Before there was high speed access, or even AOL and dial-up, or even access through your favorite local educational institution, there was a network of hackers and metalheads who traded information with each other through person-to-person dial-up. These were primitive days for technology with most computers maxing out at 1MHz and 64K of RAM, which is like 1/10,000th of a smartphone.
At that time one of the most revolutionary acts was to run an AE (for “Ascii Express,” the program used) line, which was like a 4chan for 1986: completely anonymous, where anyone could upload any file and anyone else could download any file. Metal fans swapped lyrics, reviews and concert information through these online resources, as chronicled in my articles in Perfect Sound Forever and 2600.
The Metal AE served as the ground zero for all metal-related communications and people calling in from all over the world, blue-boxing or otherwise phreaking calls or even using corporate networks to dial out locally. This is where I started, publishing the reviews that eventually became the Dark Legions Archive. The tribute site whose link follows contains some of the flavor of early days of metal on the net.
In the early 1990s, everybody who was anybody had a Godflesh Streetcleaner t-shirt. That album broke out of the usual problems with industrial, which is that it was generally either rhythm music without beauty or dance music without aggression, and escaped the tendency of metal to be as intense as possibly by mixing in aspects of melody from crustcore and indie rock.
Since that time, Godflesh creators have spent their time searching for Selfless II. The crisis is that they are unsure of why that album is so revered. The band began its career with the rhythmic but amelodic Godflesh EP, which became repetitive and noisy but never rose to the level of grace of the album afterward, Streetcleaner. On that album, song structures expanded and use of melody and guitar harmony gave it a power beyond what the EP had. Then came Slavestate which introduced more of a techno influence, but underneath the skin was the same looping song structures with little more than rhythm that defined the EP.
After that, Godflesh tried Pure which attempted some melody, and when they were accused of being too “rock” on that album, Selfless which went back to tuneless droning in an industrial landscape for the most part. After that, the band experimented with alternative rock (Songs of Love and Hate, later resurrected in one of the bravest experiments in popular music, Songs of Love and Hate in Dub) and lost direction until Broadrick found Jesu as an outlet for his shoegaze/indie hopes. He kept enough of the metal and crustcore (remember his role as founding member of Napalm Death, which essentially combined crustcore and DRI-style thrash to make a new art form). But with the second album, Jesu lost its independent voice and became indie/shoegaze entirely, thus dispatching legions of not just metal fans but those who seek something unique.
With A World Lit Only by Fire, Godflesh attempts to return to the musical foreground but makes two critical mistakes. First, let us assume that Godflesh like a serial killer is a duality composed of “hard” and “soft” elements, which are stylistically grindcore and indie/shoegaze respectively. Let us also assume somewhat correctly that these create another binary of extreme rhythm and heavy distortion on one hand and melodic intervals and harmony through drone on the other. The history of Godflesh shows a band bouncing back and forth between these poles. When an album gets too soft, as Jesu did starting with Conqueror, the band bounces to the other area in which it knows it can succeed and sell product. On the other hand, when an album gets too abrasively grinding, it tries to go back toward the middle where it perceives Streetcleaner as existing. Its first mistake is being unable to find a style that balances its two extremes without varying them song by song, and as part of that, in failing to pick up on how much death metal influenced its choice of song structure and radically improved Streetcleaner. (When I last checked in 1994 or so, Godflesh was outright hostile to metal — understandable given the collapse of death and black metal in that year — although a few years earlier the influence had been more accepted as fact.)
The second mistake made by this band strikes me as more crucial. People create great albums in just about any genre but they need to introduce enough complexity to be able to clearly express an experience and corresponding feelings so that the audience can identify with the work and appreciate the viewpoint it illustrates. Napalm Death for example on its early albums succeeded by using individual songs as phrases in what essentially became a longer atmospheric work, but few people listen to it on a daily basis because it is mostly novelty. Not many people hail the Godflesh EP either because despite being a stylistic outlier, it makes for poor listening unless you like droning chromatic grind. The band lacked enough to express itself. With Streetcleaner, the band not only nailed style (mistake 1 rectified) but also nailed content (mistake 2 fix) by introducing enough complexity in song structure, melody, harmony and riff shape to be able to create atmosphere and manipulate it. Everything the band has done since, with the possible exception of Love and Hate in Dub, has focused on a one-dimensional approach where style is substance. While this “the medium is the message” makes sense in an academic setting, with music, it cuts out what Godflesh do well.
