Opeth frontman says metal fans are “closed-minded”

notorious_metal_haters

Heavy metal music gets a bad rap, not just from people who dislike it, but from people who claim to like it. The problem is that criticism draws attention to the speaker, so there’s no better way to stand out than to stand up and say, “All of this is wrong!”

While some critics of the current way are motivated by a desire to create useful change, most people are motivated by self-interest and change for change’s sake, which lets them seize attention and/or power. Opeth’s frontman Mikael “Mick” Åkerfeldt recently attempted such a power grab.

His statements, recorded in a Metal Hammer interview via Metal Injection, are harshly critical of metal but suffer a gigantic logical “plot hole” that makes them totally nonsense.

First, here’s Mick’s statements:

In metal, evolution doesn’t seem to be that important. I think most metal fans just want their Happy Meals served to them. They don’t really want to know about what they’r getting.

For a while, I thought metal was a more open-minded thing but I was wrong. Maybe it’s different from country-to-country. Don’t get me wrong, I love metal, but I’m also open-minded.

I admire some bands that do the same record over and over again – I wonder how they don’t get bored! For us, and Anathema, it seems impossible for us to stay still.

Take a quick glance at that last paragraph. Therein is the point of this whole diatribe: he wants you to like his album. Summary: Our record is totally different and unique, everyone else is bad, buy our record.

Then let’s look at the first paragraph. He says something nasty, which is the “Happy Meals” comment. Happy Meals are not just soulless junk food, but they’re also for kids. He’s saying you’re being spoon-fed baby food.

Then Mick makes some accusations:

  • [Metal] “evolution doesn’t seem to be that important”
  • “They don’t really want to know about what they’re getting”
  • Metal is not “open-minded”
  • Other genres are “open-minded”
  • Metal is boring because the albums by the same band are similar

His assertion that metalheads “don’t really want to know about what they’re getting” seems to make zero sense in a world where people download albums before buying them, or at least hear them on YouTube or via label-sponsored streaming on SoundCloud. In fact, metalheads have always wanted to hear the album before buying, even when they had to do it with CD players and headphones in record stores (as in the 1990s). It seems as if metalheads are picking albums for reasons that Mick just doesn’t understand.

It’s good to ask ourselves if the words he’s using mean what he thinks they mean. For example, what does “open-minded” mean? Does it mean you listen to something, experiment with it and reject it? Or that you include it in the album? On one extreme, “open-minded” means you never throw out an idea if it’s unusual. That obviously makes no sense. On another extreme, “open-minded” can result in you making very similar music if you reject other stylings for logical reasons related to your intent in making that music. For example, if I’m writing an opera about the downfall of a dynasty, including a sudden burst of cheerful carnival music might be completely inappropriate and defeat my purpose in writing that music.

This leads us to the biggest point here, which is that Mick is playing definition games. Without similarity, a genre doesn’t exist. We can call things “heavy metal” because they’re more similar to each other than they are to other genres, or because they have certain central tenets that correspond to beliefs. For example, that dark angry music should be “heavy,” which usually means distortion, minor key, complexity, unusual twists and turns. Or that the genre should use riffs in ways unlike rock, blues, jazz, etc. Or that its riffs should have an internal dialogue, as death metal does, which cause the chromatic equivalent of melodic evolution.

Without that similarity, the genre doesn’t exist. This is proven by Mick’s own decision to incorporate other elements in his work. He has affirmed the genre by saying he wants to operate outside of it. This implies that he recognizes metal by its similarity, which makes his complaining about it seem ludicrous. Further, when he’s saying that metal is “closed-minded,” what he’s really saying is that it doesn’t include other genres in itself, at which point (somewhere) it would cease to be metal, as he has acknowledged his own next album will do. This is the gigantic logical “plot hole” in the midst of his statements.

We could turn his argument around on him and say that he is in fact the “closed-minded” one. If he has to turn to other genres, it’s because he can’t figure out a way to make variety in metal. In part, this may be because he has literally closed his mind to the possibility of there being variation in metal (and this usage of “closed minded” seems more accurate) and can’t understand it or perceive it and thus, can’t reproduce it. If he looks at metal and thinks that Demilich, Gorguts, Incantation, Suffocation, Asphyx and Varathron are all doing the same thing, of course he’ll have to turn to other genres. He can’t perceive vast musical variation within metal.

