On Well-Defined Genres

On Well-Defined Genres

Article by David Rosales.

I. The Myth of Progress

Each epoch in human history is affected by the myths that define its own attitude; myths that could be defined as foundational illusions on which the dogmas of the time are based. For us, that myth is progress itself and the consequent air of superiority that comes with it. Having arrived at a postmodernist stage, this criticism of modernity is nothing new, but at the same time, nothing has been done about it so that we still suffer the same symptoms. This is one of the maladies of postmodernism: an even greater contempt for other epochs in its supposed abstraction from prejudices, which creates an illusory special place whence a new prejudice against everything and all is provisioned, whence nothing is actually properly addressed or solved only haphazardly patched over.

We call it the myth of progress not because we believe that improvement is impossible, but because the word has become so much a staple of modernity that it is assumed that our “progress” applies to many more areas than it actually does. The only clear advantage we have over humanity in the past is our clear technological advantage, summarized in more precise knowledge of scientific mechanics1. We have a bigger sword in hand and know how to use it.

The average, modern man also considers we have a moral advantage over the barbarism and superstition of the past. He does not consider his own moral assumptions as spurious. That is always reserved for the other. This contradiction is especially obvious in the secular humanist values that currently dominate the sphere of Western politics and popular opinion. Religion (by which they are usually referring to Christianity and sometimes to Islam if the critics themselves be Christian) is vilified as leading to a dulling of the senses; Catch phrases originally belonging to the Marxist left (“opium of the masses”) are embedded into popular consciousness.

Both the left and right base their ideologies on different interpretations of the modern myth of progress and the false sense of moral superiority thereof. The humanist values that both presume to uphold were born out of Christian Reformist philosophy. Consequently Aristotelianism (philosophy for those not philosophically inclined) plays a prominent role in modernist attitudes, contributing a materialist kind of Naturalism. All this is patched up with some apparently arbitrary morality (actually completely arising from popular Judeo-Christian thought) designed to make individuals feel safe and good about themselves independently of reality. This is secular humanism.

II. Predestination and Inevitability

What we may take from this realization is that no matter how much we learn, possess or discover, we are still products of the most recent past. We are the result of the uninterrupted flow of historical events, from a hypothetical primordial cause or an infinite set of cycles, to the present. The degree and the nature of success of independent enterprise of any kind is wholly dependent on the variable states at that point in time within the cosmic flow of events due to the immensity of the world with respect to a single human being and the fact that individual wills reside within individuals only.

The degree of success obviously refers to the magnitude of the same: its overall effect throughout the course of time. The nature of success depends on how success is defined. Whether you judge it by its popular acceptance, its practical application by the rulers irrespective of the opinion of the masses, by its effects correlation with the original goals of the enterprise. Quantization of success leads to lossy reductionism so an integral assessment of degree of success is based on relatively arbitrary judgements. In parallel, the judgement of the nature of success is based on ideology, itself dependent on how individuals choose to interpret reality and to what degree that interpretation follows logically from that reality. This interpretation is applied to a perception of reality, not to reality itself. This is a distinction too few make, unfortunately leading to grave misconceptions where perception and interpretation are confounded

Words may provide false solace in that colloquial language expressions seldom express what we mean precisely. Words are misleading. The statement “We are products of our past” may be taken far more lightly than it ought to be. Many take it to mean that our present physical conditions result from the decisions of our predecessors, which is true. However, a popular belief is that our minds may roam completely free and that our freedom of choice and thought (supposedly superior that of animals) grants us the power to change the current tide of events. What is not often mentioned is that the force necessary to break this tide of social developments is proportional to the degree of change to be implemented.

This struggle between established flow and forced change occurs not only on the physical plane but on the mental one as well. The state of thoughts and conceived possibilities are wholly dependent on both social exposure (all-around learning) and genetic proclivity2. Our thoughts are dependent on the past and subject to it. In opposition to this naturalist point of view stands the idea of our minds arising from an immortal spirit emanating from a divine source standing outside the universe. Modernism is against anything supernatural, so it arrives silently this contradiction only to casually avert its eyes from it.

III. Innovation and Establishment in Metal

Most of us understand metal as a non-complacent artistic movement that tends towards innovation in order to reformulate itself so that it is never trapped by convention. This reluctance the genre displays to entrapment by academic stiffness has worked miracles and produced true masterpieces of contemporary art, unrecognized as such by the public at large and masturbatory academia. Nevertheless we must be on guard, since that same rebelliousness may hinder the movement and ground it in something that is more of a childish rejection of discipline. Childish as Metal has moved well beyond its birth rites and is now rather well-defined in its limits, even though these cannot be formulated in a scientific manner.

The impetus towards forward movement coupled with an ignorance of true artistic relevance results in an exaggerated attention toward overtly “progressive” outfits and a dismissal of those which seem aesthetically grounded in tradition. Logic plays little role in this ideological and emotional thought process. While it should be easy to conclude that traditional aesthetics are surer to produce higher quality results given the collectively accumulated experience they embody, there is a tendency to think that what is of the past belongs to the past and that today needs an “updated” version. There is an Apple product consumerism applied to the general expectation of artistic expression here.

Metalheads arbitrarily select contradictory dogmas by which to shape their judgement of the art, reflecting the values of the modern and post-modernist contexts up-to-date headbangers inhabit. According to these “progressive” revisionists, genre guidelines and ideology must evolve and evolution means progress. Progress must lead to secular value. Music, furthermore, must reflect this openness and disavowal of encumbering tradition. In opposition to them stand the masses of staunch metalheads that may not complicate themselves with artsy wordiness, but who are intuitively connected to the deeper nature of metal, and defend its traditions through emotion.

