Ending Quest

November 26, 2014 –

gorement-the_ending_quest

Gorement could send a thank-you letter to Amorphis and the funeral doom movement for popularizing its riffs over the years, since despite a large amount of raw promise this release was never going anywhere. The Ending Quest is like a book of ideas, raw riffs of great potential floating in a background of poor ideas and randomness.

Often reasons exist for why underground treasures never made it to the surface back in the day. In the case of The Ending Quest, the reason is that it is a boring and frustrating listen, for two reasons. The band does not know how to develop songs, and thus its greatest ideas either go nowhere or run somewhere pointless, and its songwriting duties seem divided between a genius at melodic riffs and a guy who likes to write chromatic skim fills to keep those riffs from getting ahead of themselves.

Only two years after this album came out, a band named Skepticism took this aesthetic and brought it to a better place: crashing glacial riffs, slow bass-intense vocals, and a melodic basis. They dropped the death metal influences that required those melodic riffs to move quickly, and the guitar solos, which meant that they made their music in more of an ambient capacity. Gorement instead try to make death metal and so they piece it together, two boring riffs for every melodic sweet spot, and a sense of rhythm that often disconnects the needs of the riff from the needs of the song.

Material of stunning insight, foresight and promise fills this disc. Many of these riffs are cognizable from the albums of bands that went on to more success, and some of these ideas far exceed the substitutes that came in their place. The unique low and slow bass-intense vocals were an innovation, as was the tendency — later exploited by bands like Amorphis, Dissection, Sentenced, Bolt Thrower and Sacramentum — to stitch a fast melodic lead over a vermicular riff and slow partial groove. Gorement also know how to create a dramatic transition through simultaneous tempo and riff shift. The problem is that so many of these riffs fall into predictable patterns, and so many of these songs fail to organize their elements into any expression, so we end up with the curse of all early death metal: the album of good riffs that goes nowhere.

Our ex-editor Kontinual, who died suddenly of AIDS in 2010, wrote fondly of this band. But this is ultimately where we differ: death metal is propelled by structure, with each song forming a kind of “riff-poem” in which emotion is derived from how the riffs fit together, not the particular key and mode in which they are written. Riff-poems fail when they stop making sense, or when there is blathering nonsense that should have been edited out inserted just after a phrase of great profundity. The Ending Quest inspired legions of bands and imitators, is partially responsible for the first “melodic doom” explosion that tried to make death metal for rock music fans with Tiamat and later Opeth, and clearly gave many bands a riff book to use in their own projects. But as a listening experience, it resembles a speech by a distracted professor: moments of brilliance, surrounded by confusion.

Cóndor announces new album Duin will be released January 27, 2015

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South American death metal and progressive band Cóndor will release its second album, Duin, on January 27. This band takes an approach more like that of classical guitarists toward melding death metal with progressive rock, blues, folk and other influences: it mixes them in serially and adopts them within the style, rather than hybridizing the two styles.

In other words, most bands that try to sound like progressive death metal try to act like a progressive rock band playing death metal, or a death metal band playing progressive rock. Cóndor takes an approach more like that of musicians in the past, which is to adopt other voices within its style, so that it creates essentially the same material but works in passages that show the influence of other thought.

Cóndor‘s first album Nadia made our best of 2013 for its mix between primal death metal and other guitar-oriented styles. It will be interesting to see how much the band matured and developed during the past two years and how it will handle what are undoubtedly new influences.

The tracklist is as follows:

  1. Río frío
  2. El lamento de Penélope
  3. La gran laguna
  4. Coeur-de-lion
  5. Condordäle
  6. Helle gemundon in mod-sefan
  7. Adagio
  8. Duin

Heavy metal as an extension of the Romantic movement

November 24, 2014 –

black_metal_helvete_basement

Yesterday’s post on Romanticism reminded me of how long the Death Metal Underground has been making the comparison between Romanticism and heavy metal. The Heavy Metal FAQ has mentioned this association since its formulation in the early 1990s, but before that, it was written on the early versions of this website.

We continue to write about it because the linkage is and always has been inevitable, although it is clearest from literature — such as Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake and John Milton — that the metaphorical comparison can be made. On a subtler level, one can find connections between Romantic imagery in every generation of classical music, including the “Romantic era” which produced Franz Berwald, Niccolo Paganini and Franz Schubert in addition to the oft-mentioned Beethoven.

