Deverills Nexion – The Sinister Tarot (2015)

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Here’s the problem with critiquing programmatic music: any criticism levied at a piece or album can be explained away, by its adepts or its authors, as a failure to understand the external reference points, or their connection to the music.

As its title suggests, The Sinister Tarot is based on a Tarot cycle, a subject on which this author is entirely ignorant; an ignorance that undoubtedly hampers his comprehension of the album. However, it is clear that Deverills Nexion have created a work that is meant to be experienced as a series of separate but ultimately related images, therefore, “development” as traditionally conceived is not to be expected.

This would not in and of itself be a problem if the individual songs, or “images,” were compelling enough on their own, regardless of whether or not one is acquainted with the program. This, however, is most often not the case. Songs tend to begin by establishing a sonic template, as opposed to a theme, and then wander around it for a while before fading away. These sonorities, though varied, are usually not very interesting on their own, or at best mildly so, consisting mostly of cheap synth pads and aimless guitar playing. These are occasionally enriched by other typical elements of the dark ambient palette, such as chanted vocals and nature samples. The unsurprising nature of the sonic range would again not necessarily be a problem were it not approached in so uninspired, almost idly derivative and predictable way.

Burzum’s Hliðskjálf used a similar set-up, and an even smaller sonic palette, but it worked because it was driven by truly remarkable themes, a feat The Sinister Tarot cannot boast of. The few melodies that do appear are unexceptional, lead to very little, and are easily forgotten. The album’s lack of strong melodic direction ends up looking like a technique with which to hide a lack of content: place the texture at the forefront of the music and let things glide quietly by. This is often a problem with ambient music, in which it stylistically accepted, and almost expected, for melody to be given the backseat. But the best practitioners of this style have always managed to overcome this challenge by using the texture itself as a compositional device; as an element to be treated and developed with as much care as melody or harmony. This is how artists such as Tangerine Dream create works of profound stillness and yet, simultaneously, of gripping intensity. However, this is not the case here. In fact, after a few songs dissipate slowly, one after the other, the listener is left with the worst possible feeling for an art form, such as music, that exists in time: that nothing has actually happened.

On the rare occasion in which a song does not end exactly where it began the transition is often unsatisfactory. These few instances of minimal development, such as in “The geryne of Satan” and “A Deverills man at the Bladuds Head,” are a case of too little and too late; tension rises momentarily only to disappointingly stutter back into the album’s habitual plod. The Deverills Nexion are definitely capable of writing some beautiful raw material, as evidenced by Ere the dancers depart and Bestride a corpse with my face, but even these tracks seem to simply sit there without accomplishing much, fidgeting impatiently. These moments of beauty sadden this particular author, as they are testament to the project’s potential, which, alas, remains but a ripple in a puddle.

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Miscellaneous Turn-of-the-Century-ish Recommendations

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In view of our recent emphasis on the fact that post-1994 metal landscape is a desert of creativity with very few well-realized projects, most of which were pretty underground efforts. By the turn of the century, death and black metal aesthetics had been absorbed into the mainstream mindset and so we can not automatically consider bands with said genre tags as underground. But the ones recommended below are, indeed, high-quality efforts (in the way of music writing) that were never hyped to any wide audience.

The turn of the century itself was one of the darkest moments in metal history when there was no relevant innovation being worked into metal. In place, a superficial re-mixing of styles done by the thousands became the obsession of scenes. Something had happened: Metal had reached its young adult life. Until now, childish enthusiasm and creativity had been enough for it to keep making discoveries. A spirit of rebellion  had propelled it in the search for a deeper romantic meaning that drove it forward. Once this bottomed out with with mid-nineties albums by projects like Burzum, Ildjarn and Summoning, it was evident that metal would have to rely on a refinement of its technical approach that could keep feeding the aesthetics needs of its spirit.

