Interview with Joe Gonzalez (Cruxiter)

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To those who have watched metal for some time, it presents a paradox. To the public, it seems like a railroad, where a line of cars stops and then we see what is in each, one at a time. To an experienced watcher, it more resembles an ocean, with currents swirling below and influenced by air above, and periodically the crest of a wave emerges before being dragged down by the rest, obliterated and recycled.

One of the warmer undercurrents in the metal ocean is “true metal,” which is that which stays true to the solid line of evolution leading from metal’s origin. As part of this movement, bands across the globe are continuing to make music that we associate with earlier decades, except that it’s newly created and generated from a contemporary impulse if not contemporary influences. Cruxiter, a Texas heavy metal/guitar rock band, is part of this movement.

We first reviewed Cruxiter’s self-titled first album in these pages a few scant weeks ago, but already the band’s spirit and dedication to its style have piqued interest with our worldwide readership. To go more in-depth, we interrogated vocalist Joe Gonzalez at length via a very modern iPhone yet with classic heavy metal spirit.

You formerly played in Hammer Whore, a death metally band. What prompted the switch to a heavy metal style versus a death metal one?

HammerWhore was a big mix of a lot of metal genres; because each band member comes from different eras and has their own taste in metal music we had to compromise and we created an album that contained a bit from every sub genre. In 2007 HammerWhore broke up because of personal differences, so I kept some of the songs I wrote and started a new band that was more hard rock/heavy metal. In 2009 Miggy Ramirez and Rick Ortiz joined the band and this is really when we started to develop our sound. Then in 2010 we had personnel issues again losing our bassist, drummer, and guitar player. This is when we recruited the rest of the old HammerWhore line up to help us out. The “switch” to heavy metal just came naturally after spitting from HammerWhore and working with such a great group of musicians. I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, and that’s sing in and front a heavy metal band!

What is the Cruxiter? Is it a concept underlying all of your work?

The Cruxiter is a fictional alien computer that works through touch, connecting to the users nervous system and to the mind. The thing is, it doesn’t quite work with human biology and drives anyone who attempts to use it insane, but the Cruxiter is only a small part of the Cruxiter universe. It’s one of the few artifacts that we have here on earth from the faraway alien planet that is the subject of most of our music. So far we have not made contact with these extraterrestrials on our first album. First contact will be made on “Madness of the Void,” a track that will be released on our next full length. A look at this faraway world is probably similar to seeing ourselves in the distant future where technological advances have only made life more complicated with longer life spans and more inventive ways to kill each other.

This is a two part question: (a) what are your influences, musical and otherwise, in Cruxiter? (b) what bands do you think sound closest to Cruxiter?

I cannot speak for the rest of the band because each of us is very different when it come to the style of music we listen to. But for me it’s a combination of classic AOR, NWOBHM, eighties thrash and early seventies prog. Styx, Judas Priest, Lizzy Borden, Torch, Agent Steel, and Overkill were some of the first bands to really get me excited to pick up a guitar and sing. Really every time I hear a metal vocalist hit a high note or a guitar lead it really gets me going. As far as individual artists its Jon Oliva, Tommy Shaw & Dennis DeYoung, David Byron & Mick Box, Schmier, Tom Angelripper, Don Dokken, and Joey Tempest are all on the top of a very long list of talent that inspires me to play music.

The second part of your question is very hard to answer because we are trying to create something different but not straying from what we love. In my personal opinion I would say it’s a mix between early King Diamond, early 90s Mercyful fate, Uriah Heep, Stryper, Judas Priest, Di’Anno era Maiden. We still have a lot of material that we are working on that I think is more advanced and widens the spectrum even more.

Do you think the “true metal” genres like classic heavy metal and old school death metal and black metal are making a return? Or did death metal and black metal get lost in the shuffle?

“Making a return” destroys the true metal genres and spawns craploads of bands that really don’t know where the music comes from, then they make everyone look cheesy and people move on, which has already happened to thrash metal twice. All true metal genres have and always will thrive in the local and underground scenes. What genre is “in” at any given time is determined by what the “cool kids” are listening to, It’s very political, and it will never change.

Cruxiter is a classic heavy metal band, but you incorporate a lot of elements from what I’m calling “guitar rock.” How hard is it to combine the two?

It’s actually pretty accurate for some parts of our music because we are very heavily influenced by progressive music and classic rock but we really try hard to mix it up and make the music we write contain all aspects of rock and metal music. With the tempo changes and melodies of classic prog, guitar riffing from rock and metal, and AOR style choruses, even trying to add a bit of glam to it all.

But each song we write is different and has its own massage so it’s hard for me to explain it all without breaking down each song. Combining all these styles of music happens during the writing process… letting the song pretty much write itself, and allowing the changes to happen. It’s the vocals and solos that are dominant, and take full control during the writing of the music. We do work hard on the proper flow of the song making sure it’s chaotic and complex, keeps the listeners attention, and is pleasant to the ears. We also try to keep the music from being too heavy and noisy, down tuning and excessive kick drum is great for other bands but we like our listeners to hear without trouble how the guitars, vocals, drums, and bass interact musically.

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You’ve just released your first and self-titled album. How did you record it, and where? What were the biggest challenges of recording?

We recorded this album at our home studio in a ranch house in Jim Wells County just outside Alice, Texas. Every aspect of recording was a challenge since we really had no experience. I had to watch all kinds of how to videos on YouTube about mic’ing vocals, drums and guitar cabinets, it was a lot of trial and error. The best part of recording was reworking the songs after playback adding harmonies, fills, and leads. But we learned a lot from recording this album and we are currently in the studio again and everything is running smoothly. Our next album is going to sound a lot better for sure and we are pretty excited about it.

If you had to identify the most important element in what makes a good song, what might it be? Do you think it’s energy, passion, emotion, content or some combination of the above?

A great song perfectly portrays a complex clash of emotions of a single moment in time with the appropriate energy pulsing and fluctuating between emotional highs and lows. It also needs guitar and vocal melodies that engrave themselves into the mind and the message and words find a spot to reside in listeners mind. Honesty goes along way when it come to reaching people through music.

