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

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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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Interview with MM of Emit/Hammemit

mm-emit-hammemitSome years have passed since Emit was first featured in these pages, but the UK dark ambient/noise/black metal-influenced project returns in the coming year with the newest edition of its most recent work.

MM, the creator of Emit and Hammemit, took the time to answer a few of our questions. Not only is he an underground musician, but he is also a zine publisher, having produced three issues of the Anti-Art Manifesto zine during the later years of underground black metal.

Emit claims influence from a number of sources, including its constitutent genres of black metal, dark ambient, electro-acoustic music and noise. However, there are extra-musical influences as well, such as a rumored connection to the Order of Nine Angles and other mystical groups.

As metal seeks new influences and directions in which it can go without losing its essential metal-ness, it makes sense to observe how others are navigating paths through the chaos. Thus we are very proud to present an interview with MM of Emit/Hammemit.

So… Emit’s back. What made you decide to resurrect this project?

Typically, Emit resurrected itself because it began to irritatingly manifest unbidden within recording sessions for Hammemit. Rather than contaminate the pure spring waters of my youngest son with the angry attentions of the estranged eldest, something had to be done with it. They are of the same blood, but are of different temperaments. I now create music as Dr. Jekyll might.

What have you been doing in the intervening years between Emit’s cessation and resurrection? Do you view these as similar activities in spirit, even if not in sound?

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Well, there is Hammemit. To inaccurately quote myself from an unpublished interview: in varying shades of subtly dark sound I have raised again to their former use and gestalt such structures of worship and diligent study as may currently be found ruined or in state of repair within a certain radius of my guitar, in spectral form. These existing in an ancient realm quite recently known as England that I understand from books and hearsay actually once existed and is become resurrect via such musics as mine own. It is the spirit of a dead realm I still sadly bear living memory to.

Of course they are similar in spirit as I speak with one voice, searching for the ultimate expression, faltering with words yet more fluent in music to express the mysteries I am bound to darkly perceive yet struggle to grasp since earliest memory.

What motivates you to make music? Is there a philosophy to your life?

The motivation is a sudden urgent and painful desire to attempt a capturing of the essence of mysterious elements of existence, because mere words fail me as already explained. Music fails me too, but comes closer to describing that experienced than any other medium I might think of using for such means.

My most fervent hope is to capture perfectly, like ancient insect in amber, this unexplainable inexplicable. I perhaps came closest to doing so with a Hammemit piece called “The Trod of the Darklie Faye,” but yet still remains so distant from the core of the thing.

If there is a philosophy to my life it would surely be the cause of many a smile in the Greek underworld, in the unlikely event they bothered to peer up from their dice games to take notice.

Your CD is coming out on Crucial Blast Records in 2014. Can you tell us what the new Emit will be like? What’s the title?

It has already been available on cassette from a label called Glorious North, originally a demo. However, such is its apparent accomplishment that it deserves releasing again with full album status, expanded tastefully where necessary (I mean no bonus tracks).

mm-ikon-777-emitThe title is not quite borrowed from a compendium of M.R. James short stories, Spectre Music of an Antiquary. The cover (for the CD) is a photographically recorded arrangement of what “might” be called necrotic artifacts, of varying degrees of relevance to the music in question. Items with history and spectres of their own tied to them. In any case, not just some accidental collection of random rubbish as can often be seen elsewhere on album covers belonging to profane Public House crawling musicians with time and nothing else to kill.

It is musically comprised of bio-mechanically haunted vignettes, with a subtle 1980s film soundtrack aftertaste.

How do you think the metal community has changed between the last Emit and the next?

My connection to and interaction with any kind of music community or movement was always minimal. This not being by choice and I sometimes in the past regretted that fact. However I realise now in the light of maturity I was happier that way. I remain a writer of letters (and emails), mostly to people I have known a long while. Most of these people, if not all, bear the same opinion as myself, namely that there is little that such a community can offer people like us and increasingly so. The majority of those comprising these communities have no spirit or panache and wish for acceptance.

What’s next for Emit, and for you as a musician, after this album? Tour? More recordings?

