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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Nihilism. The music must use the simplest and most gutter-level techniques possible when they are powerful.
Through-composed. From Black Sabbath onward, metal bands have been stacking riffs to explode melodies.
Guitar is lead rhythm. Songs are advanced by guitars, with drums/bass/vocals in supporting role.
Phrasal riffs. Riffs use fills as main body of riff in order to create shapes which interact across key, time and form.
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.
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.
I discovered the music of Blood Urn through the recommendation of a friend. Like most of what I listen to now, it is music that upholds the spirit of older underground metal, the earliest prog rock, and early metal bands like Black Sabbath: a desire to look past the official one-dimensional categorical narrative and uncover the organic life beneath, and through that, to avoid the manipulation of the mass culture around us and discover personal truths that also correspond to tendencies in reality itself. In the style of the oldest death metal bands, Blood Urn knits together riffs into a complex narrative that continually reinvents itself, creating a roller coaster through a labyrinth effect that incorporates both the progressive and psychedelic ancestry of metal. Fortunately, I was able to have brief speaks with the founder and composer of Blood Urn…
When did Blood Urn form and who are the members? What have you released so far?
The name was given to the project in 2010, but a vague idea already existed for several years before, slowly becoming a definite force. We are not a band. I write and record all the music, a friend records the vocals and some allies contribute small parts. We have released two demos on tape: “Unchain the Abhorrent” (2011) and “…of Gory Sorcery and Death” (2014).
What inspirations and influences helped propel you into starting Blood Urn?
A deep love for darkness and metal music. My influences are mostly the music that I listen to. But of course I also cherish certain occult literature, splatter movies, mythology, paintings… What I like about making (death) metal is that one can incorporate all these influences in such a naive way; there is no need for huge systematic concepts, but a lot of space for instinct and eclectic working. It never looses it’s reckless teenage approach but also provides a sense of depth and seriousness.
A riff has to make sense in the context of a song and it has to serve the song, that is what’s most important to me.
You say: “My influences are mostly the music that I listen to. But of course I also cherish certain occult literature, splatter movies, mythology, paintings…” Can you list your musical influences, especially when you started out with Blood Urn, in addition to literature, movies, mythology and paintings? I think people are fascinated by this kind of stuff because it often reveals a lot about what you value.
Things that are a continuous influence for my work with Blood Urn (and sometimes beyond):
Absu (death metal era, especially the first album and earlier stuff)
Nile (especially the first album)
Cryptopsy (first two albums)
Morbid Angel (old)
Occult stuff like Peter J. Carrol, Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, but not so much recently.
Philosophy like Nietzsche, Camus, Evola, poetic works from Baudelaire, works on religion and spirituality like Mircea Eliade.
Stupid splatter movies, horror movies like Evil Dead, Hellraiser, experimental stuff like Begotten.
Only Norse and celtic mythology when it comes to Blood Urn.
PAINTINGS / ART
I don’t have vast knowledge when it comes to art, but I know what I like when I see it. Rubens’ “Medusa”, Hieronymus Bosch, old woodcuts illustrating death, plague and the devil. VERY much old anatomic illustrations, for example by Andreas Vesalius. Specific Austrian art: Viennese actionism, Hermann Nitsch,… everybody should check this out!
Why did you choose an older style, when newer styles are more likely to get you record contracts, interviews and fame?
If cared about that, I would make different music. But I don’t even think that I would be able to make other music than this kind of metal in a decent way… For example, I am into prog/folk rock and would love to play that style as well, but it just ends up horrible every time I try it.
On the other hand, I am doing an interview right now and people have been responding better to my creative output than I could have ever wished for, so. I am pleased about all the feedback the way it is. If there is something like an underground metal “scene,” then I have to compliment it for being very responsive.
What is it that appeals to you about these older styles? Do you think they are still relevant? How do we measure “relevant”?
Right now, being traditional, backward-looking and a little bit nostalgic is a strength of the black and death metal scene since it spawned a lot of interesting bands that adhere to these ideals. I think tradition will always be relevant for metal music and I am extremely enthusiastic about its complexity. But that is no excuse to replace artistic vision by mere reproduction of the characteristics of a certain style/era… that is a danger for creative potential and I am a little skeptical about the way things are. I don’t know how to measure relevance, but I sure see the danger of becoming trivial. Especially after all the buzz about old death metal vanishes again… which of the records that we bought in the last five years will stand the test of time? Blood Urn? I don’t have the highest hopes, to be honest. And I don’t really care.