IV. The Value of Well-Established Genres

As previously mentioned, the value of tradition is the collective experiences it represents. It is the result of trial and error, the remembrance of individual illumination, and the time-tested efficiency of its connection to human nature3. Tradition is a powerful weapon on which greatness is built but it is also only wealth and potential. Each generation and individual must utilize it to manifested their energy in motion.

That genres and movements decay is not an effect of tradition, but of what Prozak likes to call “crowdism“. In attacking tradition and glorifying the scene, we would only be achieving exactly the opposite effect of what we presume to. This follows directly from a reluctance to place responsibility on individuals and instead blame abstract concepts such as institutions, ideologies, and traditions. Tradition blossoms into works of great beauty when well-tended and lovingly nurtured, showcasing a wondrously creative fecundity possible only at higher levels of development.

The quality in fertility of worthy traditions may be obfuscated from common understanding as to understand higher-level concepts and representations, one has to have grasped the basics. Most people do not have the disposition towards investing effort to perceive and appropriately receive these higher qualities. Instead, they opt for superficial variations of what they can already understand. Artists that have been forgotten given such a short-sighted mentality include classical and romantic Nordic composers such as Franz Berwald, whose emotionally-stirring symphonies are virtually unmatched in their compact efficiency and inconspicuously thorough treatment of emotions.

In metal, the false dichotomy between traditional stagnation and innovative flare has wreaked havoc: only a handful of people seem to appreciate quality and creativity irrespective of the degree of adherence to traditional aesthetics. Tradition is best appreciated as a more abstract concept that can be traced from the aesthetics. Judgement of quality should not be independent of either, but flexible in taking account of an overall context. The following are a few albums whose adherence to a traditionalist but creative paradigm has won them little love from the masses. These have remained in relative obscurity despite their meaningful contributions to metal:

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Divine EveVengeful and Obstinate (2010)

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ProfanacticaThy Kingdom Come (2013)

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Serpent Ascending – The Enigma Unsettled (2011)

atlantean kodex the golden bough
Atlantean Kodex – The Golden Bough (2010)

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EmpyriumInto the Pantheon (2013)

Written on the morning of the 22nd, April 2016, close to the land where the sun rises, while listening to Iron Maiden’s ‘Somewhere in Time’.

Notes
1 Theories on the origin and underlying nature of reality in physics and chemistry continue to remain metaphysical even if supported and represented in equations. This is an important point towards realizing the limitations of quantification-based science and the illogical idea that if one cannot measure something visually with a ruler then it isn’t relevant.

2 The idea of genetically-based mental faculties is ignored and frowned upon by modern dogma. It is detested and rejected despite severely inconclusive experimental data demonstrating natural differences, not a lack of them. An emotional vilification ensues because the idea of inherent (and therefore beyond our control) differences in capacity does not bide well with the religious commandment that “All men are created equal.” This same idea has been upheld by pseduo-scientific theories produced under both democracy and communism, political paradigms that are themselves entirely dependent on the truthfulness of this concept. It is difficult to avoid seeing a clear conflict of interests here; an out-of-hand scientific protectionism of dogma through sponsored and biased logistic and political support is the rule.

3 The perception of patterns and the effects of music through their interaction with our biological make-up in the ever-moving sequence of its unique states in time.

1970s Progressive Rock for Hessians: An Introduction

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Article by Johan P.

Background

The creation of this brief introduction to some of the more prominent bands of 70s progressive rock was directly inspired by David Rosales’ shooting down of late-60s/early-70s Pink Floyd. My article should not be viewed as a polemic against the conclusions drawn from ”A Sadistic Dissection of Classic Pink Floyd”. On the contrary, many of Floyd’s recordings – not least in a prog rock for hessians context – fall short in several respects compared to fellow prog rock groups of that era. The first section of my article (”Background”) serves as a necessary bridge between David’s article and what will follow below.

To keep the potential reader in mind, Pink Floyd might not be the most compatible progressive rock band for someone whose tastes run along the lines of the music promoted by the Death Metal Underground. Therefore, I will in this series offer a brief introductory piece on the genre, followed by a presentation of classics of progressive rock in an attempt to light a spark of interest among metal enthusiasts may become acquainted with this genre that developed in parallel with heavy metal. The focus will inevitably be on artists with British heritage, since most of the more prolific bands were English. Of course this doesn’t mean that prog rock was solely a UK phenomenon. There were loads of bands hailing from all over the globe; many good enough to reach the heights of the established British bands.

Before moving on to the presentation mentioned above, it might be a good idea to study the music of Pink Floyd with the purpose to discover why this band may not be the best entry point to the genre. There are at least three major reasons that could cause disappointment when listening to even the “best” (that is, the records closest to the more adventurous and ambitious side of prog rock and metal music) of Pink Floyd: shortcomings and discrepancies regarding song structuring, musical style and concept:

Pink Floyd

First, although some Floyd tracks (e.g. “Echoes”, one of their better numbers) features extended song structures or long compositions of an episodic character, they often lack the coherent narrative present in some of the more accomplished epics of progressive rock. For example, a composition featuring an “extended song structure” could be an ordinary rock song built around the usual verse/chorus/bridge components with the addition of one or more elongated parts that are to varying degrees connected to the main song. With “compositions of an episodic character” I refer to songs that are made up of several discrete musical events that are joined into one composition. Extended song structures is more frequently used by Pink Floyd than episodic compositions, although the latter method is very common in progressive rock in general (side note: an example of episodic song structuring gone wrong in metal is Satyricon’s first album, Dark Medieval Times). Quite a few Pink Floyd songs are long alright, but they are often built around roughly three extended song structure sections: first an introduction where the band presents a main theme, followed by a middle section with (often instrumental) excursions and some experimentation (creating atmosphere through electronic effects, guitar solos which builds up tension followed by a potential release, juxtaposition of found sounds, etc.), and finally a closing part, where the main theme returns. Or, if a long Floyd track follow the episodic song template, the compositional method appears to be taking several unrelated songs/ideas and forcing them together into one piece. This last method seems to be applied most carelessly on a larger scale in whole Pink Floyd albums as well. Several of their albums contain contrasting songs placed in an apparently random order, resulting in the works at large sounding both irrational and inconsistent.

