The rise of metal in Africa

death_metal_angolaIn parts of Southern Africa, a vibrant scene that hybridizes metal and extreme rock is taking hold, and defining a new vision of metal that is part local tradition and part melange of worldwide metal concepts.

According to Africa Review, metalheads in Angola and Botswana have formed an “unexpected niche” through an energetic new metal scene.

American author Eddie Banchs comments on what makes a metal scene so distinctive. “Heavy metal is synonymous with a lifestyle which is seldom seen with other genres of music. Africa metal fans are not atypical in this regard,” he said.

According to Swedish researcher Magnus Nilsson, this new heavy metal culture was influenced in part by an alliance between heavy metal fans and country music fans. The metalheads adorn themselves with traditionally “country” accoutrements like sheriff badges, bandanas, cowboy hats and even toy revolvers.

According to the article, Botswana band Metal Orizon lead the movement by taking “Western-style hardcore rock and fusing it with familiar influences like African chants percussions to create a unique sound.” This gives the region a distinctive sound in addition to image.

In addition the article mentions several ongoing projects to document this phenomenon including the film Death Metal Angola, which documents the rise of a death metal sound unique to the region.

Interview: Ara

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Music is never in stasis. It is composed of two parts, a form and a content. The two are related; in the best of situations, content causes the musician to innovate a new form. When the content changes, the old form is not relevant. However, some things are timeless and those forms persist.

Such questions emerge at the front of the mind when we look at Wisconsin’s Ara and their latest album, The Blessed Sleep. Whatever the changes that have been wrought in metal over the past 20 years, Ara roll back some of the tendencies toward excessive form and pointless technicality, and return the focus to songwriting. (See our review of The Blessed Sleep.)

Ara presents a challenge to what metal has become and to what many conceive of as metal. We figured we would go deeper for the whole story, and were fortunate to speak with guitarist and band cofounder Jerry Hauppa, who helped clarify the situation and told us about the inspiration and musical vision behind Ara’s latest, The Blessed Sleep.

You approach metalcore/tech-deth with a stripped-down style that focuses more on songwriting. What made you decide to do this, against the conventions of the genre?

None of us are really thrilled by the theatrics of sweeped scales masquerading as riffs in extreme metal nowadays. To the casual fan this can superficially be interpreted as sounding crazy and chaotic but we all come from older metal backgrounds where the riffs and arrangements had to have creativity and personality in order to express deviation between songs and moods. Cluttering up a song with a ton of parts can be an effective way to display chaos at times but we are trying to make sure each part serves the song well enough where nothing seems to be either filler or extraneous.

What do you think separates “modern metal” (metalcore, tech-deth, indie metal) from the older extreme metal like death metal and black metal?

The Blessed Sleep seems to have indirectly caused quite the argument about this in the comments section of your review for the record, but in my defense of death metal I clearly differ from the opinion of your readers in terms of what I feel falls under its umbrella. I think that “modern metal” is less a genre and more a statement that tries to separate any current take on the genre that threatens the ethos created in the early 90s. I agree that most of what I hear nowadays doesn’t resonate with me, but I’m not going to invalidate it by claiming it isn’t death metal or black metal because I’m afraid of what that means for me as a listener.

What I will say, is that I feel I have an uncanny ability to hear motive in music, and what I think you are getting at with the title “modern metal” is the unfortunate actions of -core acts that clearly resemble marketing ploys and the inhibiting crutches present in their writing, which throw at the listener a sense of immediate gratification through the aforementioned sweeps and of course, breakdowns. What we are trying to do is not throw the listener a bone so I feel we have more in common with the rebellious aspects of the early death metal movement than what people are considering to be “modern.”

In your view, what are the founding acts that influenced this style? What influences do you as a band have in addition to these?

The style shown on the record, or in modern metal? As for the latter, I have no idea really. I know that it seems many young bands don’t understand the history of metal and are trying to emulate a band that has emulated another band and so on, and that’s a shame with the ease of resources we have nowadays.

I guess as for the aspect of a more chaotic form of death metal, you could probably say that Cryptopsy’s Whisper Supremacy took the idea of a metal song arrangement and turned it upside down- at least for me, when I heard it, nothing really sounded like it. Today’s bands probably are really far removed from that record but the bands they ripped off might be familiar, I don’t know.

As for the influences of the band, for me, I’ve always been drawn to more complex music because I like to hear something new in a song each time I hear it. I’d say Gorguts, Anata and Cryptopsy are definite influences, as well as Theory in Practice and maybe the early explosion of Unique Leader bands. As far as how the record sounds, I could probably say I was drawn to the feel of Sinister’s Aggressive Measures record in terms of their atonal leanings and not having the guitars be tuned super low. The rest of the guys in the band have a huge list of influences, but I can say I know Erik worships Discordance Axis, Adam loves stuff like Fleshgod Apocalypse and Jim listens to everything under the sun.