A good part of the songwriting may be jamming around and stringing riffs together, but most of the time I have an abstract concept for a song structure and then try to find fitting riffs.
I could not identify a single dominant influence to Blood Urn. This makes the band stand out as different from retro/revivalist bands which seem to target a specific sound from the past. How did you find your own artistic voice in your music?
Thank you, I appreciate that observation very much! I think I like re-arranging elements from different scenes / bands / eras, sometimes by intuition and sometimes intentional. But that is not a main aspect of my songwriting. Maybe it adds a little character. For “Unchain the Abhorrent” I had a vision of a bastard descending from stuff like Archgoat and old Suffocation, I can’t really say if it worked out (there definitely is room for improvement and refinement). For “… of Gory Sorcery and Death” I went for rather pure death metal.
Are there any plans to release an album? Are there advantages to releasing demos first?
“Unchain the Abhorrent” was purely a demo. It came together spontaneously, I did not care too much for sound issues, I just wanted to get something done. But after that, I have to say that I put a lot of work into “…of Gory Sorcery and Death” and it feels like the best I can do at the moment. So maybe I should have put it out as an album; I don’t know where to draw the line to be honest.
Do you listen to any current metal acts? Can you list them, if so?
I do listen to a lot of new metal. Dead Congreagation, Karnarium, Katharsis, Deathspell Omega, Triumphant,… I don’t buy every demo ever released, but I think a lot of worthwhile stuff has been going on in the last years. I also listen to other musical genres, like 70s rock, folk, hardcore punk, grindcore, ambient, noise and so on.
How do you compose your songs? Are they riff-based, melody-based or idea-based?
I would say the emphasis is on ideas! A good part of the songwriting may be jamming around and stringing riffs together, but most of the time I have an abstract concept for a song structure and then try to find fitting riffs.
I think tradition will always be relevant for metal music and I am extremely enthusiastic about its complexity. But that is no excuse to replace artistic vision by mere reproduction of the characteristics of a certain style/era.
How do you determine what riffs, songs, parts, etc. to keep and what to reject?
I write a lot of riffs and it is hard for me to reject any of them. I know, there may be a few filler-sounding riffs on my demos, but I don’t mind that too much. It gives certain other parts a climax-like effect and I like that, because it adds structure to the songs. I know a good riff when I stumble upon it, but I sometimes have hard times with parts that don’t click the first time. I tend to keep all the material I write as placeholder for better parts, but sometimes I familiarize with it after a while. A riff has to make sense in the context of a song and it has to serve the song, that is what’s most important to me.
If people like what you have been doing, where should they go next to learn more? Any upcoming news you can share?
Blood Urn does not have a website or facebook page, but feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are plans for a re-release of “…of Gory Sorcery and Death” on Vinyl as well as a new 7″. I haven’t been working on Blood Urn for the last few months, but there will be something new this year.
Having watched this zine grow from humble origins to the reliable source of underground metal feature stories that it is today, the metalheads who comprise the underground — including death metal, black metal, grindcore, and some speed metal and doom metal — now expect high-quality on-point content from this zine, and Issue Seven delivers with style. Now possessing the journalistic weight and audience to command high-profile bands, Codex Obscurum returns with wide-ranging interviews, reviews, features and editorials with adventurous literary fiction as well.
Interviews have always pushed this zine above the rest because of their conversational nature but tendency to explore the thinking behind the musical decisions made by the band, with little attention spent on the surface fluff, but some questions that bring out the personalities of the musicians and explain their connection to the art. In this issue, the biggest name in interviews is Deceased, but perhaps the most powerful interview belongs to Thanatos. Covering both Hail of Bullets and Thanatos, this interview with Stephan Gebedi is as detailed and congenial as death metal interviews get, and covers a lot of history. The Deceased interview will strike most as idiosyncratic because it covers much of King Fowley personally and recent news, with less emphasis on background, but this reflects the general abundance of Deceased interviews on the early days. This updates us on the status of the band including information new to most sources. Other interviews with Wastelander, Drug Honkey, FaithXTractor, Crypt Sermon, Magic Circle, Dawn of Demise, Untergang, Slaughtbath and Blood Incantation follow similar patterns of compiling biographical details and consulting on musical intent, with the Untergang and Crypt Sermon being most compelling. All of these are well-executed and constitute the backbone of this zine.