What’s next for Cruxiter? Are you going to do small tours through Texas cities, or record more, or go national?

Right now, we are back in the studio recording new music for a second album. Now that we have some experience it should move very smoothly and we will get an even better product. We should be releasing a few demo songs on YouTube and maybe a short demo tape soon. They will not be the album versions of the songs just demos before fine tuning the structure, vocal melodies, and fills. We have already released “Under The Moon” demo on YouTube.

We will probably not be playing very many shows this year since we will be trying to complete our work in the studio. But we are playing in Houston February 8th at the White Swan for our good friend Angel’s B-day (bassist for Owl Witch). It’s going to be a really killer show. Houston is the top place to play metal music in Texas the scene has always been very strong and diverse. I’m alway excited to play in Houston.

Are there any challenges to being a metal band in Texas, with the local scenes being what they are and the distances between towns often being great?

It is pretty hard here in Texas especially since we don’t live anywhere near any of the major city. Corpus Christi is closest but they have no local metal scene and what’s hitting there now is grind and crust which is great but we don’t fit the bill. It’s a struggle for us to be a part of the scene in texas since we are so far and can’t participate in playing or attending shows very often. Playing gigs always means travel for us but its just part of the gig. Texas as a whole is full of die hard metal heads and familiar faces friends that will be playing music and supporting local shows till they die.

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Agonized – Gods…

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Agonized will violently sodomize the inner core of your fragile soul. – Sarjoo Devani/Explicitly Intense

Not every band from the frozen north aimed for melodic and energetic interpretations of death metal; many, like fellow Finns Belial or the Swedes in Obscurity, chose instead to write grinding cudgels of primitive bass noise that sounded like a winter avalanche of the soul overtaking all hope. Agonized created a six-song demo in this vein and sadly were lost to time after that point.

Gods… resembles a Scandinavian version of the ultra-primitive death metal of Morpheus Descends in that songs start with simple motifs, often two notes shaped into a compelling rhythm, and then ride that pattern through textural changes such as alternating tremolo/single-picked, tempo doubling, and layers of vocals. This pattern is then confronted with an oppositional pattern which is extremely similar, causing a kind of crossover which tends to find itself in a third pattern which is a mid-paced melodic overview of the previous two. It creates a result that must be like rising from the frozen wastes to walk along mountain ridges.

Perhaps most famous for its title track, which includes a distinctive riff shared between Agonized and Beherit (on both Engram‘s “Axiom Heroine” and Drawing Down the Moon‘s “Thou Angel of the Gods”), Gods… evokes the raw purpose of the death metal and black metal underground. This was not political music; it was a rejection of what civilization had become in its reliance on friendly, happy, positive, “human” values. Thus it turned toward the inhuman. These churning dark riffs and gurgling demonic growls convey the point aesthetically that the days of enlightenment have failed us, and darkness has come again, rising from below to destroy all who were fooled by the false light.

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Interview with Steve Cefala (Dawning)

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Steve Cefala (R) and Birdo (L) of Dawning.

Welcome to the strange and protean world of Steve Cefala, black/doom metal musician, MMA fighter, former adult entertainment actor, and now, the force behind the returning Dawning and its unique brand of slow melodic metal with horror movie keyboards.

Dawning was born in 1996 at the hands of Mr. Cefala and a close cadre of collaborators. Dormant for many years, but never forgotten, the band was resurrected with the – – –/Dawning split that showcased a classic song for the band and gave it new arrangement and orchestration.

We were lucky to catch up with Mr. Cefala between his many high-energy ventures and get in a few words about the split, the history of Dawning, and its future both as band and concept.

When did Dawning form?

Bud Burke (now in Exhumed) and I quit Pale Existence and started Dawning in 1996. Bud and I may have done some rough Dawning recordings on his four track as early as 1995. We were juniors in high school. We had just terrorized the high school battle of the bands with our cheesy Satanic side project Desecrator (there’s so many bands called that).

Why do you think Dawning is less known that other bands from the era?

First, although not many people know about Dawning, the people I know of that like Dawning are people I respect.

But there are several reasons for Dawning’s relative obscurity. Some are obviously self-inflicted: personnel/lineup problems and changes, lack of self-promotion, etc. We were more focused on making good music and recording it than on the promo side. Also not fitting an exact genre or lack of other doom/black metal bands locally at the time did not help.

We also had offers to be published by record companies which we messed up. As we were about to record for a 10″ release, the incredibly talented bassist who was the band’s contact had a breakdown from acid and thought he was an alien… and the other guitarist Mike Rabald turned super flakey and just would not record his darn guitar tracks, despite being at the recording studio drinking ale and playing Sega Genesis every day instead! After months of that B.S., when we finally threatened to kick him out, he and the sound engineer showed up at my front door demanding cash for what we had recorded so far or they would to destroy the reel! Prick…..

For some reason, we just could not get a show at this period in time. This pissed me off because I was the first metal guy to rent the local library out and throw many underground DIY metal shows and I had set up a lot of shows for local bands with my previous band Pale Existence. Some ugly heifer from my high school ended up renting the library out and getting metal shows banned from the library due to burning bible, blood spills, and setting off fire alarms. Way to go! I also threw a lot of shows for Exhumed and a bunch of local acts at the Cupertino library. They are cool guys but they never reciprocated because we were not gore metal (I remember them helping out Gory Melanoma a lot with shows for instance) or would not kiss their ass or something. Drummer Brian and I used to tease them about them being Carcass rip offs and Matt Harvey being Mr. Rockstar. Anyways, the library shows I threw were integral in bringing the South Bay death metal scene together. They were free all ages DIY shows that united a bunch of different metal and hardcore genres.

It’s also not like people didn’t know we were available. Dawning got only three shows! The KFCJ radio show, one at a frat party in SLO, one in a gazebo teen center I rented. This was despite that I had a full band lineup from 1996-2003! A third show was set up in an alley in Gilroy and the club owner canceled the show at like 7 pm (Maelstrom was headliner) before metal heads, who showed up later like 8, could get the message.