How did you get the crisp sound on The Blessed Sleep? It sounds like you played it live, but somehow got a nice digital snap to each track. Where was it recorded?

We recorded with Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street Studios, and we are extremely happy with the sound. We have recorded there numerous times with other projects and he is a blast to work with and everything he does sounds amazing. I don’t really care for the sterile production of modern metal bands and really wanted this record to sound tight yet savage, so we deliberately left it without too much polish to give it its own atmosphere. As for how we got the sound, I know there are tons of guitar tracks going on all the time so it has a wall of sound that gives it the heaviness that I think a lot of technical bands are lacking.

What prompted you to found Ara, in the style you’ve chosen, and what additions do you hope to make to the genre?

I always wanted to do my take on death metal since I was a teenager, and only now am I lucky enough to be around the musicians that can make it happen. The style is I suppose an amalgamation of all of my influences in extreme metal, but as I get better at writing music I really feel as though the compositions are inherently mine and don’t directly emulate any particular band.

As far as the second half of your question, I don’t have any lofty goals where I think we can be flagbearers for any kind of genre movement, I just hope people check out the record and like it. If I had any wish that we could influence anything, I do hope the riff can come back. I miss and mourn for the riff.

Where do you want to go after The Blessed Sleep? It seems like you’ve reached a peak within this genre; are you going to grow in a new direction, or refine?

As of today I have written 11 songs for a full length and am really excited to see how the new material will shape up. The rest of the guys know four of the new songs and I would say it is decidedly different from The Blessed Sleep. There is a much greater focus on melody but not in the At the Gates way, probably more in an Anata way. I am trying to make the songs complex but with very few themes explored per song because I want each song to be its own entity. You can hear one of the new songs in the live set on the youtube video you posted, it’s the last one we played. I’m trying to balance melody with discordance in each song. Some of the newer stuff is way faster than anything we’ve done and we have some doomier stuff as well. If you like The Blessed Sleep I think you’ll be excited for the progression. Also, we are very much hoping for label support for future recordings.

What do you think draws people to your music?

The band is very new so I don’t really know yet. People like speed and we have and love lots of blast beats. We also try to be atypical so I assume people that like weird metal will hopefully like it. Time will tell.

If fans wanted to explore your music, where do you recommend they start, and what should they do next?

You can stream the whole record at arawi.bandcamp.com, so there you go. Then I suppose you should follow us on Facebook to find out what we’re up to and where we’re playing.

Will you be touring for this album? Will we see you in Texas?

I absolutely want to get on the road for this record and hopefully we can do so later in the year. Erik and I play in another band called Northless that is in the studio next month so after that is wrapped up we can get our scheduling straight and play outside our home town. We would love to play in Texas if everything works out and if so we will definitely let you know! Thanks for your time and the support!

Standard Whore (Demilich)

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Continuing our series of metalcore bands, a brief look at Standard Whore shows us an exceptional version of the modern metal style combined with a guitar rock outlook.

From the mastermind guitarist and drummer of Demilich, this style in post-Gorguts Obscura era metal hybrids uses the post-hardcore tendency to string together surprising and alarming riff combinations with a stoner rock or guitar rock tendency to stitch it all into a big jam session. One thing’s for sure: if you’re looking for metal, look elsewhere.

The same quirky riffing that made Demilich distinct is here but with more groove, less complexity, and its weirdness has been redirected to a sense of catch and hooky sounds. The result is really easy to listen to, and joins other mostly-instrumental projects like Blotted Science in trying to forge a new late model of the old influences.

Boman’s guitar is the organization voice here and gives to this style a new dimension into which it could expand, which is to remove the pretense of deconstruction and allow a jam to bleed itself together out of these spacy riffs and tortuous tempi.

Somehow I missed this back in 2010, but it’s good to give it some air and light now. These songs are from a live rehearsal session featuring material written 2008-2010.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzBwprczDm4&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjyyKaOw3sI&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dimd6hqsaDk&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pThtiIE3RKE&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OhS5JSFLCs&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBa6i9aE1kc&feature=related

Suicidal Tendencies – 13

suicidal_tendencies-13The problem with success is that it can become a cage: you get known for doing something that meant a lot to you at the time, but time goes on. You want new horizons. It’s hard to express them, and you see others succeed for doing a lot less.