Issue Seven contains a number of features, one of which takes the form of an interview. Artist Tony Cosgrove gives his points of view in a story which interweaves his images with his words, creating the sensation of being a museum exhibit with slightly longer detail cards. A feature on asymmetrical board games offers a glimpse into a world that overlaps with metal but is too nerdly for the mainstream tuffguy websites to cover. A lengthy write-up of the Kill-Town death fest in Denmark follows, which captures much of the atmosphere without excessive detail, but also skimps on a few vital points and may be the least powerful part of the zine. Then again, fest writeups are nearly impossible because everyone is tired and/or drunk (and stoned) so what remains are hazy recollections and the ability to look through the heaps of scored merch. Possibly my favorite features lurks at the rear of the zine, which is a malevolent and tongue-in-cheek editorial about the nature of battle jackets and how they should be worn. This piece reminds me of the 1980s text-files that hackers used to pass around: it has an off-the-cuff feel to the writing, but the thinking seems refined over time, which creates an interesting casual intensity. One intriguing feature, to my knowledge unique among current zines, comes in the form of a short story. Like a condensed zombie sci-fi horror movie, “Evil Seed” (named for the Morbid Angel tune?) efficiently whips through a haunting mystery of an experience with a powerful organic metaphor. This story not only adds to the zine, but its placement dead in the middle creates a break like that when flipping over a vinyl album to hear side two.
Toward the rear of the zine festers another important section: reviews. For metalheads without much time to wade through the mountains of spurious and often spiteful opinions in online comments, or the completely idiotic sales jobs that mainstream zines and web sites put out in place of reviews, where every release is the greatest ever and will tear your head off or make you look intellectual to the girlies, zine reviews offer peace of mind in purchasing by offering better than even chances that a given release will be a match. This occurs both through qualitative assessment, and quantitative description, both of which are featured here. These take a conversational tone but know when to drop the one or two lines of most vital description, and then an assessment, separating observations from judgments enough that the reader can shop by the relative distance between the taste of the reviewer and their own. In this issue, the selection of reviews is a lot more strategic and covers all of the vital ground for what was released during the press period of this issue.
As Codex Obscurum has grown, so has its proficiency in layout. This is the most readable issue yet, generally sticking a band logo at the start of an interview and then being sparse with other images and keeping the text high-contrast usually of a light grey on black variety. This format works well and the use of distinctly shaped fonts also keeps this from falling into the trap of the illegible muddy blur of a xerox disaster that many zines are. Reviews are black text on grey background for added readability, and whether from rush or deliberation, the black-on-white table of contents is if nothing else clear as a bell. Writing standards have inched upward, too, with tightly edited pieces and almost no typos and spelling errors. All of the above make it easy to pick up this zine, which at half-page size can be handily carried anywhere you would take a paperback, and to relax and absorb the content. It would not be surprising to see someone whip this out at a university library, transhumanist rally or on the international space station, because it has that kind of density of information and yet casual enjoyment factor. It is good to see this zine getting the recognition it deserves and its growth both in size and technique for an intensely professional and yet familiar metal reading experience.
This Latvian band represents what happens when all of the correct elements are assembled, but the aesthetic takes precedence over songwriting, and so the latter is filled in with random elements to fit the vision of the former. This shows the limits of vision because this framework imprisons musicality within aesthetics, in the converse of technical bands who come up with cool riffs and back-invent a purpose to them. Skyforger combines black metal, speed metal and nascent death metal into something a lot like the early works from Dodheimsgard: compelling rhythm, but a lack of internal connection creates a sense of genericism that clashes with the aesthetic and leaves the listener with a vision of lost objective.