I would mention some other excellent local bands from that era which may have been forgotten includes Gory Melanoma, Infanticide, Butt, Agents of Satan, Deity, Disembodiment, Doomed-horn, and Gorgasm! :) I am glad to see that Morbosidad is still active also :)

Originally, what did Dawning sound like — what was the intent, and what were the influences, behind the sound you were going for?

The sound I have always aimed for with Dawning is to take a synthed out movie soundtrack and cross it with raw doom or black metal guitars and vocals. With a hint of ambient (backwards vocals, chimes, timpani drums). The end of the first demo has a incredibly slow doom ending with a collage of apocalyptic samples. When I started recording this shit back in 1996 I didn’t hear anyone grinding black metal guitar chords over a doom beat. I still barely ever hear that. I guess all the black metal bands are playing doom and ambient now mostly — at least the ones who aren’t constantly blasting as if they are at some type of competitive track meet event.

“New” Dawning sounds basically exactly like original Dawning. It’s all written on the Roland JV series keyboard mostly. There were some demos we did that trended more towards black metal, and some had hippy elements.

Our influences include movie sountracks like Goblin, Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks), John Carpenter scores, Vangelis, Jerry Goldsmith (the Omen), etc. as well as classic 90s doom and black metal — Winter, Disembowlment, Grief, Marduk, Darkthrone, Impaled Nazarene, and My Dying Bride. There is also some trance influence from raves and partying. On the hippier demos there’s a Hendrix and Sabbath vibe to the guitars at times.

Also, Dawning has goth/industrial influences. I listen to Godflesh, Rammstein, Depeche Mode, My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult, Type O Negative, etc.

How did that sound change over time?

  • Demo 1 – Blackened doom/new age-ish (hint of ambient). Just Bud and I, no bass.
  • Demo 2 – Live on KFJC. Groovier. More Hendrixy and more Sabbathy. Full band lineup starting with this demo. Trippier more occult-based song themes. Bouncy hippy basslines.
  • Demos 3 and 4 – More black metal. Less doom.
  • Demo 5 – Exit Bud Burke, enter Mike Beams (Exhumed). More brutal and detuned. Added elements of sludge doom.

…then back to the original sound of demo 1 again for the split. The upcoming full length is like demo 1 but with more mid-paced grooves and a few blasts besides the doom beats.

You’ve re-recorded “Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof” for the split with – – – on Preposterous Creations. How did this split come about, and what’s new with the re-recording?

I hooked up with Phil from Presposterous Creations on a web forum where he had posted some old Dawning demo links. I was told Gary from Noothegrush (who actually recorded our live at KFJC demo back in the day) helped get Phil interested in Dawning. Chiyo and Gary (from Noothegrush) have always been most supportive of my band. I honestly think Dawning might not exist today if not for them. And I was told that John Gossard (Weakling) had also talked to Phil about us, which helped. Originally Bud was planning to come out on vacation to visit and record on the new tracks with me. But Exhumed called him and off on tour he went. Now he doesn’t return my calls or lousy Facebook messages even.

“Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof” on the split has a new arrangement. Better recording. Also, there was a period during these most recent recordings where I was diagnosed as allergic to sunlight. This time was depressing and that gave the songs a darker tone.

A couple of years ago I noticed there was something called the “101 Rules of Black Metal” going around the internet (you can google it). I noticed a rule saying that “the exact date if the divine arrival of the massive hoof shall never be revealed under any circumstance.” It even made it on the Ozzfest official page at that time. I was a little surprised that phrase was ingrained as a rule of metal (I see no other song title as a rule — but I could be wrong). I will admit that I did want to get some credit for the notoriety of the song I had created in 1995-96 and that was part of my motivation in redoing the song and getting it published. I am extremely thankful to Phil and to Noothegrush and the handful of people including John Gossard who kept the spirit of Dawning alive on underground message boards and such. Also whoever put it in the rules of metal I am thankful but would have been better had Dawning been given proper credit.

What’s – – – like, in your words? What was the appeal in working with them?

As far as actually splitting the record with – – – , it was Phil who came to me with this idea. Personally I find the piano parts on all – – – songs to be very inspired and unique and I also love his guitar tone (it reminds me of early Ulver!). So I was honored to split the LP with – – –, though I know nothing about them it is an honor to be associated with that level of talent.

Do you think metal is in a slump, or a time of over-abundance? Are there any parallels to humanity at large?

I do not like the overall musical trends in metal. Blast beat blast beat blast beat. Hail Satan this, hail Satan that. Blast beat blast beat blast beat. Blah blah blah. Playing drums like a track meet competition.

Most of the Gothic doom bands seem really gay (not in a happy sense though) compared to My Dying Bride, at least locally. Stoner bands who are not stoney — or original. Technical death metal which gives me a headache. I also don’t like the super mainstream bands right now like Lamb of God.

Nachtmystium and Electric Wizard and a few other amazing bands in the mainstream (I enjoy Noothegrush, Ludicra, and Weakling) but there’s too much crummy bands you have to go through to find a good one. Compared to the 90s — it sucks!

Locally I fell into the boring status quo sound a little too much with my last band Condemned to Live (DJ) for a few years so I must also take my share of this blame.

And yes humanity stinks too. Pretty much everything stinks these days honestly. I stopped listening to Marduk and Vader, and then Fear Factory and bands like that when they put out that pseudo techno album in the late 90s.

Also when you play a show these days its often a pissing competition between the bands instead of a brotherhood of metal. The other bands come up to you and complain about the band order instead of introducing themselves. Or you could be informed that another guy in the other black metal band that night does not like your band etc I was playing black metal live when he was in kindergarten but hey whatever…

In the 90s we knew we were all social rejects and we bonded over that. Today these kids who grew up in a post 9-11 world live in a darker cutthroat worldview. 90s metal tended to have some sense of humor that is now absent by in large. I think the global economic depression has caused metal to lose its fun fantasy oriented spirit that it had before. By the way outside a few dive bars here like the Caravan, metal is so unpopular where I live in San Jose — everything is gangster rap this, gangster rap that. I can go out for a whole week and maybe see one metal tshirt. Funny thing is my gangster friends like Dawning and are supportive.