The song writing procedure described above doesn’t necessarily count as a bad compositional method, but one of the bigger pitfalls of which the Floyd succumbs to all too often is that if done without enough finesse and thoroughness, these compositions end up with not much development or connection between the different parts. In many cases not just isolated to Pink Floyd, songs of this type end up being flawed by an arbitrary and fragmentary character. It could be the case that Pink Floyd did not have any sort of epic narrative, lyrical or musical, in mind when writing many of their longer tracks – or maybe they did, but just couldn’t pull it through. But why then did they chose to record such long, meandering songs then? Maybe it was more a question of shady conceptual ideas. Parts of the psychedelic/progressive rock ideology appears to have gravitated more towards the whimsical, escapist side of romantic art. Such an outlook shouldn’t be completely dismissed as inappropriate for a progressive rock band but it can pose problems if this attitude to romanticism isn’t backed up by adequate ideas of making a coherent statement. Especially in their earlier years, Pink Floyd made several peculiar attempts at playful and dreamlike tunes, which more than once failed because they turned out to possess an unfinished and pointless character. The reason these songs didn’t turn out so well is that they suffer from a lack of adequate compositional ideas suitable for creating the intended moods and visions.

When it comes to style, Pink Floyd were an early bird among late 60s prog rockers, even pioneering some techniques in a rock music context (experimental use of synthesizers), exploring multisensorial experiences through psychedelic music, live light-shows, and drugs. As Rosales’s Pink Floyd article correctly points out, it often led to nothing but “interesting”, fragmentary, and meaningless ideas. While the band members’ lack of virtuosity doesn’t necessarily pose a problem, it’s a disadvantage that throughout their career they never dared to step too much outside the boundaries of the blues-derived rock style like so many other progressive bands did.

The confused, fragmentary, and unfinished nature of many Pink Floyd songs stems from lack of conceptual substance. Many of their compositions leave the listener with promising impressions left unfulfilled or worse bored with the bads subtly ironic stance working as a defense against such accusations. Few were probably surprised to watch the band (especially band dictator Roger Waters) growing more and more cynical in relation to their own work, their fans, and the music industry as the years passed after their massive public and critical success with Dark Side Of The Moon.

However it would be unfortunate to end the story of progressive rock here. Even Pink Floyd managed to put worthwhile compositions together once in a while. I have a soft spot for the space-rocking live concert part of the double LP Ummagumma, where, surprisingly, there is less trace of whimsy. These compositions are allowed to breathe and linger on to reach the conclusions missing on less adventurous Floyd records. The four tracks on the first disc of Ummagumma are actually live re-workings of older songs performed with a possibly more refined sense of dynamics and texture than in their original studio forms.

Introduction

If you take a look at the more established narratives of rock history, you will learn of a horrible aberration of 70s rock called “Progressive Rock”. Presented by many rock critics as a genre made up of spoiled middle-class kids trying to impress others of the same ilk with their pseudo-high-art, when all they really produced was kitsch. These musicians’ attempts to become accepted as members of the cultural elite (or the cultural underground for that matter) were, according to “rock history”, crushed with the arrival of punk in the mid-70s. After a dark century of both stadium spectacle and general pretentiousness, people could resume enjoying down to earth authentic rock once more. Some of this might sound reasonable but in several respects, this tale doesn’t live up to reality.

First, although the creative momentum of the original movement had started to wane considerably by the mid-70s, progressive rock bands were more popular than ever among the public in this period. This is an indicator of the survival of progressive music in the aftermath of punk’s simplicity. Furthermore, as the 1980s dawned, a new generation of underground progressive groups set about revitalizing the genre. Although I would say that not much prog rock produced post-1970s can compete with the original wave, the assumption that Sex Pistols and their ilk obliterated progressive music is plain ignorant. The legacy and influence of the progressive old guard may be heard and seen in much contemporary popular music, including metal.

Critics pointing at the corporate selling out and stadium rock syndrome of the bigger progressive groups but a defense may be raised for the accused. Progressive rock interestingly differs in one important respect from most rock music. With prog it is not just a matter of smaller, more worthy bands getting overshadowed by the larger established ones, even if this surely happened. Some of the biggest bands of the genre,somehow managed to perform grand stage productions that still carried meaningful art. The established critical narrative may be a result of the situation of the music industry at the time: record labels, fat and rich thanks to the decades of explosive growth in post-war media consumption, were convinced that obscure groups playing this new form of rock music were highly marketable. Parallels may be drawn to the various metal sub-genres. Those lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time could get considerable production budgets, granting a creative freedom never experienced before in the music business.

Pinning down the characteristics of progressive rock (or any musical genre for that matter) is not the most grateful of task. Neither is this the purpose of this series. Instead, it will contain rather brief background information and descriptions of the featured bands, giving more space to the musical and conceptual content of the selected albums. Hopefully this approach will make sense and awaken an interest of discovery of a genre that I believe has a lot to offer, not least for fans of extreme metal. Some sort of framework might be needed so let’s go back to the infancy of the movement to see where it started off.

