Profile: Salva Rubio, author of Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011)

extreme_metal-30_years_of_darkness_1981-2011As mentioned in an earlier article, Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) is a new book revealing the history of underground/extreme metal. Unlike many such efforts, this book approaches the topic from an academic perspective and avoids trying to celebrate the commercial or popular phenomenon.

Salva Rubio, an author and screenwriter in Spain, wrote Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) in his native Spanish and hopes to have it translated to English and other languages. The book “includes essays about the ethical and aesthetic nature of Extreme Metal, a formal account of what distinguishes each style and how they are meant to be played, a chronological, style-by-style story of how each kind of Extreme Metal evolved.”

Approaching metal as a history is antithetical to what many in the buying public expect from entertainment-related topics. They expected the fan-focused features that celebrate how much interest the genre has created, and how its individual members react and feel. While that approach makes the music identifiable to the listener, Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) takes another approach, which is to tell the story of the music through its evolution and let the whole story show what influenced individuals, and not the other way around.

Fortunately for us out here in death metal appreciation land, author Salva Rubio was willing to give us a brief run-down on the book, his connection to and inspiration in metal, and the status of the book and possible translation.

What’s your personal history in extreme metal? How did you discover it, what interested you about it, and how did you end up writing about it?

I remember quite well the first time I ever listened to Extreme Metal! I guess it was in ’91 or ’92 when I was already into rock and I bought one of those anime VHS tapes released by Manga Video (it could be “Fist of the North Star,” awesome series!). Then I hit the play button and “The Heart Beneath” by Celtic Frost, which played as an intro, simply blew my mind. As I say, at the time I didn’t have a clue about which band or song was that, since I didn’t have friends who were into Extreme Metal. But with a little bit of research, I started discovering other bands and as they say, the rest is history.

About what interested me, it was rather an intuitive thing: I simply loved the strength, passion and power that that kind of music emanated, and as I read the lyrics, I discovered that very serious and rebellious themes were sung, and at that time in my teenage years metal philosophy played the most important role in my development as a human being.

How did I end up writing about it? When I was studying my degree of Arts History back in 2003, we had this “Music History” subject, focused on classical music. The teacher was a really open-minded guy, so I asked him if he knew anything about Extreme Metal. I remember how he asked back “Do you mean heavy Metal?” — “No, I mean Extreme Metal.” He was so intrigued that he asked me to write a paper on its history, and although he later jokingly admitted that the music itself horrified him, he thought it was formally interesting and worthy of academic attention, and that I should write a book about it and he even offered to publish the book… But unfortunately, he died soon after. A few years later, my life was going through big changes and Metal helped me again deal with all that, so I thought I had to give something in return and write the goddamned book. It resulted in a 250,000+-word, 600+ page mammoth that has given me some of the greatest satisfaction in my life.

How did you pick the dates (1981-2011) for the book?

As I will explain later, this is a rather formalistic book, which means that its main focus is music itself, its structures, its sound, its ways of being played. Thus, musically speaking I think Extreme Metal is born when Punk and Heavy Metal collide with Motörhead, and I think the first band to assimilate those influences in the coherent way that others will formally, ethically and aestethically follow is Venom in Welcome to Hell, precisely in 1981. Just think of the influence it had on Hellhammer, Bathory and everything that came next.

As for the closing date, I started writing the book around 2009 and soon I realized that 2011 would complete a 30 year period in a nice, round way. My publisher agreed so I had to write it during all of 2010 and 2011 until its publication in December that year.

When will the book be available in other languages such as English?

That is a good question, since we are still looking for a publisher! Regarding this, any interested publisher would like to know that in Spanish language we have reached the Fourth Edition in less than two years, and it is currently selling well in Spain, Mexico, Colombia Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela and Perú and hopefully soon it will reach Argentina, Ecuador and other Latin American countries. I already have even an offer to publish it in Polish language once the English version is out.