What do you think are the differences between black metal, doom metal and regular old heavy metal?

Honestly, it’s all over genre-ized. I honestly wouldn’t even mention my bands genre but I feel strongly we were ahead of our time and deserve a little credit, even if its just a tiny bit. Everyone is mixing black metal and doom now. Back then I heard maybe one Incantation album that did that a bit, not much else.

I can tell you locally while I respect the underground hardcore approach of many bands — mostly everyone just wants to be a genre guy and fit in, which is sad cause metal ain’t even popular in the US in mainstream pop culture so these days why worry about fitting in.

It’s sad to me. Oh well. When I talk to other musicians these days its “Hey, I like this one band, Electric Funeral — let’s do a band like that” or “Hey, I like this band Cradle of Filth lets do one of those!” Nobody wants to make their own band sound. It’s much easier to join a specific genre, follow that genre’s rules to the T, and network from just within that genre. That’s my main problem with modern metal. Of course there are exceptions.

As I understand it, you also had a career in pornography. Can you tell us about this? What was it like? How did it inform your worldview as a metal musician?

For me it was just a job. It paid better than my retail job had been paying however.

The funniest thing was when I started working in it nobody believed me. Then when I showed them proof, everyone said I was weird for bringing the mp3 with me. That’s life. It was also weird I got in through the studios that mostly filmed “blacks” (Black Market XXX for instance). Eventually I worked for some big companies including JM Productions, Immoral Productions, Bang Bros, and more. I quit right after I had a shoot with Playboy channel where I was to play guitar and shoot with Tuesday Cross as well as a pilot of series for HBO fall through.

It was surrealistic working in that industry. The scenes were sometimes elating. But at the same time the conditions of a shoot were often sterile. The bright lighting, lack of music, no pictures on the walls, taking orders from director; also I was commuting to LA for this which made it harder. It was fun but also hard work. For one thing you have to stand on one leg most of the time so the camera can see. And theres a lot more logistics and networking compared to even a normal job. One thing I will tell you is we do most scenes twice. Once for the pics on the box. Then clothes back on and film the scene on video. Also going and getting tested monthly for STDs (mandatory) was a pain in the ass and came out of pocket. And a lot of the female models were too much drama and ruined the fun.

I was also sponsored as a mixed martial arts (MMA) athlete by a clothing company at the time. Between training MMA, doing the porn shoots, and performing metal in the clubs with Condemned to Live I had a wild lifestyle. I stopped working in the films back in 2010 though. That industry suffered from piracy much like the music industry. Anyways I have a girlfriend, a normal job, and a traditional modest lifestyle now.

Is Dawning back on the warpath? Will we hear more in the coming weeks, months and years?

I create the music of Dawning for myself and for the chosen few who are willing to listen to what Dawning has to offer them. To those who will listen we offer an escape to another another dimension in which their imagination can run free.

While I have been trying to get the band going live, at this point I am tired of auditioning show-off types and have taken matters into my own hands. I am currently playing electronic drums while at the same time playing keyboards on with my other foot (Moog Tarus clone). My right hand also plays some keyboards. So I am playing drums and keyboards; the drums are electronic, so I feel like I am piloting a spaceship when I am playing I can be in my own world. Also I am not a great drummer, but I can keep the beat.

My girlfriend Charity has taken over on bass guitar for now. She has named herself Nubian WitchGoddess (is that one taken?) and I am working with a guitar player named Gabriel. If this lineup works out we will be performing very soon. The Caravan has always been supportive and said we can play anytime. Noothegrush expressed willingness to play the tiny club with us eventually, which was very nice of them. Also I personally have an entire band’s worth of equipment including every instrument and amp and drums and PA etc., so let it be known I have 100% been trying to take Dawning live for the last year or so and basically have received little to no support from local musicians in this effort. I have had many ads out with few responses. And, funny, what do you know — now that the record came out like 10 people just contacted me all of a sudden about joining. Way of the world I suppose!

There is a full length album I finished recording coming out on cassette in a few months on French label. It has some more upbeat black metal stuff but plenty of doom too. It flows. The new full length album is about the Satanic albino cult that lives high in the hills above Silicon Valley, by the way. My car broke down up there many years ago and the Sherrif told me about them and gave me gas to get the fuck out of there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u82y93yi7Ng

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Sammath – Godless Arrogance pre-orders shipping now

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Most bands have two or three good albums in them and once they’ve made those, they’re relegated to re-living old influences. Sammath on the other hand has continued improving with Godless Arrogance, the band’s new album on Hammerheart Records.

Luckily for all of you who like quality metal, you don’t need to wait until the official release date. Godless Arrogance is available for pre-order at the low price of €9.90 and will begin shipping on February 5, 2014.

Crossing the melodic structure of black metal with the vicious riff attack of primal death metal, Godless Arrogance expands upon this band’s career with an album that shows technical skill but doesn’t show off, and is focused on delivering raging tunes with an underpinning of melody.

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Interview with Dr. Martin Jacobsen who teaches “Heavy Metal as a Literary Genre”

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Over the four decades that heavy metal has been with us, people in responsible positions in society have gradually become more accepting of it as an art form and a message from its fanbase.

Such acceptance could not exist without people like Dr. Martin Jacobsen, who by teaching a class on heavy metal as literature has introduced academics to the depth and richness of this genre.

For the past semester, Dr. Jacobsen has been teaching “Heavy Metal as a Literary Genre” at WTAMU, where he introduces students to the literary and artistic aspects of heavy metal. In addition, he writes for Death Metal Underground and is a world-recognized expert in death metal who is active in his local death metal scene.

Jacobsen has returned to teach another semester of the class, which seems to be attracting more students as word of it spreads. We were able to follow up on our first interview with Professor Jacobsen to get a feel for what has changed between the years.