Origins

Like hard rock and heavy metal, progressive rock stems largely from the late 1960s psychedelic milieu. This was a time of experimentation with not only drugs and alternative lifestyles, but new sounds, musical ideas and approaches. With the aid of mind-altering substances, younger artists took pleasure in finding new meaning in pushing the frontiers of the staling and commodified art forms of rock ‘n’ roll and jazz. These psychedelic explorers (primarily males of European descent from an upper middle-class background, although counterexamples abound) founded groups that in the late 1960s lingered ever closer to becoming progressive rock. In addition to rock and jazz, they also brought into their bands an interest in classical, choral and folk music. However as with any historical narrative, there are of course other factors that could be addressed as well as contradictory and arbitrary information. Take Yes for example, one of the most prominent prog bands to promote virtuosic musicianship and toss classical music topes into the stew. Contrary to common assumption, their guitarist Steve Howe is a self-thought musician who never bothered with learning notes or formal music theory while their ethereal singer Jon Anderson came from a working class background.

There is another facet of progressive rock with a notable parallel in heavy metal music and culture that needs to be addressed: it’s relation to the Romantic Era. This connection is thoroughly stressed and analyzed by Edward Macan in his excellent book on progressive rock, Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture. Macan explores not only the ideological roots of progressive rock, but manages to highlight the more crucial musical influences that helped create and crystallize the genre. He shows progressive rock’s origin in late 1960s psychedelia and what caused the music to take its particular form. As a tribute to Macan’s groundbreaking work, I will conclude this introduction with two interwove quotes from the aforementioned book:

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with progressive rock is usually aware that it represents an attempt to harness classical forms into a rock framework, to combine the classical tradition’s sense of space and monumental scope with rock’s raw power and energy. Understanding the role classical forms have played in progressive rock, then, is essential to understanding the genre as a musical style.

For musicians of the late 1960s who wished to continue with instrumental music – and these were increasingly drawn to the emerging progressive rock, jazz-rock, and heavy metal styles – the question became how to bring a sense of organization, variety, and climax to the music without completely destroying the spontaneity and sense of timelessness which characterized the best psychedelic jams.
The musicians who pioneered progressive rock found their answer in limiting the role of improvisation to one or two sections of a piece, and carefully organizing the rest of the material along the lines of nineteenth-century symphonic forms. […] Nineteenth-century music and psychedelic music are both Romantic in the fullest sense of the word, sharing the same cosmic outlook, the same preoccupation with the infinite and otherwordly, the same fondness for monumental statement (often conveyed through very long pieces), and the concern with expressing epic conflicts.

Stay tuned to this series for the successive revelation and discussion of some of the best and genre defining albums of progressive rock!

Metal Curmudgeon: When Carcass Lost Direction

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I love used book stores — generally libraries, thrifts and small independents — because the chase is greater than the catch, and finding a rarity or just something fun to read is an inexhaustible thrill. A selection of old books gives a distinct perspective not just of writing but of history.

Each time I look over the dusty spines, castoffs of previous generations or well-loved volumes containing advice relied upon by those who came before, I am reminded how human history is a lattice of ideas. Each great thinker is a nodal point from which others branch, re-combining with other ideas or adding their own. And each writer boils down to one idea, usually, with the greatest having a handful.

The rest is a support system for that. To take a great idea and fling it out into the world requires a book, a third of which is introduction, a third explaining the idea in depth and a final third gesturing at relevance and shouting down the inevitable counter-arguments. Then the author spends the rest of his/her career amplifying on that idea or chasing its elusive ultimate form. Then, RIP and all of that boils down to a sentence of summary that most people know.

Think of Charles Malthus (“utilized resources expand algebraically, but population grows exponentially”) or even Adam Smith (“the self-interest of the many results in a balance”). Metal bands are remembered the same way: Black Sabbath (“used horror movie aesthetics on heavy rock to invent proto-metal”) or Suffocation (“used death metal textural complexity with speed metal choppy strumming styles”).

And Carcass? They will forever be remembered as the guys who made clumsy grindcore based around medical lyrics. This is too bad, as their real strength was to expand the grindcore song structure to include longer riffing that often emulated Second World War era popular music, even if unconsciously.

In fact, most of their success comes from the fact that they did everything unconsciously. On the surface, they were having a laugh with gore lyrics and sloppy grind. The first album, Reek of Putrefaction, is entirely unselfconscious in this way. It does not want to be anyone’s friend, or appeal to an audience. It is just having fun and accidentally unleashes the subconscious mind through a biting parody of society and its fear of disease and death.

It was that awkward and offhand element that caught the imagination of an audience. That, and the ripping tunes: the first Carcass album made grindcore complex enough for songs to be distinctive, but kept its rumbling chaotic surface that hid the structure. This made it heavier than most of what was out there at the time and inspired a thousand imaginations.

After that point, however, the Carcass story tapers off. Every album since then has been the band trying to re-interpret its original unintentional success, but to expand it by making the music more like Led Zeppelin and Metallica so that it can be “serious.” And therein is the problem: this band suffers a deep neurosis and when it tries to be serious, it fails. When just drunk and goofing around, these guys are able to reach into the unsocialized parts of their minds and come up with something good.

Symphonies of Sickness came out shortly after Reek of Putrefaction, but already shows us a more self-conscious band. The title is cute, the songs more obviously melodic and prone to borrow hard rock riffs, and the production still vicious but in a controlled way. Everything about the second Carcass album is a managed environment designed to manipulate appearance just like the neat rows of houses in the suburbs, political speeches and advertisements for security companies. The band reversed its raw approach and joined what they mocked.

After that, it has been all downhill. The Tools of the Trade EP showed us the new Carcass: melodic songs, death metal riffs and none of the grindcore urgency or organic appeal. It was all very much a product of the conscious mind trying to be serious so that other people would like it. Necroticism — Descanting the Insalubrious shat the bed with more of the same. For the time, it fit in competitively with death metal, and I listened to it then, but found over the years that I reached for it less and less.

