New Burzum / Vikernes direction with “Skáldskapr: Hávamál stanza 138 & 139”

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Burzum composer and mastermind Varg Vikernes has released his latest musical composition, two verses from the Hávamál set to music and voice. This takes a more floaty ambient Vangelis-style approach, spending its time setting scene and then varying texture within it, more like modernist classical than the linear music of today.

While his last few ambient albums have been widely praised on this site, he finds himself in a difficult place: there are many clueless Hot Topic buyers who would love to snap up a Burzum album that sounded like Motley Crue or the Deftones with more evil, a smaller but loudmouthed horde of FMP/NWN tryhards who want only three (chromatic interval) chords and the truth, and then a world music audience which is impossibly locked in its expectation of the same mishmash of Afro-Cuban rhythms with any local tradition it wants to explore. Finding an audience is difficult.

Placing all of his money on the wildcard, Vikernes has decided to appeal to those who have already drifted past all of the above, which are essentially multi-decade trends (no core, no mosh, no fun) that have long become cliché but their audience, being self-obsessed and oblivious, cannot tell the difference. This new track shows Burzum going more into soundtrack-land and trying less hard to please any of the audiences hovering around black metal’s corpse like flies.

Literary inspirations of metal

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Fenriz (Darkthrone, Storm) unleashed his band Fenriz’ Red Planet a half-decade ago and on its first release included a song named “John Carter, Man On Mars.” This should immediately send all of you running to your search engines, where you will find that John Carter was the protagonist-hero of a number of books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of which are available online.

That in turn leads to the larger question of which metal bands have shown their literary influences. If a list were made, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien would lead the list from the 1970s onward, but perhaps the influences are subtler. Jim Morrison acknowledged Louis-Ferdinand Céline and William Blake, and this carried forward into metal through thematic elements, some of which have been picked up on by metal bands since. Many of these influences may be subtler than explicit reference, such as whatever gore-drenched literature inspired Carcass and any of the occult fringes of underground metal.

One wonders what lurks in lyrics and song ideas from the vast library of black metal, death metal and grindcore. Science fiction seems to make an appearance with the more technical bands, where the more primitive and violent prefer popular but challenging literature such as Lovecraft. It has yet to be seen whether metal bands can adapt ideas from Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy. But perhaps some are working on it. If you can think of any literary references in metal, drop them in the comments.

Smithsonian Magazine explores metal with Slayer: The Origins of Thrash in San Francisco, CA

Metal rarely got attention from respectable institutions during its early days. As officially designated social enemies and rebels, metalheads were perceived as being antagonists of such institutions who did not necessarily agree with their basic principles like the hippies did. However, with the lightening of metal this has changed, and academics, the corporate world and now the Smithsonian Museum have taken an interest in metal.

Slayer: The Origins of Thrash in San Francisco, CA is a five-minute video which looks at the creation of speed metal as it happened in San Francisco, California, following up on the work of bands like Motorhead, Satan and Blitzkrieg in the UK when hybridized with hardcore punk. It shows the respectable institutions of society recognizing not just Slayer, and speed metal, but that a thriving and viable sub-culture has existed within their society for almost thirty years.

The new censorship: how corporations and complainers silence speech

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The ire generated by GamerGate and MetalGate showed us that a large segment of our society finds it disturbing to be called out on their constant demands to silence speech. Those however were merely private individuals; what happens when large corporations join them by enabling complaints as a means of censorship?

It might sound far-fetched, but that is exactly what the movie industry is trying to do:

This time, the studios are asking for one court order to bind every domain name registrar, registry, hosting provider, payment processor, caching service, advertising network, social network, and bulletin board—in short, the entire Internet—to block and filter a site called Movietube. If they succeed, the studios could set a dangerous precedent for quick website blocking with little or no court supervision, and with Internet service and infrastructure companies conscripted as enforcers. That precedent would create a powerful tool of censorship—which we think should be called SOPApower, given its similarity to the ill-fated SOPA bill.