This is the second time you’re offering your class on heavy metal, “Heavy Metal as a Literary Genre.” Was the last time a success?

It was beyond successful. Our local paper did a story on us that went viral — ultimately being translated into 7 or 8 languages, and garnering a spot on Brazilian TV and an Canadian Public Radio. Our 15 minutes of fame. DMU was the first to pick up the story, and we are very grateful for your support of our class.

How have you changed the class? Is the class format the same?

It’ll be a discussion class with lots of music-about 50-50. I have added a lecture devoted to death metal, and I plan to add others about other forms. I’m going to require more writing and much more stringent guidelines for that writing. I’ve also invited local recording and performing artists speak about the lifestyle, the recording process, touring.

What is a typical class period like?

We will begin each day with a student presentation of a song . There will be a required PowerPoint slide with it to show the group, album, lyrics, and so on, in proper style-sheet format. It’s a quantity/quality thing. That will be the first 10 minutes or so. There we will have a lesson in which a sub-genre, group, musician or other germane idea is presented in a standard format: Premises, basically the context behind the thesis; thesis, the point of the lecture; and evidence, documented proof of the point and sample songs to let the students hear it for themselves. I am hoping that we will have a Metal God Profile or two, and if we run across something important as we listen and discuss, we will go with it. We will also, I’m hoping, have guest speakers, and I do plan to bring my guitar in to define certain musical structures and so on.

What disciplines does HMLG touch on? It’s a literature class about music; does that influence what you teach?

We will treat music as if it were literature, looking at its structures, motifs, themes. We will identify the features of heavy metal and how those features are altered to signify different sub-genres. There will be a strong trans-historical structure to the class. I like to think of the history of heavy metal as dominoes standing up. Black Sabbath kicked off the genre and their early albums really set the dominoes in motion. But rather than falling, the dominoes rose like headstones.

You were recently quoted in the Amarillo Globe-News with a definition of death metal:

“Death Metal is an extreme form of metal that tends to privilege growled vocals, blast-beat drumming and virtuosic guitar work. Death metal often uses lengthy compositions featuring minor keys and multiple tempo changes. Thematically, death metal often focuses on violence and gore, but themes of all kinds are interrogated by death metal bands, usually reflecting a pessimistic, even hopeless, outlook. Multiple subgenres exist under the banner of death metal.”

Do you teach such things in the class? Do you realize how totally awesome it is to be quoted in your local newspaper as a death metal expert?

We do work with definitions. And it’s damned cool to be quoted as an expert.

You have become a proficient guitarist over the last few months. What has this taught you about metal?

It is sophisticated music. It’s pushing the edges most of the time. In so many ways, it’s like classical music. It uses tempo changes, it’s riff-driven, it features instrumental virtuosity. Learning how to play again has given me a hands-on, ears-on ability to both understand and interrogate elements that would have been only something I’d have talked about before. I’m thinking about taking my guitar to class for some illustrative lessons. Last term, I had students who didn’t know what a riff is. And amp in the room will quickly solve that. Anyway, It’s given me the musical part of the class in a way no other practice could. Knowing a solo or riff enhances my ability to articulate the ways that such elements differentiate or sustain a genre.

This recent guitar-playing is following up on a youthful musical career. Can you tell us about that? What groups were you in, and what styles did they play?

Career is a bit of an overstatement, but I did play in a couple of local groups. One comprised classmates of mine, and we played mostly pop. I was lead guitarist. The other band was a metal band. I played rhythm guitar. We did mostly well-known metal of the early 1980s-Dio, Def Leppard, Scorpions, AC/DC. It was kid stuff in many ways.

What forms of music do you listen to, when you have no agenda at hand? Does this correspond to what was current when you were of high school – college age?

My tastes have gotten heavier as I’ve gotten older. I didn’t listen to anything really heavy in high school. I started metal as a young adult. I returned to it about ten years ago. I like classic metal best. I’m starting to like death metal bands that end up progressive bands, like Opeth. But I like heavy music. Black Sabbath is my favorite group.

I also listen to a lot of prog, Yes and Kansas being my favorites. I like the Flying Colors supergroup. I like some southern rock, but I don’t have a systematic understanding of it in the same way as I do about metal.

What is heavy metal? Is it distinct from rock music? Is death metal distinct from other forms of heavy metal?

We actually sought to define heavy metal as a a group last time. We ended up with this: “Heavy metal is a form of rock music with a heavy, distorted, menacing sound and concerned with dark, disturbing, and pessimistic themes.”

Death Metal is distinct from other forms. It’s often more thematically disturbing than other forms, but in many instances beside the obviously shock-based bands and motifs, it’s disturbing because it’s asking the questions other forms of art — or even metal — do not ask. I’m also really taken with instrumental virtuosity. Death metal tends to privilege excellent playing. It’s a boundary extension thing. And the structures of good death metal are frequently quite elaborate, even symphonic. I think it’s also interesting that some death metal masterminds, say Schuldiner or Åkerfeldt-become proggy later. It’s another type of boundary testing. As I say so often, metal is in so many ways similar to classical music. It’s not surprising that death metal sometimes veers into other genres. Compare that with black metal, which so often seems to have simplicity and even homogeneity as elements of its ethos.

You have said, in the past that much of heavy metal’s content is similar to Romanticism. What was Romanticism? Does it still walk among us?

It totally does. I think of Romanticism as applied Platonic philosophy. Metal at its best offers a way of thinking about music and thinking that breaks the boundaries and lays before us the larger patterns of musical and thematic expression. It’s the boundaries that are interesting to me. And the Romantics did that. They looked at classical sources and wrote (or expressed via many art forms) about their own experiences within that frame.

Has heavy metal changed the way you look at literature?