Our writers have highlighted the relationship between Romanticism and Satan, and the meaning of black metal, the linkage between Romanticism and mythic imagination, early black metal and Romanticism, and the relationship between Blake, Goethe and black metal. The connection has been clear from the get-go, when the Miltonic language of Slayer such as “to reign in Hell” made it clear that this genre had origins in the Romantic canon, as if the Gothic-cum-psychedelia of the self-titled Black Sabbath album did not:

black_sabbath-black_sabbath

While it has taken them over two decades to catch up, others have started to wake up to the heavy metal-Romanticism connection:

But “beneath all the grim vibes of Black Metal,” Hunt-Hendrix insists, “there’s this kind of spiritual ecstasy.” The tremolo picking creates the effect of “a string orchestra.” The great “unacknowledged influence” of the genre? Nineteenth century Romanticism.

…Byron, as did many other Romantics, courted what scholars have since come to refer to as “Satanic aesthetics,” a rebellious and sinister dandyism that manifested not only in their artistic creations but also in their personalities. Romantic violinist Niccolo Paganini–whose successor Franz Lizst maintained an “unbelievable” yet strictly heterosexual “passion” for fellow-heartthrob Byron—was rumored to have perfected his musical technique while imprisoned for the murder of his mistress, a skein of whose intestine had been repurposed as his G-string. The bejeweled and frequently open-shirted Bryon was the pointed inspiration for Lord Ruthven in John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819), whose “Byronic look” was marked by “the curl of the upper lip, and the scowl of the brow.”

Black Metal, of course, has a penchant for Satanic aesthetics as well. In the hooded, sword-wielding visage of Rob Darken of Poland’s National-Socialist-leaning Graveland we see a medieval specter worthy of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), or one that might have been conceived during the famous 1816 idyll of Byron, Polidori, and the Shelleys on Lake Geneva, which ultimately yielded Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

Much of the resistance to this idea comes from metalheads who wish to believe that their genre is sui generis, a term popular among hipsters used to mean “unique” in the sense of a style of yarn-bombing that no one else in Williamsburg thought of, and having the genre related to Romanticism diminishes its uniqueness. Others fear entryism if metal is associated with any other movement, hence the high hostility of metal to politics and organized religion entering its ranks (in addition to generalized hostility to feel-good illusions, of which organized religion is often considered one). Still others rage at the thought of heavy metal having anything “artistic” to it, and yet another group opposes this idea because it wants to find sociological (i.e. unconscious to the participants) motivations behind metal, not artistic ones which show some degree of alertness by the participants.

Among those who do investigate the link between Romanticism and metal, many look into the German writers. After all, DRI named an album after a Herman Hesse novel, and the term “heavy metal” was partially popularized by a band who took their name from another one of his works. Alistair McCartney, in The End of the World Book, writes about the connection between death metal and Romanticism:

Back in the late 20th century, specifically in the decades that have come to be known as the 1980s and 1990s, it seemed that every other day, teenage boys, tired of the sturm und drang of adolescence and inspired by the death-positive lyrics of so-called death-metal bands, were taking their own lives in very violent ways, which, according to sociologists, was typical of young men: a gun in the mouth and a car over a cliff were the preferred modes of suicide.

We can see these young North American men who were infatuated with death as direct descendants of the young European men, who, in the late eighteenth century, read Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, which ends with the lovesick hero with the supremely heavy heart taking his own life. Upon its publication in 1774, the book inspired two crazes on the continent: one for wearing blue coats, just like the coat the moody Werther wears; and one for suicide.

In this sense, although the first death-metal album did not technically appear on the horizon until 1985, with the release of Seven Churches by the band Possessed, this genre or subdivision of heavy metal was already getting slowly underway in 1772 when the then twenty-three-year-old Goethe, in residency at the Court at Wetzlar and fresh from a failed love affair, began writing the book to ease his own heavy heart.

…Historians argue that death metal’s popularity peaked in 1994. Similarly, not quite as many fans of death metal are taking their own lives — historians argue that this trend also peaked in 1994.

However, it seems the connection between Romanticism and metal is gaining momentum in the mainstream discourse. The bigger question is where we go from this point of realization. Romanticism was itself a reaction to the Enlightenment, and German Idealism a reaction to the reaction. History seems to be dancing around some idea it cannot quite get a handle on, and balances this with eternal sentiments like those of the Romantics: ideas that appear wherever society is “too much with us” and the individual is squeezed out by judgment of the herd.

Metal as Romanticism

November 23, 2014 –

caspar_david_friedrich-wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog

Romanticism defined resistance to social pressures in the post-Enlightenment world, but also caved to the pressure to accept the fundamental ideals of that earlier era.

