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 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.
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:
Serpent Ascending – The Enigma Unsettled (2011)
Atlantean Kodex – The Golden Bough (2010)
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’.
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.
Article by Johan P.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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”
2016 marks twenty years since the release of Immolation’s sophomore album Here In After. Completely leaving speed metal convention behind, dissonant riffing and jazzy drumming weld into an infernal, polyrythmic Bosch canvas. All songs burn narratively: verses melt into Vigna’s Luciferian leads. These guitar heroics marshaling the hellfire make Here In After a dawn-bringer for the uninitiated in Immolation. Crucify the criminal Christ again!