Article by Ludvig Boysen.
There are three different kinds of music that are popularly called “melodic death metal”. Each is distinct and none even belong to the same metal sub-genre.
Article by Ludvig Boysen.
There are three different kinds of music that are popularly called “melodic death metal”. Each is distinct and none even belong to the same metal sub-genre.
Article by David Rosales.
Ancient myths are the remnants of an age when oral traditions were the main way by which humans preserved and passed on knowledge. This may be the reason why multi-layered symbols and complex relations in stories awkwardly designed to fit differing messages into a form that we may now consider silly. Differing schools of scholarship have developed distinct theories when compiling, reconstructing, and interpreting these messages. Many keep their own “updated” versions which have morphed on their own into the age of the text when the written word defined the transferring and preservation of human knowledge.
Article by David Rosales.
The Witch is a non-Hollywood movie set in the 1630s dealing with a witch psychological attacking a family of New England colonists. The Witch here is typical of traditional European folklore. The filmmakers took cues from historical documents, “first hand” accounts, and contemporary folk tales. Lurking behind the vague but shocking impressions veiled in mystery that our post-Christian society still has, are the insubordinate traditions and purposely asocial philosophies that defined the attitudes of practitioners of the left hand path.
Sludgecore band Agoraphobic Nosebleed threw a fit for publicity over a recent batch of Death Metal Underground’s Sadistic Metal Reviews. Frontwoman Katherine Katz called us Fox News for our criticism of Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s shrieking short woman over a drum machine shtick and our psychological speculation as to why Agoraphobic Nosebleed would even bother releasing such failure other than for commercial exploitation of a musically-ignorant hipster fan base craving reaffirmation of their modern liberalism. Katz even claimed that artists should be responsible for the extreme actions of others in response to satire and that some topics should be completely off lyrics. For her, everyone who listens to “Embryonic Necropsy and Devourment” will potentially commit feticide. This is incredibly hypocritical for a band who shared a member with Anal Cunt and wrote Frozen Corpse Stuffed with Dope.
Article by David Rosales. These three brief reviews continue Death Metal Underground’s journey into seventies progressive rock.
Article by Lance Viggiano.
If it wasn’t already obvious from his PVC and faux cowboy touring get up borrowed from Nikki Sixx; David Vincent finally abandons any pretense of interest in metal music by trading his lace for the lasso.
Article by David Rosales.
We often use the term underground following the multiple discussions of underground extreme metal started on Death Metal Underground by Brett Stevens himself. Conceptualizing it here would be redundant and confusing. Instead, we might benefit more from brainstorming that allows for the reveling of authenticity that so characterizes underground music. What we are interested in here is not metal only, or metal as a whole, but rather metal as conducive to realization, breaking of false boundaries, destruction of a false mainstream, doing away with a useless society, and a contempt for a decadent civilization that through negation is blind to its own fatality.
The answer is not in this or that genre, in formal philosophy, or in the bare findings of the scientific establishment, but in their use in service of individual discernment. Music itself, if taken as more than mere sensual distraction, is the intuitive way leading to the shattering of illusions perceived through the senses, instigated by the mundane. This is not mere sophistry,; its most practical result is that in the abstract realizations thereof the mind is free to challenge what before appeared as commandments written in stone. Reality does not belong to anyone; truth is a quest.
Unaussprechlichen Kulten – Baphomet Pan Shub-Niggurath (2014)
The tumultuous death metal of Unaussprechlichen Kulten captures the rawness of exploring black magic in darkness upon the listeners mind. What is significant about the interest of metal at large in what is hidden, what is occult, is not the morbidity alone, although that is the explanation that even luminaries may conjure and the only one that the rabble may consciously understand. The open door to asocial darkness, to inhumanity, to disintegration, is the contrast between ephemeral and the immanent. However, facing this burning darkness is also a voluntary act: it lies beyond good and evil, where the primal breath of the whole that puts our non-divinity into perspective. Here, the old school death metal expressions within free structures that never overextend and are perhaps inconclusive, nevertheless represent a perfect introduction to an energetic flow of destruction and consumption.
Sorcier des Glaces – Snowland MMXII (2012)
A well-deserved update of Snowland, Sorcier des Glaces’ Snowland MMXII shines with self-attenuated glow, hiding vibrant vitality. This is the course of nobility after or through darkness. Sorcier des Glaces takes us to the essence of black metal as post-nihilism. What some would confuse with empiricism or mere scepticism, but is in reality free transcendentalism following death, complete nihilistic destruction. The dark light emanating from image and action, from reality and unreality, the delight beyond sensuality in the universe as it is as perceived imperfectly as we see it in the thousand ways in which we tune in to it.