At this point, the meat of this review — the part that actually focuses on the new Godflesh album A World Lit Only by Fire — should be fairly obvious: Godflesh reverts to the mistake it made on its initial EP, Pure and Selfless and makes an album that is abrasive but repetitive and fails to introduce the elements of tension that gave Streetcleaner its power. If Godflesh finds a way to make an album like Streetcleaner in any style, even disco, it will take over the world. But that did not happen here. Songs are for the most part simple loops of verse and chorus riffs that while musically competent are essentially boring and rely on rhythm — very similar to Selfless — both in driving riff and in having an offbeat conclusion to each phrase. Over that, vocals rant out a phrase or two. The second half of the album improves with “Curse Us All” which has a powerful rhythmic hook, but the band never develops any of this potential into something with enough depth to want to revisit. This reveals that Godflesh has confused error 1 (style) with error 2 (content) because style cannot magically create content; it can only fit content and thus make it easier for the artist to visualize the content he or she is creating. Thus what we get is an album that sounds like classic Godflesh, but misses out on both voice and substance of classical Godflesh. Summary: Selfless II.
While that seems unusually cruel, even for a site known for its unrelenting musical cruelty, the greatest cruelty would lie in rubber-stamping this rather droning for fan consumption with the formula that most reviewers will endorse: “It’s hard like Streetcleaner, therefore it must be Streetcleaner II, not Selfless II.” This rubber-stamping displaces the funds that fans could spend on a better album and instead redirects them into what ultimately appears to be a dying franchise here, but also, lies to the artists about what they do well. They do not know, as is evident here. What made Streetcleaner great was a fully articulated style that did not slide into Pantera-style angry-bro rhythm music nor wandered into fixie-and-Pabst self-commiserating shoegaze. It took the best from all of its influences, including death metal, and made from it a voice unique to Godflesh. They can do it again; A World Lit Only by Fire is not that album however.
Composing in the tradition of Joe Satriani and other post-1970s guitar instrumentalists, VHF crafts technical shredder guitar and works in a jam bass with fretless bass and sparse but adept rock drumming. In a genre that has of late drowned in punk/jazz/metal hybrids, this expansion on the modern form of guitar instrumentals brings a fresh attitude.
Songs build around melodies which loop gently into verse and chorus with enough space to give the band time to elaborate which they do in the tradition of musical virtuosos since the earliest days of rock but temper their jazz influences with a wide range of rock and progressive ideas. The songs are sparse in form with the melody carving out plenty of room for improvisation in the Satriani style (think Surfing With the Alien, the quintessential modern shredder album) and this, with some latent 1980s jam band overhang, saves the band from falling into the relentless technicality without content — basically regurgitating books of licks and theory — that blights music at this time.
VHF (short for Vinciguerra Hoekstra Franklin, the names of the musicians) may not change the world, but they seem to be on the forfront of change by resurrecting this older style and giving it new life. While shredder guitar died an ignominious death in the early 1990s for being vapid, it also inspired a wide range of instrumental acts, and VHF re-incorporates those influences. This is noisier and heavier than its 1980s equivalent, with heavy bass that calls to mind Budgie, but these songs aim to be predominantly instrumental and to keep our attention with a strong lead rhythm guitar voice.
Unlike the modern counterpart, which uses the carnival-music-style post-hardcore randomness aesthetic to allow it to drop in widely varied riffing to make an incoherent mess, VHF focuses on songs that flow together as much as the foot-tapping guitar classics of the 1970s but without vocals to guide them (except sparingly). Each song has a distinctive melody and improvisation keeps in a range that complements that underlying idea, which means that like a good jazz tune, these songs build on the progression and bring out the flavor of it without lapsing into repetition or randomness.