Where the Enlightenment placed emphasis on individual choice and emotion, so did the Romantics, although they tempered this with a strong attachment to ancient values and the ruined forms of a prior world. It had a number of salient attributes:

  1. A revolt against accepted form: democratization of subject and language, a less formal poetic voice, and a new range of subjects such as the supernatural and “the far away and the long ago” adopted by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats and others; the visionary mode of poetry adopted by William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake; and the use of metaphysical symbolism.
  2. Focus on the poet’s or writer’s own feelings instead of a universal emotion shared among all humanity. This emphasized spontaneity, meditative stillness, and a sense of discovery through intuition. Imagination was seen as more important than fact.
  3. External nature (landscape, plants, animals) became a persistent subject.
  4. Often written with the poet or writer as protagonist.
  5. A sense of progress, or of limitless good achievable by use of the imagination, instead of reliance upon past methods. — (M.H. Abrams, “Neoclassic and Romantic” in A Glossary of Literary Terms, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Orlando, FL 1993, pp. 125-129.)

While it was an affirmation of the individualism of the Enlightenment, it also rebelled against the group-think thus created, and emphasized the thoughts of the exceptional individual — personified in the writer — over the “universal emotion shared among all humanity.” This template provided the basis for any number of tropes among pop culture including the “rock star” himself, who is assumed to have messianic powers of insight which he conveys through the ritual of the concert.

Metal began with a mixed heritage arising from rock and soundtrack music. Among the rock influences were The Doors, Jethro Tull and King Crimson, all of whom emphasized apocalyptic themes beginning in a crisis of direction in the human individual. These dystopian rockers showed us that under the progress of technology and advancement of society lurked a dark undercurrent, which was our lack of faith in our own future. Since the future is determined by the present, they looked to sources of doubt and fear in humanity. Metal carried this onward in a mythological H.P. Lovecraft inspired form.

This caused a clash with Enlightenment values. What are those? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a handy summation of the values of the Enlightenment:

In his famous definition of “enlightenment” in his essay “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784), which is his contribution to this debate, Immanuel Kant expresses many of the tendencies shared among Enlightenment philosophies of divergent doctrines. Kant defines “enlightenment” as humankind’s release from its self-incurred immaturity; “immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.” Enlightenment is the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act. Enlightenment philosophers from across the geographical and temporal spectrum tend to have a great deal of confidence in humanity’s intellectual powers, both to achieve systematic knowledge of nature and to serve as an authoritative guide in practical life. This confidence is generally paired with suspicion or hostility toward other forms or carriers of authority (such as tradition, superstition, prejudice, myth and miracles), insofar as these are seen to compete with the authority of reason.

Metal brought a counter-Enlightenment mythos, as did much of the Romantics including writers like Mary Shelley and William Wordsworth: people are delusional and tend to prefer happy realities, and so they are not “guiding themselves” so much as choosing illusions that deny the fundamental nature of life as conflict. In the metal universe, conflict is a good thing as it leads to the rise of the stronger above the rest, and thus improves the quality of what is there. From Black Sabbath to Slayer and beyond, metal has criticized the happy hippie “love” mythos and replaced it with one where, in contrast to the Enlightenment, individual judgment does not reign supreme but instead misleads.

Death Metal Underground has advocated the belief that metal is a Romantic art form for over two decades now. In our prior incarnation as other web sites, FTP sites and even g-files during the bulletin board days, we emphasized the Romantic nature of this music as an explanation for its occultism, warlike outlook and amoral or nihilistic worldview. Now it seems that metal journalism has caught up with this idea somewhat, as an article on urban metal site Invisible Oranges mentions it:

Beethoven’s music was less a road map through musical theory and more a guide to the very center of the human psyche. And history has rewarded his efforts; the name Beethoven is now known to a significant portion of the world’s population. His music was still recognizably Classical, but it introduced a host of new compositional techniques that shook the entire creative world.

And you know what? The same thing is happening to metal. Right now. And it’s not just a single band or album that’s leading the charge, either; Deafheaven, and Ihsahn, as well as less prominent artists like Aquilus, have also become what I’ll affectionately call “musically uninhibited.”

Other than the premise of this article being badly flawed, which is that anything “new” equals Romantic, and that recycling burned-out 1990s rock tropes through black metal and death metal is somehow “new,” it leads us to question the nature of the Romantic in metal. Metal displays many attributes of Romantic thinking but, like Mary Shelley or later Romantic Gothic writers including those in the Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft traditions, also displays skepticism about the “Enlightened” future. Specifically, it knows most people are purposeless and weak, that most “truths” are lies, and that society covers up its inner core of decay and desire for conflict. That’s perhaps the most useful way to frame this question, instead of “does nu-indie constitute a Romantic revolution in metal?”