Interview with Joshua Wood, managing editor at Metal-Rules.com

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Among internet metal sites, Metal-Rules.com has a unique niche as being both popular with newer fans and proud of classic metal. During the last few melees over censorship, I encountered the Managing Editor there, a relaxed fellow by the name of Joshua Wood. Since we are both metal nerds, it seemed an interview was in order, and to his credit, it ended up being more interesting and more metal than people might suspect. Give a big hand in welcoming Joshua Wood, and read on…

What first attracted you to heavy metal?

Easy! Kiss Destroyer, 1976. The excitement, the fire, the blood, the power and the electric energy of it all. The top mainstream bands of the time were all soft rock and disco and along came…Kiss! They just totally blew everyone away.

What first attracted you to writing?

It’s funny, I don’t really consider myself a ‘writer.’ I’m just a guy with lots of strong opinions about metal! My main goal always was, and I suspect always will be, to support the underground and ‘real’ Metal bands, as per our site’s tagline, ‘Supporting Real Metal’ since 1995.” I’m not a critic; I want to support a band I enjoy and feel could use the support and or exposure. I don’t waste my time criticizing bands I don’t like, why bother? Live and let die, they can find their own audience. I’d rather write a positive review of a band and help them instead of slagging one of many, many crappy bands. As a result I write very, very few negative type reviews, whereas some mean-spirited critics seem to revel in finding new and amusing ways to insult bands. Those reviews are funny to read though!

How did you get involved with Metal-Rules.com? Today, as I understand it, you are the Managing Editor. How did you get into this job?

I started as a ‘Guest Writer’ (like all of our staff) back in 2001. Overtime I contributed and showed I was reliable, could meet simple deadlines, brought some creativity to the table and generally showed a passion to support the site. Back then there were very few website dedicated to metal, especially the metal I loved, not the nu-metal that was infecting the scene at the time and it was the perfect forum to show that there were still killer new bands out there besides the crappy/trendy sub-genres. Over time, I became the Managing Editor. It is strictly volunteer.

Sometimes when some crappy rap-rock and mallcore band sends me stuff or is asking for help I feel like saying, “Dude! Do you even LOOK at our site? We are so against the kind of music you make, why did you waste your time contacting us?”

What does the job entail? What are the fun parts, and the harder parts?

I tend to oversee our writers/photographers, give people encouragement, support and direction. I contact labels, agents, bands promoters on behalf of the site, give out assignments and of course add and edit the content to the site. It’s always fun talking to fellow like-minded metal heads about metal and I suppose doing the book and DVD reviews is my favourite part. I’ve written over 1000 reviews for the site over the years! We have a private Metal-Rules Staff Facebook page where we discuss the months assignments, who is covering or reviewing what so we keep it all straight.

The least fun part is having to reject bands or labels that just don’t fit our mandate or interest, but I always try to be supportive and suggest they try other avenues. Sometimes when some crappy rap-rock and mallcore band sends me stuff or is asking for help I feel like saying, “Dude! Do you even LOOK at our site? We are so against the kind of music you make, why did you waste your time contacting us?” lol. Sometimes fixing the countless little mistakes of submissions can get laborious, but I just put on an album and type away!

What sort of metal do you like? Do you distinguish by genre, quality of bands or some other traits that they have?

I’m a fan of many forms/styles/sub-genres of hard rock and metal. It’s almost easier to say what I don’t like which are:

  • Grunge
  • Rap-Metal
  • Nu-Metal
  • Mallcore
  • Metalcore
  • Screamo
  • Industrial
  • Alternative
  • Crossover
  • Punk
  • Shoegaze
  • Ambient
  • Post Rock
  • Post Black

I’ve been actively buying and collecting metal since the late 70s so I have a substantial personal collection of just over 10,000 items, albums, books, DVDs, cassettes, magazines, etc, including a decent stock of rarities, and I love it all! If you include authorized digital promo copies my collection swells to 15,000 items. Thrash, Death, Black, Doom, Power, etc have lots of every style to suit my mood. I do distinguish between genres but I try to keep it to a dozen or so broader genres, but I also enjoy micro-analyzing the subtle differences in bands styles, scenes and sounds.

I’m also the co-chair of the Heavy Metal committee for CARAS (Canadian Academy of Recording Arts And Sciences) the group who host/present Canada’s national music award program, the Juno awards…the equivalent to the Grammys. I tend to use those analytical skills in that role to see what really qualifies as ‘metal’ when it comes time to screen submissions for the awards program. You would be surprised the amount of crap that people consider ‘metal’ and submit to us!

What do you think distinguishes heavy metal from rock music?

That is a tough question! I think Metal has a bit more aggression, speed, power attitude, rebelliousness, negativity, skill, dynamics, sincerity, than the ‘average’ rock band.

Can you name the metal bands that have influenced you most, as well as the writers and other non-musical influences who shape what you do?

The bands that influence me the most are some old favourites, W.A.S.P., Manowar, Thor, Anvil, Raven, and Yngwie Malmsteen. These guys get it. The never bow to trends, they never break, they are all underdogs, survivors, productive and reliable! Many younger fans make fun of those bands but they could learn a lesson or two on how it done to persevere and survive to create real metal art. I doubt many of the new, trendy bands will ever have a 15-20 album, 30-40 year career like the above list.