A tour is unlikely to say the least. But some more live examples should be made where possible. More recordings are not out of the question, but only if there be a violent urge to do so. I never record anything for the sake of making a “new” recording. Especially as everything I have ever committed to tape (or .WAV file nowadays) has already been given birth in some form or other many hundred years previous. Even if it took the shape of a church or priest hole rather than unpopular song.

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Underground Never Dies! album stream

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This review includes a streaming audio of the tracks on Side B of the accompanying LP of underground metal rarities. Side A can be found in the first part of this review.

Our ongoing coverage of Underground Never Dies! by Andrés Padilla continues with this review of the accompanying LP. As you may recall, this LP of early death metal classics comes with 500 copies of the book and boxsets, but will also be able to be ordered separately on CD/LP.

Underground Never Dies! is a look at the nascent death metal movement through the eyes of zine editors, musicians and writers from the mid 1980s-mid 1990s era when the genre was birthed. For more information about its genesis and content, you might want to check out our interview with Andrés Padilla and read the other half of this review, which includes a 3-page sampler of the book itself.

What makes Underground Never Dies! exceptional is that it does not attempt to be anything but a subjective and in-depth exploration of what the author and those he knew found to be meaningful in the death metal underground. It explores what the term “underground” itself means, and what motivated these musicians and other creative people to set up an underground and nurture the music in it.

The book itself is a crown jewel, with glossy pages reproducing the original flyers, zines, band photos, demo covers and other artifacts of the age, plus extensive commentary by people who were active in that time, with big names appearing alongside obscure but insightful contributors. Visually, it is overwhelming to the point where it must be digested over many days with appreciation for all of the details, much like one used to peruse Mad Magazine for the Antonio Prohias cartoons in the margins.

The accompanying LP is also a masterwork of old school underground extreme metal joy. Side B begins with the most famous track by Necrovore, the band who in 1986-87 took the raw ideas of early death metal and gave them an aesthetic of apocalyptic rage that was later influential to Morbid Angel. Invocator and Armoros follow with tracks that show us the speed metal roots of many of the most popular riff themes in death metal. Sadism contributes an older school track that shows the mentality shifting from speed metal’s logicality to death metal’s feral rage and structural obsession. Finally, Poison and Mental Decay reveal some of the more hardcore punk-influenced work in the underground, showing us both the weirdness and commonality of purpose between the two genres in their original form.

In addition to the tracks streamed here and on Side A, the CD/MC version of the accompanying music contains a bonus side with more tracks from famous, infamous and obscure bands.

Streaming MP3s of Underground Never Dies! LP/CD – Side B

1. Necrovore – “Mutilated Death” (4:25)

2. Sadism – “Psychomental Storm” (2:57)

3. Invocator – “The Persistence from Memorial Chasm” (4:14)

4. Armoros – “Euphoria” (3:23)

5. Poison – “Black Death” (3:14)

6. Mental Decay – “The Final Scar” (3:27)

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Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay documentary explores origins of industrial music

industrial_soundtrack_for_the_urban_decayIndustrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay explores the history of industrial music, featuring interviews from the genre’s most influential bands, artists, labels and fanzines.

The documentary film by filmmakers Amélie Ravalec and Travis Collins is currently in post-production. Its topic is industrial music, meaning the noise-based variety more than the post-EBM variety, defined as “an experimental music genre inspired by a wide spectrum of ideologies and interests” which “combines improvisation and performance with avant-garde, provocative, political and taboo themes alongside harsh noise and environmental sound recordings.”

According to the filmmakers, industrial was a DIY genre that rejected mainstream society — much like the original hardcore punk and metal — and “found inspiration in the avant-garde 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.”

What follows is a list of the interviewees for this film:

  • Throbbing Gristle
  • Cabaret Voltaire
  • NON / Boyd Rice
  • SPK
  • Click Click
  • Test Dept
  • Clock DVA
  • Re/Search
  • Z’EV
  • Sordide Sentimental
  • Hula
  • In the Nursery
  • Hands Production
  • Klinik
  • Ant Zen
  • Orphx
  • Prima Linea

For more information, check out the group’s Facebook page.

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Cryptopsy – Ungentle Exhumation re-issued

cryptopsy-ungentle_exhumationHigh speed percussive death metal band Cryptopsy — or at least they were in the mid-1990s — has re-issued its demos compilation, Ungentle Exhumation, containing the demo of the same name.

