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How flowing black metal took over the genre

April 17, 2014 –

graveland_still_scares_us

Some have wondered — including part of our older staff — as to why we don’t feature the newer-styled black metal acts like Drudkh, Blazebirth Hall, and the like here on DeathMetal.org. Our answer is simple: they’re part of the same distraction that killed black metal.

It is in fact an illusion to argue that black metal still exists. Rather, something exists that uses the name of black metal, but it’s not really related to it musically or artistically. In the underground, it’s mostly punk-based bands or the above type of flowing black metal. Above that, it’s DeafHeaven: shoegaze/emo/indie with pretenses of being socially unacceptable.

We all know how it got this way. In 1994, the momentum ran out. The original guys who made death metal and black metal had each had their say and were bogged down in band politics, label economics and personal life decisions (stay with band, or be able to afford food). It was clear there was not much money in underground metal as a career.

However the following years showed us a simple truth: people were afraid of underground metal. Thus an internship in underground metal before going on to a career in a different genre could be quite lucrative. It was “street cred” of a comparable level of being in a gangster hip-hop group. Thus the gates opened, and in flowed the herd, bringing with them their disease.

On the underground side of things an interesting transformation took place. The original black metal emphasized a kind of intensity that could not be replicated. So bands aimed for the next best things, which was to take that surface and put candy-metal underneath it. Specifically, stuff like the following:

In general, these bands have one salient attribute: they use longer melodies but these melodies tend to be recursive instead of developing, giving them a sense of internal dialogue like meandering thoughts on a balmy day with a cool breeze, watching over a town and thinking idle notions.

Where did this style come from? Let’s recover the generations of black metal. It’s nonsense to say black metal existed before the 1984-1987 generation of Bathory, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Sodom and Sarcofago. Even then, those bands were not black metal per se so much as proto-underground metal sharing traits between death metal and black metal.

While others often mention Venom, Mercyful Fate and other early bands as being “black metal,” these were musically heavy metal acts not black metal at all. They may have been inspirations, but they shared no musical relation to what was to follow, and yet fit within the genre descriptions given to them if one ignores subject matter. Venom was NWOBHM right alongside Motorhead, and Mercyful Fate fit into the proto-speed metal generation that overlapped with NWOBHM and included Tank, Satan and Blitzkrieg.

After the proto-underground generation, most bands explored death metal because it had the most immediate possibilities. What defines death metal is that it turned riff salad into a narrative form and thus created a new type of progressive music that was progressive at the compositional level, but surely not at the mechanics! It was thus a perfect fusion of 1970s avant-prog (King Crimson) and the utter nihilism of punk (Discharge, Cro-Mags, Amebix). This fusion was apparent ever since Iggy and the Stooges and Black Sabbath kept one-upping each other with albums from the late 1960s through mid 1970s.

The first generation of black metal really came about in 1990 with Immortal. Bathory had developed fully with Blood, Fire, Death but had also regressed into the speed metal styles popular at the time. Immortal had a simple idea: take the approach of Blood, Fire, Death or Hammerheart and adapt the mechanics of 1985′s The Return to it. The result fused the extreme with the progressive-ish yet again, and from it was born Immortal’s first album. There was also a change in topic, spurred in part by the Odinic (Bathory) and occult (Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost) ideals of the past generation.

By 1991, it was clear that a new movement was afoot. Some of the best bands were hovering on the edges of this movement, making melodic death metal inspired by the previous generation of Swedes (At the Gates, Carnage), Norwegians (Cadaver, Molested) and Finns (Demigod, Amorphis, Demilich). In addition, there were “dark” bands like Merciless and Cemetary which essentially made older genres tinged with the mood and feeling of the new music. But during that fateful year, the early works of Burzum, Immortal, Darkthrone, and Mayhem were all tumbling onto the record racks, followed by Emperor, Gorgoroth and Enslaved.

The next generation defined itself as the space between the Emperor/Enslaved split, which really opened up black metal worldwide as people could easily understand this as an aesthetic, and Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. The former more resembled the horror movie music and progressive heavy metal of the time, and the latter changed black metal from something that vaguely fit into rock song-format into something entirely unrecognizable, a hybrid with ambient music and progressive avantgarde. But right in the middle of this generation something interesting happened.

Inspired in part by Burzum’s use of melodic development to underscore longer pieces like “My Journey to the Stars” and Emperor’s vast “Inno a Satana” in addition to the more theatrical works of Gorgoroth like “Sorg,” these bands made longer songs. However, their melodies were not designed to be distinctive as much to preserve a feeling in mid-air for as long as possible, so they tended to use recursive patterns within the melody. This and the fixed tremolo strum and background rhythm gave them a flowing effect, which Graveland exploited over a waltz beat for maximum detachment from modern ‘reality.’

