Manowar – The Lord of Steel Live

manowar-the_lord_of_steel_liveWhen snide ironism takes over music, authentic spirit and power are forgotten and ignored. That is, if you read the music media and listen to the music hipsters. However, back in everyday life people love it because it does what music does best: affirm life and urge us on to greater heights. It inspires.

Manowar joins superbands like Metallica and Iron Maiden in pleasing crowds with a kinder, gentler and non-dark version of heavy metal. The perfectly adjusted mix of power metal, speed metal, glam metal, hard rock and classic heavy metal, the music of Manowar is focused on the vocals and on chanted cadences that build up to foot-stomping, fist-swinging, chanting explosions of emotion.

It’s not unlike a church service or political rally. These songs usually start out slow with melody, and then build up the pace at which muted E chords shoot past. Over that, vocalist Eric Adams chants and sings, weaving melody in with a compelling rhythm to outline the rhythmic hook of the chorus. Suddenly it bursts out fully formed, a virus ready to take over your brain. You join the collective motion.

And yet with Manowar, there’s an honesty other styles of music don’t have. It isn’t about projecting yourself into the love story of two idealized people, which like porn makes you feel like you’re living out someone else’s life. This is fantasy on a grand scale, with wars and wizards and lone gunslingers, into which you want to join. But it isn’t about you. It’s about the thing you’d join.

This at least is what I hear seizing these crowds and propelling them to ecstatic emotion. Recorded throughout Europe and Eastern Europe, The Lord of Steel Live revisits classic Manowar hymns mostly from The Lord of Steel with a couple from other works and slows them down, focuses on the vocals, and creates a gospel of metal.

The slick blackened underground crowd will disagree of course. This isn’t metal like Necrocorpsemolestor, which is made in a band down by the river and accessible to only 500 die-hard fanatics worldwide. This is metal like Ozzy charming 100,000 people at a live festival, or Iron Maiden taking over Donnington, or even Metallica drawing out three generations of people in the tens of thousands. It’s music for the masses to discover music again.

The Lord of Steel Live is an EP with only six tracks. These are fairly lengthy, which puts this at a long EP or a short album, and creates the perfect escapism to drop out of life for twenty-seven minutes and indulge in some fantasy. Suddenly the living room has evaporated, and you’re shirtless and wearing viking armor as you assault the non-believers. You fight, you bleed, you struggle, you win, and then you come back to life to be another kind of hero. Perhaps the kind that fixes the leaky faucet, heals a kid’s wound and reconfigures the Wi-Fi.

While Manowar have not gotten enough attention from the media in the last few rounds, it’s clear their presence inspires many and those fans show no sign of waning. In fact, as underground metal has been swallowed up by hardcore and the true metal fanatics have shifted to power metal, the audience for metal has come closer to Manowar than any time in the past twenty years. It’s good to see this celebration of their work ready to inspire a new generation.

We come from different countries
With metal and with might
We drink a lot of beers
And play our metal loud at night
Fly the flag of metal
Brothers all the same
Born to live for metal
It ain’t no game

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Call of the Void – Dragged Down a Dead End Path

PrintBack in the day, we would have called this hardcore. It doesn’t use metal riffs, and unlike metal songs, it doesn’t build an atmosphere of heaviness. It throws out a sense of distraction and then hammers you with it. Not surprisingly, it’s verse-chorus all the way in riff pairs, and the vocalist does that shouted vocal that sounds like a frustrated drunk person trying to explain something.

Much of it is expansive hardcore in the style of later Disfear with some overlap with newer Napalm Death, meaning that the ranting eventually picks up intensity and you get a trudgy-churny part over which there’s meaningful chanting. It isn’t bad at all. However, more than about four minutes of it results in scrambled brains, because it’s essentially about hammering out one message and then looping it.

This might appeal to fans of bands like Tragedy who want poignant moments of voices raised in protest with their riffs. It makes the mistake all modern music does, which is that by turning all the intensity up to eleven, it ends up with an intensity of a constant one as it drones on in the background. All instruments are competent.

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Witchblood – Witchblood EP

witchblood-witchblood_epFor the past eighteen years, it has been clear that for black metal and death metal to survive, they must do more than imitate the past. In other words, it’s time to get weird. There are many avenues to explore but few trust the audience to understand and so the majority spend their time making fifth-generation copies of bands whose ideas have long been forgotten and who exist now only as aesthetic “brands.”