One track experiments with vocals and weakens the song as a result, even if the vocals are whispered/rasped in a way that avoids the dense cheese of most rock vocals. The power of VHF lies in its articulate guitar and intense rhythm section which keep this music from lapsing into airy Berklee land. Within that framework, the band explore a wide range of styles in world-music fashion but carefully adapt each to their formula. If instrumental music got closer to this, it would restore some listener faith and interest in what now is a bubble just beginning to pop.
Chilean old-school underground metal zine Compilation of Death prepares to release its third issue, a book-bound assorted of interviews, reviews and features on underground death metal and black metal music.
Under the ministrations of editor Gabriel Andres Gatica Kretschmer, Compilation of Death has steadily gained audience and notable writers like Daryl Kahan of Disma fame. Its first two editions now being completely sold out, the zine looks forward to a new audience with this professionally packaged and ornately laid out content.
For years our media saw heavy metal as a kind of deviation from normal pop, which was presumed to be innocent and healthy. Metal, on the other hand, embraced the dark and obscure, the labyrinthine and the terrifying, and — unlike most pop — failed to condemn war, conflict, murder and occultism as “evil.”
As time goes on, it becomes clear that the terms “good” and “evil” are frequently inverted, with each taking the meaning of the other. For example, totalitarian dictators have a tendency to portray normal life as evil in order to make their systems of control seem “good”; conversely, pop music and other products like to pretend they are good and metal “evil” in order to infiltrate your headphones.
Increasingly, however, research shows that pop music is instead the siren call of a civilization collapsing into idiocracy, or rule by morons for idiots. As portrayed in the movie Idiocracy, this state occurs when the thoughtless and incompetent outbreed the intelligent and insightful, resulting in the ultimate consumer society of know-nothing, apathetic people.
Research proves what our parents have been saying all along: Modern pop music really is worse than older generations of pop music. Not only that, it has negative effects on your brain, too — if you’re chiefly a pop music fan, you’re likely to be less creative than any other kind of music lover.
In 2008, Adrian North of Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University published the largest study yet of musical taste, involving 36,000 people, 60 countries and three years of work. He asked each participant to rank their favorite genres of music. He discovered that the most common characteristic among all genre listeners was creativity. However, one group of listeners showed a genuine and significant lack of creativity: pop music lovers.
This suggests what metalheads have said for years is in fact true: metal embraces not just forbidden topics, but acts out the forbidden idea that some music is indeed brain-dead and should be avoided. Wimps and poseurs leave the hall!
Further, heavy metal — by the complexity of its composition, the intricacy of its thought and lyrics, and the technicality of its instrumentalism — acts as a counter-force to this great dumbing down. Unlike music which tries to be popular by challenging no one and making sugar-laden over-processed musical junk food for the inattentive, heavy metal engages its audience and speaks forth social taboos in order to expand the mind and challenge the intellectually sedentary.
It is unlikely that the mainstream media will take note of this. It only takes note of metal when it is “socially conscious,” or flattering our current pretenses of being an upward society moving toward Utopia, instead of a dying civilization creating dystopia through oblivion toward reality as a result of popular narcissism. But parents might take note as they see their children become glazed-eye zombies in the hands of media designed to support idiocracy, not challenge it.
With all of the unanswered questions behind Sepultura lurking in the minds of metal fans, it makes sense that Max Cavalera would launch a guided autobiography like My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond. Together with metal writer Joel McIver, Cavalera pens a work that fits within the genre of rock ‘n’ roll confessional-biographies but underneath the surface, a careful hand edited this narrative into a smoothly-flowing storyline that hits the points of interest to Sepultura fans.