Eventually, this culminated in the Ancient guys coming up with something that sounded like it could have come off of a Camel, Yes or Genesis album, but only if those bands were committed to death of humanity and restoration of a medieval order:

It was from this template that the Blazebirth Hall and related Slavic and Colombian bands derived their sound. However, they’d done something none of the original bands did: they removed the ambiguity, struggle, reverence and steadfastness that were part of the original, which itself derived them from 500 years of European proto-Romanticist thought.

In other words, made candy-metal. It’s no surprise mainstream industry linked this up to its closest pop music relation, shoegaze and emo/punk/indie, and quickly made a cheesefest out of it:

Hint: this is what other kids were listening to in 1990-1995, if they hadn’t already gone for the full mainstream-fest of Nirvana and Pantera. The record labels knew this formula worked, just needed a stylish new outfit to put it in… so they recruited black metal. Interesting how both the underground and aboveground sold out in parallel.

Why metal will never be understood, and never wants to be

April 3, 2014 –

slayer-live-tom_araya

We live in a land of confusion. Most people here have trouble differentiating between a conclusion and a method used to reach a conclusion.

Take for example the phrase, “That’s logical.” To most people, this conjures up a list of things that are accepted as having a basis in logic. When you ask them to parse something new, which involves applying a method to each sequential detail in order to find out how they fit together. That’s difficult; tracking conclusions and having a whitelist/blacklist of accepted ideas is easier.

If you want to know how metal calcifies itself, it is through these conclusions. Darkthrone ended up sounding the way they did as a result of their method, putting together all the pieces and coming up with a bigger direction. When bands imitate Darkthrone, none of this happens, and thus none of the music is nearly as good. They know how to imitate it from the surface inward, but they don’t know why it came about it and thus, how to charge it with the meaning the original had.

Especially threatening to popular music is the process of calcification by which the method of the past generation becomes the conclusions of the next. Darkthrone makes a great album; everyone imitates it; as a result, that sound becomes stale and disassociated from the meaning it once had.

It was once common for metalheads to complain about being misunderstood, and their music not being understood and accepted. Now it is accepted, and it has rendered it harmless. What did that rendering was all the metal bands ripping each other off, churning the original ideas into a mush of imitation. In fact, the problem is that metal when understood is in fact misunderstood, and keeping it not-understood is what is required for people to go back to method instead of just trusting its conclusions as gospel and repeating them in recombined form.

Metal is in fact like a snake consuming itself. As soon as orthodoxy is established, it is destroyed and its destroyer rises only to be in turn consumed itself. Parallels can be drawn to ocean waves cresting and then self-destructing, the need for forest fires, how predation ensures that prey animals get smarter, or other natural metaphors. What it fears is the calcification and a related process known as social acceptance. When a group of people encounters a new idea, it mocks it, then tries to destroy it, and finally accepts it. But once the idea is accepted, the process of calcification happens as society assimilates the idea as conclusion and throws out the methods, but even worse, the nature of having the idea accepted means a process of compromise which shaves off the parts of that idea that offend various segments of society (think of a PTA meeting: can’t move the parking spaces, or you upset either the church ladies, the teachers’ union, or the parking authority). Social acceptance destroys ideas through imitation and compromise.

This process goes back to metal’s birth. The members of Black Sabbath couldn’t get on board with the happy hippie world around them, so they made their own music which destroyed that illusion with powerful sound. They were reacting to the acceptance of conclusions from the past period, the 1950s, in which people were fed on Dale Carnegie style salesmanship as a means to success. As a result, society stopped being truth-oriented and started being feelings-oriented. Happy feelings meant a sale. Ten years later, happy feelings meant social success. Salespeople knew that acceptance and inclusiveness made sales, so they made their advertising as innocuous as possible. The hippie movement imitated this but used politics instead of profit (at first) as their guide.

The problem was that the hippie portion was just as fake as the 1950s salesmanship portion. Similarly, the current imitation of the 1990s black metal scene or worse, the 1980s emo and shoegaze scene, is completely fake. The fifteenth Blasphemy clone is as burnt out as the fifteenth Beatles clone or fifteenth Dale Carnegie graduate. All of it is emulation of the past through its surface, which fundamentally disturbs the metal outlook. For underground metal, all that is left is to seek total nihilism or negation of values, or to pick values that cannot be compromised and thus cannot be assimilated by society. If you want to know why metal has been drifting toward extremes lately, this might explain it.