Martin Popoff is a big influence, we have become personal friends over the years which is cool. Non-musical influences would be the normal day to day stuff, playing sports (soccer) my career, family, hobbies and volunteer work. It all keeps me busy, I wish I had more time to dedicate to the site as you can tell by how long it took me to respond to your kind request for an interview!

I recently wrote that modern metal — nu-metal, post-metal, metalcore and indie-metal — have one thing in common, which is that they are composed like rock bands but use metal riffs sometimes. What do you think distinguishes older heavy metal, underground metal and modern metal from each other?

I think I would agree! I feel much of the younger modern Metal bands confuse ‘heaviness’ with volume and screaming. I understand that there is a natural extension of Metal to want to go after, louder, more extreme etc but often they loose site of some of the key elements that attracted me to Metal…the riffs, technicality, proficiency, speed, power all that stuff. Some bands are so busy trying too hard to look or sound what they think Metal is, that they miss the point.

I’ve seen groups like the PMRC or MTV come and go and after waging deliberate anti-metal campaigns (and losing) so I lumped the SJW into that category.

How important is technicality to you in assessing bands? What about production?

To me technicality is extremely important. I love bands like Dragonforce, Immortal Guardian, Joe Stump, Pathfinder, Dream Theater. I love guitar heroes; I have dozens of guitar/instrumental shred albums so that ranks very highly for my enjoyment. As for production, I don’t feel like I have a very refined ear. It amuses me that some people can say, “The production ruined the album or made it unlistenable”, but that is pretty subjective. I’ve never heard a truly horrible production job that radically diminishes my enjoyment of an album. I listen to two-track Death Metal demos from 30 years ago and I listen to full-on, 120 digital track albums from Prog Metal bands with orchestras and infinite layers of sound (like Devin Townsend for example) and I enjoy each for what they are.

Of all the things that you have written, what are your favourites?

I have a few editorials (and or rants) I have done that are more for my own amusement to point out trends or odd facts. One recent one I did was a piece that stated Slayer has copied W.A.S.P. their entire career. Of course, most people in their right mind would disagree but it was fun to find 10 or so interesting little facts and coincidences about the two bands and do a creative piece. Again, the book reviews are really fun to write. I’ve written close to 300 now. Film/DVD reviews are great as well, they can be more in-depth than just another CD review that ten other websites have already reviewed that month as well. Our site we believe has the largest collection of metal DVD and book reviews on the web, with the exception of the big (not-metal) sales portals like Amazon.

A few years back I was contacted by Dr. Niall Scott of the University of Central Lancashire in England. He is the Chair for the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) and he said he uses my book review section for a reference which I thought was very nice, so the book reviews is probably my #1 fave for now. It’s nice, as the only site that really does many metal themed book reviews people constantly send me books to review which is an awesome perk.

What do you think of #MetalGate? Does metal have its own response to these issues, and not need an outsider view, or should it take influence from other rock genres and consider the SJW agenda?

I have to admit I was not knee deep in that battle. For one, I’m not heavily involved in social media, I don’t do Twitter or any of that stuff so it sort of went under my radar. Secondly, I really don’t care about or put stock into people who criticize Metal. People, the music industry, the church, the government, academics, parents, the media, watchdog groups and even (so-called) fans have been attacking metal from the beginning so I tend to ignore those ignorant fools. I was like, ‘Yup, another bunch of clueless morons with nothing better to do taking aim at Metal’. It was almost a non-issue for me. I’ve seen groups like the PMRC or MTV come and go and after waging deliberate anti-metal campaigns (and losing) so I lumped the SJW into that category. There are but a vocal minority seeking attention by using music (or art, or literature etc) to promote a specific social agenda…it’s like buzzing housefly or yapping little dog, you just ignore it even though you have the power to crush it. I would not want to dignify the SJW clan with a response because the wolf does not concern himself with the opinion of the sheep. Like Jack Black and Tenacious D said, “You cannot kill the metal!” However…. I do admire and support the warriors who picked up the sword and went into battle in the name of metal!

To directly answer your question: No, metal should never compromise and consider the agenda of others; that would be the polar opposite of Metal is. Metal is not about compromise, friendship, or trying to be some happy, all-inclusive, friendly, hippy, group-hug, drum-circle (despite what Sepultura did on Roots!) It never has been and never will be. Embracing that agenda would be one of the worst possible outcomes and it would dilute the purity and beauty of the genre. I think Alice Cooper said it best. He said, (roughly paraphrased) “Metal is not about politics. It is about sex, money and violence. Leave the politics to the punks.”

Can you tell us more about “Metal Mental Meltdown”? Is it true that you’re planning a digital version?

That is a whole other story. The brief version is that I created a heavy metal board game back in 1999. I sold it around the world and it was my full-time job for a short while. Overtime the game ran its course and I returned to the real world of work. I had written some genre-based extension packs but time, energy and money were the enemy. I have often flirted with ideas of some sort of digital version, an app, an on-line game but have yet to put it in motion. The hard copies are still for sale.