Suicidal Tendencies launches 13 into a time where metal and punk have both decided to commit suicide by melding so extensively with other genres as to lose their own identities. Melding itself isn’t bad, but when a whole genre does it, it essentially obliterates its unique voice and makes itself another flavor of rock music.

13 escapes Suicidal Tendencies’ past by mixing in a number of alternative, improvisational and extrinsic styles. In particular, you’ll hear island-based world music, Rage Againsst the Machine, and even the keg-party reggae-influenced rock of bands like Sublime, all mixed into what’s essentially a punk band playing metal. The locus of the action has changed: where the original Suicidal Tendencies want to make a point with its songs, these songs want to set up a convivial atmosphere and into that speak some ideas with lyrics. The original songs resembled their content; these songs are a mixture of fun and diverse elements, and expression occurs in the lyrics.

With this album, Suicidal Tendencies demonstrate how an album can be quite good and not satisfy its original audience. I think this will be a huge hit among the alt-rock and nu-metal crowds because it’s more musically interesting than most of the kiddie music. It’s based on firm grooves, catchy melodic vocal hooks, and an insanely over-the-top constant lead guitar jam that gives this music a breadth that is rarely found in music you hear on the radio.

However, for metal fans this one is going to be a failure. It has lost the metal spirit, and it essentially party rock with some metal riffs. The cool guitar work and occasional shredding give this some power, but it doesn’t switch it to the viewpoint a metal fan will appreciate.

Ara – The Blessed Sleep

ara-the_blessed_sleepThe metalcore community is aware of your criticisms and attempting to reform itself.

During the past decade, a number of bands have tried to reign in the genre from its Necrophagist-style peak of unrelated technical fireworks to more of the songwriting that made bands like Botch, Human Remains and Rites of Spring influential founders of the genre.

With The Blessed Sleep, Ara steps up to the plate by streamlining the genre and removing the unrelated parts, which keeps a focus on songwriting like Harkonin or Neurosis. This eliminates the biggest problem, but for those who don’t like metalcore, it leaves the tendency to scream out lyrics in a trope of regularity and a fascination with “different” riffs and surprise twists that often leads toward a predictability of being unpredictable. (Imagine a general on the battlefield who maintains an advantage by being unpredictable. After a while, it becomes random, and easier to respond to because there is no expectation otherwise.)

The Blessed Sleep attempts to work around these challenges to the genre by varying tempo and the texture of riffing, stacking subtly melodic arpeggios up against chromatic chugging riffing, and by not using any single technique constantly (except the angry-man-in-a-phone-booth vocals). The result is far more listenable and develops actual songs that, although based on jarring contrast, are able to return to a single pair of themes and develop variation there.

Although Ara are touted by many as technical, nothing here is particularly technical as in specific skills, but putting these songs together without them falling apart and playing them on the nose will be difficult for any but a professional and experienced band. The streamlined songwriting, topicality and focus make The Blessed Sleep one of the more intense tech-deth albums to emerge in recent years.

Autopsy “The Headless Ritual” coming this July, Cover art and track list revealed

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThis July 2, Autopsy returns with their sixth studio album of horror and gore inspired death metal, The Headless Ritual.

Featuring the returning quartet of Chris Reifert, Eric Cutler, Danny Coralles, and Joe Trevisano, The Headless Ritual explores the all-out sonic assault of and varied tempos that made Autopsy famous as a death metal band with variation. The album was recorded and mixed April 2013 at Fantasy Studios, San Francisco, Calif. with Adam Munoz, and features cover artwork by renowned artist Joe Petagno (Motörhead, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin) and will be released on Peaceville Records.

Drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert said, “Expect nothing less than the monstrous brutality that Autopsy has been known to offer. Laurels will not be rested upon, trends will not be followed and mercy will not be shown. Mark your calendars for June and pick out a coffin to lie down and die in. Darkness and death await…”

Autopsy formed in 1987 in the San Francisco Bay Area and released four albums on Peaceville Records, beginning with Severed Survival (1989) and peaking with Mental Funeral (1992), which many acknowledge as their best work. After disbanding in 1995, Autopsy returned in 2010 with the EP The Tomb Within, followed by the release of the band’s fifth studio album Macabre Eternal the following year.

1. Slaughter at Beast House
2. Mangled Far Below
3. She is a Funeral
4. Coffin Crawlers
5. When Hammer Meets Bone
6. Thorns and Ashes
7. Arch Cadaver
8. Flesh Turns to Dust
9. Running From the Goathead
10. The Headless Ritual

For more information, see the official Autopsy website or the mini-site on Peaceville Records.