Cryptopsy rose to prominence in the mid-1990s with None So Vile, an album of blasting terror which utilized the style created by New York’s Suffocation to make simpler and more direct songs incorporating a rock/blues influence.

Although the band’s last decade or so has been spent trying to pursue modern metal styles, the “Ungentle Exhumation” demo showed them in the style of their first album (Blasphemies Made Flesh) but with the manic intensity of None So Vile.

It is thus considered by many Canadian death metal watchers to be the definitive Cryptopsy work. It can be purchased from the Cryptopsy bandcamp page for $8 CAD.

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Death Invoker – “Demo 2010”

death_invoker-demo_2010This demo offers a new name to remember for the old school fans. Coming from South America, and having a Sarcófago cover as a hidden track on the Polish version, the inevitable comparison for Death Invoker’s “Demo 2010” will be Sarcófago‘s I.N.R.I..

There’s a lot more than that going on here however. Death Invoker incorporate older speed metal material, including rhythms that develop ideas Metallica used, and death metal from the period after Sarcófago. These songs tend to be short and of relatively circular development that builds off of verse-chorus songs with a few deviations and transitions, but this band really know how to set the stage for a song.

Each song has a clear development and doesn’t get lost in the confusion. If anything, some disappear into similar riff patterns that end up creating ambiguity, and a few more distinctive tempo changes would improve this, but on the whole, each expresses itself as its own entity. If the band refines these songs for an album, the biggest area of improvement could be in making each song have a distinctive structure and approach (“angle”) relative to the rest.

That doesn’t limit the power of this demo release, and it is a demo, so deserves more leeway. With choruses following more of the “speed metal” pattern, and being very catchy, and verses speeding along in more of the “death metal” style, this band unites the two in a potent variant on these styles. It will be interesting to watch these guys develop.

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Profile: Salva Rubio, author of Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011)

extreme_metal-30_years_of_darkness_1981-2011As mentioned in an earlier article, Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) is a new book revealing the history of underground/extreme metal. Unlike many such efforts, this book approaches the topic from an academic perspective and avoids trying to celebrate the commercial or popular phenomenon.

Salva Rubio, an author and screenwriter in Spain, wrote Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) in his native Spanish and hopes to have it translated to English and other languages. The book “includes essays about the ethical and aesthetic nature of Extreme Metal, a formal account of what distinguishes each style and how they are meant to be played, a chronological, style-by-style story of how each kind of Extreme Metal evolved.”

Approaching metal as a history is antithetical to what many in the buying public expect from entertainment-related topics. They expected the fan-focused features that celebrate how much interest the genre has created, and how its individual members react and feel. While that approach makes the music identifiable to the listener, Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) takes another approach, which is to tell the story of the music through its evolution and let the whole story show what influenced individuals, and not the other way around.

Fortunately for us out here in death metal appreciation land, author Salva Rubio was willing to give us a brief run-down on the book, his connection to and inspiration in metal, and the status of the book and possible translation.

What’s your personal history in extreme metal? How did you discover it, what interested you about it, and how did you end up writing about it?

I remember quite well the first time I ever listened to Extreme Metal! I guess it was in ’91 or ’92 when I was already into rock and I bought one of those anime VHS tapes released by Manga Video (it could be “Fist of the North Star,” awesome series!). Then I hit the play button and “The Heart Beneath” by Celtic Frost, which played as an intro, simply blew my mind. As I say, at the time I didn’t have a clue about which band or song was that, since I didn’t have friends who were into Extreme Metal. But with a little bit of research, I started discovering other bands and as they say, the rest is history.

About what interested me, it was rather an intuitive thing: I simply loved the strength, passion and power that that kind of music emanated, and as I read the lyrics, I discovered that very serious and rebellious themes were sung, and at that time in my teenage years metal philosophy played the most important role in my development as a human being.

How did I end up writing about it? When I was studying my degree of Arts History back in 2003, we had this “Music History” subject, focused on classical music. The teacher was a really open-minded guy, so I asked him if he knew anything about Extreme Metal. I remember how he asked back “Do you mean heavy Metal?” — “No, I mean Extreme Metal.” He was so intrigued that he asked me to write a paper on its history, and although he later jokingly admitted that the music itself horrified him, he thought it was formally interesting and worthy of academic attention, and that I should write a book about it and he even offered to publish the book… But unfortunately, he died soon after. A few years later, my life was going through big changes and Metal helped me again deal with all that, so I thought I had to give something in return and write the goddamned book. It resulted in a 250,000+-word, 600+ page mammoth that has given me some of the greatest satisfaction in my life.