What is your radio show, Megawatt Mayhem, like? How do you pick bands to be on the show?

Megawatt Mayhem is one of the world’s longest running metal radio shows. We have been on air for over 29 years every Saturday night on CJSW 90.9FM in the city of Calgary, here in Western Canada. We are a two-hour magazine style show with news, views, reviews, interviews, concert listings and local bands. We have an open door policy for local bands, if a Calgary or area band wants to visit, as long as they have some recorded product of a minimal level of quality we invite them on. The host of the show champions local acts, I am more selective, but it is part of our mandate as a local station to support local artists. We have interviewed tons of bands from the brand new local band in the garage to Metallica.

I also host a more melodic Metal show called Attention Surplus Overdrive which features the more melodic side of the genres; guitar heroes, Prog Metal, symphonic Metal, Melodic Metal etc… it runs for three hours late at night so I can play entire albums by Nightwish or Steve Vai or whoever. I’ve been doing it for almost two years now. It is on the same station, right after Megawatt Mayhem, so I do a really fun five-hour stint every Saturday night/Sunday morning!

If people are interested in what you do, where do they go to find more information and keep up with the latest from you?

Anyone can drop me a line via one of my five (!) Facebook pages! lol. I’d be glad to discuss my involvement in the Metal industry over the last 20 years, from being a promoter, an Assistant Producer of a huge Metal festival, a hosting a Metal nights, and countless small metal-themed projects with anyone who wants to chat!

  1. Joshua Wood (Personal page)
  2. Megawatt Mayhem (heavier radio show)
  3. Attention Surplus Overdrive (Mellower radio show)
  4. Metal Rules (Webzine)
  5. Metal Mental Meltdown (Board Game)

Villiger 1888 Early Day pipe tobacco

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This one came to me as a hand-me-down. A friend wrote it off as a clone of Dunhill London Mixture. Being an intrepid sort, I shoveled it into the pipe and lit up, expecting nothing. Surprise awaited instead: Villiger 1888 Early Day is a Danish take on English tobacco that calms its extremes and leaves a deeply satisfying flavor.

Generally, when we think of “English tobacco,” something like the Dunhill London Mixture comes to mind. But really, English tobacco is a state of mind. It is distinguished from the Danish interpretation of it by its appreciation of the clash of flavors. The Dunhill mixes are spicy, sweet and full-bodied all at once; the Danish interpretation balances the three, so that it is full-bodied with hints of flavor from the spice and sweet without overwhelming. In my inner self, I find this to be a better approach, as it reduces a riotous clash of flavors to a comforting taste that deepens the more it is smoked.

Open opening, the tin emits a thick earthy smell like mulch breathing alongside rich earth. When smoked, the characteristic tang of English tobacco appears at first but muted, then fades to a rich dark chocolate taste tinged with the taste of the air from the deep woods. It burns thoroughly, with thick smoke, and avoids becoming the greasy mess that many English tobaccos become after the initial taste. A satisfying aftertaste remains; it can be smoked either fast, or slowly, but burns roughly the same. A sense of balance pervades this entire blend.

While Villiger will never make headlines — in part for the unfortunate name which sounds like “villager,” a term in English that conveys simplicity and mundanity — this tobacco remains undervalued for those who want a quiet smoke that continually rewards the peripatetic puffer with muted flavor and an absence of the extremities that render trendier pipe tobaccos annoying. This would be a good all-day smoke, on a boat or in a living room, for someone who has worked through the need to define themselves with the radical extremes of external objects, and instead intends only to savor the bounty of life itself.

Hipster champions insincerity, reveals nature of indie-metal

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Self-preening egomaniac solipsist hipster Brent Hinds, who plays with indie-metal (heavy alternative rock) band Mastodon, accidentally revealed the nature of indie-metal as indie rockers who enjoy metal ironically making imitations of better bands. Speaking between bites of arugula and sprouted garlic sandwich on quinoa bread, Hinds opined:

“I never really liked heavy metal in the first place. I came from Alabama playing country music, surf rock, rockabilly, and stuff like that.

“I just went through a phase in my 20s where I thought it was rebellious to play heavy metal. And then I met Brann [Dailor, drummer] and Bill [Kelliher, guitarist], and they were really, really, really into heavy metal.

“And ever since then, I’ve been trying to get Mastodon to not be such a heavy metal band, because I f–king hate heavy metal, and I don’t want to be in a heavy metal band.”

Playing metal to be rebellious is a hipster gig because it is entirely surface with no deeper connection to the music than to use it, as hipsters use all things, to signal your emotions to a world that could not care less. Metal musicians play metal because they love it, but giggin’ hipsters play it ironically to be rebellious and shocking. Hinds finally admitted his own insincerity, but with him he brings down a genre.

Indie-metal arose from the “alternative metal” of the 1990s which took metal riffs and put them in rock songs using the aesthetics of grunge and alternative rock. Although the result was an artistic disaster, it was more palatable than the hip-hop/rock hybrids and other pop experiments of the era, and so caught on. Unfortunately these bands are not metal, only metal-influenced, and so they bring in all of the dysfunctional mid-therapeutic behavior for which indie bands are notorious. The result has been adulterated quasi-metal like Deafheaven, Mastodon, Isis, Pallbearer, Babymetal, Pelican and Vattnet Viskar which has attracted a new audience of underconfident, neurotic and conformist fans while driving away the audience metal built up from the 80s-90s.