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Plants flourish under heavy metal more than other genres

heavy_metal_good_for_plantsA horticultural student wanted to find out about the effects of music on the growth of plants, so they were tested with classical music, silence, Cliff Richard and Black Sabbath. The plants hearing Black Sabbath thrived and surprisingly, were also the most disease-resistant.

“And the ones with Black Sabbath – great big, thumping noise, rowdy music – they were the shortest, but they had the best flowers and the best resistance to pest and disease,” said garden guru Chris Beardshaw.

According to the researchers, the plants were subjected to high-intensity sound for the duration of their lives in the nursery. “It was alstroemerias we were growing and we bombarded these glasshouses with sound for the life of the plant,” said Beardshaw. Of the types of music, Black Sabbath produced the biggest flowers, and those plants exposed to Cliff Richard died.

This is no surprise to metal fans, who note that metal has some of the greatest depth of mood and power in all of music, mainly because most music focuses on only one or two moods to make its ego-centric love songs palatable. “Plants love heavy metal,” said the BBC Gardens expert.

Black Sabbath – God is Dead?

black_sabbath-nihilismLost in the darkness
I fade from the light
Faith of my father, my brother, my Maker and Savior
Help me make it through the night
Blood on my conscience
And murder in mind
Out of the gloom I rise up from my tomb into impending doom
Now my body is my shrine

The blood runs free
The rain turns red
Give me the wine
You keep the bread
The voices echo in my head
Is God alive or is God dead?
Is God dead?

Rivers of evil
Run through dying land
Swimming in sorrow, they kill, steal, and borrow. There is no tomorrow
For the sinners will be damned
Ashes to ashes
You cannot exhume a soul
Who do you trust when corruption and lust, creed of all the unjust,
Leaves you empty and unwhole?

When will this nightmare be over? Tell me!
When can I empty my head?
Will somebody tell me the answer?
Is God really dead?
Is God really dead?

To safeguard my philosophy
Until my dying breath
I transfer from reality
Into a mental death
I empathize with enemy
Until the timing’s right
With God and Satan at my side
From darkness will come light

I watch the rain
And it turns red
Give me more wine
I don’t need bread
These riddles that live in my head
I don’t believe that God is dead
God is dead

Nowhere to run
Nowhere to hide
Wondering if we will meet again
On the other side
Do you believe a word
what the Good Book said?
Or is it just a holy fairytale
And God is dead?
God is Dead x4

Right!

But still the voices in my head
Are telling me that god is dead
The blood pours down
The rain turns red
I don’t believe that God is dead
God is Dead x4

Lyrically, it reminds me of “After Forever” but a bit more world-weary. Musically, it contains several allusions to past Sabbath and solo work by its members.

Thematically, it seems to me a response to black metal. Was Nietzsche’s target God, or our tendency to say nice things to each other and conceal the essential truth of the challenges before us? There are often many problems, but one root cause. If you don’t strike at that root cause, you get lost. If the problem is man, and not God, and society (collection of humans) instead of some external scapegoat, then we have a greater struggle than can be fixed by burning churches.

Black metal was purely Nietzschean in that it rejected the idea of a moral society and replaced it with the notion that the natural order of Darwinism produced better results. All of the Nietzschean tropes come out: praise of winter, of hardness, of privation, of wolves and of combat and struggle.

Black metal faltered in the mid-1990s when the bands realized that they might have missed their real target, which is something more like people socializing with each other and thus concealing unpleasant truths. While there are other intermediate and proximate causes of the problems we find it this world, the root cause often gets overlooked. That isn’t to say those other causes are good, or shouldn’t be fought in some form or another, just that they’re not the cause.

Black Sabbath is asking “Is God Dead?” and responding in the negative, pointing out that perhaps that last fifteen years of metal have been barking up the wrong tree. The first half of the song is questioning and self-centered, a personal drama. The second half, after the question is posed, is a thunderous rejoinder. The song splits on themes: the wine, the voices that fill the head (he cannot “empty his head”), the lack of any holiness outside the body that is the shrine, and the sense of a “mental death.” On the other hand, there is belief, a pervasive sense of something not fitting together with the narrative of the voices in his head.

Much is left ambiguous by this. “With God and Satan at my side” suggests a type of esotericism that mainstream Christianity will not embrace, and although there are references to the “Good Book,” a particular denominator has not been mentioned. However, the conflict between logic and intuition rises strongly in this song. On one side, there are empirical forces at work; on the other, instinct and a gut feeling. The song ultimately concludes with the idea that God is not dead.