How did you pick the dates (1981-2011) for the book?

As I will explain later, this is a rather formalistic book, which means that its main focus is music itself, its structures, its sound, its ways of being played. Thus, musically speaking I think Extreme Metal is born when Punk and Heavy Metal collide with Motörhead, and I think the first band to assimilate those influences in the coherent way that others will formally, ethically and aestethically follow is Venom in Welcome to Hell, precisely in 1981. Just think of the influence it had on Hellhammer, Bathory and everything that came next.

As for the closing date, I started writing the book around 2009 and soon I realized that 2011 would complete a 30 year period in a nice, round way. My publisher agreed so I had to write it during all of 2010 and 2011 until its publication in December that year.

When will the book be available in other languages such as English?

That is a good question, since we are still looking for a publisher! Regarding this, any interested publisher would like to know that in Spanish language we have reached the Fourth Edition in less than two years, and it is currently selling well in Spain, Mexico, Colombia Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela and Perú and hopefully soon it will reach Argentina, Ecuador and other Latin American countries. I already have even an offer to publish it in Polish language once the English version is out.

Should a traditional (paper) publisher be interested in the book, it could be out in a year or less, I guess. There is another angle I am considering, and that is self-publishing it as a series of e-books (one for each style) because it’s hard to sell a 600-page book in e-book format, mostly because of the price it would have. I don’t like that much the idea of splitting the book into smaller volumes but this way at least I would be in control of when and where it’s released. If I finally go this way, maybe along 2014 the first volumes could be released, on my own budget (hard) or maybe after a kickstarter campaign (easier).

Anyway, as you can check in www.extrememetalbook.com, anyone can help get the book published just by drawing the attention of your favorite publishing house to the book. Please support this project as true underground always does!

Can you tell us more about the book? Is it mostly a history, a list of bands, interviews, or some combination of the above? How much is pictorial content?

As I advanced before, the book is a formalistic essay. This is very important; I am NOT a journalist or a critic, I am a Historian. That means my goal was to create a historical narration of how the music itself was created and how it has evolved over the years. What I have done is putting some order in the styles and sub-styles tree, creating a “botany” if you want: classification of bands according to the style they have helped to build.

That means there are around ten main styles (Pioneers, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Swedish & Melodic Death Metal, Grindcore & Goregrind, Industrial Metal, Gothic Doom & Gothic Metal, Black Metal and Progressive/Avantgarde Metal), each style being a container for further sub-styles, such as Classical Death Metal, Technical Death Metal and Brutal Death Metal in the (obviously) Death Metal universe and Classical Black Metal, Norwegian Black Metal, Symphonic Black Metal, Melodic Black Metal, Death/Black Metal in the Black Metal Universe, and each of them even have their own variants, of course. The goal was to create a logical flow of music development, searching for the, again, formal paths that influences have made each style evolve and split into new sub-styles.

As for the pictorial content, the Spanish edition has about 20 pages of color and black and white photography in separate pages, most taken by myself. As for the English edition, I can’t say how much pictorial content it will feature; I just can say that I have a big personal archive, so we shouldn’t be short on this.

To write this book, I first thought of interviewing bands, as it is usually done by journalists or even critics, but it did not work. Mainly because it usually happens that many musicians are not really aware of the exact kind of music they are playing, and also, many of them like to say that they don’t play in any known style but their own, which is of course, formally impossible. Others claim to play a style (as in “Viking Metal”) which does not represent really a musical style, but an aesthetic tendency: “Viking” bands as Enslaved, Tyr or Amon Amarth play different styles of metal, so they belong to different chapters in the book. I also tend to use more “formally and historically accurate” terminology in conjunction with the traditional one: Classical Death Metal = Old School Death Metal.

As for the structure of the book, each chapter features an introduction, a technical (instrumental) analysis of the style, a lyrical analysis and its development through various stages in the last 30 years. I suggest you check the self-explaining table of contents: http://extrememetalbook.com/table_of_contents.html.