Should a traditional (paper) publisher be interested in the book, it could be out in a year or less, I guess. There is another angle I am considering, and that is self-publishing it as a series of e-books (one for each style) because it’s hard to sell a 600-page book in e-book format, mostly because of the price it would have. I don’t like that much the idea of splitting the book into smaller volumes but this way at least I would be in control of when and where it’s released. If I finally go this way, maybe along 2014 the first volumes could be released, on my own budget (hard) or maybe after a kickstarter campaign (easier).

Anyway, as you can check in www.extrememetalbook.com, anyone can help get the book published just by drawing the attention of your favorite publishing house to the book. Please support this project as true underground always does!

Can you tell us more about the book? Is it mostly a history, a list of bands, interviews, or some combination of the above? How much is pictorial content?

As I advanced before, the book is a formalistic essay. This is very important; I am NOT a journalist or a critic, I am a Historian. That means my goal was to create a historical narration of how the music itself was created and how it has evolved over the years. What I have done is putting some order in the styles and sub-styles tree, creating a “botany” if you want: classification of bands according to the style they have helped to build.

That means there are around ten main styles (Pioneers, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Swedish & Melodic Death Metal, Grindcore & Goregrind, Industrial Metal, Gothic Doom & Gothic Metal, Black Metal and Progressive/Avantgarde Metal), each style being a container for further sub-styles, such as Classical Death Metal, Technical Death Metal and Brutal Death Metal in the (obviously) Death Metal universe and Classical Black Metal, Norwegian Black Metal, Symphonic Black Metal, Melodic Black Metal, Death/Black Metal in the Black Metal Universe, and each of them even have their own variants, of course. The goal was to create a logical flow of music development, searching for the, again, formal paths that influences have made each style evolve and split into new sub-styles.

As for the pictorial content, the Spanish edition has about 20 pages of color and black and white photography in separate pages, most taken by myself. As for the English edition, I can’t say how much pictorial content it will feature; I just can say that I have a big personal archive, so we shouldn’t be short on this.

To write this book, I first thought of interviewing bands, as it is usually done by journalists or even critics, but it did not work. Mainly because it usually happens that many musicians are not really aware of the exact kind of music they are playing, and also, many of them like to say that they don’t play in any known style but their own, which is of course, formally impossible. Others claim to play a style (as in “Viking Metal”) which does not represent really a musical style, but an aesthetic tendency: “Viking” bands as Enslaved, Tyr or Amon Amarth play different styles of metal, so they belong to different chapters in the book. I also tend to use more “formally and historically accurate” terminology in conjunction with the traditional one: Classical Death Metal = Old School Death Metal.

As for the structure of the book, each chapter features an introduction, a technical (instrumental) analysis of the style, a lyrical analysis and its development through various stages in the last 30 years. I suggest you check the self-explaining table of contents: http://extrememetalbook.com/table_of_contents.html.

Anyway, something very important to note is that I don’t want this book to tell THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH in an exclusive, self-aggrandizing way. I see it as a contribution to the many studies that are being done on Extreme Metal. Those looking for pope-or-guru-like pontifications will not find it. Those looking for a fresh edge on how Extreme Metal has evolved and developed will enjoy it. You all know the story, I am just telling it in a different way that might make see you your favorite music in a new light (or darkness!).

How did you pick which bands to interview/include?

I used two sets of criteria for choosing the bands: first, obviously, any band who has had an influence over a style, created it, subverted it, re-created it, etc, that is, every band that has kept the machine running is featured. On the other hand, there are the bands, usually lesser known except for the underground, that have inherited their elders’ lessons and have developed them.

The development of each of those band’s histories have been covered in short biographies focused on their evolution throughout their subsequent releases, without filler as discographies, personnel changes, etc. I wanted the book to be readable from cover to cover and these entries are meant to provide an introduction to each band.

And of course, I have NOT tried to make something like a cold-data-encyclopedia (that’s why Metal Archives exists) or something like “the definitive list of.” I loathe those approaches and my choice is to be (and necessarily must be) a product of the Extreme Metal I have been exposed to throughout my lifetime. Suggestions are welcome, of course.

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Interview: Nelson Varas Díaz

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As part of our ongoing look at metal in academia, we speak with Professor Nelson Varas Díaz, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico and is one of the sponsors of the upcoming “Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience” academic conference.