All of this is a rather long path to saying what every teenage music fan does not want to face: it’s time to stop talking about how you are misunderstood. You don’t want to be understood. Even more, being understood would destroy your chance for growth and turn you into an identical suit-wearing conformist droid marching off to do the same stuff the last generation did, and we can see them drinking themselves to sleep every night. When people obviously don’t get what you’re about, thank them. They’re helping you grow, just like they’re helping metal grow every time they run into a WTF moment and toss it out in the dustbin.

How to buy friends and manipulate people

March 30, 2014 –

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Metal — and everything else humanity-related — is like the first day of first grade. People are still using the same tactics they used then as the basis of their behavior, mainly because there are only so many options and the goal hasn’t changed.

What is the goal? Society is a cooperation for the sake of survival. We need to get other people to work with us. Most people do that through socializing, others use raw power, some others can only deal with it through the filter of money. But when you socialize, there are only a few paths. You can try to be the over-achiever, with all As and good at athletics. Or you can stand out another way, which is being The Opposite of what people expect. You see this in high school drama departments the clearest, but it’s also present in entertainment and politics among adults.

The tactic is this: stand out by being “different.”

The problem with this tactic of course is that it’s bone-headed, ignorant and predictable. They like blue? You like green. They turn right? You turn left. They like steak? You pick ice cream. Despite it being obvious as heck, this tactic continues to work. You “shock” people and then, using their reaction as a justification for the importance of what you do, rally everyone who hates them to your side. Even if that hatred is concealed.

In fact, we can see this in “black metal” today with an article entitled “Earning hipster act status, Deafheaven defies orthodoxy”:

There are no pink album covers in black metal.

With their much-lauded second album, “Sunbather,” the group broadened the black metal palate with swelling, enveloping guitars oft-associated with the foot-asleep-on-the-distortion-pedal drone of the British shoegazer ranks.

The album won the band an audience beyond the traditional partisans of the harsh, love-it-or-leave-it sound, and as such, Deafheaven was quickly branded a hipster act by scene purists.

In the same passage, the article both calls Deafheaven “different” and then acknowledges that the band is basically ripping off British shoegaze, a genre from thirty years ago.

That’s “innovation”?

Since 1994, we haven’t really had much from black metal. The underground shot its wad, and since only a few dozen people understood it in the first place, it collapsed in on itself while the rest of us try to figure it out. This is one reason that metal academia is important, especially if they stop studying the easy stuff — the newer material and the hard rock like bands — and go to the roots of the genre: Bathory, Immortal, Hellhammer, Burzum, Emperor, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Sodom, Slayer, Mayhem.

Right now our over-written (“foot-asleep-on-the-distortion-pedal”? are you kidding?) media and adamantly clueless fanbase are churning through the ruins of the past. By being “different,” one claims an audience. Black metal was different in a different way, namely that it didn’t try to be different so much as it took off in its own path. So what’s the binary opposite of that? Well, being the same old thing but pretending to be black metal, for starters. Hence the invasion of metal by non-metal bands: Opeth, Boris, Necrophagist, Sonic Youth, Dillinger Escape Plan.

Most of these bands reverted to what was simple and easy to create, which was post-hardcore. With its compositional style that cherished the random over the orderly, and its tendency to drift off and suddenly return to a repetition of its major theme, it was easy to compose. That was probably why it developed the way it did, namely that the punk songwriters who couldn’t come up with Hard Times in an Age of Quarrel or Arise! had to make their also-ran status seem less pointless by “innovating,” or coming up with a half-cooked version of more musically adept genres. Imitators imitating imitators, by being “different,” all the way down.

Deafheaven is no exception. Gone are the complex song structures and the intelligent use of drone. Gone are the troublesome Nietzschean existential questions, where we wonder if life is totally empty of anything, or if we can find a clue to its significance in nature. Gone are even the overtones of Viking metaphysics and Pagan mysticism, the interesting sociopathy for art’s sake, and the rebellious streak that took aim at anything the instant it became accepted, knowing that whatever the crowd likes is a lie. Instead, we get the music you can play at a school dance. Easy beats, head-nodding go-nowhere melodies, symmetry and rock ‘n’ roll conventions from time immemorial. It’s the same old brand new thing.

But really, this act of “being different” can be seen everywhere. Nu-metal was based on being different, or at least on the perceived emotional contrast between sing-song verses and ragey choruses. Metalcore was based on being different in that the riffs had no relation to each other so it was like hearing carnival music on a fast-moving merry-go-round. Later punk was based on being different, in that it was punk but it got in touch with its softer side and went all progressivey and stuff. All different, all the same.

