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Social functions of heavy metal music

August 10, 2013 –

metal_onlyThe origins of human fascination with music remain unknown. A number of hypotheses have arisen throughout the years in an attempt to explain the utility of music to human civilization.

These vary from viewing it as arising as an individual occurrence with unique philosophical implications, to seeing it as a side-effect of language-based communication; a pleasant phenomenon but without any meaning beyond that. Regardless of its cause, the functions music provides are generally easier to identify.

Via the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, newly released academic research into the social implications of music has claimed that music functions as a way of bringing people together within a group. Specifically, the authors claim that music is a vehicle for projecting “information about the group’s shared mental state to a number of individuals at once.”

In this view, music is a type of broadcast that attracts people based on a topic and brings them together in unity of experience. This enables the group to consolidate its knowledge and then distribute it to all of its members, not unlike the social functions of good political science books, novels, speeches, movies or other memetic/viral communications.

As evidence for this new research, multiple studies are presented in which the authors posed questions to a test group designed to determine their emotional need to belong, and then compare it to how strongly they react to music. The findings were that there was a direct connection between this desire and its fulfillment through music. As a corollary, after researchers attempted to break down a group’s sense of belonging, the effect music had on it increased further.

While some metal fans may not wish to admit this, the genre does serve this role for many of its enthusiasts. That’s not to say it’s the primary reason for listening, over the sound itself; but metal as a social component does exist. Regardless of a person’s position within society, those who appreciate metal (therefore excluding those who listen ironically, i.e. hipsters) share something in common.

Alienation of modernity is present within all art forms of metal — whether politically, spiritually, or just plain exasperation at our disposable TV dinner culture — but unlike the solutionless protest music of yore, metal provides a constructive way of overcoming this. It allows a group of people who in some cases may not be able to describe themselves directly, to communicate through an art form.

What makes metal interesting is that it operates on many levels. At the lowest, it is simply exciting music. Higher up, it is complex music that attunes the individual to a certain naturalistic outlook. At the highest, perhaps, it helps metalheads reach others who feel similarly but perhaps never consciously examined their beliefs, and from that build a community around understanding.

Emperor reform to play shows with In the Nightside Eclipse lineup

August 6, 2013 –

emperor-in_the_nightside_eclipseNorwegian black metal band Emperor have announced that they will be participating in 2014′s Wacken heavy metal festival.

In addition, the band will have the participation of Bard Faust, the drummer notable for his role on the In the Nightside Eclipse album. Along with Ihsahn and Samoth, this concert will be a reunion of the core lineup that produced the band’s most notable release.

As of now, the band has announced no future plans beyond that point. Ihsahn strongly expressed his disinclination towards a future album, stating that the interests of the various members have diverged too great an extent. That is probably for the best, as the last Emperor album was far removed from black metal and suffered from stylistic confusion.

The earlier Emperor albums were epic, narrative tales featuring overt symphonic influences. The band formed a landscape of sound, in which melodies would crystallize before melting away underneath a crushing rhythm track that took the focus again. Stylistically, they presented a sense of solitude, through which allowed the listener to appreciate the beauty hidden around him. If the band can carry across that original spirit two decades later, they have the potential of inspiring a new generation with their music.

Triptykon announce new yet-unnamed album

August 1, 2013 –

tom_g_warrior-hellhammer-celtic_frost-tryptikon-thomas_gabriel_fischerDoom/death metal band Triptykon have announced that they have begun working on their next album with a presumed release date sometime in 2014. As of now the new album is still untitled for the public, but a few song titles have been released which fit into the occult theme established by the band’s debut album. Describing the music as epic and diverse, it seems to suggest that the album will have more variation than the relatively straightforward Eparistera Daimones, which suffered from a linear composition that made its songs less interesting than they otherwise could be.

Straddling the boundary between classic metal and modern compositional technique, Triptykon continued the sound that was debuted on Celtic Frost’s Monotheist. Our review found that there were a few intriguing elements present, although subjugated to simplistic verse-chorus repetition. Because of this, the morbid atmosphere that was omnipresent in Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost was lost.

Founder of the band Tom Gabriel Fischer is known for his often unorthodox incorporation of external influences in his music, which have produced some of the best extreme metal albums in the early days of Celtic Frost. If he is able to create an album that successfully merges the underground spirit with focused influences from other spheres, it will assuredly be superior to almost all contemporary releases. However, if concessions are made to modern stylings, it could result in a diluted product, as plagued the releases since Celtic Frost‘s reformation. We strongly hope for the former over the latter.