The upcoming conference will attempt to define “community” in heavy metal and has uncovered some interesting starting points. If nothing else, it shows the broadening of academic interests in metal. For more examples, read Professor Varas Díaz’s description of his research and its practical applications below. Where academia once focused on metal as a narrow field, it is now an inter-disciplinary study used to apply that knowledge back to other specialized fields.

We were fortunate to get a few moments via email with Professor Varas Díaz to discuss the conference, his research, his past and most importantly, his views of and participation in heavy metal as both art form and community.

Are you a metalhead? If so, what got you into metal, and what keeps you into it? What type(s) of metal do you like?

I listen to metal music constantly. I am always looking for something new that helps push boundaries of what I listen to within the genre and that continues to surprise me. I listen to metal music across the spectrum… everything from traditional, thrash, death, and progressive metal.

I think that, like most of the people I have met that enjoy metal music, social alienation was an important part of getting into this style of music. I will be the first to recognize that as a young man I felt very much isolated from traditional institutions. It seemed like one had to give up something of oneself to be part of the group, and metal music did not ask that of me. I know this sounds cliché… but at that young age it was very much my reality. There are many other reasons why people become interested in metal music… but that was mine.

Being part of a metal community in Puerto Rico, in the late 80s and early 90s was exciting, and I felt that I could be myself there. Of course, now I can see that process with some years of experience under my belt and recognize it for what it was with strengths and limitations. I am always very careful not to romanticize these experiences, as metal communities can also expect you to mold to certain standards (i.e. dress codes, behavior codes). It is a matter of learning to live within this apparent contradiction between individuality/collectiveness.

I like to think that I have “returned” to the metal community in Puerto Rico as a product of our study with its local scene. The study has been ongoing for the past two years and the first four publications on the project will come out in 2014 as book chapters and papers in peer-reviewed journals. Metal in general keeps me intellectually and emotionally engaged.

You’ve come up with a stumper here: how does metal define community? Is there more than one metal community?

That is an important question… I think people who are engaged in metal music throw the word “community” around as if we were all talking about the same thing. That is understandable because the concept is so frequently used that we don’t take the time to explore its implications.

As a researcher, my instinct tells me to take two steps back and explore the idea in all its potential complexities. A conversation with individuals from different settings will immediately show you how metal communities can be very different depending on their context, and still feel part of a larger metal community throughout the world. So yes… I believe we should always refer to metal communities in recognition of the plurality of experiences that are encompassed in the process of being part of a collective group. But that is not enough… and complexity always shows its face in this discussion.

Some example of this complexity include the role of the market in developing communities that are not organic, gender dynamics within communities, LGBTT issues, just to name a few areas that are currently being addressed by metal scholars working with the concept of community. Academically, concepts like tribes, emotional communities, functional communities, geographical communities, border communities, and scenes are used to describe the idea that we are connected. Some of these concepts overlap, while others include very different criteria for what constitutes a community.

I hope that the conference will allow us to continue a discussion on how we are connected, while also recognizing the complexities that we still need to address in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.

What do you hope to achieve with this conference? Who is coming? Is it open to lay people (non-academics) such as fans, bands, zines, labels and promoters?

I hope that the conference allows attendants to continue a discussion that began in the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference that took place in Ohio in 2013. That was a simply amazing event that pushed the field of Metal Studies to new heights.

We will have visiting scholars from the UK, the US, and Brazil. These include: Keith Kahn-Harris (University of London, UK), Niall William Richard Scott (University of Central Lancashire, UK), Deena Weinstein (DePaul University, USA), Karl Spracklen (Leeds Metropolitan University,UK), Jeremy Wayne Wallach (Bowling Green State University, USA), Amber Clifford-Napoleone (University of Central Missouri, USA), Brian A. Hickam (Benedictine University, USA), Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo (Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, BR), and myself (University of Puerto Rico, PR).