I feared becoming like an old punker I met back in the early 1990s. “Carcass, great band, but they lost it after the first album,” he said. I knew these guys, I felt. They were like the old bearded dudes in robes who stood on streetcorners in the 1960s with signs saying THE END IS NEAR. They were walking stereotypes: the bitter old “truist” who only likes the demos and maybe the first album for any band, and will tell you to stop listening to that commercial shit you’re pimping and look up some rare, expensive and ineptly-packaged 7″ or cassette instead.

But the old guy — at probably 35, already a curmudgeon-in-training — had a point: most bands have only one idea. In metal and punk, bands are artists first and musicians second; they become musicians to express some idea or feeling. They intuit that musicians become experts in making music that people like and as a result, the external form dictates the content and it becomes about like everything else: technically correct, artistically empty like all the other products, fast food and celebrity autobiographies.

Carcass went on to get a PhD in bed-shitting with Heartwork, which was a decent speed metal album with some nice technical touches, but lacked any purpose so became overly “emo.” After that, the grindcore audience fled and the hard rock audience — this was pre-nu-metal days — was scared off by the vocals, so the Carcass brand went into free fall. The band launched a bitter final salvo with Swan Song in which they realized that their responsible, middle class daylight personalities always wanted to just be Led Zeppelin because that is how you work hard and succeed in rock ‘n’ roll as a career!

I fall between your average suburban music fan and the old crusty punk. Perhaps the Peel Sessions, “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment” demo and a few scattered 7″ and live shows are the “real” Carcass, but the first album is real enough for me. After that, the band gets self-conscious and soon there is a stinky speedbump under the sheets. But Reek of Putrefaction is great and every person who enjoys quality outsider music should hear it.

Classical and Pop Metal – part 4 (The Inner and the Outer)

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Article by David Rosales, 4th installment of a 7 part series.

When it comes to making music, people in general (including both audience and artists) tend to sum things up in “feeling”, or ways of looking at the world. That is all well, but it does not necessarily imply the way in which music is made, nor if this “feeling” of theirs reveals any worthwhile quality. What’s even more problematic is that although everybody may deduce from common sense that music operates at two primary areas, namely form and intuition, it is assumed that these are disconnected and that whatever the original feeling that produced them, the audience is free to interpret whatever they want from it, since music is completely free and completely subjective.

Be that as it may, the truth is that intention-feeling-intuition and the musical form that is produced by the artist are intertwined in a complex relationship. Most composers would describe their creation process as one in which they jump between abstract and concrete modes. The beauty of music is that there is no one-to-one relation between conscious thought and organically produced result, but there is, indeed, a causal relation that can be traced and generally pointed at with some experience and powers of observation.

We may start by defining two modes of creation, one in which the exterior, that is, the form, the sound, the pitch, etc.generates an idea, perhaps at the same level, or inciting a thought. This mode is akin to what the audience goes through when they listen to the music. The second one is one in which an idea, a thought or a general feeling moves the artist to find a chord, a sound, a texture or a structure that corresponds to what he is looking for to some degree (depending on talent, availability of resources, etc). While we can safely say that most creators will invariably switch between these two modes, the importance and weight they assign to each varies. This very way in which they think is crucial to the nature and character of the result.

This must not be confused with the methods of composition such as improvisation and strict arrangement, which are also usually used in combination by composers throughout the creation process at some level or another. Generally speaking, though, careless composers tend to improvise much more than arrange strictly, and superficial ones tend to follow an outside-to-inside stimulation predominantly, allowing the raw impressions of the music to guide it.

Those who err on the side of caution keep improvisation on a short leash and brainstorming carefully directed and observed, channeling it and augmenting it through strict composition. On a parallel line, the composer who follows an inside-to-outside thought process keeps the externalization of a consistent logic line in check so that they make sense as much as words, statements and sections in an essay do. It is no mystery both kinds of arrangements, verbal/written and musical, are called compositions.

“Good simplicity, not that euphemism for folly”

A Sadistic Dissection of Classic Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd face palm

Article by David Rosales

Pink Floyd rightly reject the tag of progressive rock. Their compositional development falls light years short of what the best bands of that movement were doing with much better taste than Floyd’s false humble presumption. Pink Floyd’s most developed and experimental ambient moments merely point in the direction of the road that their more inspired and thoughtful contemporaries were traveling on. Klaus Schulze’s ambient work in Tangerine Dream is a true testament to experimental, electronic, and sampled music.

Floyd were pioneers at modern hipsterism in rock and metal as we know it today: a brain cancer that places weirdness and forced variety before artful coherence. Their undeserved praise is based on the simple fact that they are marketable to a wide audience. They wrote mediocre rock songs derived from the style of The Beatles: laughable in their ambient attempts and a headache when their ‘creativity’ ran too free. Pink Floyd’s only truly laudable moments are displayed in laid back, long-running rock songs that support narrative on melody lines, include justified interludes. These works approach the story-telling function that reigns in and maximizes the long-lasting impact of their early experimentalism.

A brief rundown of each of Pink Floyd’s early albums is given below in the interest of separating the little good from the large amounts of face-palming, pseudo-progressive posturing:

PInk Floyd Piper at the Gates of Dawn

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is too much of a name for too pathetic an album. A careless, random attempt at making Beatles songs take unexpected, sharp turns. .These are not at all pioneering as they simply abuse the Beatles’ wackier tendencies, creating interest through disjunction. These are poorly written pop songs with arbitrary appendages and nonsensical sounds: postmodernism meets banal rock music. Noteworthy are weird passages that sometimes build up to cumulative sequences  but these are sparse and lead nowhere.