This perhaps explains a lot about Mick’s band, Opeth. I first heard Opeth while standing in the Wild Rags store when Richard C. put a copy of Orchid on the stereo. Against his subtle advice — “it’s OK, might not be your thing” — I bought it, and spent the next dozen years regretting it before I finally sold it off for book money. My perception of Orchid was that it was the work of a band that did not want to be a metal band, and that they had one primary technique, which was to play up the dynamic change between acoustic and distorted music. They were far from the first to discover this technique, which was later used by nu-metal bands in the same way Opeth used it, which was multiple times in a song to create a verse/chorus differentiation. Here’s Death using a more tasteful version of the technique:

I noticed some similarities between Opeth and the Swedish bands who went before (Opeth was formed in 1990 by guys who had previously been in second-string Swedish speed metal and heavy metal bands). Swedish death metal had experimented with softer sounds before and the use of acoustic instruments, but had used them to atmosphere effect, instead of relying on a simple binary contrast. For example, check out this track from Cemetary which came out a year after Opeth was formed:

Another band that deserves a comparison to Opeth is Tiamat (formerly Treblinka, before they realized how that name could be mis-interpreted). Tiamat also did not want to be a heavy metal band, but a blues-hard rock band with a softer vibe like the English Gothic pop that was in vogue some years before. They had a very pop vibe and used acoustic guitars to set up contrast for crashing distortion as well, and also liked to incorporate lots of other genres:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6gYOh3SZL0

Opeth got famous not on their “open-mindedness,” but rather on playing to the image they had for fans. The early Opeth propaganda coming out from the labels suggested they were progressive and that, while most metal fans wouldn’t understand the complex and nuanced work of Opeth, those who could understand it would love it. If you’re an underconfident teenager, this takes you from zero to “I know something you don’t know” in four seconds. It’s a win for marketing and you’ve probably already noticed that it’s exactly parallel to Mick’s statements about “closed-mindedness.” Summary: Other people don’t understand us, but if you like us then you’re presumed to understand us and thus, you must be both able to appreciate greater musical complexity and open-minded.

As you can see, this whole kerfuffle is based in marketing and not reality. Opeth doesn’t care about “closed-mindedness” in metal any more than I care about orphaned chinchillas in Williamsburg (no, I do… I really do). This is about selling you records by appealing to your damaged self-image and giving you a way of feeling better than other people. That’s the same reason Opeth sold themselves as a progressive band despite lacking the melodic complexity, variable song structures, epic symbolism equated to melodic development and other factors of the original 1970s progressive rock bands. Opeth isn’t progressive; this is progressive:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amBqI4t6JE0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjC1t2i5wm0

And if you’re actually “open-minded” and can see past the narrow expectations defined for you by other media and social forces, this is progressive death metal:

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Micro-songs: the shortest songs in heavy metal

no_time_for_pop_songsAbout a decade ago, the trend of flash fiction or micro-stories seized the literary world by storm. The reasoning was that as people did more of their reading via phones and portable computers, they would want shorter, harder-hitting fiction.

Of course, metal was there first.

Heavy metal has a long tradition of making short and fast songs that derive intensity by compressing an idea and then unleashing it like a jack-in-the-box with razor blades for teeth. This tradition spans multiple metal genres and decades.

Generally three and a half minutes is considered the ideal length for a pop song, give or take a half-minute. Many bands, especially in more “serious” genres like AOR, progressive rock, jazz and metal, tend to write five minute or longer songs. Micro-songs on the other hand clock in well under two minutes, often under one.

According to many bands, writing a short song is harder than writing a long one. When the song goes by quickly, song structure is more transparent. There aren’t comforting layers of conventions, like guitar solos and ballady choruses, that can be used to disguise an emptiness within.

It’s just the songwriter versus the void.

Here’s a (brief) run through of heavy metal (and hybrids) who made flash-audio or micro-songs.

  1. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI) – “Money Stinks” (0:46)
  2. Corrosion of Conformity (COC) – “Nothing’s Gonna Change” (1:07)
  3. Disharmonic Orchestra – “Interposition” (1:59)
  4. Napalm Death – “You Suffer” (0:02)
  5. Blood – “Sodomize the Weak” (1:38)
  6. Insect Warfare – “Oxygen Corrosion” (0:54)
  7. Gridlink – “Asuka” (0:35)
  8. Fallen Christ – “World of Darkness” (1:57)
  9. Carcass – “Genital Grinder” (1:32)
  10. Chronical Diarrhoea – “Attack of the Blur Demons” (0:55)
  11. Agathocles – “Well of Happiness” (1:10)
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Disfigurement – Soul Rot

disfigurement-soul_rotSoul Rot shows Disfigurement melding a number of different styles with an attitude of keeping intensity at full speed like a raging death metal band in the Pentacle or Hail of Bullets style. On the surface, this is percussive blasting death metal, but underneath the skin are rich bluesy solos reminiscent of Metallica, melodic riffs off an Amon Amarth album, and varied death metal influences from the late 1990s.