In the following recommendations, we have thrown some worthwhile non-metal releases that are also strongly recommended. The reader is encouraged to explore each of these with all their attention and in reflection of the trails that the golden era left that are only in recent years fully crystallizing into promising proposals for a real re-start and future based on the previously mentioned refinement applied to a study and digestion of the older spirit in order for the genre to continue. This future is precisely what metal needs and not a return to anything. The past is the past. Metal must look ever ahead if it is to be an artistic movement with life. This post is in part to honor those releases and to offer a glimmer of hope that although metal is suffocated, it is not dead.

Summoning – Stronghold (1999)

Mütiilation – Remains of A Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul  (1999)

Worship – Last Tape Before Doomsday (1999)

Tenhi – Kauan (1999)

Jordi Savall & Ton Koopman – J.S. Bach, Die Sonaten Für Viola Da Gamba Und Cembalo (2000)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwxeE5LGgdA&feature=youtu.be

Paysage D’Hiver – Paysage d’Hiver (2000)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OgCIIqUzkI

Antaeus – Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan (2000)

Immolation – Close to a World Below (2000)

Gorguts – From Wisdom to Hate (2001)

 

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VI releases De Praestigiis Angelorum preview track

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VI, the French black metal supergroup comprised of members from Antaeus and Aosoth, has released the improbably-named “Il est trop tard pour rendre gloire. Ainsi la lumière sera changée en ombre de la mort.” sample track from De Praestigiis Angelorum, permitting a short review.

Like later Antaeus, this band is hollow. It is not outright fake, but it aims to control your mind by pleasing you with surface characteristics and missing what lies beneath. Much as the first Antaeus had possibility in that it attempted to upkeep some of the ideas of the past that worked, but never quite got there, and then the band backed off of that direction with later releases, VI has a strong surface of old school black metal — fast rhythms, the right minor-key riffs, the right texturing of melody and grinding — but at its core there is nothing. You might look at this as simply a better take on Deathspell Omega, but there is no transcendent passion in these songs, only a somewhat cynical knowledge of how to make music sound brainy and violent at the same time.

What propelled original black metal was a strong emotionality based in a worldview inspired by logical analysis, not social feelings, about human problems. VI reverses this with a song about the social feeling of belong in black metal and thinking how austere, relentless and different you are just for listening to this, and yet it has no substance. The band ably combines two riffs and variations for the initial part, then drifts off into a patchwork of ideas that fit together rhythmically but crush any chance for expressing a consistent or developing theme. What you get is like American beer: it has all the right ingredients, in the wrong order, with no idea uniting it all except to please the average fool for long enough that he will buy it again. Avoid this FMP/NWN release.

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Heavy metal linked to systemic thinking

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Researchers have found that heavy metal fans tend to be systemic thinkers, leading to the supposition that systemic thinkers like heavy metal because its structure, themes or musicality rewards those who think on a systemic level. As one summary read:

Participants were then subjected to 50 short pieces of music spanning 26 different styles, and asked to give each a rating between one and 10.

People who scored highly on empathy were more likely to be drawn to R&B, soft rock and folk.

In contrast those who score more highly on systemising tended to like music by heavy metal bands and more complex, avant-garde jazz.

In other words, people who think at an empathic level reward music which is emotional on its surface, but those who think structurally and broadly like metal fans tend to only feel rewarded when the emotion emerges from the conflicts within the music itself, more like “set/setting” than adding some minor notes to a melody or dramatic vocals.

As research finds many ways further into metal, the conclusion becomes clear that people like metal for different reasons than other mainstream music. While metal academia itself has not raised this point directly, this research and other recent revelations about the mentality of metal suggest that direction is a rewarding area of study.

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Sammath to reissue debut LP on Hammerheart

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Sammath unleashed its debut album Strijd in 1999 to not much fanfare. The black metal community had essentially collapsed under a wave of Dimmu Borgir/Cradle of Filth clones, and the underground had retreated to the Full Moon Productions board to re-style punk riffs as black metal and make boring music that is forgotten at this time. Almost no one wanted to simply keep their eye on what had worked and make it return.