 

Pink Floyd A Saucerful of Secrets

A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
Pink Floyd moves on from The Beatles, adopting their postmodernist style consisting of  juxtapositions and sequences that might sound coherent if used in a movie soundtrack but that fall short and sound incomplete when presented as music alone. They get points for sounding weird but this work amounts to a childish joke: the kazoos, marimbas, and random found sounds are ridiculous.  People tend to like any entertaining piece of garbage. Ghost is an analogous modern band.

 

pink floyd more

More (1969)
Pink Floyd moves on to a bawdier expression of the so-called ‘folk’ rock n’ roll of Led Zeppelin with mediocre results. However, they also continue a refinement of the ambient-oriented light rock interludes. More is intensely nonsensical, free jazz-influenced postmodernist pap.

The songs tend to have unclear curves, directions, or points. These are either standard pop songs that fade away or jumbled messes of random ideas breaking down into incongruent parts. The more laid back and standard pop songs with only moderate introductions,  extraneous noises are the most pleasant; they still retain a certain sense of order that doesn’t render them oustanding but intelligible. Their surface traits attain purpose and balance in a way that finally approaches beauty. The random and bunk interludes remain unbearable though. This is music for those who wish to pose as music lovers yet cannot focus on actual ideas and aural concepts that birth, raise, and live lives of their own.

 

Pink Floyd Ummagumma

Ummagumma (1969)
1969’s second release is a much more consciously structured concept album. Again, Pink Floyd bring forth something that is more akin to a weirdo-funny soundtrack that evokes the idiocy of Ghost minus Ghost’s complete lack of talent. The conceptual focus brings to the album a shadow of meaning that is completely lacking from any of their prior releases. We can appreciate their compositional boundaries when the non-interlude tracks crumble and lose coherence in the middle.  Entropy at work. The rest of the tracks are simply silly and completely unpurposeful as the band strums away in extremely simple cyclic orderings that are never resolved; they just slide away with no heads or tales. This is music that brings nothing except a meta-feeling of strangeness and not-so-unique uniqueness to make the ego feel smarter for ‘liking’ it.

 

pink floyd atom heart mother

Atom Heart Mother (1970)
Here, Pink Floyd start to display the sound they will be known for at the time of their zenith. The music flows smoothly and the randomness of sampled sounds is attenuated as they thought more this time around. While everything before Atom Heart Mother is utterly worthless, this album approaches the more orderly works their contemporaries with stronger classical influences. Pink Floyd’s music remains singularly simple but exquisitely developed; the messy pretentiousness is boxed in and reserved for very specific moments. They remain unable to capitalize, creating promising initial ideas but driving them into swamps, becoming brackish in their underlying repetitiveness. The suite bears the weight of the album; the rest of the songs are inconsequential and unworthy of notice.

 

pink floyd meddle

Meddle (1971)
A coming of age for Pink Floyd.  The band is finally able to synthesize the concrete and promising aspects of their music, leaving behind much of the earlier nonsense which must have been explored in a completely intuitive manner. This album sees Pink Floyd apparently learning from their more cerebral peers (King Crimson had released several albums, Genesis was releasing their sophomore record, and Yes was arriving at their most meaningful expression alongside but completely separate from Pink Floyd) and trying to give continuity to the album itself: more tasteful attention is given to details inside songs which are somewhat melodically developed. The band is still mostly unable to conclude them, resorting to fades and cheap bale-outs. Most songs here are little better than augmented pop songs arranged with the whole album in mind, except for the longer stretches like the famous “Echoes”. This last track constitutes the net worth of this release; the rest may be dismissed without great loss.

 

pink floyd obscured by clouds

Obscured by Clouds (1972)
Obscured by Clouds starts out with an intro that might have inspired the work of later Tangerine Dream, who made worthwhile music out of what was merely a random snippet of Pink Floyd. After an album that promised to elevate the band beyond its all-too-mediocre shyness, Obscured by Clouds relies on underdeveloped pop songs, random cool-sounding interludes that are just there as they can be, and the snapshots of what would later constitute the sound of their most prominent mainstream success.

 

pink floyd dark side of the moon

The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
1973’s classic is probably the one and only Pink Floyd album worth dedicating precious moments of existence to. The Dark Side of the Moon is the final definitive sound of the band par excellence. Their crippling compositional shortsightedness is still present but they have learned to just deal with it through years of perseverance. Through years of refinement the band has turned their prior randomness into sharply-focused moments that finally assemble together yet always remaining unrelated cars in a train of pure intuition rather than one single narrative. Delightfully put-together, each moment in the wide repertoire from this jack-of-all-trades band is brought forth slowly in a way that feels necessary and justified. It has the expectation, delivery and dissolution that any good album should envy.

The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd’s crowning achievement, deserves an honorable mention, perhaps a footnote under true masterpieces of popular art music that came out the following year through other talents. King Crimson’s Red, Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Gentle Giant’s The Power and the Glory are albums that appear smooth and simple but are truly only so in appearance. An unseen force is channeled through their inner alignment: complexity is made to seem easy and complex thought condenses into naturally-flowing music that effectively suscitates clear images in the mind’s eye.

A Playlist: Going Under

moria

Article by David Rosales

It is no secret that we believe that the best of metal has come out mostly of what we now call ‘the underground’, a tradition that has been characterized by standing outside of the wheel of commercial production in the arts. The moment a band signs a contract, lands big deals and makes a break through while effectively becoming shackled to the money-making industry, it has sold out. This is because as a commercially-oriented product, its main purpose is to be able to sell, it has to pander to the preferences of a certain audience, however whimsical they are.