Helvete, famous Oslo black metal hangout, returns

July 25, 2013 –

helvete_store_oslo_black_metalBack during the golden age of black metal, the shop Helvete was the focal point of the Norwegian black metal movement. Run by Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, the store was the go-to spot for the genre’s elites to spread their music and ideas.

After the first media explosion of black metal occurred, Helvete shut down in response to negative reactions from the community. Shortly after, it became famous after the events surrounding Euronymous’ death and gained mythic status amongst the newer fans to journey to and attempt to understand what had occurred there.

After languishing in other business purposes for over a decade, as of this August the location of the original store will be reclaimed for its 1990s purpose: spreading black metal. Neseblod Records has decided to relocate there and is busy setting up a museum experience to preserve the history of the genre. Featuring classic releases and rare flyers and posters, the project aims to revive interest in what inspired the original black metal musicians to create what they did.

Throughout this endeavor, the project has had the support of Darkthrone‘s Fenriz, who has directly involved himself in the moving process, guiding the presentation to be as realistic and truthful as possible, which can only help increase awareness of both the history of the genre and its future exploits.

In this case, realistic and truthful means making the past come alive once again and remembering those ideals, which are timeless, and carrying them forward into a new time. At least, that’s if they want to avoid nostalgia, which pretty much killed off the souls of Generation X before they even hit their forties. Those interested in seeing documentation of the progress can head over to the Facebook page.

Yass-Waddah – Cities of the Red Night

July 17, 2013 –

yass-waddah-cities_of_the_red_nightRising from Italy, Yass-Waddah play modern black metal in a style well suited for live performance. Simple, straightforward songs with coherent progressions bring about the merging of black metal techniques with heavy metal ethos, similar to Gorgoroth or Marduk.

Production wise, Cities of the Red Night (it’s unclear if this is named after the William S. Burroughs novel of the same title) has quite a clear sound for the genre: all instruments are audible and individually identifiable in the mix. Some may prefer this, as it avoids the “live from the sewer” feel of older black metal records, but others will lament the loss of the cold atmosphere so unique to black metal.

Musically, the band hits all the right steps of a band aiming to be invited to Wacken: Succinct tracks charge forward with a well-coordinated assault of blastbeats, high-pitched vocals, in addition to riffs constructed from melodies created by moving minor chords around the fretboard , which give the songs a focused method of attack.

Unfortunately, all songs on this EP follow the same structure, with only a few arpeggios and a bizarre solo sequence on the final track introducing variation. The consequence of this repetitive method of composition is that each track does tend to meld together, and after listening to this EP, one will be hard pressed to remember anything distinguishing them. Repetition in itself is not a negative (see Ildjarn), but the difference here is that there is little in terms of atmosphere and thus the attention shifts to the riffs – which do little to retain.

Nevertheless, the band avoids many of the pitfalls prevalent among its generation: there is no “glitter”, nor strange concessions to other genres included to entice more fans – just honest metal which has the potential to both drawn in new fans and appeal to long-time listeners of the genre. As this was merely a short demo, the band has potential to build from in future releases.

Armaroth – False Vision

July 11, 2013 –

armaroth-false_visionBands seeking to play death metal in 2013 are faced with a curious conundrum: they grew up with undeniably great records that inform their knowledge of the genre, and yet their potential audience in this current generation clamors for simpler material with more digestible melodies. Bands then have to decide to what extent they will incorporate the “modern metal” influence into the death metal which is their reason for playing in the first place.

Armaroth play a fusion of death metal and speed metal, with some modern melodic metal influences introducing cross-generational appeal. Death metal riffs drive the songs forward, providing the backbone for the other elements to build upon. The riffs in their best moments are darker than the typical modern death metal fare, bringing out a sense of foreboding that has more evocative impact than just pure aggression. Speed metal lends itself to connecting riffs between verse and chorus, providing motion with palm-muted riffs that introduce rhythmic variation.

These sections are solid in themselves, but the band often moves from one to the next without giving sufficient care to set up transitions, leaving songs at times feeling as if they’re collections of riffs thrown together rather than conceived with a purpose. Moments as such are aggravated by the modern metal elements, such as embarrassingly catchy choruses and ambiguous guitar wankery which sharply contrasts with the more polished material.

The band recently released their first EP, False Vision. In their future material, if the band were to focus on and improve what they already do well and abandon the tendency towards including concessions for the newer generation, their material would be well above average in the current milieu.

Thrones of Heresy – Realms of Desecration

July 9, 2013 –

thrones_of_heresy-realms_of_desecrationThe existence of modern death metal — the merging of multiple genres together and slapping the veneer of death metal over it should result in a product that does not appeal to any of the fans of the individual genres, as they will always have purer distillations of each type of metal available — fascinates me. Nevertheless, the genre exists and is evidently quite popular with someone, as numerous bands in the genre arise all the time and reach some measure of success.