As our review published at the time opined, however, Strijd succeeded because it conveyed both the elegance and violence of black metal, instead of becoming a top hatted children’s show satire focusing only on what the Thomas Kinkade fans of the world think is “elegant” (in America at least, every pretentious but incompetent person must have at least one Thomas Kinkade painting, Ansel Adams print, and dreamcatcher). Sammath brought back the ancient feeling, the meditative look at a life shrouded in darkness, and the misanthropy and intolerance for stupidity and lies that made black metal so satisfying in the midst of the lie-drenched 1990s.

Hammerheart Records has been focusing more of its attention on resurrecting classics and picking out modern bands with the same power, which seems to signal that the great metalcore trend is on the wane and people are looking for the kind of power they found in traditional metal genres, again. Strijd delivers this in high-powered generous doses but also maintains its introspective side, creating the perfect melancholic warrior album for a dying world. Although a date for the vinyl re-issue has not been specified, it is something to look forward to sometime in the latter half of 2015.

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Deverills Nexion releasing A Sinister Tarot on Ajna Offensive

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Cult ritual ambient/discovered sounds band Deverills Nexion will release its upcoming The Sinister Tarot – A Musickal Working, Instruments Modern and Voice LP with a 12 page A5 booklet via Ajna Offensive later this month. Consisting of ritual formatting to instrumental and natural sounds, the music of Deverills Nexion fits in with bands such as Lull and Lustmord who create background ambient, although with an occult flair.

The LP will be distributed in Europe by The Sinister Flame (email them to reserve a copy), and is also available from the band website. The band describes the work with the following press release:

The Sinister Tarot is a variant of the “standard” tarot. It is described fully in the Order of Nine Angles’ key guide to practical Satanism, NAOS. Each track is an interpretation in sound of a specific card (from the major arcana only for the purposes of this “album”).

The musick herein can be seen as well as heard, being a spontaneous manifestation expressed through the magickal meditations of each element, associative and dissociative, linear or otherwise. The musick, like that of the individualized tarot cards of the sinister deck, being self-divined, self-made, self-sourced to a largely personal degree, still has immense relevance for others as it further informs and enriches the egregore of the Septenary path that is ONA.

With visualizations in sound of:
Col Cruachan, the hill of the wizard (1. The Magickian)
Forest tides (4. Lord of the Earth)
Inversely twisting oak gibbet (12. The Hanged Man)
The geryne of Satan (8. Change)
Sisters of the starry mere (10. Wyrd)
Ere the dancers depart (19. The Sun)
A Deverills man at the Bladud’s Head (20. The Aeon)
The glade of flowery broken skulls (3. Mistress of Earth)
Bestride a corpse with my face (14. Hel)
A curious long barrow view, one of many (0. The Fool)
Dawn’s flow (17.The Star)

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Blood Urn – …of Gory Sorcery and Death (2014)

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Blood Urn is a death metal project whose approach to the genre is one that can reinvigorate it while being very traditional. Superficially, a listener who only glances over the surface of …Of Sorcery and Death may incorrectly say this is an old school album, a modern euphemism for retro-acts or merely those who do not play the metalcore-based so-called technical death metal. It is true that this is an old school release, but only in the sense that it upholds the same ideals of the best of that era, including certain preferences in aesthetics as a reflection of an inner attitude — an idea that stands in contrast with the superficial selection of genres and expressions of modern bands that wear style as a change of clothes to pose as something they are not.

If we made the mistake of approaching this distinction like most clueless people do, that is, with a shopping list of the aesthetic characteristics that usually accompany a genre in order to identify it, we would definitely arrive at the same conclusions. That is why premises are as important as having good logic. Wrong premises and good logic only lead you safely to wrong conclusions. But if we start with the premise that those aesthetic characteristics are only the reflection of a spirit which is much more than intention or purpose but also crystallized significance, we will recognize that the shopping-list approach is at best a collection of hints and not a concrete definition.