Anyway, something very important to note is that I don’t want this book to tell THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH in an exclusive, self-aggrandizing way. I see it as a contribution to the many studies that are being done on Extreme Metal. Those looking for pope-or-guru-like pontifications will not find it. Those looking for a fresh edge on how Extreme Metal has evolved and developed will enjoy it. You all know the story, I am just telling it in a different way that might make see you your favorite music in a new light (or darkness!).

How did you pick which bands to interview/include?

I used two sets of criteria for choosing the bands: first, obviously, any band who has had an influence over a style, created it, subverted it, re-created it, etc, that is, every band that has kept the machine running is featured. On the other hand, there are the bands, usually lesser known except for the underground, that have inherited their elders’ lessons and have developed them.

The development of each of those band’s histories have been covered in short biographies focused on their evolution throughout their subsequent releases, without filler as discographies, personnel changes, etc. I wanted the book to be readable from cover to cover and these entries are meant to provide an introduction to each band.

And of course, I have NOT tried to make something like a cold-data-encyclopedia (that’s why Metal Archives exists) or something like “the definitive list of.” I loathe those approaches and my choice is to be (and necessarily must be) a product of the Extreme Metal I have been exposed to throughout my lifetime. Suggestions are welcome, of course.

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Interview: Nelson Varas Díaz

nelson-varas_dias

As part of our ongoing look at metal in academia, we speak with Professor Nelson Varas Díaz, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico and is one of the sponsors of the upcoming “Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience” academic conference.

The upcoming conference will attempt to define “community” in heavy metal and has uncovered some interesting starting points. If nothing else, it shows the broadening of academic interests in metal. For more examples, read Professor Varas Díaz’s description of his research and its practical applications below. Where academia once focused on metal as a narrow field, it is now an inter-disciplinary study used to apply that knowledge back to other specialized fields.

We were fortunate to get a few moments via email with Professor Varas Díaz to discuss the conference, his research, his past and most importantly, his views of and participation in heavy metal as both art form and community.

Are you a metalhead? If so, what got you into metal, and what keeps you into it? What type(s) of metal do you like?

I listen to metal music constantly. I am always looking for something new that helps push boundaries of what I listen to within the genre and that continues to surprise me. I listen to metal music across the spectrum… everything from traditional, thrash, death, and progressive metal.

I think that, like most of the people I have met that enjoy metal music, social alienation was an important part of getting into this style of music. I will be the first to recognize that as a young man I felt very much isolated from traditional institutions. It seemed like one had to give up something of oneself to be part of the group, and metal music did not ask that of me. I know this sounds cliché… but at that young age it was very much my reality. There are many other reasons why people become interested in metal music… but that was mine.

Being part of a metal community in Puerto Rico, in the late 80s and early 90s was exciting, and I felt that I could be myself there. Of course, now I can see that process with some years of experience under my belt and recognize it for what it was with strengths and limitations. I am always very careful not to romanticize these experiences, as metal communities can also expect you to mold to certain standards (i.e. dress codes, behavior codes). It is a matter of learning to live within this apparent contradiction between individuality/collectiveness.

I like to think that I have “returned” to the metal community in Puerto Rico as a product of our study with its local scene. The study has been ongoing for the past two years and the first four publications on the project will come out in 2014 as book chapters and papers in peer-reviewed journals. Metal in general keeps me intellectually and emotionally engaged.

You’ve come up with a stumper here: how does metal define community? Is there more than one metal community?

That is an important question… I think people who are engaged in metal music throw the word “community” around as if we were all talking about the same thing. That is understandable because the concept is so frequently used that we don’t take the time to explore its implications.

As a researcher, my instinct tells me to take two steps back and explore the idea in all its potential complexities. A conversation with individuals from different settings will immediately show you how metal communities can be very different depending on their context, and still feel part of a larger metal community throughout the world. So yes… I believe we should always refer to metal communities in recognition of the plurality of experiences that are encompassed in the process of being part of a collective group. But that is not enough… and complexity always shows its face in this discussion.