And all of this happens under a banner formed of (a) a dour Friedrich Nietzsche and (b) a nuclear blast. This reminds me of not only black metal’s Nietzscheanism, but its apocalyptic viewpoint. In bad times, people start to get serious again about what they’re doing. Part of getting serious was, at least for black metal and probably for old Black Sabbath, rejecting what is popular and social.

Black metal is uncompromisingly against what makes people comfortable. In Until the Light Takes Us, musicians from Burzum and Darkthrone describe how they tried to get “bad” production for their music, to make it sound old and rotted. How they embraced evil imagery and acted out the most extreme things possible. This wasn’t a rejection of Christianity; it was a rejection of the social impulse behind civilization that prizes what looks/feels good to a group, to what is true — something that generally can be known by only a few, in the Nietzschean sense of the “apex predators” who have through natural selection risen above the rest and can see through a noble light how aggression is central to life.

Black metal may be anti-Christian, but more, it’s about the potentially mind-warping effects of socializing with others. Black Sabbath seems to be suggesting a new direction, which is less toward atheism and Nietzsche, and more toward sacrality, to which black metal might then respond that sacredness itself is what gets destroyed by socializing with others and obscuring the truth. This mirrors where a lot of the black metal guys went after the movement — Beherit to Buddhism, Darkthrone to cosmic space music, Varg to esoteric nationalism, the Graveland guys to folk music, and many others moving on to esoteric sounds like Jaaportit or Vinterriket.

Although they’d probably kill me for saying this, black metal people are generally the most religious people in the room. They believe that life is sacred, that forests are sacred, and that if nature is “red in tooth and claw” and life is “nasty, brutish and short,” that these are manifestations of the divine as well. Far from being “god is dead” people, black metal musicians strike me as being “we are worshipping the wrong god” people.

Hegel would argue that history moves through new ideas, their opposites, and compromises (synthesis). I would argue that history moves by the ideas created through a type of play acted out by characters representing extremes. In this, black metal shows us the antisocial, and Black Sabbath comes out for the sacred; the two will find common ground, because metal is ultimately sacred music. It worships power, death, nature and violence while others prefer pretty flowers and prancing kittens, but only one of those two perspectives embraces all of reality, while the other requires a social filter to merely exist. Black Sabbath and black metal are united in their dislike of that social filter.

Courts and media blame death metal for suicide again

truman_edley-death_metal-suicideWe have a problem in this world of respecting people’s choices too much. That is, they choose to lead a dysfunctional life, and disaster results. Then we go looking for scapegoats.

Our courts and media tend to like to blame heavy metal if they can. When the Columbine shootings were news, we heard all about how the shooters loved heavy metal. Other shooters also got profiled with the “heavy metal test.” In 1996, candidate Bob Dole even mentioned Rotting Christ as a sign of our country’s decline.

When Judas Priest went to trial in the early 1990s for the suicide of two kids, the courts and media focused on heavy metal. They did not focus on the broken homes, alcoholism, teenage drug abuse, previous suicidal behavior and outright misery of these people; that would be criticizing their choices. Instead, the courts and media chose to blame an outside force, heavy metal. That way, no one was to blame. That way, we can keep making stupid decisions and pay only money for them, and not think we might be the guilty parties endangering ourselves.

Truman Edley, 15, took his own life in November 2011. At the inquest we were told, as tabloid and social gadfly the Daily Mail reveals, the “schoolboy killed himself after listening to death metal on his iPod.” The coroner “refused to name the band he was listening to or publish the extreme lyrics which formed part of the evidence,” which reminds me of one classic band’s disclaimer, “lyrics too brutal to print!”

However, a more detailed view reveals the following addition details: he was prone to self-harm, his parents were divorced, and he had low self-esteem. God (or Satan) forbid that those factors might have been the biggest influence on his mental state, and that he might have sought death metal in addition to his regular music listening — both sources agree he mainly listened to regular rock and pop — to express those dark and horrible feelings. Another source tells us that Truman’s mother had him at age 18, and that he’d recently “seemed more withdrawn,” in addition to his enjoyment of social media and video games, other favorite media targets. Friends have set up a tribute page for Mr. Edley.

It would be too much for us to honor this teenager’s memory by looking into the source of his misery, which looks like it lies mostly with decisions made by his parents, himself and/or the society around him. Instead, we are given the cheap shot and easy answer, which is to blame the music that was playing on his iPod while he hung himself.

It looks better in the news that way, and we don’t have to face the unsettling fact that we might be acting in such a way to guarantee more such suicides. Just ban heavy metal instead; that way, we keep on doing what we’ve been doing and can brush Truman Edley and those like him from our memories.