However, at its core, this band hearkens back to the mid-1980s and the collision of speed metal with underground metal that occurred on Bathory’s Blood Fire Death. On that album, charging riffs led songs into full-speed development, then dropped them into rhythmic riffing that recalls the best of Exodus and Nuclear Assault. Here the influences are more from the death metal side, but the speed metal core emerges over time.

Guttural vocals and a strong sense of rhythm from the interaction between bass and drums drive Disfigurement to apex sonic terrorism. Where this band is weak is in the loss of dynamics caused by the constant high intensity riffing, but their strength is in riffcraft and knowing when to leave out extraneous threads. The result is hard-hitting and musically literate.

We are fortunate to have a chance to talk with Nate from Disfigurement, who wants to remind you that you can hear the title track from Soul Rot and other songs at Disfigurement’s bandcamp page.

What was the moment at which you decided to become Disfigurement? How did the band come together, and were there any influences on which you “bonded” that later shaped your music?

Cheers, thanks for interviewing us. We’re very forfunate that people are interested in what we’re doing, especially Deathmetal.org.

Disfigurement came together at the very beginning of 2011. Adam and I were hanging out a lot, and he told me about this project he had been wanting to start for a while, a straight-forward thrashy-death metal band. He had been talking to some people that he’d played in bands with before, and gotten Richard and Max together, I volunteered to try out for vocals.

Once we got Vaedis onboard with drums, we had a whole line-up and were playing shows by March. I remember Vader and Carcass being the main influences for Adam at the time, and Panzerchrist and Deicide being the main influences of mine. There were also many bands like Morbid Angel, Dissection and Sodom that were going to play a part in our sound. We played around with the vocal styling a bit, but from the beginning were pretty set on the sound that we have to this day.

Soul Rot seems to be influenced by old school death metal and melodic metal, perhaps even Swedish bands like Necrophobic. How do you balance these two extremes, the guttural blasting chromatic menace of old school death metal, and the more elegant melodic side?

I feel that it’s always come naturally to us. That’s not to say that its always easy. I also don’t really feel that OSDM and more melodic death metal are really extremes; I guess it depends on what exactly you consider old-school or melodic. I think that the techniques used to deliver certain riffs and ideas can change it from brutal to melodic even though the ideas are really very similar. Our music has always had a very strong melodic basis, even if it’s over straight blasting and guttural vocals.

What makes a good metal song for you, and how do you write one? Do you start with a riff, lyrics, an idea or something else?

Our writing process usually involves Adam writing a sort of thematic idea that the song is based off. Most to all of the muisic is written, which is what I write vocals over. The song’s idea has a lyrical concept, often one word. I take that theme and build an entire concept for the song around that. The lyrics are written following this idea. Often the idea that I have is somewhat different or more complex than the original notion, but it’s rooted at the core of the song, and likewise the album. There is always an emotion central to the song’s essence.

A good metal song to me is one that is impossible to listen to without having a gut-wrenching reaction to. It has to grab me from the inside: heavy, and dynamic, but always evocative.

The production on Soul Rot is quite clear despite a lot going on during the album. How did you record this one, and did you use any special instrumental techniques to slash out those riffs?

There’s really no tricks or thrills, we just focused on getting crushing tones, and building from there. There is really no room for error in what we play, but at the same time, it has to come across as human and alive. We took our time tracking and made sure everything was precise, but not mechanized and sterile.

Can you tell us what you hope for in the future, and what you’re working on now?

We hope to be playing some festivals in the near future, and getting the backing to support a tour. Right now we are just trying to promote Soul Rot, which is what we’ve been working on for quite some time and really put ourselves into. We’re hoping Soul Rot will garner the support we need to continue.

Why did you choose old school metal styles over the newer options available? Do you think the fans will penalize you for this choice?