Some example of this complexity include the role of the market in developing communities that are not organic, gender dynamics within communities, LGBTT issues, just to name a few areas that are currently being addressed by metal scholars working with the concept of community. Academically, concepts like tribes, emotional communities, functional communities, geographical communities, border communities, and scenes are used to describe the idea that we are connected. Some of these concepts overlap, while others include very different criteria for what constitutes a community.

I hope that the conference will allow us to continue a discussion on how we are connected, while also recognizing the complexities that we still need to address in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.

What do you hope to achieve with this conference? Who is coming? Is it open to lay people (non-academics) such as fans, bands, zines, labels and promoters?

I hope that the conference allows attendants to continue a discussion that began in the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference that took place in Ohio in 2013. That was a simply amazing event that pushed the field of Metal Studies to new heights.

We will have visiting scholars from the UK, the US, and Brazil. These include: Keith Kahn-Harris (University of London, UK), Niall William Richard Scott (University of Central Lancashire, UK), Deena Weinstein (DePaul University, USA), Karl Spracklen (Leeds Metropolitan University,UK), Jeremy Wayne Wallach (Bowling Green State University, USA), Amber Clifford-Napoleone (University of Central Missouri, USA), Brian A. Hickam (Benedictine University, USA), Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo (Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, BR), and myself (University of Puerto Rico, PR).

The conference is free of charge and will be streamed over the Internet for those that can’t make it to Puerto Rico (more details soon on our facebook page). I am sure that non-academics will be an important part of the event and that the local metal scene will support this venture. In fact, the Puerto Rico Metal Alliance and Thrash Corner Records will be cosponsoring the event. These are two historically important institutions in Puerto Rico’s metal scene.

We will also have a concert with local artists Organic, Ortiz and Dantesco (more details soon).

What do you think the study of metal has to offer academia at large?

Heavy Metal Studies has a lot to offer academia. The one thing that I think people in academia are surprised to see is that we engage in areas that are truly interdisciplinary. As a social psychologist, I have shared panels with philosophers, musicologists and musicians while we address metal as a subject of interest. I have had to expand my field of inquiry to converse with others. That is something that is severely lacking in academia. Most people are stuck in their fields and have a hard time letting go. I welcome that experience and hope it helps other academic settings see it as a possibility. This year I have a presentation on metal music in a local psychology conference. My presentation is entitled “Letting go of psychology” as a testament to how engaging in metal studies has required me to change how I think about and approach these subjects.

Do you think the study of metal has picked up lately? Why, if so?

I think there are several reasons. First, we must recognize the work of pioneers in the field like Deena Weintein and Robert Walser. Those books set the stage, at least from my perspective, for the growing number of academic endeavors in the field. Second, more recent books published by Keith Kahn Harris on extreme metal and Jeremy Wallach, Harris Berger and Paul Greene on the global aspects of metal have pushed these reflections even further.

Also, the continuing number of conferences that have been organized played a vital role in strengthening metal studies. Take for example the Heavy Fundamentalisms conference organized by Niall Scott and Rob Fisher for Interdisciplinary.net and the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference organized by Jeremy Wallach, Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo, Amber Clifford-Napoleone, Matthew A. Donahue, Brian Hickam, and Esther Clinton at Bowling Green University. Those were excellent conferences that have yielded great discussions (and upcoming publications) that have strengthened the field.

In terms of organization, the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) has played a vital role in promoting metal studies. Also, the new journal Metal Music Studies edited by Karl Spracklen will help strengthen the field in terms of publications. I am part of the editorial board of the journal and am really excited about where it will lead. These are just some examples of individuals that are collectively working very hard to promote metal music studies through different mechanisms. They are joined by so many others that systematically engage in research with little support and resources.

Can you describe your own studies, both in metal and outside of it, and what you think they have contributed to academic knowledge?

Most of my research outside of metal music is related to social stigmatization and health. It has focused on developing strategies to train health professionals to address the needs of marginalized populations without letting prejudice influence social interactions. Now you will say… what does that have to do with metal music? Well, I frequently use heavy metal lyrics to discuss how social stigmatization influences people’s lives. So metal music found a way into my classroom long before I engaged in metal studies. After attending the Heavy Fundamentalisms Conference in 2010 I decided to engage heavily in metal studies as a central area of study and focus on the Caribbean region where literature on the subject is scarce.