Bouncy speed metal riffs collide with black metal and ripping early death metal style riffs to support the vocals, which apparently say something significant, but owing to the need for vocal predominance force songs into a verse-chorus format that reduces riffs to background sound, which in turn limits their role to bouncing around and providing some contrast to that, but never taking the lead in song development. As a result, Senprusija feels like a platform for the vocals and what stands out most is its speed/death metal roots, which are composed of what is essentially straightforward rhythm riffing partnered with melodic hooks. This makes for a pleasant listen, but one too disunified to stand the test of repetition.
Taking a page from the book of fast speed/death bands like Merciless, Skyforger keep the melodic hook as the center of the song but pair it German speed metal style with a chanted and rhythmically catchy chorus which quickly dominate the rest of the song. The constant chugging riffing, as happened on later Vader and Slayer albums, reduces focus from the interaction between riffs and fails to suspend disbelief because this style fits too easily into the rock framework which requires constant competing internal distractions to advance the song. As a result, consciousness is lost and songs subdivide into parts. There are many good riffs on this album, but the whole does not add up.
Pipe tobaccos navigate a narrow path between twin evils: too sweet and too raw. On one hand, there are cute boutique flavors that would be more appropriate for church potpurri, and on the other bland or unbalanced smokes that taste like tobacco clearcut fires. Dunhill has for years provided a number of a varieties of tinned tobacco which have drawn their defenders and critics. For the casual smoker, London Mixture offers a mixture for comfortable consumption in about any situation. With a reasonable wallop of nicotine, but not an excessive one, and a classic room note — the scent it leaves in the air after being smoked — it goes straight down the middle of the road but does so with a careful nose for what smokers need for an everyday, casual smoke with quality and elegance.
Formed of mixed Virginia, oriental and Latakia tobaccos, London Mixture balances the light earthiness of the Virginia against the sweetness of the oriental and the darkness of the latakia. In the mix, individual shreds of each can be distinguished, but when burned together the result is a gentle mellowness with undertones of more exotic flavors. This Virginia tobacco is not as sweet as others, and this completes the harmony within the blend, allowing each flavor to blend with the others into a single tone from which undertones emerge as the burn continues. Of moderate nicotine, the mix provides a solid smoke but avoids the jumpiness of more ramped up recipes. With a slightly bitter taste forming just as the first smoke twists above the pipe, this aggregate provides enough depth of texture to the smoke to avoid falling into the boredom trap of most medium mixes.
Dunhill built its reputation on providing tobacco for daily use, but generally splinters its blends into specific purposes. The London Mixture bridges the gap for someone who wants to keep a pipe around and fill it with something that avoids extremes but also eschews boredom, and the cantilevered flavors provide that richness and leave a lingering smell that might remind you of Grandad but also draws ladies with daddy issues as well as gardeners who love its earthy undertone. A dry tobacco that burns thoroughly, it provides a good kicking around smoke like an Ibanez is the perfect guitar for ripping out a few riffs or idling away an afternoon with aimless leads and homemade root beer. While this might be pricier than most bulk blends, it provides quality and moderation for the everyday smoker, which is why many people grab this tin rather than mucking about in the world of overly-sweet or -harsh “adventurous” blends.
Many of you know how I consider this one of the finest movies ever made because it accurately nails the desolate and isolated conditions that thinking people found themselves in when the world when crazy in the 1980s. “Cult movie” does not describe a work of cinematic art that scoops up the narrative, shakes it out and shows its holes, then re-organizes it according to a broader and more realistic principle through which the artistry of the movie can make beauty out of dysfunction. To all of those who found themselves stranded in popular culture, caught between miserable careers and a constant crime wave of social collapse, hoping for some ray of light that could make sense or even comedy of it all, Repo Man delivered the goods.
Now, a dozen bands take on the original sound track, which back in the day featured bands as varied as Black Flag, Iggy Pop, Fear, Suicidal Tendencies and The Circle Jerks. That is a hard act to follow, especially since many of these songs went on to become classics in their own right, but American Laundromat Records assembled brave voyagers to give it a shot, and were gracious in providing us with this promotional release. With a release this varied, only a track by track view will work…
Those Darlins – “Repo Man” (Iggy Pop): This track differs from the original mostly through the vocals, which take a candy-rock approach with ironic, saucy and sometimes surly female lead vocals that transform this song from the growly original into a more sinister take that approaches with soft sounds and turns into an acid monster.