Kaeck Stormkult to be released on August 28, 2015 via Folter Records

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War metal/traditional black metal hybrid Kaeck will unleash their first album, Stormkult, via Folter Records on August 28, 2015 worldwide. The band, comprised of members of other Dutch black metal acts, creates a sound like older extreme acts such as Zyklon-B or Niden Div 187 that achieves an unrelenting war metal powerhouse drive mated with a subtle melodic lining.

As written in a first impressions review of advance Kaeck tracks:

Kaeck is a new style of black metal that upholds the intensity of war metal but infuses it with the elegant melody of classic black metal. The result is a surging malevolence on the surface with an inner core of transcendent beauty.

To the experienced ear, comparisons arise immediately to Impaled Nazarene and Zyklon-B, both of whom used the blasting full-speed attack with undertones of melody to its advantage. A more bestial presence occurs here, taking influence from both the death metal crossover of later black metal and the burly high-intensity rhythm and noisy attack of war metal. The result melds sawing riffs with rising hints of melody and then runs that violence into archly ascending phrases which emphasize a union of the aggression and the beauty into a rejection of all but the pure feral naturalism of both beast and forest.

This new style of black metal takes what made war metal powerful and reduces the repetition and tuneless grinding that lowered its listenability, then added what distinguished Norwegian black metal from the rest, which includes unique but straightforward song structures shaped around the concept guiding each song, and melodic underpinnings that allow songs to develop and keep listener interest.

Kaeck is comprised of:

  • Jan Kruitwagen – SAMMATH
  • Swerc – KJELD
  • Oovenmeester – NOORDELINGEN

DeathMetal.org is fortunate to have a unique and exclusive stream of this new material. We are proud to present “De Kult” from Kaeck and its upcoming album Stormkult, unleashed on Folter Records on August 28:

David Vincent leaves Morbid Angel

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On the heels of much conjecture, and his own denials that an expulsion had taken place, David Vincent has announced his departure from Morbid Angel with a softly-worded press announcement:

Austin, TX – June 19, 2015

DAVID VINCENT Encourages
Fans To Stay Morbid

I had good communication with Trey yesterday and we agree that there are incompatibilities with regards to us working together.

Trey and I have accomplished amazing things together over the past 30 years and I wish him the best with his future projects. Out of respect for the legacy of these accomplishments, I encourage Morbid Angel fans to not take sides because, I am not.

I look forward to sharing my new endeavors with all of you in the near future. Until then, stay Morbid! ~David Vincent

While this may be disappointing to many, it represents new ground for Morbid Angel, which just hired Steven Tucker again, lost drummer Tim Yeung and guitarist Destructhor, and appears to be re-organizing itself more toward its last good material produced, 1998’s Formulas Fatal to the Flesh. Given the immense dissatisfaction with the most recent Morbid Angel album which took the band in a more Rammstein/nu-metal direction under Vincent’s guidance, this re-organization looks like the band orienting itself more toward metal material.

In League With Satan and Blaspherian split 7″ goes to press

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Blasphemous Arts Records has announced that the split 7″ EP from Texas apostate cavernous death metal band Blaspherian and Italian black metal act In League With Satan has gone to press and will be available shortly. The label issued the following statement:

We are proud to announce that IN LEAGUE WITH SATAN / BLASPHERIAN (Italy/U.S.A.) Split 7” EP went to press today.

Exclusive and Unreleased tracks by both Bands.
The EP will come with Insert, in a limited run of 500 copies on black vinyl.
Unleashed through Blasphemous Art Prod. & Iron Bonehead Prod.

Infos very soon. Watch Out!

MORBID METAL OF DEATH!!!

Heavy metal channels aggression into inspiration

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In contrast to previous studies showing that aggressive music boosted aggressive responses, a new study shows that instead heavy metal channels aggression into inspiration. While this goes against appearance by making it appear that one can “fight fire with fire,” it makes sense that the expression of a sensation will reduce that sensation and leave the logic behind the emotion.

One article summarized the situation through statements from the researchers:

“We found the music regulated sadness and enhanced positive emotions,” Ms Sharman said.

“When experiencing anger, extreme music fans liked to listen to music that could match their anger.

“The music helped them explore the full gamut of emotion they felt, but also left them feeling more active and inspired.

“Results showed levels of hostility, irritability and stress decreased after music was introduced, and the most significant change reported was the level of inspiration they felt.”

In other words, people who are stressed out, when they listen to aggressive music, discover the reasons for those emotions and feel inspired in turning to address them. This viewpoint seems consistent with the attraction of heavy metal for high-intensity personalities who are often very effective at what they do, but equally appalled by what is around them.

Perhaps this will not lead to blasting of heavy metal in shopping malls, since this effect only works with those who are already feeling stress, anger and aggression. The music helps them channel and understand those emotions, which is consistent with how books and other forms of music solidify wild impressions into clear calls to action.