Witchblood shows us a band attempting to create something new within the weird side of black metal. Hybridized with heavy and power metal, Witchblood fits into that territory inhabited by bands as diverse as Gehenna and Absurd which lets the weird side of metal through. It embraces that which polite society normally finds difficult, which is uninhibited emotion and fascination with the natural, which means this music is less manipulative and more sentimental than the norm. This gives it both a cryptic energy and an endearing personality.

Much like Absurd, parts of this are “immature,” meaning that in their guileless state they lack the focus on surface appearance that we have come to expect, and in their raw exuberance they resemble the musings more of a child than an adult. However, there is nothing uncoordinated about the result. Unlike most bands, Witchblood like to edit their material down to the point where every part serves a role, which means it is slightly more repetitive but the parts work together to produce a gestalt of emotion.

This EP will not be for everyone, in particular the more recent types who like slick alternative rock style “mixed emotions” aesthetic draped over their music, but Witchblood will appeal to those who like a good heavy metal tune with black metal style and power metal energy. Some will find the background vocals, which are either clean or war-whooped in the best primitive style or clean vocals that shadow the rasp and give it fullness, to be disturbing but this reviewer found that after a few listens they integrated well with the sound.

Instrumentally this band acquits itself well despite using relatively simple elements and riffing off known styles from Burzum and Dissection as well as some of the vivid gestures and grandiose ballad-like tendencies of epic heavy metal bands. In particular, drumming echoes the riffing but does so unobtrusively while still providing the emphasis where it is needed. Guitars are often reminiscent of primitive bands like Ungod and Absurd, but just as much at home with Dio-era grandeur.

Witchblood are relative newcomers into a genre overflowing with imitators of the past. This band is trying to keep that spirit, but convey it in a new form, in part by escaping the slickness that becomes easy once a style is well known. In short, it’s a return to the “Wild West” days of black metal before the professionals took over and turned it into the same old thing everyone else is doing. For that reason, this band is worth a first listen, and maybe at that point, the vulnerable and feral sides will make a convincing argument for Witchblood.

Order Witchblood through the Witchblood e-store.

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First in Line: Metallica – Kill ‘Em All

metallica-kill_em_allThirty years ago, a struggling band from California unleashed their first album and changed the world of heavy metal forever. The genre that they may not have invented but certainly formalized was speed metal, and it represented the start of heavy metal’s journey away from verse-chorus rock into the dual worlds of hardcore punk intensity and progressive rock song structures.

At first, these changes were less obvious. Kill ‘Em All owes a huge debt to the heavy metal that came before it, and embraces many of the conventions of rock music as well, but it funneled them through a singular filter and achieved a uniformity of sound. In addition, this new style crept in with a number of innovations, like the use of introductions and instrumentals to change song structure, that presaged where this new subgenre would go.

From a casual observer’s position, the first Metallica album isn’t that far removed from its predecessors. The dual influences of UK heavy metal and hardcore punk are clear, as is the distinctive feature of speed metal: the muted strum that produces a choppy explosive sound from percussive lead rhythm guitar, allowing the construction of more complex riffs by making the power chord a building block instead of a place where the riff rests, as open chords are in rock.

Kill ‘Em All showed a new blueprint for metal that developed the extremity of Motorhead with the intricate riffery of Judas Priest and other NWOBHM bands, making for a brainy album that relied on speed to cram all of its power into songs of a normal length. In addition, the speed kicked it up to a new level of complexity in riffing. Speed reveals the sparseness of a riff, and so the one- and two-note riffs of the past would seem immensely repetitive at a faster pace. Thus the riff itself grew with speed metal.

Conceptually, metal grew up with Kill ‘Em All as well, at least partly. Yes, there were some embarrassing songs that sounded like West Side Story retrofitted for violent Northern California speed metal gangs. But more importantly, there was an epic view of existence. Songs about fate, about the fall of civilization, and dark lore that reveals the topics feared by daylight conversation all gave the album a weight beyond its (merely) heavy riffs. Like hardcore punk, this was the howling voice of the apocalypse at our door.