I think so. I think all art sharpens perceptions and adds ways of experiencing other forms. I’ve taken up the guitar again after a very long time. And while my playing is a work-in-progress, playing again sharpens my listening and adds a critical lens I didn’t have last time. I’m not sure this is a very good answer to your question. I think the way metal expresses itself is literary in its basic constructions, so engaging that enhances how I think. Analyzing lyrics is literary analysis, so from that standpoint I am definitely applying my training to the process and gaining from doing so. And metal also has other ethos-building elements that any humanities scholar would find interesting.

Contact with your students has deepened your own experience of metal apparently. Can you tell us about this?

I have bonded with several students from the earlier class, and I’ve actually met some of my future students at shows. Some of my former students play in local bands. I think it’s incumbent upon me to know my local scene. But the local scene here has become much more to me than metalheads I know. They’ve become my community.

Do you think the administration at WTAMU have become more open to heavy metal thanks to the first semester of this class and the response to it?

Yes. It’s a permanent addition to our course offerings in an era when core classes are evaporating.

Do you think or have experience that this class has made students more motivated to check out more literature?

Yes. I was able to get them to think about books and to read closely for class discussion. Again, it’s a humanities class and the title is a little misleading. We are embracing other forms. But in identifying the literary influences in metal, I have been able to get students to try literature they may not otherwise have tried.

You’re now one of the foremost instructors using metal in classes in the world. What advice do you have for other educators along these lines?

Well, thank you. That’s very kind. The advice I’d give is to proceed only if you have the freedom to do it right. My department and university totally backed me. I’ll also say that you should tap into student knowledge. This is a class where the students may know as much or more about “their” metal as I do about mine. It’s a bit of a partnership. A Facebook page is a good idea too. It takes the learning into their lives where metal is a constant and collects their experiences for the class.

Will there be a open course / distance learning version of the class? Have you considered packaging it as videos like the classes on Coursera or MIT’s open courseware?

We can do it. And the idea of podcasts has been bandied about.

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Massacre reveals track listing for Back From Beyond

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In March of this year, formative Florida death metal band Massacre will release their highly-anticipated followup to 1991’s From Beyond. On a Facebook post, the band released the following tracklist.

Track list:

  1. As We Wait To Die
  2. Ascension Of The Deceased
  3. Hunter’s Blood
  4. Darkness Fell
  5. False Revelation
  6. Succumb To Rapture
  7. Remnants Of Hatred
  8. Shield Of The Son
  9. The Evil Within
  10. Sands Of Time
  11. Beast Of Vengeance
  12. Back From Beyond
  13. Honor The Fallen

Composed of ex-Death personnel and musicians from nearby Florida death metal bands, Massacre in its From Beyond days was a unique animal in that it was straight-ahead death metal with an intelligent vibe. That is, these songs were well formed to deliver an intense emotional dose and thrill-seeker hairs on the back of your neck standing up at some of the riff combinations. It was like an adventure story through an unknown land.

What made it unusual for the time was that it threw out the chunky/bouncy riffing that most bands were choosing at the time in order to be closer to mainstream metal. Instead, Massacre used guitarist Rick Rozz’s immense tremolo skills and big burly fuzzy distortion to create a sound like thunder through the clouds. The tremolo riff enabled them to join together riffs and keep momentum flowing, rather than relying on the constant interruption-based expectation as chunky/bouncy riffing does, and thus the band was able to assemble simpler riffs into songs with malevolent grandeur.

It will be interesting to see what they cook up for Back From Beyond. Self-referential album titles can work out poorly for bands, although it worked just fine for AC/DC. The band released the Condemned From the Shadows EP last year to some acclaim, and from that work it appears the band may be heading in a more traditional heavy metal direction.

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Shakira (feat. Wyclef Jean) – “Hips Don’t Lie”

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Every now and then, even the most cynical of metal writers loses a bet.

We who toil in darkness and expect no reward because we consider pop music to be the incoherent rantings of a egomaniac egalitarian society gone amok, despite our misgivings, must sometimes venture to the above-ground world to see what the majority listen to.

It’s first important to note that it’s not clear if the majority actually listen to this. If an album sells ten million copies in the US, it’s considered huge, even though 29 out of 30 people did not buy it. I suppose that’s the problem of pluralities: make enough noise and it seems like everyone agrees with you.

The bet in question involved “the best-selling song of the new century,” which according to group graffiti wall Wikipedia is Shakira (feat. Wyclef Jean) – “Hips Don’t Lie.”

For me, this is a confrontation with a mass culture that I gratefully abandoned years ago and avoid whenever possible. I see it as bringing out the worst in humanity by appealing to our animal impulses and the lowest common denominator thoughts in our minds. It is like a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Or a speeding ticket. It is everything bad, distilled into an appealing package. I shudder at the thought.

Nevertheless, I am ready. Green tea topped off, fully loaded shotgun in the corner, pencils sharpened, and I crank this thing up on the stereo. (It’s too late to contemplate suicide. Besides, people would assume it had been inspired by some emo-indie “depressive black metal.”)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cA7ghG4oYl4

While we listen, follow along with the lyrics. I’ve annotated where structural changes occur and what is basically the song at the heart of this song.

SPOKEN:
Ladies up in here tonight
No fighting, no fighting
We got the refugees up in here
No fighting, no fighting

Shakira, Shakira

MALE SINGING:
I never really knew that she could dance like this
She makes a man wants to speak Spanish
Como se llama (si), bonita (si), mi casa (si, Shakira Shakira), su casa
Shakira, Shakira

FEMALE SINGING:
Oh baby when you talk like that
You make a woman go mad
So be wise and keep on
Reading the signs of my body

And I’m on tonight
You know my hips don’t lie
And I’m starting to feel it’s right
All the attraction, the tension
Don’t you see baby, this is perfection

REGGAE-ISH:
Hey Girl, I can see your body moving
And it’s driving me crazy
And I didn’t have the slightest idea
Until I saw you dancing

And when you walk up on the dance floor
Nobody cannot ignore the way you move your body, girl
And everything so unexpected – the way you right and left it
So you can keep on shaking it

MALE SINGING:
I never really knew that she could dance like this
She makes a man want to speak Spanish
Como se llama (si), bonita (si), mi casa (si, Shakira Shakira), su casa
Shakira, Shakira