Metal will begin to recover from its 1994-2014 slump when it acknowledges that these easy ways of socializing are gone. Appearance is not reality. The kid who really got ahead in socializing was the kid no one noticed. He made friends by being genuine, made connections with teachers by learning something even if he didn’t get As at all, and everyone knew him because he didn’t fit into any of the easy slots that almost everyone else did.

Or the kid who got ahead because she had an interest that was very specific and just fit her personality, so instead of going for all the drama, she just spent her time on that. Or on being a good friend, and being there when people were in need. Those were the people like black metal, which was the genre that chucked socializing away and focused on both outside reality and the inner spirit in all of us instead. I miss those days. It wasn’t pure whore, all the way down.

deafheaven-disposal

Cruxiter unleashes Madness of the Void demo 2014

March 27, 2014 –

Heavy metal band Cruxiter unleashes its latest demo, “Madness of the Void,” via YouTube in preparation for a cassette release. Cruxiter has been steadily gaining fans for its mixture of modern technique, classic heavy metal, and touches from the album-oriented melodic guitar rock of the late 1970s.

This follows the band’s previous demo in 2014, “Under the Moon,” which is also available on YouTube and shows the band in transition between their earliest works and their present style.

Autopsy releases “The Howling Dead” from Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves

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Crepitant muciferous mid-paced death metal band Autopsy releases its newest album, Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves on April 29. This will be the seventh full-length for the long-running band, who took a break from 1995-2008, and most likely will showcase more of their streamlined rubric of aggressive death metal balanced by a mainstay of moderately paced material which gives contrast to the bursts of fury.

Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves was recorded at Fantasy Studios with producer Adam Munoz, and features the classic Autopsy line-up of Eric Cutler and Danny Coralles on guitars, Joe Trevisano on bass and Chris Reifert on drums and vocals. Second-wave death metal cover designed Wes Benscoter painted a cover to order which exhibits the album’s theme in one convenient image.

The tracklist for this sonic shock troop attack will be:

1. Savagery
2. King of Flesh Ripped
3. Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves
4. The Howling Dead
5. After The Cutting
6. Forever Hungry
7. Teeth of The Shadow Horde
8. All Shall Bleed
9. Deep Crimson Dreaming
10. Parasitic Eye
11. Burial
12. Autopsy

Below is the sound sample from Peaceville Records:

What is the underground?

February 6, 2014 –

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This issue is about to explode into public discourse because the rise in new-style metal bands has forced this question upon us all.

What is the underground?

Before even reading this article, keep in mind that there are some excellent resources. First, The Heavy Metal FAQ provides a complete answer. Second, Underground Never Dies! is a whole book dedicated to this topic through the eyes of metal bands from the 1980s-1990s underground era.

But we can come up with an even quicker definition.

The 1980s through early 1990s were a different time. Not only was there no internet, but music distribution was fairly strictly defined. Mainstream stores got what the big distributors had from the big labels and a select few smaller labels that pushed their way in. If you wanted a wider selection, you went to an “alternative” music store which stocked smaller labels. Often you bought imports, at a 50% markup. Most stores were completely uninterested in stocking something such as death metal, because it appealed to a small and antisocial niche audience. Why bother with selling a single copy of a Deicide album when you could sell 20 copies of Motley Crue without even trying?

In addition, there were forces of opposition to any metal that was not radio sanitized (which meant speaking on code words, probably encouraging deviant behavior to a greater degree). Very few people now remember when Tipper Gore and her Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) were a powerful lobby for parental warning stickers on questionable albums. In addition, the threat of such people caused record stores to actually card people for buying violent rap or occult metal. You had to be 18 and prove it, or they would not sell to you.

And getting it on radio? There was college radio and also a handful of independent radio stations but these faced the same problem. Why play death metal when you could throw on a few sets of Sonic Youth and Rites of Spring and have 20 times as many listeners? Even among alternative music, death metal was unpopular because it was abrasive and did not have a large social movement behind it which made people like it. NWA was a violent, misogynistic and hilarious rap group that got banned just about everywhere, but there was a large social movement behind their work. It was easier to find that than your average, or even your top-selling, death metal band.

What underground meant back then seemed to be that it was offered through alternative channels. A few record stores, some college radio stations, tiny record labels run on a basically non-profit basis, and photocopied hand-assembled zines made of a pastiche of typed content and tattoo-style margin drawings. How did most people find new music in the early days? They hooked up with pen pals who would mail them cassette tape mixes of new music they found, often dubbed from cassette demos from the bands. Sometimes these tapes were many generations down the line and you could barely hear the band under the crepitant tape noise! But they did the job that mainstream media, record labels and magazines would not.