I don’t know that we decided consciously to start playing an old death metal style. A lot of the albums that we listen to that are very influential for us, such as Litany, Winds of Creation, M-16, Soul Collector, Gateways to Annihilation, and Serpents of the Light all came out in 2000, or the very late 90s. I suppose that’s still a much older style than much of the more modern bands’ stuff, but we’ve never been interested in anything like that. We just play in a way that conveys our message. It seems that old school death metal is the proper medium to express our feelings of nihilism and aggression. As far as the fans, it seems that many have been waiting for an album such as this to come out in recent years; as far as those who don’t like the style, there’s plenty else to chose from.

I appreciate the effort required by these questions and look forward to the end result.

Once again, thanks for the interview. We’re glad there is an interest in what we’re doing. We couldn’t do it without Sleyja over at Boris Records, please check out the other stuff that he’s doing as well and support our rising wave of bands that are putting out killer material.

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Deicide – In the Minds of Evil

deicide-in_the_minds_of_evilIf you break any ground as a band, you will suffer from momentum inertia. Your initial direction will carry you quickly to its end, and after three albums, you will find yourself with a loss of direction.

This occurs because in your vision, substance and form were joined, and you made a language out of what you wished to express. For some visions, a lifetime of specifics can be created; for most, there are big picture things to do, and then emptiness.

Deicide hit that point after its groundbreaking Legion. They put everything they had, worth about what ten bands do in their lifetimes, into that album. They wisely made a followup that simplified their approach but made it harder hitting.

After that, however, the band has been searching for a direction. Serpents of the Light adopted some of the black metal conventions of the time, but ended up too sing-song; their efforts after that have been varieties of heavy metal and death metal that never quite grasped a direction.

On In the Minds of Evil, Deicide return to the roots of death metal and make an album along the lines of Entombed’s Clandestine: bluesy leads, tremolo picked choruses, divergent riffs for textural variation. It doesn’t have the grandeur of the Entombed variant, but it achieves the 1992 death metal feel very successfully and is much more internally consistent than previous Deicide works after Serpents of the Light.

Vocal rhythms often recall the more intense moments of Legion and Once Upon the Cross and these, while repetitive, are not offensively so. Riffing ranges from old-school death metal to melodic heavy metal, but mostly stays within the zone of influence picked by the first wave of American and European (including a Carnage riff) death metal bands.

With that change, Deicide is actually making a form of music that came after their initial work, which while it used death metal vocals, like all forms of percussive death metal was at least half speed metal. On Deicide and Legion, the primary influences are Slayer Reign in Blood and Sepultura Beneath the Remains structurally, but the riffing style is more like Exodus crossed with Possessed with the complexity and intensity turned up to eleven.

In the Minds of Evil shows Deicide moving past its original speed-death hybrid and into pure death metal, but retaining a huge amount of heavy metal influence. The victory of this album is its consistency. Quality-wise, it’s on par with Serpents of the Light but with some of the intensity of Once Upon the Cross. The result is somewhat blander than their original albums but more consistent and with more substance their intermediate works.

Deicide may never return to the days of Legion, mainly because it’s an impossible act to follow. After years of wandering in darkness (or, in their case, light) Deicide have found a voice again, and they can only succeed as they expand upon this method of uniting content with exterior.

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Black metal album titles illustrated like children’s books

These pictures were originally innocent illustrations for children’s books. They were drawn by well-known but now deceased Czech artist Helena Zmatlíková who illustrated numerous books for children.

At some time after that, they were creatively edited by a member of Umbrtka who also writes for Czech Maxim. The innocence drained away, replaced by the eternal darkness of the blackest of souls.

(Stolen from a topic on Nuclear War Now! forums.)

mayhem-wolfs_lair_abyss-childrens

darkthrone-goatlord-childrens

immortal-blizzard_beasts-childrens

cannibal_corpse-eaten_back_to_life-childrens

marduk-heaven_shall_burn_when_we_are_gathered-childrens

root-the_book-childrens

holocausto-campo_de_extermino-childrens

abigail-intercourse_and_lust-childrens

satyricon-dark_medieval_times-childrens

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Demilich box set details released

turkka_g_rantanen

Back in 1993, Demilich released a killer album entitled Nespithe. The album innovated consciously in every way possible. It took the audience a decade to warm up to it, but by the time Demilich re-united in 2006 for a reunion tour, death metal had fully bonded with this inventive act.

Fast forward a few more years and Demilich is finally getting the recognition it deserves through re-releases of its classic material. These were originally planned in 2006, but got delayed a bit as the wheels of music justice ground. Demilich has just announced the release of a limited edition box set with a 44-page booklet, sticker and new cover art.