Throne of Heresy is such a band, and is an able defender of this type of composition: any type of metal that has been popular over the past two decades is thrown into a blender and the result is a competent but stylistically confused product. Each section of the tracks is well-composed and well executed , though what’s lacking is any sense of purpose or meaning. The progenitors of each style of metal represented here had an intention behind their work, a desire to create art that is conspicuously absent on this EP.

Featuring a decidedly verse-chorus structure, the songs consist of tonally ambiguous palm-muted riffs morphing into admittedly catchy choruses that give way to whatever School of Metal technique is the flavor of the day: it could be a “melodic” solo, an awkward semi-clean breakdown, or perhaps even a key change. What makes these sectional divides even more jarring is that there is very little in the song to indicate when they are occurring, or indeed why they are occurring.

This is not to give the impression that there is nothing of merit occurring: the vocals on the whole are solid death metal belts, though on times they do take on the angry for the sake of being angry tinge that is ingrained in modern metal. Each of the instruments is composed and played well, but the lack of intention or drive that so characterizes modern metal creates an obstacle that cannot be overcome.

It seems to me that bands such as this are suffering from an identity crisis: they are trying to appeal to fans of every genre of metal. While this may be a sound financial decision, it is not a good artistic decision, which is a shame as there is definitely a core of talent to be explored here.

Why Ozzy Osbourne is wrong about heavy metal

July 3, 2013 –

ozzy_osbourne-heavy_metalThis has been a year of reflection and success for Black Sabbath. The band reunited 3/4s of its famous lineup and recorded what probably will be its swansong: 13. Widely acclaimed, the album quickly surged to the top of the charts, an impressive achievement for any heavy metal band but doubly so in the current climate. Our review found it to be worthy of the success it’s been receiving.

Lyrically, much of the album is concerned with the process of change. This theme has been occupying the thoughts of the band members as they look back on decades-long careers now winding down. In a recent interview, Ozzy Osbourne was asked what his views were on heavy metal and how Black Sabbath had shaped the genre:

I have never ever ever been able to attach myself to the word ‘heavy metal’ — it has no musical connotations…If it was heavy rock, I could get that…People come up to me and say, ‘Your Sabbath work was a big influence on me.’ I could go, ‘Oh, yeah, I can see that.’ But other bands … what part of that is inspired by us? Some of it is just angry people screaming down a microphone.

In this author’s opinion; this is an erroneous view, but an interesting statement in that it raises the questions: what makes heavy metal different from heavy rock, and how did Black Sabbath inspire generations of diverse metal genres?

What made Black Sabbath different from the other rock bands at the time was primarily what it was trying to express. The band avoided the flowers and rainbows hippie culture and spoke of darker subjects, but ones that were ultimately more true. Taking a nod from horror movie soundtracks and occultist influences, the band injected their music with a darker style of writing, which scared listeners and threatened the illusion that our society was stable.

From the very beginning of the debut album it became clear that this music was different. It’s not designed to be a product; rather it attempts to express something and allows the song to shape itself through connecting phrases rather than forcing it to adapt to pre-determined and easy-to-digest formulas. Even more, in spirit it’s a call to action, not a lullabye, commercial message or protest song (aren’t they all the same thing?).

Today’s bands which appear dissimilar aesthetically are nevertheless motivated by this same desire. The “screaming down a microphone”, abrasive riffs, and aggressive drumming are stronger methods of explicating something that often goes unsaid in our daily lives amid safety locks and childproof caps.

Death metal and black metal incorporated all the different elements that Black Sabbath first shocked hippies with, though taken to a greater extreme. Making the decision to create art rather than entertainment, the genres invoked contrasting structures and phrases in their composition, creating a modern take on a classical method of writing, wherein lines of melody overlap with each other yet when heard from a distance join together to form a complete whole.

The genres also took the hint of occultism that Black Sabbath contained and brought it to the fore: Satanism and general opposition to Christianity was the norm, though not for the sake of mere shock value, but as a way of communicating that our feel-good churches are not a permanent solution. Extolling the virtues of pre-Christian beliefs, the bands involved brought attention to alternatives to both Christianity and vapid materialism.

Beyond the specific technical influence Black Sabbath had on heavy metal (doom metal), there is an underlying thread that connects all bands that wish to play loud music for reasons beyond getting drunk and violent: somewhere, relatively recently, our society lost its way and has been living on borrowed time in denial. Heavy metal (not hard rock or heavy rock), is our way of finding meaning in the void; and as a result, Black Sabbath is unmistakably part of that.