Toward the middle of the 1990s, this situation relaxed. First, the rise of used CD sales meant that smaller labels were making it into bigger stores via a backdoor. Second, magazines like Spin eventually gave coverage to death metal. Finally, changes in the way music was distributed opened up the middlemen who supplied record stores to the smaller labels. This meant that the traditional split between underground and mainstream was going away. Record labels, scared by the possibility of used CD sales eating up the profits from big mainstream releases, which relied on novelty to sell and interested their audiences for only a few months, started looking toward “niche” sales. But what really blew it out of the water was the notoriety of black metal.

Starting in the mid-1990s, rumors of the black metal movement in Norway and its legacy of violence — church burnings, murders, and stockpiling of military grade weapons — began to leak out through the zines into the magazines. Then the whole drama exploded with the trial of Varg Vikernes, who conveniently also ended the old black metal era with Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, an album so deeply nuanced and impossible to follow that most musicians shrugged and went back to three-chord, “punk style” black metal instead. He raised the bar at the same time bands like Darkthrone codified the genre with Transilvanian Hunger, an album that was difficult to create but easy to mimic. As mentioned in the documentary Until the Light Takes Us, black metal witnessed the decay of an idea. This decay happened through emulation that, because it looked at the outward traits like distortion and blast beats, missed the actual meaning of the genre which caused musicians to make such similar music in the first place.

It’s hard for people to realize now but black metal was initially viewed as slightly touched in the head. Death metalers often hated it violently; almost everyone else seemed to criticize it for its lo-fi approach and almost childish use of blasphemy and antisocial imagery. Many of the albums sounded like they were performed by people who had barely picked up an instrument and might have zero social graces. It was roundly mocked… until it started to become popular. Then the tables were turned. Within five years, black metal was in mainstream record stores (this shift happened in about 1997) and became really popular with a new generation.

After that point, the term “underground” seemed to lose meaning. The internet had come and made music and information about it universally available, and the proliferation of high-powered desktop computers meant that recording an album, running a label or making a zine involved far less labor and looked and sounded a lot better than the DIY labor of the 1980s (or even 1960s-1970s, when proto-punk and punk bands innovated it). At this point, people started going for an “underground sound,” which meant artificial lo-fi, simple three-chord songs, lots of ranting about antisocial topics including the occult, and a deliberately offensive resistance to any positive reinforcement.

You can see the resulting confusion in this artfully assembled article by Laina Dawes:

The other issue that’s sparked controversy is exactly which bands get press — take Deafheaven and fellow shoegaze black metal band Alcest, who both benefited greatly from non-metal-centric coverage in 2013. The idea of using these bands to open of the gates of metal and let readers discover a new musical genre (or actually take it seriously) is a contentious one. One of the issues is the promotion of palatable metal bands that could potentially reach the masses with a sound that isn’t “metal” in the classic sense. Instead, these bands have been referred to as “extreme,” a catch-all, provocative phrase guaranteed to attract listeners who are looking for a more intense metal fix – and to satiate that self-satisfied outsider-metal “cool factor” that insecure metal fans love to laud over the pop-music contingent.

In the years from 1995-1998, the underground basically rehashed itself. It had no ideas, and more importantly, the bar was raised. To be a good death metal band, you had to be at the level of Morbid Angel’s Covenant or Suffocation’s Pierced From Within. To be a black metal band of note, you had to be at the level of Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss or Enslaved’s Frost. Not many bands could do that and so an alternative underground built up based on fan-driven metal. Most of this was in emulation of the previous years and took the form of three-chord simplified versions of the more complex originals. The result was that, outside of a small cluster of people hanging around internet forums, this music went nowhere.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so from 1999-2006 or so, metalcore took over. This was also music designed to be easy to make. It took the randomness aesthetic of late hardcore punk and combined it with death metal riffs, making chaotic songs that made no sense but were plenty distracting and extreme. The music industry flogged this dead horse walking (to brutally mix metaphors) for five years before the trend started to die. Then from 2006 through the present, the music industry took a different tack: instead of trying to make a new genre, emulate something that has worked in the past. They found the fertile ground of the post-hardcore years where indie rock, shoegaze and post-rock coexisted in the same sphere of influence. This was generally what was called “alternative rock” before “alternative rock” became a brand for flannel wearing bittersweet droning hard rock bands from Seattle.

deafheaven-band_photo

Deafheaven is a polarizing band becomes it comes from this tradition. Listening to it, it is not clear there is any metal in it at all. But labeling something “metal” or “underground” or “extreme” excites interest, mainly because few people trust the aboveground media. Thus there is a huge financial incentive to classify Deafheaven as metal, and for smaller blogs and magazines to go along with this fiction as well, if they do, they get advertising revenue and possibly a shot at the big time.