The set comes with cover art by Turkka G. Rantanen, above, and a fold-out A2/B2 size poster with art by David Mikkelsen, below. The box set comes in 2CD and 3LP forms and is called The 20th Anniversary of Emptiness, available through Svart Records in late 2013.

david_mikkelsen

Tracklist:

V34ish6ng 0f Emptiness / Em9t2ness of Van2s1ing (2006)

  1. Emptiness of Vanishing
  2. Vanishing of Emptiness
  3. The Faces Right Below the Skin of the Earth

Nespithe (1993)

  1. When the Sun Drank the Weight of Water
  2. The Sixteenth Six-Tooth Son of Fourteen Four-Regional Dimensions (Still Unnamed)
  3. Inherited Bowel Levitation – Reduced Without Any Effort
  4. The Echo (Replacement)
  5. The Putrefying Road in the Nineteenth Extremity (…Somewhere inside the Bowels of Endlessness…)
  6. (Within) The Chamber of Whispering Eyes
  7. And You’ll Remain… (in Pieces in Nothingness)
  8. Erecshyrinol
  9. The Planet that Once Used to Absorb Flesh in Order to Achieve Divinity and Immortality (Suffocated to the Flesh that it Desired…)
  10. The Cry
  11. Raped Embalmed Beauty Sleep

The Echo (1992)

  1. egasseM neddiH A – ortnI
  2. The Echo (Replacement)
  3. Erecshyrinol
  4. The Sixteenth Six-tooth Son of Fourteen Four-regional Dimensions (Still Unnamed)
  5. The Cry

…Somewhere Inside the Bowels of Endlessness… (1992)

  1. (Within) the Chamber of Whispering Eyes
  2. …And Youll Remain… (in Pieces in Nothingness)
  3. The Cry
  4. The Putrefying Road in the Nineteenth Extremity (…Somewhere Inside the Bowels of Endlessness…)
  5. Inherited Bowel Levitation – Reduced without Any Effort

The Four Instructive Tales …of Decomposition (1991)

  1. Introduction / Embalmed Beauty Sleep
  2. Two Independent Organisms -> One Suppurating Deformity
  3. And the Slimy Flying Creatures Reproduce in Your Brains
  4. The Uncontrollable Regret of the Rotting Flesh

Regurgitation of Blood (1991)

  1. Uncontrollable Regret of the Rotting Flesh
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Five things every aspiring musician needs

aspiring_musician_practice_space

Those of us who have had the fortune to hang around the music industry for a few decades tend to pick up a few ideas about what works and what doesn’t.

If you are trying to get your music out there, you’ll get a lot of advice from people with agendas. They want you to do x so that they get y. What follows is generic advice for putting your best foot forward.

Five things every aspiring musician should have:

  1. Mailing list. Before you start freaking out, realize this isn’t a big deal that involves new software and complexity that might make your sensitive artistic brain burn out. You can do this in Gmail or any other mail program. The point is to keep a list of every person who has helped you, liked you, interviewed you, or written to you showing interest. Don’t lose contact through disorganization, which is what 99.99% of musicians do. Ask “Mind if I keep you updated about [Band Name Here]?” and most people will say yes. Then send them periodic updates, about every third month. For people in the industry, this helps them track you and do nice things for you like write articles. For fans, this is a sense of being attached to something important. As your list expands, you can migrate to a free mailing list service.
  2. Audio streaming. As soon as you have recorded material, you should have one current song you stream live. You do not necessarily need more than one, which preserves the exclusivity of your work. However, especially at the demo and first album stages, it doesn’t hurt to worry less about monetizing your work and more about getting it out there. Unfortunately, most streaming services are pretty bad and also rely on the notoriously buggy and unsafe Adobe Flash Player (if your computer got hacked in the last 5 years, it’s most likely it happened through this piece of junkware). The best are SoundCloud and YouTube, and both are free.
  3. Contactability. Most of you have a web/phone presence, but the important part is this: it should never change. Thus you probably want it to be separate from your social media presence, which is where you post updates. What’s wrong with using Facebook as your official page? Social media trends change, and you’ll be (in about six months) in the same place the people are who stuck to MySpace. Get yourself a free website and keep it minimal. Post links to your audio streaming, your mission statement (see below), and have some kind of contact, whether an email address or a contact form.
  4. Demo. What’s this, 1992? A demo? No one uses tapes anymore, you say. That may be so. However, the demo is the most important stage of your band’s career. It’s where you hone your craft and show us the direction into which you’re expanding. It’s also a stage at which experiencing reviewers tend to be generous to you, since they know it’s a work in progress. Most demos get cut from the review pile not for being bad but for being contentless, in other words imitations of form without substance. If you’ve got something you are trying to express, even if your style isn’t distinct, experienced reviewers tend to be accepting. A demo also allows you and your fellow band members — if any — to focus on what you’re doing, and figure out if you like your direction. It’s a form of prototyping that’s vital to making music. Nowadays, it might be an MP3 demo. But nothing’s worse than a band who rush out a first album of material that still needs incubation.
  5. Mission statement. This is both a formal mission statement, and a one-liner for your own head. You’re at a party, and you head back over to the punch bowl made from an imitation triceratops skull, and you meet someone new. They ask, “So what’s your band like?” You want to have a one-liner you can zap out in a zombie-like state. This should briefly describe your musical style, but more importantly describe your direction. “We’re a death metal band trying to revive the creativity of the early heavy metal era” or “We’re a doom metal band who want to capture a naturalistic vibe.” Keep this one short and sweet. For your website, and to email to anyone who shows any interest in you, you need a one-paragraph more formal statement. If you aren’t confident in your word-smithing skills, find a local (underappreciated) zine editor or DJ and they will most likely help. Your mission statement should be a clear and easily-grasped statement of both style and substance, and it should be the first thing in any communication you have with industry. It’s not realistic to expect people to remember you immediately, and they’re busy people; give them a helping hint. This also gives people who visit your website “talking points,” such as “I found this new band, they’re organic doom metal” when they tell their friends about you.

This article is limited, and not intended to be anything other that five useful things for you to do. For more general advice, try the BBC page and How to Promote Your Music on About. It’s also worth checking out industry-related rants from Trent Reznor and Steve Albini.

One final word from an industry source:

“Listen to your customers, not your critics. Only invest your efforts into something you enjoy…”

Lee Parsons, CEO, Ditto Music

This is best expressed as a more universal principle: make music that you would be able to listen to for two weeks straight as a teenager and then throw on at least once a month for the rest of your life without getting bored. Make music you would be excited to find in the store or on a dub or torrent. If you satisfy your own cravings, and not the neurotic critique that most of us having running in the back of our heads, you will make something you can believe in.

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Empyrium – Into the Pantheon CD

empyrium-into_the_pantheon-coverEmpyrium recently released a live concert video entitled Into The Pantheon celebrating their recent return to live performances (read our interview with Markus Stock here). They’re releasing the same concert as a CD.

For many, this will be not only the preferred way to experience this live concert, but also the preferred way to experience Empyrium. First, while the video is beautifully shot with professional attention to detail, this concert also lends itself to listening especially while deep in thought. Second, the setlist for this show compiles much of Empyrium’s most interesting material, providing both a best-of and highlight performance reel.

Into the Pantheon shows Empyrium using live acoustic instruments including pianos, strings and twelve-string guitars to create a fully-fleshed version of their sound, including operatic vocals but not the wash of keyboards doubling the guitar riff that is “symphonic metal.” This performance is closer to what Summoning and Enslaved did, which was to combine medieval music — think Dead Can Dance, but even more authentic — with slower atmospheric metal and use the combination to launch into songwriting that has been traditional to their homelands for millennia.

Technically, this is a metal album, and has metal sensibilities, much as Summoning does despite its convoluted take on the style. However, at its heart is the skaldic/bardic tradition of old Europe where singers put epic poems to music and other musicians as could be spared contributed chorus effects. Most of these songs are sung in the main by a single voice, in a less ostentatious version of operatic vocals (closer to the visceral and honest performance that Attila used to crown De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas), but this voice is accompanied by the aforementioned instruments, including a heavily distorted guitar that lays out the darker and more urgent themes using the best techniques of death metal and black metal.

Often however the instrument that leads is the acoustic guitar, plucking simple melodic patterns that are then echoed by violins and piano, and encouraged through harmonization of vocals to urge the melodies on. These develop, and then fragment, with multiple instruments each taking one approach, and as these conflict, a dissonance and sense of longing fills the songs, like wanderlust with fin de siècle wistfulness. The vocals return to guide these home and they do so, dropping from their atmospheric cloud of sound a clear counter-theme which provokes them into resolution.