Death metal as art in the media

June 26, 2013 –

ramon_cazares-abolishment_of_fleshAs metal continues to grow in popularity, outsiders to the genre find it more appealing. They see it as an unknown region, or an exotic culture, and in comparison their lives seem drab. What is it that makes hordes of people headbang to violent and abrasive music?

This was the question the Amarillo Globe News posed to death metal band Abolishment of Flesh and it received an answer it might not have been expecting.

The band painted a picture of death metal different from what is commonly presented in the media:

“There are a lot of different things going on at the same time,” [guitarist] Cazares said. “It’s very comparable to classical music.”

“We have a lot of weird time signatures and different changes like classical music does,” bass player Chuy Camacho said. “There can be three different things going on in the music at the same time.”

In other words, rather than the circular key-centric two-part composition of rock and pop music, death metal uses chromatic scales to develop an internal dialogue and motif evolution through pattern as opposed to harmony alone, such that notes are relevant more to previous notes and riff shapes than they are to a sense of key or rhythm.

In death metal, notes stream forth in multiple tones and directions, creating a tapestry of sound, similar in goal of a symphony: each part is musically literate on its own, yet when put together creates something that transcends each individual instrument.

When musing on why death metal is not popularly regarded as an art form, the band speculated that the genre has been overtaken by bands that have confused aesthetics with actual content:

“We don’t get taken seriously because other bands make a joke out of it — try to get as perverted and as gory as they can,” Camacho said.

Not content with being a sideshow, the band decided to forge ahead and create music with quality control. Playing old-school style death metal with melodic interludes; the band creates a style of music that appeals to both veteran fans of the genre and newcomers that may discover older classics through discovery of the techniques presented.

And the reason the band plays this type of music?

To Cazares, death metal “talks more about what’s real or what’s going on in life.”

Thus the essence of Death metal described: piercing the veil of deception and beholding reality.

Megadeth – Supercollider

June 18, 2013 –

megadeth-super_colliderMegadeth has been a major influence on my journey through metal. I remember that when I first heard the opening riff to “Holy Wars”, I realized that this music was different. In contrast to the verse-chorus structure of the music I was listening to at the time; it was narrative based, similar to classical music.

It took the listener on a journey of apocalyptic visions of a society shot to pieces — where humanity had ceased to think and would rather delude itself into oblivion than deal with its problems. This was something that I could relate to, far easier than any of the forgettable faux-agression bands that the unwise me was enduring at the time. This eventually led me to discover death metal and then black metal, after realizing that both of these genres took this style of writing to new heights and did it more thoroughly and deeply, yet I still retain a soft spot for speed metal.

Over a month ago, this site previewed the first single from the band’s now released album, Supercollider. The track was rather off-putting as essentially a hard rock track, but I held out hope for an overall metal tone to the album…unfortunately, this was not the case. On the whole, Supercollider is a collection of songs that challenge no commercial norms and they are structured for mass radio appeal. Any superficial stylings of speed metal in a rare moment are quickly exposed for what they really are: metal in an aesthetic sense only.

Supercollider features riffs designed to fit into a verse-chorus structure rather than shaping the song around the riffs, as the band used to do. Solos and the drumming are entirely forgettable, in their highest moments their impact is merely of acknowledgment – they achieve their prescribed role in the song, but offer nothing to stick in your memory after they’re over – which is a fitting description of the album as a whole.

Yet, even in this wasteland, there are a few signs of life. In spots, the album has some impactful melodies — moments of brightness — before the waves of drudgery crash back down on the listener. Synths soar about crunchy guitar riffs, which are held together by Dave Mustaine’s unique vocal style, and as a folksy acoustic guitar adds a foreboding element to an otherwise unremarkable track. Astute readers may be noticing a pattern here — the album’s better points arise when the riffs are not the main focus of the song, which seems a bit backwards for a speed metal band. Vocals come in varying quality – some fans will cringe as Mustaine declares “Burn baby, burn!” in a style reminiscent of any ’80s stadium rock band, yet his piercing social criticism still surfaces and is as unabashed as ever.

Comparisons will inevitably be made with Risk, but I don’t think this is very accurate. Rather than a fake attempt at making the band more marketable, I think this is a more honest endeavor; it is the product of a band that has aged. Seemingly, at a certain point in time, the young provocateur grows up and realizes that he has spent decades of his life struggling against society – then wakes up one morning and notices that he has carved a pretty good life out for himself. He may not embrace it fully, but he no longer wishes to agitate either. The allure of riding out into the sunset eventually becomes greater than the misery of dissatisfaction and thus he decides to create a safe work that challenges no boundaries.