This leaves us with a complete quandary: does the term “underground” have meaning anymore at all?

My suggestion with my last article, “In defense of elitism,” was that underground is a misused term. The point is that metal has a spirit which defines it and separates it from everything else. That spirit must be expressed but it is of a nature that does not trust the dominant paradigm. Black Sabbath wrote their music to rain on the hippie parade of love, drugs and pacifism; their point was that altering our perspective does not change reality. Underground metal had a similar message and was unwilling to alter it in order to fit with the expectations of people who would rather hear about the denial fictions of love, drugs and pacifism (underground rap did the same thing in parallel, but with a different set of issues and a different set of denial fictions).

What makes a metal band underground is that it is unwilling to compromise its vision of truth for what people want to believe is true. It is unwilling to compromise its aesthetics for what people believe is comfortable and pleasant. It is committed to the idea that the only legitimacy comes from the art itself, not its popularity or album sales. Some would identify this as the ultimate non-”bourgeois” statement, in that it casts aside comfortable oblivion in favor of a raw blast of cold hard reality. This sense of underground is more fundamental than how the albums are sold or which zines write about them. It is an attitude and discipline. Underground means that which puts truth first and popularity second, which is a dramatic reversal of the way everyone else goes about it.

Metal is not the only genre to have an underground. Punk was originally underground but as it became fashionable in the late 1970s hardcore punk bands started vanishing into squats, playing midnight parties in abandoned foundries, and selling their music on 7″ records out of shirtsleeves. The noise movement in Japan remains underground to this day, with artists like K.K. Null constructing elaborate and beautiful pieces from raw noise, instead of making harsh blasting rebellious stuff like record labels had hoped. Robert Fripp, former guitarist of King Crimson, uses electronics to make his guitar sound like an organ and plays small concerts across the world. Underground is not a term specific to metal, but a term to describe any activity that is not encouraged in society at large yet believes it has ideological, artistic and/or political value.

thelonious_monk-underground

You aren’t going to hear about any of these artists in big media and you may not be able to buy their CDs in regular stores. However, that is the symptom, not the cause. The reason they’re not in regular stores is that they’re not only niche, but also not given to comfortable oblivion. In a time when people can choose the artistic equivalent of a cheeseburger over the more challenging and substantive art, people tend to do so, which marginalizes actual art. As a result, the actual art is alien and threatening to most people, which makes it a terrible product, which means that it ends up in small record stores, small zines, and small labels.

If anything, the internet has exacerbated this tendency. In an age when we can find anything by googling it, the real problem is knowing what to google. Even worse, Google uses a search engine algorithm that moves higher links up the chain, thus burying marginalized results. We have all the information in the world but without a guide to it, none of us know what to do with it. It is for this reason that traditional media has won out on the net and the sites that attract the most eyes are the ones that are promoting essentially mainstream music.

mayhem-dead

What Deafheaven represents to a metaler is the triumph of mainstream music. There is nothing in Deafheaven that challenges the listener to even a second of soul-searching or discovery, or whatever it is that art does — that’s a separate debate — in contrast to what death metal and black metal provoked in us. Deafheaven in fact is the listening equivalent of wallpaper, a pleasant series of repeated images that make us think about shopping, perhaps. Whether it is bad music or not is irrelevant. “The medium is the message,” we’re told, and in the case of Deafheaven, the medium is inoffensive pop pretending to be “extreme.”

As BasementGalaxy has revealed, Deafheaven represents aboveground genres invading metal:

Since then, anything “new” and “innovative” done in metal has involved musicians stepping outside the boundaries of the genre more and more. Shoegaze, industrial, post-punk, krautrock, progressive rock, jazz, trance, dubstep. It’s been happening gradually over the past ten years, but Deafheaven’s 2013 album Sunbather just might be the first major splintering that will eventually see “extreme music” separating completely from actual heavy metal. Although my opinion on the album has already been published and will not change, it remains the most critically acclaimed album of 2013, of any genre, marking the first time an album that has occupied that grey area between “metal” and “extreme music” has captured the attention of so many mainstream critics and audiences. Some critics still call Sunbather “metal”, but to do so is to forget what makes heavy metal heavy metal in the first place, merely clutching to the few metallic threads in an otherwise richly varied musical fabric. In reality, Sunbather is a tremendous example of extremity transcending the metal ethos entirely.