FEMALE SINGING:
Oh baby when you talk like that
You make a woman go mad
So be wise and keep on
Reading the signs of my body

And I’m on tonight
You know my hips don’t lie
And I am starting to feel you boy
Come on lets go, real slow
Don’t you see baby asi es perfecto

Oh I know I am on tonight my hips don’t lie
And I am starting to feel it’s right
All the attraction, the tension
Don’t you see baby, this is perfection
Shakira, Shakira

A CAPELLA INTERLUDE:
Oh boy, I can see your body moving
Half animal, half man
I don’t, don’t really know what I’m doing
But you seem to have a plan
My will and self restraint
Have come to fail now, fail now
See, I am doing what I can, but I can’t so you know
That’s a bit too hard to explain

SPANISH MUSIC:
Baila en la calle de noche
Baila en la calle de día

Baila en la calle de noche
Baila en la calle de día

MALE SINGING:
I never really knew that she could dance like this
She makes a man want to speak Spanish
Como se llama (si), bonita (si), mi casa (si, Shakira Shakira), su casa
Shakira, Shakira

Oh baby when you talk like that
You know you got me hypnotized
So be wise and keep on
Reading the signs of my body

FLAMENCO-ISH INTERLUDE:
Senorita, feel the conga, let me see you move like you come from Colombia

Mira en Barranquilla se baila así, say it!
Mira en Barranquilla se baila así

SPOKEN:
Yeah
She’s so sexy every man’s fantasy a refugee like me back with the Fugees from a 3rd world country
I go back like when ‘pac carried crates for Humpty Humpty
I need a whole club dizzy
Why the CIA wanna watch us?
Colombians and Haitians
I ain’t guilty, it’s a musical transaction
No more do we snatch ropes
Refugees run the seas ’cause we own our own boats

FEMALE SINGING:
I’m on tonight, my hips don’t lie
And I’m starting to feel you boy
Come on let’s go, real slow
Baby, like this is perfecto

Oh, you know I am on tonight and my hips don’t lie
And I am starting to feel it’s right
The attraction, the tension
Baby, like this is perfection

SPOKEN:
No fighting
No fighting

The core of this song is the section outlined in dark red, which constitutes either a verse and a chorus or a two-part chorus serving as a verse and a chorus in contrast to the spoken or rhythmic parts of this song. The rapped and spoken parts serve as a foil to this, repeating the essential rhythms that are used to express its melody, but never delivering the final punch of the full hook.

And that’s what it is, in a nutshell: the song is pure hook. The first part of the chorus is a sort of invocation by supplementing the rhythm of the percussion which sets up the phrase for the melody to come; the second half of the chorus delivers the real hook, stepping outside the regular rhythm of the previous half while simultaneously expanding its tonal range, creating a sensation of free fall. Even within this dual melody however the fundamental dichotomy of the song between rhythmic shuffle and vocal melody exists, because both halves end in essentially monochromatic rhythmic expressions that dampen the harmonic expectation created earlier in the phrase.

Twice during the song these choruses are delivered back-to-back in male and female vocals, forming a duet within a song. These occur on either side of the middle break. If I had to call a genre behind this song I’d say Motown, especially in the disconnected melody that plays on its earlier parts with rhythm to dampen and a long drop to intensify, but with deliberate flavorings of Spanish-influenced music. One part of Jean’s performance is a reggae passage that re-uses some notes from the pre-chorus, and much of the rest is rapping — the non-metal world’s equivalent of E-string noodling. The a cappella interlude plays up the heritage of jazz-based music with what is simultaneously a rhythmic breakdown and complement to the earlier reggae-inspired interlude. This allows the song to transition to sampled Spanish/flamenco-ish music, then transfer directly to repetition en route to its finale, which is a reprise of the first duet.

All in all, not as brutally simplistic as most pop, but simplistic in a different way. There isn’t really much going on here other than a repeated duet to which separating passages have been added, and each of those plays on what the vocalist is known for. Further, while the melody grows in an internal dialogue between the two parts of the chorus, the first half is fairly linear and the second gains its power from violating the order set up by the first. This shows the “call-response” pattern of early rock expanded as if it were an ideology, first in the melody, second in the duets, finally in the interplay between two halves of song interrupted each by an interlude. It’s a clever way of folding the song in on itself by adding variation without having to actually develop the melody or rhythm, which remains nearly constant throughout, which would add actual complexity.

Let’s take a look at the live experience next.

What strikes me most about this live event is how they must have a staff of people to pull this off… then again, their vocals do sound awfully well produced. Lip-synced? I don’t know, but it might be the only way to ensure quality control with such a complex production. What gets me is how the event itself is of self-announced importance, and the people in the audience instead of seeing themselves as purchasers see themselves as participants. They dance, they sing the lyrics, they pose like the stars onstage. One young woman even appears to be having an emotional moment. This reconnects to what I fear about mass culture: it appeals through the ego, but turns you into a zombie.

Interesting also is how speech, dance and music are merged in this presentation. Wyclef Jean performs a lengthy rapped/spoken section of the song that appears to introduce political topics, citing some kind of pacifism, refugee status, the CIA and Tupac Shakur not to mention some kind of Colombian-Haitian friendship pact. “Ebony and Ivory” for a new generation? While performer Shakira spends some of this video doing the robot dance she puts far more time into showing off her belly-dancing skills and the kind of dance you might see in an urban club late at night.

The official music video also presents a number of dimensions for analysis. First is that it seems most mainstream songs are not really love songs per se, but attraction songs. This song feels like it’s set in your typical bar, but it’s an idealized interaction where the man and woman are offering up sexual attraction to one another. For his part, the lyrics emphasize conscious desire; for hers, the desire is unconscious and she doesn’t expect to be heard but to have her body movements analyzed. If this were any species but humans we’d call it a mating ritual.