The conference is free of charge and will be streamed over the Internet for those that can’t make it to Puerto Rico (more details soon on our facebook page). I am sure that non-academics will be an important part of the event and that the local metal scene will support this venture. In fact, the Puerto Rico Metal Alliance and Thrash Corner Records will be cosponsoring the event. These are two historically important institutions in Puerto Rico’s metal scene.

We will also have a concert with local artists Organic, Ortiz and Dantesco (more details soon).

What do you think the study of metal has to offer academia at large?

Heavy Metal Studies has a lot to offer academia. The one thing that I think people in academia are surprised to see is that we engage in areas that are truly interdisciplinary. As a social psychologist, I have shared panels with philosophers, musicologists and musicians while we address metal as a subject of interest. I have had to expand my field of inquiry to converse with others. That is something that is severely lacking in academia. Most people are stuck in their fields and have a hard time letting go. I welcome that experience and hope it helps other academic settings see it as a possibility. This year I have a presentation on metal music in a local psychology conference. My presentation is entitled “Letting go of psychology” as a testament to how engaging in metal studies has required me to change how I think about and approach these subjects.

Do you think the study of metal has picked up lately? Why, if so?

I think there are several reasons. First, we must recognize the work of pioneers in the field like Deena Weintein and Robert Walser. Those books set the stage, at least from my perspective, for the growing number of academic endeavors in the field. Second, more recent books published by Keith Kahn Harris on extreme metal and Jeremy Wallach, Harris Berger and Paul Greene on the global aspects of metal have pushed these reflections even further.

Also, the continuing number of conferences that have been organized played a vital role in strengthening metal studies. Take for example the Heavy Fundamentalisms conference organized by Niall Scott and Rob Fisher for Interdisciplinary.net and the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference organized by Jeremy Wallach, Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo, Amber Clifford-Napoleone, Matthew A. Donahue, Brian Hickam, and Esther Clinton at Bowling Green University. Those were excellent conferences that have yielded great discussions (and upcoming publications) that have strengthened the field.

In terms of organization, the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) has played a vital role in promoting metal studies. Also, the new journal Metal Music Studies edited by Karl Spracklen will help strengthen the field in terms of publications. I am part of the editorial board of the journal and am really excited about where it will lead. These are just some examples of individuals that are collectively working very hard to promote metal music studies through different mechanisms. They are joined by so many others that systematically engage in research with little support and resources.

Can you describe your own studies, both in metal and outside of it, and what you think they have contributed to academic knowledge?

Most of my research outside of metal music is related to social stigmatization and health. It has focused on developing strategies to train health professionals to address the needs of marginalized populations without letting prejudice influence social interactions. Now you will say… what does that have to do with metal music? Well, I frequently use heavy metal lyrics to discuss how social stigmatization influences people’s lives. So metal music found a way into my classroom long before I engaged in metal studies. After attending the Heavy Fundamentalisms Conference in 2010 I decided to engage heavily in metal studies as a central area of study and focus on the Caribbean region where literature on the subject is scarce.

My current project aims to explore the development of Puerto Rico’s metal while focusing on the social, historical and cultural factors that have helped shape it. My team is composed by Eliut Rivera, Sigrid Mendoza, and Osvaldo Gonzalez who are graduate students. The study has a mixed methods approach using ethnographic observation, qualitative interviews, and quantitative questionnaires to documents our subjects of interest. We are using these findings to complete a documentary on the local scene, which should be out in early 2014. You can follow our progress through our facebook page entitled Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies. Our first data-gathering trip to the Dominican Republic will be in 2014, to continue expanding our study to other Caribbean scenes.

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Treblinka – Shrine of the Pentagram

treblinka_(tiamat)-shrine_of_the_pentagramBack in the hazy days of the 1990s, when society was so innocent it thought it could overcome its problems with better television, Tiamat showed up on the radar screens in a big way.

Basically staying away from bands of its nature, which struck me as more of older styles of metal than death metal, I never fully investigated the band until Clouds. My response was to withdraw in horror. Not only did Tiamat exude older metal, it also exuded rock, specifically the sensitive man alternative college radio kind!