In other words, there’s a reason Deafheaven doesn’t sound like Beherit, Demoncy, Imprecation, Blaspherian or any of the other bands which have resurrected the underground sound over the past five years. Deafheaven represents the mixing of mainstream sounds into underground metal, while Beherit represents underground metal growing and developing on its own terms.

If anything, the underground is in a renaissance because it has finally escaped the old standard of lo-fi music sold on cassettes/vinyl through dodgy mail orders and reported on only by small zines. We have gone from alienated from society to accepted (grudgingly) by society, and so now we are “niche” music. But what defines this niche is that it is underground. We face the hidden truths and evoke concealed emotions, and thrust a fist in the face of oblivion. That is what makes us underground, and it’s why the masses chose Deafheaven over Demoncy to report on as a face of extreme music.

Alex Hellid creates contest to re-mix Entombed

February 3, 2014 –

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Alex Hellid of Entombed is offering a contest which puts a challenge to his listeners: make something of Entombed, and possibly win free stuff.

Here’s his statement:

Here are three instrumental demos. Take them and do something…add your own flavor…lay down the vocals…be the voice…remix…cut it up…add samples…do an animation…shoot a video clip…anything…and let us see it! Then post it on our facebook page.

Go to the contest page to download the three tracks and begin re-mixing. Then, upload them to the Entombed Faceborg page and see what happens.

I won’t share my own plans for this but if you can imagine ABBA covering GBH doing Entombed, you’re on the right track.

In defense of elitism

January 22, 2014 –

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One good way to make a name as a writer is to disguise a begging the question fallacy as an article. That’s what happened with “Why Are Black Metal Fans Such Elitist Assholes?”, a new piece staining the otherwise semi-respectable site Vice.com.

The article starts like a bad joke: a writer walks into a bar in Brooklyn. He hears people talking about black metal. He suggests Deafheaven and everyone there, including the bartenders, tell him that’s not black metal. He then omits vital information about this bar, knowing that all of us would immediately gang-rush it in support, and goes on a lengthy tirade that uses a logical fallacy. The begging the question fallacy relies on setting up a false association, and then arguing against the object of that association with what it’s associated with. It’s like this: “Knowing the connections between black metal and airborne AIDS, it’s unbelievable to me that anyone would support black metal, unless they really like people writhing in the street from autoimmune diseases on the wind.”

The actual argument in the article is here, six paragraphs down:

There is a level of inherent elitism in every special interest group. It’s just maybe more pronounced and ingrained in something as fringe as black metal is today. This is probably the same way Sex Pistols fans felt when Green Day and the Offspring blew up in the nineties. However, at some point you need to just accept that the thing that you love may get more popular or have elements of it co-opted by other genres—and if you take a step back, that’s part of what makes music or any other art form valuable to the culture. The conflict occurs when you overlook the fact that nothing exists in a vacuum and in order for anything to thrive it has to be identifiable to people on some level, otherwise it’s just an abstract mass floating aimlessly through the conceptual ether.

What he’s done here is cleverly re-define “elitism” to mean fear of other genres using black metal’s technique. However, the example he began the article with is that of other bands pretending to be black metal. Not a single elitist has argued against bands appropriating black metal technique, so long as they do it in their same camp. The point of elitism is to keep out impostors.

Impostors, you say? Yes: genres form because small groups break away from what everyone else is doing. These small groups then do something in an unorthodox way, and it works. The large group, fearing that it has been left behind, then creates a bandwagon effect where they all start imitating the small group. If the small group wishes to survive, it needs to oust the bandwagon-jumpers and keep itself internally consistent.

This is why many groups are elitist and not just in music. They are trying to preserve their way of doing things which is different from what the herd wants to do, while the herd wants to appropriate the mantle of these rebellious groups while continuing — underneath the aesthetic — to do exactly what the herd always does. In this case, they want to dumb down black metal into emo/indie/shoegaze/rock. That’s why people hate Deafheaven.

It’s not popular to defend elitism because elitism itself is under a similar attack. The herd would love to consider themselves elitists, but in the time-honored tradition of morons everywhere, they get it wrong. To them, elitism means finding the most obscure band possible and browbeating the rest of us for not knowing about it. It’s like a shibboleth or entry code to the cool kids group. But that group only appeals to hipsters, and those are actually irrelevant, since they produce nothing except low-run memes for each other.