Since the fragmentation of Sepultura, fan rumors and lore have obscured the complex dynamic of interacting personalities that made up the Sepultura camp and led to the consequent splintering off of Soulfly and other related projects. McIver shows his prowess in debunking lore by tracing it back to its origins and exploring the context of the time, which tends to show the lore as anomalous, and then making suggestions as to what was more likely to have happened. Cavalera seems amenable to this process.
My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond reads like McIver accompanied Cavalera for months asking him questions about the past and then stitched together the chaotic responses into a single line of thought. The result is both genial and informative, since with multiple choices for any data point, McIver picked the one that was most thoughtful. As a result the text tends to frequently read as a pleasant narrative that suddenly gets serious in tone and detailed when an important point arises but does not, like most rock bios, leave fundamental questions unanswered by glossing over them with a trivial acknowledgment or anecdote.
The result knits together many complex threads in a narrative that has been both shrouded in mystery and inundated in propaganda from multiple warring points of view during the later years of Cavalera’s career. McIver makes the text flow so that the whole book resembles a campfire conversation. He brings out the texture in Cavalera’s voice by allowing as much as possible of his original statements to persist but seems to have re-ordered them and edited them to make them more efficient and thus intense than your average rock interview.
I started using only four strings on my guitar right after Bestial Devastation. My B-string broke at a practice, and we had a roadie, Silvio, who ended up singing for a band called Mutilator. He said, ‘We have a bit of money left, so we can buy a new string or booze,’ and I was like, ‘Fuck the strings, I never use that one anyway, so let’s get drunk.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you take the top E-string off as well and make it four?’ and I was like, ‘Why not?’
I got used to it, and it became my trademark. I never learned to play lead guitar, and I still can’t, to this day.I could learn if I worked really hard on it, and if I just did a simple, slow solo, but I always wanted to be rhythm only. I wanted to take riff-making to a new level. (61)
From this approach comes a wealth of information about the early days of Sepultura, but it is best read in its full form without an attempt at summary here which would miss the richness of detail and character it reveals. Over half of the book focuses on the post-Sepultura years, which for those of us whose interest in this band died with Arise seems like it would be extraneous, but surprisingly was not. I started reading this like any other story and found Max Cavalera a compelling subject as presented by McIver, and was curious to see how the story fully developed. As the story of a musician trying to find his path, it was ultimately satisfying to see Cavalera achieve the commercial success he has desired for years.
While many metalheads shudder at the mention of Soulfly or Cavalera’s extensive projects after that time, My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond correctly identifies the origin of this tendency in Chaos A.D. and also shows how this was the fulfillment of Cavalera’s original intent. For him, death metal was a transition toward what he liked, which was the simple roots rock and early punk in which a catchy riff and chorus made the song. Through careful storytelling, this fact emerges fully-documented by the backstory of Cavalera’s early life and musical inspirations, and changes what seems like a sinister sell-out to a quiet disagreement. Similarly, seeing the narrative leading up to the Cavalera brothers Igor and Max feuding in the post-Sepultura landscape explains many of the mysteries and lore that surround them to this day.
Although rock biography is not known for its depth and is generally assumed to be more of a public relations exercise than historical fact-based mission, My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond does its best to balance the two and let Max tell the stories as he sees them, while uncovering a factual framework that puts his words in context. Thanks to some inspired interviewing and editing, it is now easy to delve into the fascinating history of the Sepultura experience and how it shaped metal.
As the Ebola virus continues to ravage Africa and spreads into America and Europe, it may be time to get over our squeamishness and explore the wealth of death metal that can be played as we all get headaches, have flu-like symptoms, and finally pass out in pools of blood expelled from our various orifices.
With the help of our readers, we’ve assembled an all-star death metal, grindcore and black metal playlist for Ebola fanatics:
Baphomet – “Infection of Death” (The Dead Shall Inherit)
Carcass – “Vomited Anal Tract” (Reek of Putrefaction)
While many metalheads remain skeptical of academic study of society, the prospect of having orderly study applied to metal carries some benefits in understanding for both metalheads and society at large. So long as this study interprets metal and then develops theories about it, instead of cramming metal into existing theories, it should provide benefits.