The songs on Into the Pantheon are memorable, distinct and elegant, all while being metal enough to be of interest to anyone short of war metal fans. Like the dramatic presence of Candlemass with the somber mood of Skepticism, these songs seize the atmosphere and re-shape it in their own image. They then promptly escape any over-consistency by developing within these dark tunes storylines that include the light and beautiful, and many emotions between that and the abyss. The result is the classic European art of telling epic story through lyrics and song.

Since this late-career retrospective gives the ability the ability to both carefully choose songs and update them with all that they’ve learned about music since the early days, Into the Pantheon presents Empyrium in their best light and creates a platform on which they can build if they choose to release future works. But for now, this is a strong contender for inclusion on the list of quality albums released in 2013, and well-crafted enough to last years beyond that as a listening experience.

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Profile: Amélie Ravalec and Travis Collins, filmmakers of Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay

industrial_soundtrack_for_the_urban_decay

When we first heard about Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay, the upcoming documentary about industrial music and its origins, it struck us as relevant for a death metal site.

In the landscape of popular music, there are obvious “pop” genres on the surface next to accepted forms like jazz and classical, but underneath that are the surly and dangerous types of music that are underground because they don’t place nice with the contemporary mythos and ideology of our society.

That group includes metal, hardcore punk (not pop punk, which belongs under rock/pop) and industrial. These genres just refuse to play by the same rules as everyone else who wants mainstream acceptance, mainly because they flirt with or outright endorse ideas that the mainstream has decided are unpalatable.

We were fortunate to get a brief Q&A with Amélie Ravalec and Travis Collins, filmmakers of Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay.

Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay as a title seems to suggest both a documentary on industrial music, and some sense of the motivations behind industrial artists. What made you choose this approach?

Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay is the first film to document the history of industrial music, featuring interviews from the genre’s most influential bands, artists, labels and fanzines.

I was motivated to make this documentary as I felt this genre and these artists deserve to be exposed to a broader audience. This film is about more than just industrial music, it also reflects on art, politics and social issues, post­industrialisation and urban decay.

Are you and your fellow filmmaker industrial fans? If so, what first got you into the genre?

Amélie: ­ I came across industrial music while directing my first documentary Paris/Berlin: 20 years of underground techno. I’ve always enjoyed the harsher and darker side of music. Throbbing Gristle’s song “Convincing People” is one of the first industrial songs I remember hearing. I was immediately attracted to Genesis’s monotonous British voice and the hypnotic repetitiveness of the song. This led me on a path to discovering more industrial, post punk and dark ambient, as well as beautiful crossovers bands like Coil or In The Nursery. As I dug deeper into the industrial genre, I realized that I shared a lot common influences and preoccupations with those artists, even though they were from a different generation. From a really young age I read books by Burroughs, Ballard etc and became interested in art movements like the dadaist or the futurists, so I felt an instant connection to this music.

Travis: Working in a record store from a young age, I discovered techno and experimental music and was immediately appealed by the rawness of this sound. While living in Perth, Western Australia I had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Malinder on a radio program and had him DJ at a club night I hosted. Mal and I became friends over the years and he was the first industrial band I fell in love with. I also got into bands like Throbbing Gristle, Meat Beat Manifesto, Silver Apples, Renegade Soundwave and others through my favourite DJ at the time, Andrew Weatherall. I met Amélie while traveling Europe and we decided that this film needed to be made.

I am no expert, but it seems that metal, punk and industrial come from a similar root, which is a rejection of the social impulse of mutual tolerance. Why do you think this is, and how do you think it relates to social decay?

All bands and collaborations bring different influences to the music they make and the environment and social context of the musicians also plays an important role. Most of the early industrial bands we interviewed grew up in turbulent times, where unemployment, high­rise living and cultural oppression were all part of the decaying environment in which this music blossomed.

When the history of humanity is written, how do you think industrial music will be recorded? Do you consider it a historically ­important musical movement?

Industrial bands have been influential in many ways inspiring art forms, using tape loops and edits that pre dated sample music and these days you can hear noise and industrial elements in all forms of music from, electronic music, pop through to classical music.

Industrial musicians are educated, artistically minded and politically aware artists. They found inspiration in the avant­garde movements from the early 20th century like the Futurists, Dadaists or Surrealists, as well as contemporary writers William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. They were also influenced by early science fiction movies, Krautrock artists Kraftwerk, Can and Faust, The Velvet Underground and the DIY ethos of punk music. These artists rejected major labels, mass media and mainstream culture to invent a culture of their own.