Further thoughts on Obscura

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Many of us are fans of last.fm and other services which keep track of listening statistics. These allow me to link up various devices that I use and see what my actual listening patterns are instead of what I think they are. For example, if you asked me for a list of top death metal releases, I can easily name something like this list of the best in each genre. But that is an analytical opinion related to the art and music themselves, not a personal habit, which reflects more the day-to-day utility I find in different albums. Such is the split with Gorguts Obscura, an album I listened to extensively when it came out in accidental defiance of conventional wisdom, but then have not picked up since. Part of the reason is the unreasonably loud production, which makes it — like Sinister Hate and other albums of the “early ProTools era” — difficult to listen to alongside classic albums, and abrasively loud with lost texture of distortion. Another reason is that having heard it three times a day for five years, I may have simply absorbed it entirely. A third might be that while it is admirable as a piece of art, it may not be applicable to much of my life or thought process at this point.

I read Old Disgruntled Bastard‘s article “The postmodern Gorguts” with great interest not just because I enjoy ODB’s writing, but because he has cut into a vital topic: does Obscura belong to the old school death metal legions, or is it of a newer style that we call “modern metal”? Modern metal — comprised of nu-metal, metalcore, tech-death, post-metal and indie-rock — distinguishes itself from the old because it is composed like rock but with metal riffs mixed in among the jazz and prog affectations. The analysis of it as postmodern seems to make sense if one considers later postmodernism. Early postmodernism distrusted meta-narratives and so attempted to create its own based on the subtext, or invisible reality, as an alternative to the public text or consensual token-based narrative of our reality and civilization.

Later postmodernism simplified that to an idea of showing many different angles or perspectives of a topic, like a Pablo Picasso painting, which created a surface level of complexity of ingredients so intense that it reduced the organizing principle or internal complexity of the work to near nothingness. Compare Don Delillo’s White Noise to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (itself highly derivative of Pynchon, that highly derivative of Nabokov and Burroughs) for an example of this in literature.

The public school safe answer when asked about the origins of postmodernism is that it sprang up with Foucault, but someone who traces the history of ideas — and actually writes postmodern fiction — like myself may see the origins instead in an early writing by Fred “Mad Dog” Nietzsche entitled “On Truth and Lies in a Post-Moral Sense,” in which he points out the nihilism of language: tokens work only when people mean the same thing, but people project their own desires into the meaning through the imprecise device of memory, which means that narratives rapidly become deconstructed into manipulation and the only excuse is to discard the old values and definitions, and rebuild from common sense observation of reality.

There are, after all, very few ideas in history, and much as Plato was a watershed, Nietzsche defined the different perspectives in the modern time, but this analysis is too far-reaching to be made in public, least of all on the government dime. I remember talking with Audrey Ewell (Until the Light Takes Us) over this very split and finding myself dismissed as perhaps not knowing the background material, which is very un-postmodern as it affirms an official narrative in defiance of the introspection that leads to analysis of externality by structure and not appearance, a trait shared between Nietzsche and the Romantics that lives on in postmodernism albeit faintly, and only in the important works, excluding the forgettable Mitchell for example. Postmodernism appears in movies by David Lynch and Lars von Trier, specifically the death metal-friendly Melancholia, and even in the theories we tell ourselves about daily life. Discontent with The NarrativeTM abounds, but very few agree on what that narrative is or what is the truth that it conceals, which shows a difficulty of postmodernism: it deconstructs and points vaguely in a new direction, but never finalizes the task, which relegates it to the academic realm of sipping Merlot and watching the world build up tinder for the final carnage.

Having boiled out all of that context to postmodernism as idea, let us look at William Pilgrim’s excellent article. Death Metal Underground tries to provide multiple perspectives — in the postmodern sense — on any topic, but diverges from the postmodern narrative by affirming that reality itself is truth, and we can approximate that truth, so we must undertake the almost never undertaken second part of the process which is through reasoned debate to then find answers. People love the idea of multiple perspectives, because it means that since nothing is true, they can do whatever they want and that “feels” good to the forlorn or under-confident soul. They are less enthusiastic about boiling down the data found and constructing from it an assessment of truthfulness. The article contains two essential nodal points, the first of which is the definition of postmodernism:

…a school of thought that attempts to reject overarching structural meaning and belief in greater narratives. To the post-modern mind, existence and experience consist of pluralities, splintered into fiercely individualistic cells prone to subjective rule, and inimical to any attempt at establishing a universal system of knowledge. Under this philosophy, adherence to a common-law guidebook serving as a framework for value judgments would amount to giving tacit approval to an authoritarian scheme of things.