The setting in a club is sort of like the idealized commercial dream of a place where you can buy sex and importance, and the intense focus that this song creates on performance and the people acting out the dream conveys importance more than anything else. It is as if the world were pushed aside, and the significance of these moments to the listener took over. It is like a participation fantasy, designed to create focus through the attention of others and then project the listener into it.

One trope that repeats in the lyrics is that of not being in control. These people are not consciously making decisions; they are drawn to them, pushed into them, and communicate them through unconscious desires and bodily responses. This is like the idea of “falling in love” amplified many times, where people do not make choices but react to impulses. This feeling is echoed in the audience, who are swept up in the impulse, but do not control the choices made ( “my hips don’t lie / And I am starting to feel it’s right” is the ultimate statement of ex post facto decision making). They are living through a vicarious existence, following the script another has concocted, presumably because it delivers what they wish they had in their lives. It is as if the ultimate extension of individualism is to abolish the individual in the mass activity, where snapping your fingers at the same time that everyone else does constitutes self-expression.

And now, thankfully, I can take this thing off the speakers and go back to some death metal. It isn’t relentlessly catchy or sexual like “Hips Don’t Lie,” but it has more internal development and emphasizes a sense of connection to something bigger than the individual. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In addition, of course, it totally rips.

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— / Dawning – Split

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Preposterous Creations put out a split between reclusive act – – – and by their own description, long-standing but frequently interrupted American band Dawning, who re-recorded their signature song “Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof.” The result makes for interesting listening and aims to be obscure and withdrawn, which for the most part enhances the experience.

– – – are clearly aiming for the Deathspell Omega crowd, but using a more traditional heavy metal attack that might draw comparisons to Cradle of Filth and early Dimmu Borgir. However, what this band has over the art-rock crowd is that they believe in songs that still move with a sense of purpose toward clarifying a repeated rhythm and melody. This both brings them closer to rock, and away from the overly-configured aesthetic of later black metal. Most of these riffs would fit on a Fates Warning album and count as both heavy and interestingly melodic, but its melodies are a different story entirely and would be at home on a Celtic rock or world music album. The mixture of the two results in less of an oil-on-water fusion than heavy metal mixes normally do, mainly because it sticks to a solid basis of 1970s post-NWOBHM riffing technology.

Dawning brings out one track, but it’s a long and epic one; this is basically funeral doom metal with a 1980s Gothic influence. I realize that all 1980s is new again since there are similar political, economic and social conditions, but “Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof” seems like it comes by this influence honestly. The result is dragging guitars under ringing keyboards that move into riffs with a covert groove that expand into more battle-drawn riffing. From this lighter faire, it returns to the dark and accompanies it with keyboards of the Vincent Price-meets-Summoning variety. As a result, it creates a dark atmosphere with the explorative inner nature of Gothic and industrial.

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Various Artists – Servants of Chaos (Debemur Morti Productions)

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Interesting compilation from Debemur Morti productions that you can listen to online:

1. Behexen – “We Burn With Serpent Fire”: the generic black metal that’s always playing in the background of record stores. This is it.
2. Porta Nigra – “Megalomaniac”: there’s clean singing and rockin-in-a-boat rhythms. Get it away.
3. Setherial – “The Neural Cage of Self Infliction”: cool song title. Cool first couple riffs. Then campfire melodic heavy metal.
4. Nunfuckritual – “Parthenogen”: slightly boring track produces mildly melodic drone with compelling rhythm. But would you want to hear it more than twice?
5. Manetheren – “II”: strobing melodic drone of some type of metal/emo crossover, but is the best so far from this genre that I’ve heard.
6. Sidhr – “Hex”: spanky hardcore/black metal crossover that doesn’t really go anywhere, substitutes frenetic energy for songwriting.
7. October Falls – “Bloodlines”: more emo, very typical, flee while you can.
8. Archgoat – “Penetrator Of The Second Temple”: churning tumescent sonic violence, raginginly primitive with riff-based song structure.
9. Blut Aus Nord – “Epitome II”: this band was always primitive and not quite put together black metal, but now they’re linear droning emo. It kind of churns on an on in a single mood. For wallpaper lovers.
10. Rex Muendi – “The Flesh Begat”: a boring and predictable version of early Bathory set to disco beats.
11. Wallachia – “Dual Nothingness”: bog-standard melodic black metal that melds into a 80s heavy metal/Goth mix. Screechy.
12. Infestus – “Down Spiral Depersonification”: an attempt to fuse post-metal with the harder edge of black metal, this is both a welcome addition of musicality and screamingly obvious, which makes it useless for repeated listening.
13. Monolithe – “Monolithe III (excerpt)”: When black metal went from “pick the best” to “approve of anyone in case they’re in your social group,” music like this got encouraged. It’s musically literate in about five styles and works through them, from a basis of rather poppy, melodramatic doom metal with basic and obvious chord progressions.

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Cruxiter – Cruxiter

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Cruxiter hail from both Texas in 2013 and a mystical land where it is always the early years of classic heavy metal. Heavily influenced by the first two Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate albums, but incorporating a diverse range of influences in technique and songwriting, Cruxiter on their self-titled debut take us back to the days of nascent speed metal.

Approaching their music from a classic metal sensibility, Cruxiter also carry over a melodic influence from the 1960s-1970s period of guitar rock, thus injecting a wide range of variation in lead guitars and riff fills. The result has a buoyant tendency that counterbalances the nimble riffing, creating like impressionistic painting a sensation that is best observed from a distance. When this music is playing across a room, the listener identifies the tune first, and gradually tunes in to the beat of the riffs, then can hear the individual riff textures when drawing closer to the speakers.

Coating these classic metal anthems are higher intoned but adroit vocals that like a fencer quickly change position to take the best vantage of each adjustment in underlying riff or song. The result moves along quickly but, owing to its guitar-heavy rock heritage, develops the solo to complement the song and the vocals, giving it a harmonic depth in addition to the intertwined guitar and vocal melodies. Like all of the techniques Cruxiter keeps on hand, these are applied with different emphasis on each track, keeping songs distinctive and thus energy high from beginning to end of this promising debut.

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