Blood Urn …Of Sorcery and Death is a death metal (‘old school’ death metal is the only one, with various regional styles) album in the truest sense. A death metal at heart and in representation. The expressions that seem typical of death metal are used here in what can be accurately described as progressive without incurring in the fallacy that all disparate appending of music qualifies as such.  In accordance with death metal tradition, music builds up through structural devices: mainly through variation and manipulation of theme with a climax and a clear musical goal in mind for an end.  By musical goal we mean one as defined by traditional classical theory, not by the “good intentions” of the music writer. Intention and realization are two different and distinguishable things, something relativists and individualists would do well to keep in mind.

While varied in expression, Blood Urn manages to remain fairly coherent, choosing to tie different textures in a mix that also incorporates the riff-salad approach. In this, it is somewhat similar to the way Horgkomostropus Lúgubre Resurrección builds in a very typical death metal push and pull between structural theme-play and variation and contrasting ideas that are brought gradually into the fold, first as a splash of cold water to the listener and then in gradual integration through interleaving and recombination of sections and themes. It is important to say that in good death metal fashion, the limit of the contrasting ideas does not break away from the chosen style, which is the sin of many a pseudo-prog outfit. This conjoined approach of dealing structural development from a theme with one and then riff-salad with the other only to increasingly interleave them and sometimes ultimately fuse them into altogether different endings can be referenced in masterful albums such as At the Gates’ The Red in the Sky is Ours and is also the approach of Blood Urn to music composition, albeit with a much more humble and less-layered result.

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Can we admit that metalcore is the glam metal of our time?

glam_metal_will_give_you_aids

In the early 1990s, a new music burst forth. The dark sounds of Black Sabbath and the guitar-oriented heavy rock of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin merged and, through the wizardry of Hollywood-style image, became a new genre that hyper-extended the characteristics of the most rebellious music in the previous generation of rock. This was called glam metal, and you may recognize it by names like Motley Crue, Poison, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Cinderella, Van Halen, Ratt and Winger.

Glam metal stood out from other rock at the time. It was more technical, featuring early shred guitar wizardry, and more visual, incorporating gender-bending into its image as well as tattoos, long hair and leather. For the radio music of the era, it was one of the more advanced and outside the mainstream sounds one could purchase at the local record shack. Kids liked it because it drove parents mad; politicians responded by trying to criminalize it with Tipper Gore and the PMRC targeting glam metal bands for their overly-sexual lyrics about outré topics such as drugs, suicide and promiscuity.

What makes glam metal stand out is to look at the backdrop of music at the time. Most bands were taking advantage of newly-available electronic instruments and more options in the studio, and were focused more toward being synthpop or album-oriented rock. The nascent indie rock movement, to explode with bands like REM and U2, dwelt still in the basements. Punk had died and punk hardcore was unlistenable by most, as were bands like Motorhead and the NWOBHM who were still just a bit too loud, and too controversial. Glam allowed people to be rebels without really rebelling against anything, because glam rock was just what David Bowie and Sid Vicious were doing with the actual danger removed and all the imagery turned up to eleven.

Compare this to the present time. Radio is much louder, and rap-based music has replaced synthpop. Indie rock became huge and expanded into emo and post-Joy Division quasi guitar ambient bands. The old dad rock like Springsteen and Mellencamp faded like an autumn sunset, and while millions of niches exist, most people hit up the big favorites. Metal is the radio now, too, and thanks to nu-metal — the second generation of rap/rock — people are accustomed to heavy distortion, detuned guitars and raucous drums. People wearing bizarre costumes and masks while acting out self-destructive tropes are common. What remains to shock the parents of today?