One of Metallica’s most important contributions was to liberate the riff from the drums, hence the “lead rhythm guitar” designation that appeared with many speed metal bands. Following the lead of UK crust punk bands like Discharge, Metallica viewed the drums as a background timekeeper which framed the riff loosely rather than accentuated it, and thus the riff could change without the drums changing. This allowed the riff to change more frequently without forcing tempo changes, although the band delighted in abrupt and surprising tempo changes as well.

Speed metal took this pattern and ran with it. While its antecedents are clear, such as the proto-speed metal of Satan/Blitzkrieg and Motorhead, and the fast-fingered intricate melodic riffs of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the new speed metal band from California turned up the intensity and pushed aside conventional song structures. This set metal free from the world of rock, and laid the groundwork for the next generation, which would not only inherit the true lawlessness of hardcore punk, but build up complexity to be closer to the world of progressive rock.

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The strong link between heavy metal and high intelligence

heavy_metal_high_intelligenceAfter years of society looking down its nose at heavy metal, it appears to be showing up in unusual places: high intelligence occupations, health and academia.

Even though metalheads are still a discriminated-against group, with long hair for men, tattoos, loud music, mentions of Satan and chaos magick banned in many workplaces and government offices, the forces of metal are rising worldwide.

Wired reports on an intelligence-research prodigy in China who, after mastering difficult subjects in a fraction of the time it would require even another gifted person, takes the day off to see a “Satanic heavy metal concert.” Then returns to studying intelligence itself.

Over on the Wall Street Journal, Jon Wiederhorn reminds us that “Metal Music Can Be Good For You,” mentioning among other things that metal can “keep fans that have been scarred by trauma feeling alive and surrounded by family” and that “heavy metal has never faded into obscurity.”

All of this follows an article from a few years ago, “Gifted Students Beat The Blues With Heavy Metal”, which revealed how many who society would consider its best and brightest are turning to metal.

At DeathMetal.org, we don’t find this surprising. Metal is more brainy at the compositional level, meaning how the riffs fit together to develop themes, than rock music or even jazz, which tend to be cyclic. It tackles the big subjects that people would rather forget about, and thus attracts the smarter alienated teens who find the lack of order in life to be appalling.

But best of it, it delivers a punch to life. Like spice in food, combat, sky-diving or a new idea, metal brings out the terrifying and empowering all at once, making us view life with new eyes. That could be the healthiest of all.

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Dread Lair releases From the Vault of the Dread Lounge Vol. 1 compilation

the_dread_lair-houston_texas-heavy_metal_label_promoterHouston promoter/label The Dread Lair has released a digital compilation, originally intended for zines and radio, which showcases Houston bands and other bands this force of metal propagation supports.

The lengthy work features Mantus,Emperial Massacre, Human Chunks, Plutonian Shore, Humut Tabal and more. It’s best to think of this as a sampler, where you’re looking for many different samples of a scene, rather than some kind of overall plan. This liberates you to enjoy the chaos.

As the metal scene expands, the necessity of promoting bands changes from a scarcity of information to a scarcity of choices. At this point, there is an immeasurable flood of metal. Finding something worth listening to is very difficult, since 99% of it is very bad.

The result is that old school means of “taste making,” or shaping an audience’s taste by presenting them selected works and shutting off or filtering the flood, has become more important than ever.

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Witches Mark – Witching Metal Ritual

witches_mark-witching_metal_ritualThis affectionate tribute to the days of classic metal, both NWOBHM and its more bombastic American cousin, fits into the same vein as material like Gehennah, Nifelheim or Diamonsnake: it’s catchy, with overemphasis on the flourishes of the past, but can be compelling for its sentimental view of the world that comes off as poetic.

Witching Metal Ritual features motives from the initial heavy metal era but played with the energy and less responsive drumming of hardcore punk, with occasional touches of the speed metal techniques of the early 1980s. However, what drives this recording are its melodic moments and the use of lead guitar as a running commentary to create a sense of detachment.

Vocals are chants with harmonized singing at intervals, and these complement the guitar, but it is the six-string that sustains emotion. If the album has an achilles heel, it is that too much of this guitar is lead which introduces complexity with more variety in riff could have been powerful. Similarly, drums may be a bit too detached for this style, although it creates an interesting effect.