In this case, the complaint system is based on copyright. But as we have seen in the past, internet websites — who lose money each time they must process a complaint — lump together copyright, harassment, doxxing and other bad content claims with the vague “offensive content” label. The raging SJWs that GamerGate put in their place found they had the power to silence others by merely mobbing some site with complaints, and the owners, wanting to avoid controversy and bad press from an SJW-compliant media, would simply remove the content, fire the employee or delete the user account.

This power is now being amplified through the American court system. Under this new precedent, if it succeeds, any website which does not filter certain content will find itself with legal liability, which means that all websites will quickly remove both copyright and merely controversial content. What defines what is controversial? If it gets complaints, it is controversial — and will soon be removed.

So far SJWs have gotten a pass from the legal system thanks to their perceived power in media and as a voting bloc, even if it turns out that 90% of them are internet brats on trust funds, living off food stamps in Williamsburg while making artisanal strap-ons for sale on Etsy. This type of “accountability” allows the complainers to determine what content will be permitted, and quickly marginalizes anything but the usual circle-jerk to the extreme corners of the internet. However, even those will be threatened because complaints go to their web providers, and those above providing services to those. The EFF article does a great job of pointing out the important fact here, which is that the complaint itself is viewed as proof. Someone complains, and your web site goes down, without a trial or anyone even considering if it is fair.

As metalheads well know, the problem in society is not so much the leadership as the people who choose it and their tendency to be petty, greedy and controlling. This latest step not only gives them a pass for their actions, in other words removing any accountability they might have, but also gives them the power of the law. While right now the focus is on movies, the mission creep/slippery slope of such laws in the past has rapidly expanded them to other areas. All who wish for uncensored expression owe it to themselves and future generations to fight this troubling development.

Spoetzl Brewery / Shiner – White Wing

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If I had to identify a problem with beer in America, I would say it is that the audience is generally teenage in outlook, even if three decades removed from that age group. People are afraid to buck a trend and to admit that something which their favorite journalist writes up is in fact, odious, and instead they sit around, drinking hipster beers that turn the hops or yeast up to 11 and expect you to like it or be labeled an idiot who can’t appreciate good beer and thus a philistine who belongs in the lower classes, afraid to admit that they are in fact drinking swill.

Shiner White Wing is one such example of swill. Bilgy, decomposition-scented, sweet and yet acidic swill. Joining the trend of Belgian white ales it embarks upon a course of taste that is disgusting, but because it is disgusting allows hipsters and salarymen alike to claim profundity for liking it, White Wing is septic pond water of a beer. It has all that a hipster needs: ironic taste, oddity and quirkiness, and of course it comes from Shiner — who make their fortune selling domestic beers at import prices simply because the average American beers are so horribly bad — so it has automatic hipster cred, which is a holdover from the 1980s when Shiner was cheap beer for desolately poor artists, instead of weekly trust fund credit card swipe party favors for useless hipsters. If you enjoy the thought of fermenting grass and leeks together in a giant vat of sugar and coriander, you may enjoy the appeal of Shiner White Wing, but no one gets to that state honestly; it’s pure Stockholm Syndrome. In all fairness, this review is overwritten. It should merely say: “Yuck.” By doing that, I have stood up in a room of utter sheep disguised as anti-sheep and pointed out that they drink this crap because it is “different” and “ironic” but not because it is good. And good it is not. You’d do better with a brandy and pipe and avoiding this disgusting swill.

Witbier in general has zero appeal to me. The basic idea is this: use lots of cheap wheat in the beer, add coriander to make it “unique,” and then keep the fermentation going until just before the point of consumption. The result is a cloudy, sickeningly sweet, foamy beer that tastes about like huffing the results of a bag of scallions decomposing in the summer heat. If you fed a horse coriander and political promises, its flatulence would taste like this. The white beers I have had from more reputable breweries did better than the Shiner treatment, which consists of making every beer as grainy and yet dehydrating as possible, but the entire style is disgusting and appeals to those who crave novelty more than balanced or even quality flavor. Yuck, ten thousand times yuck. I am sure that the hipsters now are primly poised on their bar stools as they smugly prepare to excoriate me as a beer-illiterate who merely likes his simple ales like a good peasant, but the real peasantry here is people pretending to like this for being “unique,” when in fact it is disgusting. The emperor has no clothes! Witbier is vomit! And Shiner White Wing is low-quality clothes optional vomit sold at top tier prices. Avoid at all costs.