Much like glam metal, metalcore attempts to pick everything that stood out in the past generation and amplify it. The introspective despair of indie rock joins the progressive stylings of 90s bands and the whine of alternative rock; the proto-djent of Pantera and Helmet shows up as well, alongside the deliberately random songwriting of emo and post-hardcore bands. Add them all together and you have a template for making infinite music: an aesthetic of randomness, with high technicality, and metal power but not its threatening antisociality, melded together into a product that is more like a jam session than a planned event. This resembles what happened after progressive rock fiddled the first time, and jam bands showed up that merged jazz, progressive and rock into expanded-format songs that wandered. Metalcore can take any form, whether melodic death metal or math-influenced grindcore, because it is at heart a philosophy much like glam was. It takes what shocked the last generation, adds it all together, and ramps up the imagery to deliver a “new” (old) product.

If we are honest, we will admit that metalcore is the glam metal of today. Designed to shock, it pretends at being “underground” only to keep its indie cred, and relies on the disturbing self-absorption of indie and emo to make parents quake. Formed of too many elements to support together in one coherent genre, it focuses on incoherence, and ties it together with imagery. It emphasizes technicality, which thanks to endless instructional videos and better access to guitar equipment (thanks Guitar Center!) has cranked up a notch, but uses it as a means to the end of its appearance. While band members no longer dress up in clothing of the opposite gender and tease their hair, they perform the equivalent through their embrace of passivity, feminism and self-pity as fundamental values. This shocks parents as much as glam metal did, and has correspondingly bad effects on metal as a whole.

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Economics of metal

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Metal is fun and this is one of its greatest strengths. But great strengths are also great weaknesses, and the fun in metal leads to people to assume the usual forces do not act within it. One such force is economics, both in the sale of music and the sale of attention.

We can visualize the metal world as a giant economy based on who is listening to and talking about which release. Money is replaced by stereo-hours (or earbud-hours) with those being of unequal value. For example, a record company exec or top-ranked writer listening to an album may have more import than the average fan because such a role in the metal economy means that the exec or writer lures more people to specific releases. Both writers and execs make their money by betting on a type of stock market where the releases they choose as important either rise or fall, with corresponding consequences for the career in question.

With this in mind, we can look at the flow of new releases as a type of market. The more releases there are, the less each one is valuable; the more accurate information there is about new music, the more likely consumer choice is to be informed choice and reflect some measure of quality. When there are too many releases, all are disproportionately worth more, with the big mainstream bands — analogous to blue chip stocks — seeming like better options to the consumer than taking a chance in a sea of bands that seem to be about equal in potential. When all record reviews praise every new album, consumers have no information, and turn toward buying from established bands, even if the quality is sub-par.

Similarly, the effect of digital downloading can be modeled. Leaving aside purchases of digital music for a moment, we can look at the effects of downloading the latest releases from mega.nz or torrents. When the cost is free, the consumer may value that album less, but more importantly, the consumer is suddenly swimming in utter tons of music. If you have 500gb of death metal on your hard drive, it is unlikely that you will have the time or energy to listen to even a tenth of that. The more music that is downloaded, the less any particular release is likely to get stereo-hours.

Looking even further, we can see the impact of the metal community. When the metal community is supportive of every release that comes out, it means that none stand out and as a result, all get fewer listens. Where a healthy economy has some clear winners, a blind endorsement for all releases means that consumers know nothing about differences between them in quality — leaving aside aesthetic/genre for the moment — and so end up purchasing blindly or not at all. When digital downloads are available for free, or streaming online is free, the consumer sees less of a reason to visit a band for more than a few listens.

And extending this a bit further, the more similar bands are to one another, both aesthetically and in quality, the less likely consumers are to choose any one. This type of “heat death” of the metal markets occurs when consumers lack information about bands or cannot find substantial differences between them. At that point, the smart strategy for a metal listener is to download something new on a regular basis and listen to it for a few weeks because, heck, it is about like every other release in quality and sound. They know it will last for only a few weeks, so there is no point in buying it. I suggest that it is this phenomenon — a glut of similar-sounding and similar-quality metal bands — and not digital piracy itself that is terrorizing the music industry.