This sounds surprisingly like one of my favorite definitions, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy definition of “nihilism”:

Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated…By the late 20th century, “nihilism” had assumed two different castes. In one form, “nihilist” is used to characterize the postmodern person, a dehumanized conformist, alienated, indifferent, and baffled, directing psychological energy into hedonistic narcissism or into a deep ressentiment that often explodes in violence…In contrast to the efforts to overcome nihilism noted above is the uniquely postmodern response associated with the current antifoundationalists….French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard characterizes postmodernism as an “incredulity toward metanarratives,” those all-embracing foundations that we have relied on to make sense of the world. This extreme skepticism has undermined intellectual and moral hierarchies and made “truth” claims, transcendental or transcultural, problematic. Postmodern antifoundationalists, paradoxically grounded in relativism, dismiss knowledge as relational and “truth” as transitory, genuine only until something more palatable replaces it (reminiscent of William James’ notion of “cash value”). The critic Jacques Derrida, for example, asserts that one can never be sure that what one knows corresponds with what is.

Much of interest stands out here starting with caste. Alan Pratt seems to see the two interpretations of nihilism as reflecting degrees of abstraction. On one level, people say that life has no inherent meaning — that is the correct short form translation of what he says above — and translate that into dissipation; on the other, they see this as an opportunity to escape the dead definitions of a dying civilization and re-evaluate all that is known and how it is seen as important; in other words, to go back to Nietzsche and his Romantic-tinged apocalyptic renewal.

This also introduces the fundamental problem of modern philosophy, which it tries to handle through grammars of different fields of study, consisting of the coherence/correspondence split. A sentence can be completely grammatical and parse-able but contain no meaning because it imitates outward form but refers to nothing and resembles nothing found in reality. “A = x; if A > x, then the world ends” is entirely sensible as an expression, yet gives no information and relates to nothing. Like Nietzsche, most postmodern philosophers attack language, but unlike Nietzsche, they seek to find ways around language where Nietzsche’s point was the more flexible idea that language, logic and other forms of communication and truth-assessment are dependent on those who wield them, their intelligence, honest and intent; in other words, as he said, “There are no truths, only interpretations.”

This nihilism — which sounds a lot like postmodernism itself — distrusts not just a narrative, but the idea that there can be a narrative, or in other words one explanation of reality and how to deal with it that applies to all people. This translates to a distrust of the inherent or innate, such as the idea of “writing on the wall” or any other kind of definitive sign that communicates to all people. In other words, reality is out there, and all of our access to it comes through interpretations; these vary in value, and communication between them occurs through reality, so is subject to the same weakness. This means that there is no single symbolic or token communication which can be said to be innately true, and since the world itself issues forth no data in symbolic form, “truth” is a property of human minds and dependent on the quality, discipline and application of those minds, and is not shared among humanity collectively.

This applies less to the idea of a narrative within, say, a death metal album, that to the idea of a narrative describing our world and universal values to address it. However, individual interpretations can more closely approximate an understanding of reality, even if they cannot be communicated because communication depends on symbolic parity between all parties, which in turn depends on the ability to understand those symbols in roughly the same way. In ancient times, that viewpoint was called “esotericism” because it suggested that reality revealed its truths to those who were ready for them, with both a sense of knowledge being cumulative and not open to all people. A genius or highly talented person sees a different truth than others, thus this truth is localized to that person, and cannot be shared by the act of encoding it in symbols and speaking or writing them to others.

Taking this path through postmodern reveals that while postmodernism “flouts conventions”, as the article states, flouting conventions is not the total of postmodernism; it is one attribute, and it occurs not in and of itself but for the sake of undermining the narrative. This brings us to the core of Pilgrim’s analysis of Obscura:

In its abundant jagged outcroppings and in its constant search for the next unorthodox detour, Obscura shortchanges the simple truth that holds up metal and indeed all ‘essential’ music, that of relating an idea through sound.

I will simplify this in a grotesque but accurate way: tail wags dog. Instead of technique being used as a means of expressing an idea, the technique becomes the goal and the idea is filled in afterwards to unite the different technical parts. This common criticism of metal rings true in almost all disorganized works because the band wrote a bunch of riffs, adjusted rhythm like a big paper bag to fit them all together, and then called it a “song” despite having nothing in common between its parts, and thus no emergent atmosphere or communication which makes the whole more than the sum of the parts. This leaves us with the criticism of Obscura as failing to maintain a narrative, and whether this is related to the postmodern distrust of narratives, which itself could constitute a narrative. We could create a thesis of history describing humanity as a successive series of escapes from previously limiting narratives to new ones, but that then portrays postmodernism entirely as a form of deconstruction, which while compatible with the notion of extreme skepticism fails to capture the Nietzschean notion of “re-evaluation of all values” which is the second half of the postmodern process: (1) deconstruct and (2) reconstruct, from reality (correspondence) and not internal grammars (coherence).

The only remaining question is to analyze the music itself and see if its parts in fact associate in some way as to make a meaningful whole, which is the question here; postmodernism has served as a useful filter for introduction but not really a guide to how to do this. We are back to using the same compositional analysis that would apply to any death metal release, or any through-composed music.

Specifically, Pilgrim identifies the lack of a melodic or structural center:

Conventional melody is used not as the driving force behind the songs heard on this album, but as ballast to the band’s almost painful need to expand the template of extreme metal prevalent till then.