It is true that music must retain a natural connection to man and its true test is how different people receive it. But this is not the same as the populist idea that the best music is that which appeals to the largest number of people, which is nothing more than a dumbing down to the least common denominator. The authentic underground stands between independence from commercial pandering and the need to communicate naturally through organized sound itself (Editor’s note: At the best of times, it furthermore isn’t simply content to dwell on its alleged authenticity; cue the endless mockery of albums that are too “kvlt” to be any good).

The following are short underground metal works released throughout the nineties. These represent specific moments and sides of metal that were, at that particular moment, true to their roots and the spirit of metal. They stand out in each particular moment as either outstanding examples in a times of superficial distraction, decadence or a complete lack of direction across the underground metal movement.

gardens of grief

1. At the Gates – Gardens of Grief (1991)

A favorite underground EP of many for the wrong reasons, this first official release by At the Gates stands squarely on the pillars of traditional old school death metal while innovating a unique approach to songwriting which built a whole platform on top of its basis, elevating the progressive art of death metal to a whole other level of refinement.

divine eve

2. Divine Eve – As The Angels Weep (1993)

This single nostalgic (inherently, not in retrospect only) release from back in the day by this Texan outfit brought together gestures from early Celtic Frost and Cathedral within a Scandinavian death metal frame, succeeding in climaxing in its own voice during certain moments in between.

trolltaar

3. Ancient – Trolltaar (1995)

A condensation and evolution of their soul-enchanting debut, this EP shows Ancient at its darkest and most minimalist state, while displaying its most potent emotional impact that reaches out as an invisible hand to clutch at the listener’s heart (Note: Infamous’ Of Solitude and Silence seems to echo the feeling of this ancient-souled EP).

absurd_-_asgardsrei

4. Absurd – Asgardsrei (1999)

Crude and rhythmic, a simple and punk-like punch to the face in the time of metal emptiness, superficiality and posturing, Absurd’s roughness disguises the poetry of the tribesman’s spirit, the man following his instincts untouched by modernist presumptions of what reading of history and human nature better fits their interests.

Darth Vader’s Top 10 Underground Metal Songs

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Article by David Rosales

Child prodigy, genius wielder of the Force, Darth Vader was the result of an excess of talent and aptitude leading to a complete disregard for standards and rules, tradition and caution. The Dark Side’s poster boy was kind enough to impose his favorite 10 underground metal songs on us:

10. Master – Funeral Bitch

Don’t fail me again, Admiral.

9. Merciless – Dreadful Fate!

I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.

8. Massacra – Researchers Of Tortures

Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.

7. Bolt Thrower – World Eater

The Empire will compensate you, if he dies. Put him in.

6. Torchure – Genocidal Confessions

Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.

5. Blaspherian – In the Shadow of his Blasphemous Glory

I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.

4. Brutal Truth – I See Red

He is as clumsy as he is stupid!

3. Celtic Frost – Visual Aggression

No. Leave them to me. I will deal with them myself.

2. Destruction – Bestial Invasion

You underestimate the power of the Dark Side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny.

1. Profanatica – Angel With Cock

I have *felt* him, my master.

On The Music of Demilich

demilich-20th-adversary-of-emptiness

Article by David Rosales; get more perspective by also reading his article on Timeghoul

Much has been said about Demilich here and elsewhere, but remarkably little has been written about the potential of their music as ground for future bands to elaborate. For starters, the fact that Demilich has a solid fanbase and many admirers among professional musicians, but very few bands produce music in the same vein tells us that it is no easy task. This may also be due to the fact that most people tend to confuse appearances with mechanics, and mechanics in turn with character and essence. It seems to me that there is very little to elaborate, since Demilich is only distinctive at its very surface, in a very similar case to Immolation’s. Anything anybody may take from them besides this sort of surface plagiarism are the abstract concepts of loosening and playing with rhythm and mode consistently to achieve a distinctive sound. Perhaps even taking cues from their distinctive style could yield the foundation for the trademark sound of a younger band.

First, what makes Demilich stand out is their idiomatic approach to death metal that takes the best out of playing with tritones and off-putting harmonies in the context of the gore-flavored aura strand of the genre. Where Immolation goes for uncomfortable and dissonant, Demilich takes the modal/harmonic and rhythmic aspects of death metal to the extreme of this aural potential without incurring in the surface character deconstruction of Immolation’s coloring. Both of these bands, however, make use of standard death metal song-wide structuring techniques of the riff-salad kind with motific liaisons.

This surface extravagance coupled with an inner orthodoxy makes it very tricky for anyone to successfully extract the core of their teachings. In the case of Demilich even more so, since it is the silly side of their music’s character that stands out the most, making it particularly difficult to emulate them without producing obvious imitations. This may lead younger bands to think that a particularly derivative passage’s conspicuous appearance might be mitigated by mixing it into a hodgepodge of different styles and sounds. But to the perceptive listeners out there this will only sound like a motley fabric, a bag o’ tricks on display intended to fill in for actual content (Editor’s note: Have we told you about carnival music?).

Finally, superficial appreciation of the music of Demilich often leads fans to single out their music as “progressive”, as “opposed to traditional death metal”. Frequent readers of this site should immediately identify the grave mistake in this. Be that as it may, when you take the misunderstanding how progressive death metal in general is, and you put it together with the common metalhead’s idea of what progressive rock or metal is, you may begin to envision the monumental blunders that might come as a result.

Rather than insert Demilich-sounding passages into modern Dream Theater soundtracks, the young death metal musician might take head from the way Demilich balances out their outlandish sound. Demilich’s music, when seen at an abstract and aural level, can be divided into passages that are either more pounding, more syncopated or what we now call doom-laden (Demilich never stops too much in these power chord phrasal statements, though, so they do not really stand out). The emphasis on groove and the goofy-gore character is a constant that gives them their trademark sound.