*/*****

Grupo Modelo S.A. de C.V. – Modelo Especial

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Many Americans know the comforting brown appearance of bottles of Negro Modelo, possibly the last good decent beer for sale on the shelves of your average grocery store or Wal-mart. The others have fallen to consumerism, which is separate from capitalism because it relies on mass preference, and have become the fast food version: essentially soft drinks with beer flavor and separately distilled alcohol injected. This creates a wasteland of plenty. There are many options, but almost all of them cater to morons, and so the options are paltry.

Modelo Especial turns out to be not a Corona clone, but a relatively rich beer with plenty of grainy taste and some spice behind the sweetness. I was pleasantly surprised since, given its widespread availability, I assumed it was designed for morons. However, its obscurity as a Mexican beer — at the time when most people are drinking hipster microbrews that are universally bad because they overemphasize difficult and obscure flavors over simply making a quality beer — may have protected it from the Great American Gold Rush. Every weekend, millions of zombies leave their undead jobs and get in their cars to go home. Because their heads have been drained of any thoughts by the sheer stupidity and illogicality of what they are called to do, there is one option for the weekend… get loaded! — and they do this by trotting on down to Wal-mart in their golf shirts and buying, well, you wouldn’t want to get the usual mainstream beers would you? Just something enough imported to be quality… that means you go to the 9.7-11.8 cents/ounce category of Familiar Imports… and it turns out most of these are fakes… so you grab whatever looks good, go to the checkout and head home. If you drink five of them quickly you might not notice that they are basically burpwater soft drinks flavored like beer, and get a good buzz going. Modelo Especial has escaped this crazy rush because it remains consistent and marketed at lower income, so it does not have the pretense and “unique/different” factor of hipster beers or Familiar Imports, and thus is bought only by — you guessed it — actual appreciators of quality beer. The crowd cheers.

But this beer, unlike the unfortunate Corona Extra to which it is frequently compared, has an abundance of flavor that is more balanced than it is extreme. The hipster beers shit the bed by trying so hard to be ironic they become subtly disgusting, and the audience of sheep is too neutered to simply stand up and say that these beers are vomit fodder. The Familiar Imports are all basically watery and have a pulpy, rotting vegetation taste at this point. But Modelo Especial carries on, with a slight undertone of the pungent smell of its fermented origins, but mostly a warm and broad taste that works in sweetness like a summer evening. Like Negro Modelo, this is a beer to be enjoyed during normal events in life. It will impress no one from the label, but they will actually enjoy drinking it instead of pretending to like another over-priced over-fetishized hipster brew. Full of warmth, it is like the best of Mexico, a simple but entirely rewarding experience.

***/*****

Amstel Brouwerij B. V. – Amstel Light

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Fins rising above his head and arms, the sea creature crept from the briny abyss and mounted the ladder which took him to the dock. There he assumed his stance, threatening and ambiguous, in his nightly role as a disturbed of the peace and scary of nosy observers. But as he stepped forward, something clicked under the loose boards, and a net dropped over his head.

“Now let’s sea who this deep sea terror really is,” said Fred Jones, ripping the plastic mask from the face of the oily monster.

“Mr. Amstel Brouwerij B. V.!” the team exclaimed in unison.

“This must be why he was trying to scare people away,” said Velma, pulling aside a door to show giant vats of sludgy tan goo.

“That’s right, I admit it. I made this costume to scare off passerby. You see, I’ve made quite a profit smuggling in this beer-flavored sludge from Amsterdam, and then mixing it with soda water to make an ultra-low cost beer which I sell to consumers at import prices. And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”

Once upon a time, Amstel Light was decent beer. Developed by the same brewer that makes Heineken and designed for the American market, it took the fuller flavor of European beer and adapted it to the market demand for lower-calorie beverages. Since it was head and shoulders better than the standard dreck, it got a good name for itself, and so the MBAs at Amstel Brouwerij B. V. realized there was a “profit pocket” — a certain amount of time they could bank on the good name by selling a far cheaper ersatz version and yet the audience would still, with insectlike motions, continue purchasing it at the higher price — and ran the brand into the ground. Amstel Light now resembles an American beer in its water, skunky, quasi-fruity flavor with the distinctly bilgy taste of most pasteurized mass-market beers. You might think that at import prices, this would be better than your average bottled drool, but they have played a bait and switch on you just like with Heineken.