At this point my own narrative must switch to the incredibly general in lieu of analyzing each song. My take on this album is that Gorguts wrote an album in the style of The Erosion of Sanity and then, possibly through the work of Steve Hurdle, added strong melodic continuity. Then, they chopped it and re-arranged it so that riffs introduced themselves both in “backward” order of distilling from more texturally complex to most melodically clear, and arranged them so that the melody was introduced in a pattern which broke up its normal flow in order to introduce pieces in a sequence that created another emotional impression, then assembling it from its conclusion for the final part of the song. This seems to me both not the tail wags dog approach, but also a use of technique over composition, but in this case it was effective because the music was already composed and was modified with an additional layer of complexity and perhaps, some anticipatory contrarianism, in order to make its labyrinthine journey of fragmentary melodies into more of a puzzle assembled in the mind of the listener, not unlike how postmodern novels like Naked Lunch separated a story into vignettes and multiple character/setting groups in order to disguise it and force the reader to assemble it in the abstract, before repeating it in a finale in more concrete form.

However, it seems to me that the core of Pilgrim’s essay is his listing of seven attributes of metal, and that perhaps his intent is to use Gorguts and postmodernism as a point to speak about metal as both having postmodern attributes, and opposing postmodernism by asserting a narrative construction of its own. In this, metal may be a nihilistic exception to the norm of postmodernism, in that while it distrusts the contemporary narrative, and negates the idea of inherent truth/knowledge/communication, it asserts that it can portray reality in a fragment in such a way that others can appreciate it. Regarding the charges of amateurism, Pilgrim makes some solid points. The fixation on iconoclasm and paradigm-inversion, which itself strengthens a narrative by the fact that exceptions tend to prove the rule, and deliberately “whacky” permutations of arrangement draw skepticism, and deservedly so. The third possibility offered by this author is that like most works of art, parts of Obscura are sincere and insightful, and other parts are bullshit designed “outward in,” or from appearance to core, meaning that they communicate little or were modified to express something convenient after the fact. If taken as a whole however, the album minimizes these parts by fitting them within other songs that attract less trivial attention. Where Pilgrim seems proven right to me is through recent Gorguts output which emphasizes mysticism of the trivial as a means of enhancing the self-estimation of its listeners, much as Opeth and Meshuggah built a cottage industry around making simple music seem complex to attract low self-esteem fans who want bragging and pretense rights over their friends; where he falls short is that From Wisdom To Hate, while a more rushed and uneven album, further develops the techniques on Obscura.

 

Pilgrim’s progress

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I thoroughly enjoyed William Pilgrim’s “The postmodern Gorguts” for its list of metal attributes. For many years, writers have attempted to categorize metal and most commonly have ended up with a list of surface traits such as loud distortion, screaming, fast drums and occult lyrics. Pilgrim’s list looks at the compositional tendencies of metal that are consistent from proto-metal through black metal, and bears another analysis as separated from the topic of Gorguts, which is only ancillary to the question of metal itself. Thus follows his list:

The original idea, as metal goes, is as much structural as it is ideological. There are a few qualities that are common to how all true metal should be constructed.

  1. Melodic contiguity: All forms of metal, even the harshest strains, are inherently and recognizably melodic in nature. This means that the individual phrases that make up a metal song obey cohesiveness, as tenuous as it may seem at times. Though individual phrases are often in different keys, it is paramount that they share the same musical space.
  2. Movement towards a discernible and logical conclusion: This is the will to motion previously outlined in these pages. Metal’s roots in traditional story-telling with a beginning, a middle, and an end, are not to be forgotten in eager exchange of a need to experiment. There has to be a gradual ascent, or a plummet as it were, towards an ultimate punctuation. Though various approaches can be used towards achieving this, playing for time in false hope of creating mood, while using ideas containing little intrinsic worth, is anathema to metal.
  3. Rhythm section to assume a strong yet only supporting role: Metal is a predominantly lead-melody oriented form of music. Bass and drums are integral to creating a fuller sound but should only be viewed as swells on an ocean on top of which riffs and songs float. Often, swells rise and raise their load with them, but this hierarchy in relations is crucial and is to be preserved.
  4. Atmosphere created not through textural embellishments and quirks but as a by product of composition: All claim to that shady word “atmosphere” should come from immanent qualities in the way the music is written. Metal does not need overt experimentation with harmonics or tone if these asides are incapable of holding together on isolated inspection.
  5. Awareness that all forms of groove play to a far baser inclination in the mind’s analytical apparatus. They can be enjoyed on a case-by-case basis but are not something to be eagerly sought out or encouraged in metal.
  6. A keen comprehension of repetition as device: Repetition is to be used as steadily outward-growing eddies that take a song to a different place, yes, but one that maintains a tangible relation to the place left behind. Individual components within the repeating phrase should have some emotional consonance and not serve as mere padding.
  7. Conscious realization that metal is in fact composed music and not free jazz.

To insert a minor quibble, I disagree that metal is “ideological.” If anything, it is anti-ideological, being based in a harsh realism rather than a set of platitudes about Utopia, which seems to be the basis of all ideology to me. Metal is intensely artistic, and artists tend to have strong opinions, and from a distance this may look like ideology or even count as an ideology of sorts, but not in the modern sense, which means a series of appealing thoughts designed to mobilize mass approval and thus, political power. If metal has an ideology, it is an artistic outlook of a very general nature and not directed toward specific manipulations resulting in immediate real-world changes; rather, it hopes to condition the outlook of those who participate in it with the most general philosophies toward life itself.