Isa – Отход на закате [Departure at Sunset] (2015)
Risking death by lynching, I’ll introduce this rather inconspicuous and only vaguely metal album as the culmination of this discussion. This lies more in the realm of ambient and is liable to be confused with post-rock when seen from a certain angle. Departure at Sunset captures the naturalist side of metal in a stronger way than do most these days. This is done in perhaps an extreme way that does not befit the always-hidden, the underground spirit of metal. That is, there might be too much sunshine in this for the traditional underground, so that it might seem counter-intuitive for some to see this as more authentically revealing than what sounds traditional. But the trademark old school sound has been hijacked for a long time now, it has been commercialized in what is almost a counter-spell to its original black conjuration. The truth seems to emerge, then, in the opposite, sunlit, ice-clear sounds of this ambient metal that transports us to Siberia as the antithesis to the modern world.
This dissection was contributed to Death Metal Underground by Neil Sigmundsson.
Although the song that is the subject of this article differs considerably in tone from most funeral doom metal, and indeed from most of Evoken’s own work, it utilizes the basic style of that genre: open, sustained, low register power chords played at very slow tempi. In “Omniscient,” clean guitar melodies and synthesizers provide the music with detail, color, and different senses of spaciousness. Layering, interplay between instruments, and timbre play important roles in developing themes and emphasizing different aspects of emotions. The song has no human voice, a feature that facilitates listener immersion and an unharnessed imagination. The structure is simple and linear: A B C D. The four sections are described sequentially below in terms of one interpretation of the piece; this is an attempt to put into words a somewhat vague combination of images, thoughts, feelings, and emotions that occurs when listening to it. If this descriptive method comes across as tedious or unappealing, consider it the shortcoming of the writer and let the music speak for itself.
Section A: The introduction revolves around a melody played on clean guitar, the tonality of which gives a vague feeling of uneasiness and of mystery. The technique of sliding into and between notes is used as ornamentation, presumably to make the melody more evocative. The slow tempo lends a sense of low energy, and the synthesizer adds a haziness to the atmosphere. When the electric guitar and percussion enter the song, the resulting sensation is similar to stepping from an inside room, where one can sense the heat outside, into the open air, or of transitioning from the awakening state of half-consciousness to that of complete alertness and awareness. The synthesizer then plays its part an octave higher than before, overpowering like the sharp glare of the sun and evoking an image of barrenness, vastness, and lifelessness. The timbre greatly increases the effect. After the synthesizer descends back to its original register, the theme is fully developed and the scene completely comprehended.
Section B: After a short silence, the music resumes at a crawl, as if an oppressive heat is sapping away all energy. The guitars reach up and play a short sequence with conviction, but fall back down in response to the synthesizer, as if defeated by the overwhelming wretchedness and aridity of existence. The entire pattern temporarily falls to a slightly lower register, conveying a sense of sinking to greater depths, though it musters enough energy to return to its original place. Listening to this section feels like crossing a desert, wondering whether the farther side will ever be reached with so little energy, when suddenly…
Section C: Great vigor and motivation well up from an unknown source, generating forward and upward motion from stagnation. The tempo increases, as does the speed of the drum pattern. The power chords are no longer relegated to the far lowest notes. The synthesizer, which represented the oppressive force, disappears and is replaced by a slowly rising clean guitar pattern. The overall tone here is energetic and anticipatory, and there is a sense of striving and of willpower where previously there was none. However, in the guitars there is a moment that balances this nature with sobriety and gravity, a few slightly dissonant notes that signify that all adversity has not been overcome. Like a reminder of the continued presence of the antagonistic element, this slight dissonance checks the melody, which falls accordingly (though it maintains its pace and energy) and dwells at its lowest point before steadily rising again.
Section D: Section C trails off at its highest stable point, and at this point the music slows down again and “opens up,” signifying that a plateau or a destination has been reached. Indeed, in the final and longest section of the song, a realization occurs. The first hint of this realization is a sequence of four notes played on the keyboard and accompanied by percussion. The “breathy” timbre and relatively low volume give a sense of distance and of large scale. This part evokes the emotions associated with pausing one’s toils, looking up at the clouds, and realizing their beauty. The electric guitars then enter enthusiastically, mimicking the four note pattern with power chords, and the aforementioned keyboard sequence gives way to a second one. This new keyboard part starts with a heart-warming tone that rises slightly and then settles into a sobering note of gravity, though even this last bit of weight and resistance falls away at the end of the sequence.