Industries tend to respond to a narrowing of the market by increasing frequency of product release. This in turn creates a glut, and tends to drive quality down, because in order to release regularly they need people who will bash out something obvious instead of spend time ruminating on it. Further, industry does not want expensive single units, as occur when musicians try to make a career of it, but — much like information technology hiring — prefer the young and clueless who they can use to make a release or two for low cost. All of these contribute to an oversupply of releases, a situation which is made worse by the tendency of journalists to champion almost all of these releases, which makes consumers less likely to purchase any single one.

Let us then consider the role of the Elitist. If we use the non-hipster definition of elitist, the term comes to mean those who prefer quality over quantity. That means that instead of 500gb of similar-sounding and similar-quality bands, this person wants 50gb of high-quality bands that may or may not be similar-sounding. Elitists create a different type of pressure on the metal market, which is concentration: they create winners who rise above the herd, because the non-hipster elitist also tends to be a type of “power user” of metal who spreads information to friends and influential people. When an elitist likes something, unlike when an average person does, the consumer is offered a strong signal of quality or interest. This creates a tendency to rely on elitists more, much like experienced music consumers read the cynical reviewers because they do not have the time or energy to sort through many indistinguishable releases.

Elitists may be the answer to the music industry’s woes. With labels releasing as fast as they can, and journalists praising almost everything, the result is a “heat death” of the market. When elitists step in and separate the good from the merely adequate, this creates contours to the market and allows some bands to win, which creates a pressure on bands to not simply produce, but produce well, encouraging an expenditure of more time, thought and effort on the releases in question. These elitists are distinct from hipster elitists, who do not value quality over quantity but value novelty over both, and specialize in bands that — whether good or bad, as the hipster elitist is agnostic to quality — are weird, quirky, odd or ironic. This creates a market pressure that rewards the trivial and manufactures niches which can then be further developed by non-hipster elitists who sort the best above the rest.

Similarly, since online downloading does not appear to be going away, the non-hipster elitist serves a role in making downloading work for the music industry: by selecting some bands as good, they signal that these are worth buying while the others are merely worth downloading. We have no data on how many people who download actually listen to the music they capture, but one thought is that like many collectors of free things, they simply hoard it — especially since they lack the time to actually listen to all of it. The average person may be able to hear twelve hours of music a day, but they can probably only listen to five or six before they lose track of the differences. Listening requires concentration and not very many people have even four hours a day to actually pay attention to music.

As an explorer of metal music, I have downloaded at least 500gb in my lifetime. 99% of it goes right back to where it came: ashes to ashes, bits to zeroes. The remaining one percent gets purchased and, from informal conversations with other metalheads, I am far from alone in this. For this reason, I have for years encouraged “natural selection” downloading, because it means that instead of buying blind, consumers devote their attention to music that they like. Streaming sites like Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud and ReverbNation have arisen to address this need, and informally many users report scanning those tracks before deciding to make an illegal download. Whether or not the user eventually purchases the music, it is succeeding in the market for attention, and this leads to its propagation among metalheads and greater likelihood of being purchased.

Few will say so publicly, but in private many journalists, fans and workers in the industry will admit that metal has lost quality massively since 1994. Not coincidentally, its popularity has been steadily rising since that time, as has its availability. While many blame the internet and digital downloads for collapse of metal, the model above suggests that it is not the means of consumption, but the glut of the market that is causing the woes of the music industry and fans alike. While unpopular, non-hipster elitists may represent a solution to this problem.

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Kaeck releases new track “Akolieten van de nacht” from Stormkult

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In preparation for their upcoming album Stormkult, which sees release on Folter Records worldwide on August 28, Kaeck has released a new track “Akolieten van de nacht” which shows the internal variation of this powerful album. Detouring more into classic black metal territory, Kaeck nonetheless give it a tour de force renovation with simple but powerful riffs in a contexture of ideas that creates a constant rush of discovery.

Folter Records has made Kaeck Stormkult available for pre-order in its digital shop. Having heard the album, I look forward to it being unleashed into the light like a demon escaping from hell, and bringing the typical intolerant occultism and vigilant Nietzschean Darwinism that defines the black metal genre.

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