Witches Mark are more creative than most of the bands who attempt this style and forge a unique sound for themselves that seems influenced by some of the more proggish material in the metal world of late, but is based very much in simple heavy metal riffs and grandiloquent moments where a collision by one or more motifs creates the kind of “heaviness” that metal is famous for.

However, much like later Ihsahn, the tendency to fill sparse songs with internal complexity can lead to listener disorientation and often prevents themes from fully developing. However, the faithful rendition of the past, including a vocalist with a wide range and crystal pipes, may over-ride that with a mood that is hard not to like.

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Metal across borders

orphaned_land-band_photo

At a recent concert in Tel Aviv, Israel, a remarkable thing happened: two bands from two different cultures, Jewish and Arab, stood up together and performed a concert.

“We are metal brothers before anything,” Abed Khathout, bass player for Khalas (“enough” in Arabic) said. His comment was underscored by Koby Farhi, Orphaned Land’s lead singer. ” Tonight is the second time we’re playing together — Orphaned Land and Khalas, as Israelis and Arabs. Having a brotherhood, sharing the stage, simply shows that Rock and Roll music is above politics, ” he said.

Farhi added, “The purpose of art is to represent harmony and coexistence in places of disharmony.” This marks the first time the bands were able to do this, after a similar show in Egypt was cancelled in November.

The more pressing question might be whether metal, the music that decidedly is not about peace and harmony, achieves a greater sense of balance by allowing people to speak honestly about their ambitions and desires, instead of hiding behind layers of social pretense.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF4vfL9JMqs

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First in Line: Slayer – Show No Mercy

slayer-show_no_mercySlayer’s Show No Mercy turned the metal world upside down when it hit the record stores. Keep in mind this was back in the 1980s, so there was no instant effect, more like a quick ripple as it took people time to learn about the album, get to the store to buy it, dub it from a friend, hear it on a weekly radio show, or get mailed a mix tape.

At the time, the world was just awakening to the possibility of speed metal, which grew out of American bands taking the best of NWOBHM, like Blitzkrieg, Satan, Motorhead, Witchfinder General, etc. and combining them, adding in the attitude of hardcore punk and its rhythms. However, speed metal had a defining characteristic, which was the sharp sonic edges produced by the use of the muted strum.

Slayer took another approach, also derived from hardcore (mainly Discharge), which was the tremolo strum. Instead of producing sharp edges, this produced fuzzy columns of sound like an organ or other instrument with huge sustain. The result was that longer riffs could be created and could be relatively independent from the drums. The song structure opened up with guitar as the lead voice.

This innovation basically created all of underground metal. When Slayer was combined with Bathory and Hellhammer, both black metal and death metal emerged. Black metal was a more ambient variety, where death metal was more structuralist, but both used the same ingredients brought about by this combination, namely the techniques and attitudes of these three bands.

However, Slayer’s invention was what was able to unite the long-form song structures of Hellhammer and the atmospheric approach of Bathory into a format that could expand. Immediately recognizing the power of a style of music which put riff changes before harmony or conventional song structure, Slayer expanded their work beyond the verse-chorus using their famous pattern of introductory and transitional riffs.

A new science was born. It was opposed by many in the speed metal world, since it offered competition to what those musicians were doing and signaled the end of that paradigm (speed metal officially hung up its metal union card in 1991, five years after Slayer took this style over the top with Reign in Blood). Others saw the possibility in this new style.

As a result, when you hear metal music today, you are hearing an inheritance from Slayer. Even outside metal music the idea of a guitar or keyboard leading the drums has gained traction, which breaks out of the somewhat rigid format of rock/pop and gives artists more options. It’s not entirely surprising that Slayer burst onto the scene only ten years after the groundbreaking ambient of Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno/Robert Fripp.

Critics have never really understood how to analyze Show No Mercy in part because the album links together so many influences. Iron Maiden lurks in the chord progressions, Discharge and GBH in the technique, Motorhead in the rugged riffing, Kiss in the somewhat grandiose theatrics, and Judas Priest in the conceptualization of riff structure. But what holds them together is this metal first, which is the tremolo strum and its implications for songwriting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdjS4qMXQmQ

The “First in Line” series celebrates the metal bands and albums who did something important, and did it first. It’s like an inventor’s award.

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