The full realization is represented by a blissful clean guitar melody that acts as an additional layer atop the second keyboard part and the power chords. The keyboards color the guitar melody in different ways with each note and with swells in volume, highlighting various nuances of the newfound conviction and peace of mind: solace, tranquility, the hugeness of nature and the cosmos and corresponding miniscule stature of man, the passing away of all things, and finally an understanding and acceptance that leads to release from all doubts and worries. The timbre of the synthesizers provides an airy nature to the conclusion of the song, yet this quality is light and fresh and differs greatly from the heavy, burdensome atmosphere of the introduction. The clean guitars eventually stop and the keyboards return to a fuller version of the first hint of the realization, the image that catalyzed the epiphany being revisited in terms of the new insight obtained. The full realization then resumes. By this point, all tension is completely resolved. Additional synthesizer effects give a sense of dissolving and of passing away, and the song begins to fade in volume. The clean guitar ends on an uplifting note.
In the above description of “Omniscient,” the instruments symbolize different aspects of human experience. The electric guitar and the percussion represent the visceral sensations of the body, the clean guitar the movements of the mind, and the synthesizer the perception of the external environment. The role of the synthesizer in portraying an external oppressive force in sections A and B has already been described: it can be seen as a sort of indifferent but nevertheless harmful natural phenomenon. Of the four parts of the song, section B is the only one with no clean guitar, perhaps symbolizing how during an onerous experience in which the willpower of the mind has been defeated, the focus of consciousness oscillates between the suffering of the body and the alleged cause of that suffering. In section C the synthesizer disappears, but the sobering, slightly dissonant notes in both the clean guitar and the underlying power chords acknowledge that the environment/situation has not changed. Rather, the upwelling of energy from within is so powerful that it dominates the field of perception, as reflected in the dramatic increase in percussion activity. This section can be viewed as finding motivation to fight and overcome an oppositional force.
Section D resolves all conflict and tension in the song, not through external triumph – towards which section C seems directed – but through internal release. Maintaining the established symbolism and looking at the clean guitar parts (and lack thereof) throughout the song, there is a series that outlines a transformation of mind: A mind confused (A) becomes a mind completely defeated (B), which in turn is revitalized and invigorated (C) and finally becomes purified and instilled with confidence and peace (D). Considering the keyboards, as mentioned previously, the role and the qualities of those in section D are significantly different from those in sections A and B. Yet even at the very end of the song, there is still a sobering effect and a sense of gravity in the keyboards; the elation does not go unchecked. As in section C, this is the clue that the external environment has not changed, only the perception of that environment. Thus, the mind has undergone a change and as a result, the perception of life has changed even though life situations have not. Recalling the words of Marcus Aurelius: “Things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within…Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away.” This is the essence of the realization in “Omniscient”: It is the knowledge that, though we may feel pain and discomfort, and though we may endure hardship, suffering is not inextricably bound up with these experiences. The power that external events claim on personal wellbeing is dictated by the mind and by the will. In this way can man go through life as an invincible force, as a “promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.” With this spirit and conviction does the clean guitar sail calmly over the keyboards in section D, giving a sense of total peace and affirming that everything is alright.
Along with Skepticism – Stormcrowfleet and Monolithe – Monolithe I, “Omniscient” shows that the funeral doom style lends itself naturally to compositions that are not funereal in tone. This style has been used as a means of wallowing and despairing, and it could be argued that despondence, hopelessness, etc. are “heavy” emotions, but the self-obsessed state of depression, being a state of stress and contraction, shrinks the scale of the music to the personal level. This effect is contrary to the “big” sound of the funeral doom style, and to the powerful fighting spirit of metal in general, indicating that perhaps the style is more suitable for large-scale, impersonal topics.
Regarding musical composition, the careful and directed development of a select set of ideas maximizes the evocative quality of music by allowing themes to blossom to their full expressive potential. Furthermore, this increases the coherence of compositions, even when the composer does not intend a specific meaning or message, because new ideas arise only when the old ones are exhausted. Thus, in musical composition, as in life, it is wiser to look to necessity than to extremity. Extremes of technical musicianship, speed, and structural complexity, though sometimes useful, are generally not necessary for metal music to be heavy (in the meaning of bearing existential weight, of having deep content as opposed to shallowness, and of communicating an aspect of reality that transcends the individual). “Omniscient,” in its beautiful simplicity, is evidence in favor of this point. In its logical and complete development, its highly evocative sounds, its clear depiction of an inspiring and uplifting transformation, and the reward and reminder that its conclusion bestow upon the listener, “Omniscient” is a superlative work of art.