My current project aims to explore the development of Puerto Rico’s metal while focusing on the social, historical and cultural factors that have helped shape it. My team is composed by Eliut Rivera, Sigrid Mendoza, and Osvaldo Gonzalez who are graduate students. The study has a mixed methods approach using ethnographic observation, qualitative interviews, and quantitative questionnaires to documents our subjects of interest. We are using these findings to complete a documentary on the local scene, which should be out in early 2014. You can follow our progress through our facebook page entitled Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies. Our first data-gathering trip to the Dominican Republic will be in 2014, to continue expanding our study to other Caribbean scenes.

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Treblinka – Shrine of the Pentagram

treblinka_(tiamat)-shrine_of_the_pentagramBack in the hazy days of the 1990s, when society was so innocent it thought it could overcome its problems with better television, Tiamat showed up on the radar screens in a big way.

Basically staying away from bands of its nature, which struck me as more of older styles of metal than death metal, I never fully investigated the band until Clouds. My response was to withdraw in horror. Not only did Tiamat exude older metal, it also exuded rock, specifically the sensitive man alternative college radio kind!

However, I was alone in this opinion. Others praised Tiamat and said it was the future of death metal; this opinion seemed to be very popular at the time. People told me I just didn’t get its evil aura, and were incensed that I found the band laughable. This was the true Swedish metal, I was told, not the washed-out stuff like Entombed.

I was a false, in other words, and I should not have entried.

That copy of Clouds I ditched in the radio station office and left it to the ravages of time. It may still be there. Tiamat dropped off the radar a half-decade later. I never understood why I didn’t like this band until now, having heard Shine of the Pentagram.

I’ll get the blasphemies out of the way: this band is in many ways a prototype for Opeth. Where most Swedish death metal got its strength from hardcore roots, or deep metal roots, Opeth and Tiamat (originally called Treblinka, an innocent usage that was later changed to respect the victims of that place) derived their worldview from rock music. Specifically, indie-rock sensitive-man music, which emphasizes dark and self-pitying moods that have a spirit of uplift in them. Sort of like someone trying to rationalize himself out of depression at the fact that his society and species are failing. Even more, the furthest both bands get into death metal is heavy metal, and the more they try to make it deathy, the worse it fails.

On the plus side, Shrine of the Pentagram shows Tiamat/Treblinka in their earliest state, when they were still producing music that was essentially NWOBHM with an indie-rock vibe as played by Grotesque or a band like them. These riffs and fills are straight out of the glory days of NWOBHM, and the chorus-emphatic songs reflect the stadium rock aspects of that genre. Even though Treblinka have doubled the strumming speed and kicked the drums into battle, this just isn’t death metal. The riffs are old school heavy metal and radio rock; the song pacing, more like a college station. And the moods? Sort of playful, sort of dark, but mostly, self-absorbed, which is the one thing death metal was not.

In other words, this is probably the best material from Treblinka (Tiamat) that you’re likely to ever hear. And it’s done well. The songs here are poppy and high-energy, and if a bit ego-focused at least do so in the inexpert way of teenagers. The musicianship is good, even if the band insists on breaking up songs with out of place percussion drops, blues parts, and melodic interludes that seem to lose momentum.

Production is excellent, all things considered. These originals must have been of horrible sound, and they’re cleared up expertly, such that you don’t notice how bad the originals must have been until there’s one sound like a simultaneous backstage shout and snare hit that shows how much chaos was cleared away. The demos and live material complement each other, showing the growth of the band. Packaging also promises to be really excellent.

Especially if you get the 5-LP version, as opposed to the 3-CD “abridged” version, it’s imperative that you like the dozen songs represented here. Because you’re going to hear them a lot. There are five LPs, and a dozen (or so) songs, which means near constant repetition. Even more, you will hear them in a half-dozen flavors of demo, live, studio instrumental and other visions of the same material.

I had hoped to rediscover a lost treasure here, and I’m sad to say I haven’t. Tiamat has three problems: (1) it’s rock music, not metal (2) while it’s fun, it isn’t particularly repeat-listenable and (3) it misses out on the metal mood and goes to a bad place instead. However, I can’t fault this set for getting to the core of the situation and producing a high quality product for those who love this band. And maybe, I’m just a false and should not entry.

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