Polar Bear Club – “TV Party” (Black Flag): A faithful cover with overtones of punk nerd, this take on the well-known Black Flag anthem gives it a slightly faster tempo and more proficient guitars, but inserts vocals that sound like The Descendants back from a prison bash, capturing the surly of the original. Of note are the riot vocals which are both faithful and gleefully pure tribute.
Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – “Institutionalized” (Suicidal Tendencies): Most of this song is spoken word, which is modified here to be more about peer pressure than parents, and now gets stitched over a skacore take on the Suicidal Tendencies light thrash original. That creates a kind of lounge environment which shows off the vocal performance more, and Palmer accelerates her performance to Shakespeare-in-the-Park levels, which makes this track more unnerving but also somewhat overstates what was originally more subtle. This works less well on the thrash parts of the vocals, which become more whiny than the desperate violence unleashed of the original.
New York Rivals – “Coup d’Etat” (The Cirle Jerks): As if giving the Morrisey treatment to this punk rock classic, New York Rivals drop in a male crooner vocal taken to Diamanda Galas extremes, then treat the guitars more like a late 80s synth/industrial band, complete with blatant drum machine. The result is compelling as a pure sonic treatment.
Black Francis & Spanish for Hitchhiking – “El Clavo Y La Cruz” (The Plugz): A covertly jazz-infused take on this atmospheric tune, this cover remains faithful while often unrecognizable with more of a Tejano sound designed to capture a live recording or at least the feel of one. Additional guitar texture gives this added power, but the more dramatic internal rhythmic shifts do less for it, although they do handily distinguish this version from the original.
The Tellers – “Pablo Picasso” (Burning Sensations): An electro-lounge take on this crowd favorite proves enjoyable but puts too much emphasis on the vocal performance, which reduces the effectiveness of the song as a mad rush of insanity and makes it sound more like background music that fades into the indie-rock milieu. That aside, this song is well-executed and could easily introduce a new generation to this song without them even knowing it. Interesting rhythm guitar playing.
Mike Watt & The Secondmen – “Let’s Have a War” (Fear): This approach reminds me of the style of Cop Shoot Cop or Big Black, executed by The Minutemen’s Mike Watt and unnamed musicians. The pounding keyboards and synthetic sounds make this song even more disturbing, as does Watt’s megaphone-styled vocals which sound like an apocalyptic news announcement more than a pop song.
The Suicide Dolls – “When The Shit Hits the Fan” (The Circle Jerks): Playing this song on guitars more like a straight later hardcore-influenced punk rock song, and then doubling male and female vocals, The Suicide Dolls give this song a different life. It becomes more disaffected and less ironically humorous, also picking up the rhythms and pacing of underground after-hours clubs. The increased guitar presence makes this a more enjoyable listen than the original.
Matthew Sweet – “Hombre Secreto (Secret Agent Man)” (The Plugz): Nothing wrong with this energetic and fluid take on the original song, but it loses the unique feel of it and may not replace it with anything more than a sense of disinterested passion for life. The vocals dominate the song, and a more precise take on its rhythms makes it more forceful.
Moses Coltrane – “Bad Man” (Juicy Bananas): Essentially a spoken word piece over some background music, this song paralleled the rants by the character Lite as he introduced Otto to the rougher side of automobile repossession, as contrasted to the overly optimistic and detached screeds from Bud. This new cover introduces more aggressive guitars and voice-over quality vocals, causing this song to pick up momentum instead of being merely background noise.
Weekend – “Reel Ten” (The Plugz): Whole swathes of Generation X still get misty-eyed when this song comes on, and no challenge is greater than taking on an emotional classic. This industrial-tinged take on the song keeps the mystery, sounding like a hybrid between Erasure and Sisters of Mercy with an eye for the epic, complete with Tangerine Dream styled space effects. Well done.
It would have been easy to botch this album or make it cute. Instead, whoever organized this took the time to seek out musicians who would make interesting contributions. In my view, the weakest tracks are the Amanda Palmer and Matthew Sweet, but none are incompetent. Taken as a whole, Tribute to Repo Man renovates these songs in a language that newer listeners and older fans alike can appreciate, creating new angles of approach to one of the more idiosyncratic and yet purposeful soundtracks ever created. Whoever these American Laundromat guys are, I hope they do more like this.