1. Evoken recorded Promo 2002 “in 1 day on a cheap-o 8 track recorder.” “Omniscient” stands far above the other four songs on the promo, although “Reverie in Tears” is also well composed. Dario Derna, who was the adept drummer of the death metal band Infester, played the keyboards on this release.
2. A rerecorded version of “Omniscient” with lyrics appeared on the 2010 split between Evoken and Beneath the Frozen Soil.
Article by Lance Viggiano
Metal, like nearly every form of contemporary western music, carries legacy traits from western classical music. Noting these inherited qualities and their contribution to metal’s identity is a fruitful venture worth study. Yes, some artists such as Emperor created music that may as well have been performed by an orchestra. Nevertheless there is a distinct tendency among metalheads to validate metal through this heritage. The logic behind this is eloquent and simple: Classical maintains an esteemed position and metal retains compositional/artistic characteristics of classical; therefore metal is good (insert adjective for good: High Art, Quality, etc.). This does a disservice to metal however as it forsakes the baroque for the succinct while deriving much of its power from textural aesthetics. Metal needs to be qualified and judged according to its own merits.
Both forms of music arrange motifs according to an underlying narrative. The pathos of western classical music is derived out of experiments in harmony that attempted to imitate a well ordered and intricately planned cosmos. The composer embodies the role of the One God who conceives and executes a nature in which each of its parts cooperate in accordance with divine law or in the case of music: its score and story. Metal however is all about the riff; not just its position in the score but also the way it sounds and the way it feels. Downtuning a guitar, plugging it into a bass amp, and dialing the gain knob to its upper limit are not trivial or accidental decisions. The textural component gives the music body which allows for succinct motifs to achieve significance out of relative simplicity. On the other hand, classical must take on a ”notey” characteristic to give the music weight. The roar of an ensemble is a force of its own, yet it is comparatively tame next to the bludgeoning delivered by an amplifier and a few pedals.
Classical entices the mind with intricate and ornate patterns while metal ignites the heart by delivering an unabashedly barbaric, vitriolic and brash force of will. With each occupying distinct but equally valid dimensions of the human experience – The mind and the heart, respectively – it becomes clear that using one to validate the other does a great disservice to each form of music. Unplug metal and survey its patterns next to classical and one will find that it sounds as if it was composed by intellectually immature children. Plug classical patterns into metal and one finds that the need to make tonal sacrifices to retain clarity while distilling patterns down so as to be performed by fewer instruments results in sterile powerless wank which exists without proper support.
The Romantic movement turned its gaze back to the primacy of nature from the perspective of the civilized man who took all of his habits of thought with him; retaining his clear, distinct abstract patterns and hard mental boundaries. He walks at a distance from the forest so as to keep his boots from the blemishing mud and his coat from the shearing thicket. The Romanticism of metal walks barefooted against the cold soil, barely managing to escape the weather but never the bonds of nature. His damp stone refuge is aerated by a primate musk so thick that the festering gobbets and searing tendons of his kill cannot penetrate it. The civilized man understands nature as an idea from which he is blissful detached and divinely endowed to understand while the uncivilized man understands nature as an irrational outpouring of desire against which his only freedom is attained by projecting his own will against the world. Each vantage point offers a unique view of the same landscape. From that summit the artistry of metal ought to be discussed and ultimately, loved.
Article by David Rosales.
In the past, we have likened the spirit of metal that culminates in death and black metal to that of the literary, romantic movement in Europe. Romanticism was meant to embody ideals of naturalism and individualism in a return to primeval spirituality connecting us with our origins, our surroundings, and a more conscious future. The romantic character of the 19th century stands in glaring opposition to the heavy industrialist upsurge and man-centered utilitarianism of that time. Epitomized metal contrasts with this idea in one important aspect: while artists two centuries ago strived to bring attention to the importance of human subjectivity, underground metal stressed irrelevance of the human vantage point.
In describing metal as a neo-romantic artform we may well be undermining the aspects that define it in its historical and psychological contexts. Historical as each movement is encased in a flow of events linked by causality and psychological, on the other hand because of the relative independence and unpredictability with which leading individuals affront these inevitable developments. Together, these two factors account for freedom of choice within predestination. Even though romanticism and metal were both reactions to the same decadence at different points in time, the latter rejects the former’s inclination towards universal human rights and other products of higher civilization in exchange for a nihilistic realism arising from the laws of nature. Underground metal is a detached representation of a Dark Age; one where power and violence are the rule in which all forms of humanism are hopelessly deluded or simply hypocritical.