By the same token, metal seems to me to less succumb to lists than a spirit which reflects this philosophy. Technique is a means to that end, and that we now live in an age when power chords and heavy distortion create a sense of foreboding of doom and insurgent power determines that these become the primal technique that unites all the others, like a drawstring bag around otherwise random artistic implements. Metal focuses on the union of harsh realism and intense mythology, because metal is fundamentally a worship of power and these are the greatest powers in human life. Only death is real, and yet people follow religions and hail the ancient stories. If metal has a goal, it is making realism into a kind of poetry, and it uses a series of techniques to that end that form its most visible component, but they are not in and of themselves the goal of the genre.

Let me then add my components of metal:

  1. Nihilism. The music must use the simplest and most gutter-level techniques possible when they are powerful.
  2. Through-composed. From Black Sabbath onward, metal bands have been stacking riffs to explode melodies.
  3. Guitar is lead rhythm. Songs are advanced by guitars, with drums/bass/vocals in supporting role.
  4. Phrasal riffs. Riffs use fills as main body of riff in order to create shapes which interact across key, time and form.
  5. Immanent meaning. No riff or part is the meaning, but the progression of the whole “reveals” meaning.

Any sensible observer will note that the above are simply less specific and more distilled versions of Pilgrim’s seven points above. His focus is more on specificity; mine more on spirit. And yet the two overlap and somehow hash out the same realistic truths about heavy metal. Metal is fundamentally anti-social music, in that it rejects “what everyone thinks” and experiences a downfall instead as it reverts to a nihilistic, literal, organic, materialistic and naturalistic level of reality. It rejects human society and all of its ideas, which are essentially pretense, in favor of harsh realism and mythological aims like beauty, truth, eternal love and eternal hate. I would argue that metal is conservative except for its constant forward focus, not toward “progress” but adventure.

As a result, I would argue that metal is impervious to both ideology and trends, since it consists solely of spirit and the aforementioned method. In fact, it takes no particular point of view, since its method must appear in all that it does. Thus metal is “spirit,” and will adapt to any developments in music, but since there have been none, it howevers around the intersection of the best humanity has produced so far — classical, modernist and baroque — using the techniques available to four guys, guitars, microphone and drums. This then leads us to a more vital question when examining metal, which is whether a band adopts this outlook and method through the question of what an adaptation of that method to the particular style of the band would look like. With post-metal, nu-metal, tech-death, metalcore and other modern metal, we find that missing and its opposite principle, the looping narrative of rock, instead.

Lane 1Q Tobacco

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Scandinavian Tobacco Group sells more pipe tobacco than any other firm on earth, and by repute their Lane Limited 1Q variety sells more than any other. It is easy to see why: this mellow blend leaves a warm vanilla smell in the room, burns slowly and tastes sweet. Almost no one will object to it; most people will agree that it, indeed, is pipe tobacco and thinking no further than that, will enjoy it because it has an inoffensive and easily liked flavor and strikes no dischordant notes. The argument that this tobacco should be sold with all new pipes is a solid one not for the above reasons but because it represents a perfect middle of the road plus extra sugar, and it teaches us what to like — and to what to dislike.

As the helpful introduction to pipe tobacco page at STG explains, pipe tobacco comes from many varieties and pseudo-varieties of the same plant. Varieties consist of genetically separated members of the family, and pseudo-varieties rely on differences in cultivation, seasoning and curing to create different flavors. 1Q comes from the aromatic family, combining Virginia and oriental varieties with vanilla flavoring, for a low-to-medium nicotine dose and extremely sweet, mellow flavor with excellent “room note” or the smell left behind after smoking. The latter part is clearly true; for a mix that wives and coworkers will not mind and in fact enjoy, like a non-dramatic incense, 1Q fills the role.

On the downside, this is the Big Mac of tobacco. Low in nicotine, it is also low in strong flavors, which means that vanilla takes over from the tobacco frequently. It has some bite, mainly because its optimal burning speed is very slow. It is meant to be sipped all day like a hip flask, and yet often pipe smoking varies with the speed of conversation or intensity of thought, so this seems like a poor design idea. It delivers the classic barbershop tobacco smell and is almost impossible to screw up, being resistant to long storage periods as well as inept packing and burning, but the consequence is a character undivinable because it represents every trait of tobacco balancing every other, then obscured by the aforementioned vanilla flavoring.

The average smoker can burn this all day, in part because the nicotine and burn speed are so low that it is more like staying in a room where someone else is smoking a pipe. While it is clearly well-executed by competent people, it also loses character and connection to the nicotiana itself, and fits into that category of neither hating it nor loving it, and only regretting its loss in the absence of other tobaccos. The popularity of this tobacco fits mainly within the nexus between social inoffensiveness and personal caving to the convenient, in this case a sweet vanilla taste, like most human evils. At the same time, it is enjoyable if the low nicotine content and sweetened mass-produkt nature does not alienate you.