When will Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay be released and how can people watch it?

We’re still editing the film, licensing music and applying for funding, but we’re hoping to release the film in 2014. You can follow the film’s progress on the Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay Facebook page.

It’s been a great experience working on this film. We look forward to sharing our work and hope people will enjoy it as much as we do!

Amélie Ravalec
Travis Collins

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Heavy metal study purports to identify psychological traits of metalheads

typical_metalheadHere’s the fundamental problem with metal: it’s outsider music. We don’t play by the socially mediated rules that control most of society.

In our society, in particular, these rules are created and enforced through self-image. Want to appear to be a good person? Follow the rules. When you step outside of that, two problems occur.

First, the rest of the herd doesn’t trust you. Second, the people around you may be drawn to you not because of what you do, but because they want no rules. Those who object to some rules join those who reject all rules.

However, this means that you’re valuable. Because you don’t obey the rules, and because rules produce resentments, people want to take what you have and use it for their own purposes.

Specifically, they’re either going to use you as an example of what goes wrong when you don’t follow the rules (subtext: follow the rules, citizen) or they’re going to try to use your “cachet of authentic rebellion” to dress up their bog-standard product so people can feel “edgy” without actually taking any risk.

From the first category, a new study purports to list psychological characteristics of metalheads:

By matching music preference to the personality traits, Professor Swami found that ‘openness to experience’ was a major factor in enjoying heavy metal.

Perhaps more surprising however, was the fact that those with a strong preference for metal were more likely to have lower self-esteem.

Metal heads also had a higher-than-average need for uniqueness, and lower-than-average levels of religiosity.

‘It is possible that this association is driven by underlying attitudes towards authority, which may include religious authorities,’ said the authors of the study.

If this study is like other scientific studies, it’s a laboratory analysis. That means that it is designed to prove a point by using factors that wouldn’t apply in the world. It anticipates an audience for this point of view, meaning that they already agree with it.

For example, this study came from giving a form to fill out to 400 people who had to listen to 10 heavy metal tracks. Usually this means people who needed money paid out by researchers.

Further, we have no idea what the questions were like. For example, a second study found that:

A separate study by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found that lovers of heavy metal and classical music have very similar personality traits.

Unlike the Westminster University study, it found that both types tend to be creative, at ease with themselves and introverted.

If self-esteem is measured by extroversion, then introverted people won’t score highly on it.

Furthermore, The Downing/Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that smart people underestimate their abilities, a trait that could be confused with low self-esteem.

My own experience of metalheads is that, much as Black Sabbath wanted to rain darkness and horror upon the “all you need is love” hippie movement, metalheads are realists who distrust the social proposition that social propositions like pacifism, tolerance, love, individualism and buying stuff at Wal-mart will solve our problems.

Society’s social people offer us the idea of Utopia, of a world of love and trust, of peace and equality where everyone’s quirks are tolerated, but metal shows us the darker side of reality where war is our destiny, there is no peace, people are not just judged but ranked by their abilities and degree of realistic behavior, and nothing is tolerated except to be manipulated. It’s the grim realist camp.

On the other hand, metal posits an “other side” to these realizations. When one accepts the nature of reality, one no longer must put up with the obligatory praising of everyone and approval of everything. If metal is a literary character, it’s Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy (as well as his eventual wife, Elizabeth Bennett, who notes in one poignant scene that neither of them perform — a metaphor for act toward social approval — for others).

For these reasons, I wouldn’t get worked up about this study. It’s not nonsense, merely a selective sampling and interpretation. For all we know, they found 400 college students and took out the 20 Slipknot fans and asked them if they saw themselves as winners, would rather be at a party than home with a whole pizza, how often they go to church and whether they consider themselves individuals or “just one of the sheep.” It’s pretty easy to provoke the response you want under such conditions.

On the other hand, this second study unleashes interesting possibilities. Metalheads are like classical fans, and both groups tend to be “creative, at ease with themselves and introverted”? This is more like the reality I’ve experienced.

The article also gently hints that there may be a bit of detail-obsessiveness and tendency toward over-analytical approaches in fans of both genres, name-checking metal’s tendency to subdivide into genres.

Unlike the other study, this Scottish study — which used a broader range of data — found that indie rock fans, not metalheads, lacked self-esteem.

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