The uncontrolled and contrarian character of metal stands at odds with the more self-aware and progressive bent of romanticism. Metal, at least in its purest incarnations, can never be assimilated – something that cannot be said of the older art movement. Pathetic attempts at dragging metal under the mainstream umbrella that abides by status quo ideals often fail catastrophically. When forcefully drawn out before dawn’s break it will inevitably miserably perish upon contact with the sun’s rays like a creature of catacombs and dark night-forests.
Attempting to define metal is as elusive as trying to pinpoint ‘magic’. Outsiders cannot even begin to recognize its boundaries. The mystical, ungraspable, and intuitive nature it possesses attests to this and sets it apart from romanticism in that not even those belonging to it are able to crystallize a proper description. The very substance of the genre is felt everywhere but the innermost sanctum always dissipates under the gaze of the mind’s eye.
Even though it cannot be said that the one defines or encompasses the other, the connection between romanticism and metal nevertheless exists. Aside from the concrete musical link between them which helps us describe metal as a minimalist and electronic romantic art, the abstract connection is more tenuous and related to cyclic recurrence1. Metal is not a revival of romanticism nor its evolution, but perhaps something more akin to its rebellious disciple: a romantic anti-modernism.
The foundation of this anti-modernism is a Nietzschean nihilism standing in stark contrast with hypocritical modernist dogma; it spits in the face of the semantic stupidity of post-modernism. This is a sensible and ever-searching nihilism2 that does not attach itself to a particular point of view but parts from a point of disbelief in any authority. It is a scientific and mystic nihilism for those who can understand this juxtaposition of terms. It does not specialize in what is known as critical thinking but in the empirical openness to possibilities taken with a grain of salt. The first dismisses anything that does not conform to its rigid schemata; the second one allows relativism as a tool with the intention of having subjective views float around while transcending all of them and moving towards unattainable objectivity.
Such transcendentalism connects metal with Plato and Theodoric the Great rather than with Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius. Metal looks beyond modern illusions of so-called freedom and the pleasure-based seeking of happiness. It recognizes that without struggle there can be no treasure and that today’s perennial slack will only lead to complacent self-annihilation. This is why, instead of representing the blossoming of nature in man through the sentimentalisms of romanticism in its attitude above time, to use the words of a wise woman, metal stands stoutly as a form of art against time.
As an attempt to communicate our understanding of the essence and spirit of underground metal, below are some books through which to start the abstract journey through metal and the metaphysics that moves it.
Theodore John Kaczynski – Industrial Society and Its Future
Albert Mudrian – Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore
Homer – The Illiad
The Bhagavad Gita
J.R.R. Tolkein – The Children of Húrin
Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason
We have traditionally presented a certain pantheon of underground death and black metal to which most readers can be redirected at any moment. A different set is presented below that is nonetheless consistent with the writer’s interpretation of Death Metal Underground’s vision.
Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir – Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares
Julian Bream – La Guitarra Barroca
Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time
Not being a connoisseur of cinema in general, the following is but a friendly gesture. This is a loose collection for the transmission of a basic underground metal pathos.
Tous les Matins du Monde
The Witch: A New-England Folktale
Until the Light Takes Us
A 2008 documentary film by Aaron Aites
and Audrey Ewellabout the early 90s
black metal scene in Norway.
Andrei Tarkovsky – Stalker
1This is not the re-happening of the exact same universe that Nietzsche is supposed to have been talking about, but a transcendental recurrence of sorts. What I am trying to express here is the cyclic reappearance of abstract and collective concepts among humans, because they are also part of this universe and as such are subject to such underlying pendulum swings in the forces that move it. Perhaps a better descriptor could have been abstract collective concept reincarnation, but that seemed to convoluted, and cyclic recurrence captures the wider phenomenon, irrespective of what definition academia wants to adhere to.
2This somewhat liberal use of the term nihilism deserves to be explained a little further in order to avoid confusion. By this it is not meant that metal’s outlook consists of nihilism in the ultra-pessimistic sense, in the sense of total defeat, which seems to be the expectancy of most people from nihilism. The idea here is that as an art movement born in the post-modern era, in a civilization that has already been ravaged by nihilism, stripped from relevant cults, metal begins from a posture of extreme skepticism that is extended to everything and everyone. This skepticism is nihilistic because no intrinsic value is placed on anything, yet it is scientific because it is curious and will experiment. Metal’s development dances between nihilism and individualistic transcendentalism.