*/*****

Dos Equis Special Lager

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This drivel sells under import prices when it is essentially repackaged American beer. Gone are the Dos Equis highlights of the 1980s, when XX brown was a thick flavorful beer that provided an alternative to the dreck on the big shelves. Now you get the watery drivel that happens when a firm decides to maximize profit based on the — not lack of information — low ability to discern shit from gold that identifies the average consumer. This liquid tastes pulpy and soapy and has low alcohol content, or at least low effect. It may be because if not drunk absolutely cold, it resembles the pulque substance they make in prisons more than beer. Any pretense that this is superior to Michelob are nonsense; it is a pale shadow of its former self, made fruitier and vapid so that Average Citizen Idiot can bob his head while listening to the “edgy” Ramones cover band at his local icehouse and talk up the fat women hanging like vegetative overgrowth around the bar, as everyone around him imitates past edginess in an attempt to seem like anything but the corporate stooges they are. Seriously, this is Mexican-flavored Miller Lite. Every burp feels like a vomit about to happen, except it is just the taste of this bilgy sweetened pond water masquerading as beer. Speaking of corporate stooges, this beer is undrinkable, unless you have already numbed your taste buds to the point of accepting the mediocre as the norm.

*/*****

Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout

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As much as I enjoy a bitter beer, or an idiosyncratic one, Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout confuses the outward appearance of refined taste with the taste itself. An intensely sour and dark beer, it swings away from the pleasurable dimensions of beers toward small rooms full of “experts” who like highly demonstrative, artificed tastes. Such drinkers are looking for a beer to talk about how much they enjoyed, rather than enjoying it, while overpraising it like metalcore in a big heavy metal magazine. They will discuss its oddities, use vague terms like “creamy,” and generally miss the point: this beer is designed toward unbalanced extremes to make talking points, and has character within.

As a result, it makes a terrible everyday beer, and while it might be good as a Guinness substitute in a black and tan where a dark and bitter beer is necessary to offset the Bass or other pale ale used in contrast, by itself constitutes the same kind of unpleasant drinking experience that eating straight dark chocolate provides to the culinary palate. Like gourmet food that carries the pretentious epithet an acquired taste, this oatmeal stout misses out on the balance of a really good version of this sub-type, in which harvest flavors balance the bitterness to create a sense of transition, and instead aims toward something for gritted-teeth hipsters to use as a conversation topic when explaining the superiority of their taste to yours. At that it succeeds because there is so much to talk about but none of it is interesting. Take for example the separation of flavors so that the aftertaste is a tarry version of the foretaste; or perhaps, the strange fermentation overtones as if something random were included in the vat, or the process did not quite complete. Independent breweries are quite trendy now but this beer shows that it is not the size of the brewery, but the intent of the brewer, that makes a great beer instead of a faddish mediocre one.

*/*****

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

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Only an American company could come up with this: a bitter beer wracked by a sweet fruity aftertaste. It is the approach one takes to bribing children to eat the disgusting faux nutrition that is “health food,” namely by making the food as vile as possible and then dumping a bunch of sugar on top so they will eat it for that. On the tongue, Pale Ale tastes like a European delicacy like Grolsch for just a moment before undertones of vinegar kick in, followed by a sugary fruitness resembling a Kiwi fruit swimming in corn syrup. The result is vomitous, a race between extremes in which the middle point — the balance of flavors that makes a good brew — vanishes entirely. Instead, you get get hipster cred for liking this “acquired taste” while having a big dollop of cupcake icing to follow it, with the assumption that you will not vomit from the clash of tastes on the palate. In favor of this beer, it is cleaner than most American beers, without the murky swill of unintegrated fermentation byproducts that makes American beer taste like stagnant rainwater. On the other side, however, it is like a car with the engine in the trunk that you steer with the stereo. Absolutely no integration of flavor leaves it feeling more like watching a crowd of random people pass, than the smooth ballet of a good beer.

**/*****