Actual elitism is defense of the values of a genre. Not any band and definitely not every band can be black metal. However, the anti-elitists would like to argue that just about anything can be black metal by, you know, wishing it so. That amounts to obliteration by assimilation and adulteration, and would terminate the black metal genre. It seems that like this writer, most anti-elitists aren’t actually black metal fans, and what they want isn’t black metal, but the usual music that they like to be labeled as black metal… so they can be elitist (but humble) about it.

Narcotic Wasteland – “Shackles of Sobriety”

January 15, 2014 –

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Nile guitarist Dallas Toler-Wade has unveiled his new project Narcotic Wasteland with the debut of their self-titled album today and the release of a sample song, “Shackles of Sobriety.”

Based on this song, it’s clear the album comes from the modern metal camp and not the death metal camp. It starts with an impressive melodic metal introduction, then drops into the trademark of modern metal, which is Pantera-influenced vocals leading the guitars, reversing the classic death metal formula. Thus most of what you hear is vocal rhythm with guitar keeping constant texture on the backdrop, not guitar leading and vocals filling in secondary texture as all the best death metal bands did.

This creates a “rant effect” which makes me want to scream “Are you talkin’ to me?” at the screen. Behind this during verses is an updated version of the type of lead-picked speed metal riff that might have gone on a Forbidden, Anacrusis or Coroner album back in the day. Then for the chorus, we switch to similar vocal rhythms over a more percussive death metal riff which leads in to remnants of the melodic introduction. That in turn leads to a high-speed guitar solo which borrows obliquely from jazz technique but tends to do so in a throwaway style as if the solo was more there to occupy a necessary space than to serve a musical role. Then repeat and fade away.

“Shackles of Sobriety” is part of a concept album about drug addiction. Apparently Toler-Wade and friends live in a neighborhood blighted by people getting strung out and being dysfunctional, and decided to put it to comedic use by styling it as a narcotic wasteland. All humor at the over the top but prescient reference aside, there’s legitimacy to their gripe. Most of America and Europe are strung out at least on alcohol, and the result is massive dysfunction everywhere. This has been consistent since at least 1959 when William S. Burroughs wrote his epic Naked Lunch, where everybody has some vice, and some have more than enough.

While I applaud this effort by DTW and friends, I still can’t get jazzed for either Nile or this because I am a death metal fan. Nile sounds on the surface like death metal, but it uses harmonically static riffs and keeps them in standard verse-chorus positions most of the time, which obliterates the riff-leading composition used by death metal bands. Most of their stuff more resembles speed metal, as does this modern metal offering.

Fan kills black metal singer for not being Satanic enough

January 12, 2014 –

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I’m going to hell for this, but it’s an observation, not a recommendation: black metal was a lot better when it was the Wild West, with bodies cropping up everywhere, churches aflame, and musicians stockpiling paramilitary gear.

Then it got all civilized — about the same time it became sociable and profitable — and immediately descended to the same repetitive and soulless level as all other music that has been socially accepted.

For this reason, while I’m not going to cheer the acts involved (and no one accountable can, because we are civilized), I have to admit a brief flicker of something — nostalgia? hope? — crossed my nerve net as I read in this morning’s virtual paper about the self-proclaimed Satanist who killed the singer of a Thai metal band, Surrender of Divinity.

Surrender of Divinity have released a number of underground efforts to some acclaim, culminating in a split with Finnish war/noise metal cult Archgoat. Prices on Surrender of Divinity merch on eBay have already spiked in response, for you cynics.

The alleged killer, Prakarn Harnphanbusakorn, was apparently a fan of Surrender of Divinity when he reportedly met with the band’s vocalist, Samong Traisattha, for some beers at the latter’s home. When Mr. Samong’s wife returned to check on the two several hours after the gathering began, she found her husband dead from multiple deep knife trauma wounds.

Posting on Facebook as Maleficient Meditation, Mr. Prakarn posted pictures of the gory scene of the killing and made a series of references to the sacral nature of his act:

“I have intended to end my life since I was 25. Because I’ll die eventually, I want to drag down those who tarnish Satanism with me. But I refrained from killing women and children,” he wrote.

“In my view, I have more respect for devoted Buddhists, Christians and Muslims than those who call themselves Satanists without knowing anything about it,” he wrote. “If I did not kill him, I’m sure he would be murdered by someone else later.”

“Maleficent Meditation” concluded that people who do not have faith in Satan should not call themselves Satanists. He also said he hoped he would be with Satan after he died.

He had previously mostly posted black metal news, snippets of Satanist information, and kitty pictures.

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