In this respect, metal studies walks the same line as commercialism. When bands make music that is both good and popular, few complain; when bands make popular music, and cover it in a skin and aesthetic of metal without adopting the core of what it is to be metal, even the surliest wimps and poseurs begin to feel uncomfortable with the arrangement. Opeth, Cradle of Filth and Pantera, we’re looking at you.
Serbian black metal band Zloslut will unleash its second album U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama in spring 2015 on Dark Chants Productions. To prepare audiences for the new work, Zloslut have released a sample track “Ukleta” (below).
We first reviewed ZloslutZloslutni Horizont – Donosilac Prokletstva, Ocaja I Smrti, which combines black and death metal styles into a unique voice expressing an idea and atmosphere specific to this band, back in February. Since that time, the band has composed and recorded the new full album which will be released on CD and LP early next year.
Zloslut composer Utvara answered our questions for a brief profile as follows describing the new direction this band is taking and how it affects their distinctive sound.
How is the second album different from the first?
It is a completely new album, unlike the first album which was still quite linked to the older material.
First of all, we have made a step forward when it comes to production. It is not crystal clear, but it is not raw either, so expect something in between. The album is around 40 minutes in duration and comprised of 8 all-new tracks, with less instrumental composition than we had on Zloslutni Horizont – Donosilac Prokletstva, Ocaja I Smrti. This time you can expect something new in our music in the form of sampled chants and clean vocals here and there. But it is still Zloslut, primitive, ominous, dark in my own way.
Where did you record it, with whom as engineer and who on mixing deck, and how long did it take?
The album writing started a little bit before the recording of the first (well, this precisely concerns only one track), but the recording phase was a question of only a few days. But all in all, it took me two months for getting everything ready from music to design.
It was produced, engineered, mastered and mixed by Nemanja Krneta (a.k.a. Zlorog), I worked with him already back in 2012 for the EP Pustoš i prevare izgubljenih duša. This guy knows what I want, so that’s why I contacted him. And I’m very happy about how everything turned out, from the recording to the final phases of the whole album.
The recording itself occured in Belgrade, Serbia, at various studios.
What are the topics of these song-titles? I don’t think “Google translate” will work on these.
“U transu sa nepoznatim siluetama” means “In trance with the unkown silhouettes”.
The tracklist is (with translations in parentheses):
Odjeci Ezoteričnih Misli (Echoes of Esoteric Thoughts)
Kletva Ožalošćenog (Curse of the Grieved)
Crni Um (Black Mind)
Transcendentalni Ples Ludila (Transcendental Dance of Madness)
Ukleta (The Haunted One)
Budućnost Smrću Blista (The Future Shines of Death)
Istinska Odanost (True Devotion)
Poslednji San (Last Dream)
The lyrics are quit poetic, if I can say that despite not considering myself a poet. All lyrics deal with occultism, death, delusion of life and mankind.
The University of Victoria English Department and the Heavy Metal department at the University of Victoria invite paper submissions for their upcoming conference, Tribe & Rite: A Heavy Metal Student Conference. The conference will be held at the University of Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada on November 8-9, 2014.
According to the organizers, “Metal culture celebrates the wild, the grotesque, and the forbidden. We invite papers on these themes from across the humanities, social sciences, fine arts, and related disciplines. Papers can draw on lyrics, musical technique, aesthetics (music, fashion, album art), innovations in metal, regional and historical metal movements, and more.”
The organizers suggest the following possible topics:
The makings and markers of a metalhead
Metal as genre, subculture, counterculture, or tribe
Rites and rituals of regional/historical metal movements
The transformation of metal by academia and vice versa
Generational differences in metal
The influence of metal on other cultural movements (e.g. punk, hippy), and vice versa
Comparison of metal with other cultural movements
Comparison of subcultures within metal (e.g. the radical politics of crust, the Satanism, neo-paganism, and occultism of black metal)
The future and fate of metal
Inclusive and exclusive behavior among metalheads
The relationship between metal music and memorabilia