The value of these concepts lies in learning how to produce sections that create variety within a narrative, with a distinctive and constant language that lends a personality of its own to the music. The narrative is produced through the equivalent of formal statements, developments, pauses for air, retaking of the topic, etc, in their musical manifestations. This is the greatest value of the best classic death metal bands: their outstanding ability to articulate.

A Playlist: Horror

horror

Article by David Rosales

The eighties, as any other decade, had its own particular flavor, and popular culture had turned to fantasy and horror as a sort of addictive drug. The most grueling slasher films with fake yet more tangible appearances than the digitized reproductions directed at desensitized audiences that we have today. It may be guessed that a lot of this was an outlet for repressed feelings of hopelessness towards the end of the Cold War, in the midst of death squad strikes and political assassinations throughout the world by the very pseudo protectors of liberty.

The menace of a nuclear holocaust made the idea of a post-apocalyptic scenario not so much the stuff of dreams but a possible (and plausible) future not more than a few decades ahead. There was terror in the air, as desperation and fear had already become the habit of a whole generation raised in the shadow of the fairy tales of the great wars and disarmed through the enhancing of shadows on the wall as their very protectors backstabbed them.

The kids born of this former failed generation of proper workmen and citizens grew to distrust all the bullshit thrown at them. Growing up in this era of tension and constant threats outside a bubble of hypocrisy and bigotry made young men of a more realist mentality long for the collapse of the system of lies built by the ‘mature and responsible’. This is the world that gave us death metal as Slayer’s lessons were ran through hardcore punk and then grindcore.

Cromags

1. Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel (1986)

Expressing the most bare-bones discontent with society with a sincerity that only the punk spirit can deliver, Cro-Mags adopt metal riff phrasing techniques to give further elaboration to paint pictures of collapse and humanity’s demise that are more grim and nihilistic than the lyrics themselves.

repulsion-horrified

2. Repulsion – Horrified (1989)

While Age of Quarrel is the image of a decadent civilization malfunctioning its way to its own zombification, Repulsion shows us the explosion and its aftermath. The first is fear of impending doom, this latter is terror, desperation and psychotic breakdown in the face of monstrous reality.

carnage

3. Carnage – Dark Recollections (1990)

Beneath the blatant visions of disaster and discomfort, the reveling in what is seen as an unavoidable outcome, or perhaps an already present state, is laughed at with the humor of a cancerous patient that knows no clean escape from his own impossible situation. It takes death metal to come out as the triumphant anti-hero, shotgun in hand, ready to do away with the weakness of modern man.

On The Music Of Timeghoul

timeghoul

Article by David Rosales

Timeghoul’s short lived existence gave us two excellent demos in 1992 and 1994. These both display very distinct facets of the project, each with their own merits and limitations. Even if we see the second as an evolution of the first, the first stands very firmly on its own ground. You could in fact argue that the second is not so much an evolution, as a different overall direction for the band.

The first release, Tumultuous Travelings, had a much more suffocating feeling to it, but already showcasing Timeghoul’s distinct personality, setting it apart from any contemporary. This distinction, however, is one of language and not one of technique; so that the casual onlooker might consider this first work to be a typical release for its time. In reality, once we acknowledge its allegiance to the traditions of death metal, the particular traits of Timeghoul’s music (even on Tumultuous Travelings) are anything but typical.

In 1994 came Panaramic Twilight (sic), which boasted of more explicitly progressive intentions, giving it automatic recognition in the mind of the same simple metalhead who passed off their first demo as standard. Seldom is it recognized that Timeghoul’s “progressive” qualities were already present on the first release, which is a trend that itself fails to stand out as few recognize these leanings in even the most developed death metal of the early 1990s. Timeghoul’s most significant development on Panaramic Twilight was that they stepped up the drama and Wagnerian soundtrack-like constructions, which required longer silences, longer notes and a wider variety of expression.

Now, when constructing music, composers have to strike a balance between intelligibility and variety (a.k.a. outer complexity). Most metal musicians, however, seem totally unaware of this, and this is why bands who, out of a humble degree of proficiency, produce simpler music have a more enduring impression on the audience in general. Aesthetic variety will not keep your interest if the music that underlies it is incoherent, muddy, and lacking in clarity. However, mere clarity is not enough; the image remains blurry if the overall picture has not been built with enough concrete purpose.

This is where Timeghoul excels; coherent and concrete purpose in songwriting is their most meaningful contribution to metal. They have opened this door to a world of possibilities within their paradigm of dramatic and obscure (rather than gory) death metal that does not require a band to clone their approach to follow in their steps. In comparison, trying to learn from Demilich or Immolation often results in blatant plagiarism, unless your efforts and results arise from a detailed technical analysis and are applied only in an abstract manner. Timeghoul compensates for the silences, rapid-fire changes in rhythms, and the use of texture to enhance different feelings in their music by using a very limited range of techniques. This is comparable to what At the Gates did on their own album. The techniques themselves aren’t numerous; nor are they extremely advanced. The band chooses a lexicon of technique, and relies on it consistently within a harmonic/modal framework that lends each song their own “harmonic feel” (arising from the interplay with the vocal’s timbre as well, I presume).

The wide range of expression is achieved through the types of arrangements and the changes in texture and rhythm, which are not selected at random like we saw in the work of Crematory. Timeghoul is very clearly telling a story and each bit of music, each switch from blast beat to silence, from frenetic power chord torrent to slow, single-note melody lines makes sense as a narrative. Timeghoul’s approach is not one of riff-salad, but rather more akin to that of an opera. In short, the music of Timeghoul provides another healthy avenue for metal musicians to explore. What you can learn from this unfortunately short-lived project on the abstract level is of far more value than what you can imitate by simply trying to emulate their sound. It is their intuitional organization that deserves praise; the powerful narrative element of Timeghoul’s music is a rare gem.