However, I was alone in this opinion. Others praised Tiamat and said it was the future of death metal; this opinion seemed to be very popular at the time. People told me I just didn’t get its evil aura, and were incensed that I found the band laughable. This was the true Swedish metal, I was told, not the washed-out stuff like Entombed.

I was a false, in other words, and I should not have entried.

That copy of Clouds I ditched in the radio station office and left it to the ravages of time. It may still be there. Tiamat dropped off the radar a half-decade later. I never understood why I didn’t like this band until now, having heard Shine of the Pentagram.

I’ll get the blasphemies out of the way: this band is in many ways a prototype for Opeth. Where most Swedish death metal got its strength from hardcore roots, or deep metal roots, Opeth and Tiamat (originally called Treblinka, an innocent usage that was later changed to respect the victims of that place) derived their worldview from rock music. Specifically, indie-rock sensitive-man music, which emphasizes dark and self-pitying moods that have a spirit of uplift in them. Sort of like someone trying to rationalize himself out of depression at the fact that his society and species are failing. Even more, the furthest both bands get into death metal is heavy metal, and the more they try to make it deathy, the worse it fails.

On the plus side, Shrine of the Pentagram shows Tiamat/Treblinka in their earliest state, when they were still producing music that was essentially NWOBHM with an indie-rock vibe as played by Grotesque or a band like them. These riffs and fills are straight out of the glory days of NWOBHM, and the chorus-emphatic songs reflect the stadium rock aspects of that genre. Even though Treblinka have doubled the strumming speed and kicked the drums into battle, this just isn’t death metal. The riffs are old school heavy metal and radio rock; the song pacing, more like a college station. And the moods? Sort of playful, sort of dark, but mostly, self-absorbed, which is the one thing death metal was not.

In other words, this is probably the best material from Treblinka (Tiamat) that you’re likely to ever hear. And it’s done well. The songs here are poppy and high-energy, and if a bit ego-focused at least do so in the inexpert way of teenagers. The musicianship is good, even if the band insists on breaking up songs with out of place percussion drops, blues parts, and melodic interludes that seem to lose momentum.

Production is excellent, all things considered. These originals must have been of horrible sound, and they’re cleared up expertly, such that you don’t notice how bad the originals must have been until there’s one sound like a simultaneous backstage shout and snare hit that shows how much chaos was cleared away. The demos and live material complement each other, showing the growth of the band. Packaging also promises to be really excellent.

Especially if you get the 5-LP version, as opposed to the 3-CD “abridged” version, it’s imperative that you like the dozen songs represented here. Because you’re going to hear them a lot. There are five LPs, and a dozen (or so) songs, which means near constant repetition. Even more, you will hear them in a half-dozen flavors of demo, live, studio instrumental and other visions of the same material.

I had hoped to rediscover a lost treasure here, and I’m sad to say I haven’t. Tiamat has three problems: (1) it’s rock music, not metal (2) while it’s fun, it isn’t particularly repeat-listenable and (3) it misses out on the metal mood and goes to a bad place instead. However, I can’t fault this set for getting to the core of the situation and producing a high quality product for those who love this band. And maybe, I’m just a false and should not entry.

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Metalhead, by Ragnar Bragason

Above you can view the trailer for Metalhead, a new film from Icelandic film director Ragnar Bragason (Children, Parents) about what happens when a tragic event and adults’ inability to talk honestly about it causes an adolescent explosion into heavy metal.

The film follows Hera, who witnesses the accidental death of a beloved brother. He was a metalhead, and in the process of mourning, Hera re-makes herself in his image — wearing his clothes, and listening to and playing music at earshredding volumes — as a method of channeling her grief, rage and doubt.

As the movie goes on, Hera explores greater extremity as her previous acts of rebellion fail to discharge whatever dark psychic spectre haunts her. Metalhead views her without judgment and with compassion, probing deeper into the paradox of grief and the frustration of an inability to express it.

Featuring an all-star cast, Metalhead will be shown at the 2013 TIFF film festival.

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Profile: Jill Girardi and Dead Beat Shop (Malaysia)

dead_beat_mediaThose who have been around the death metal scene will remember the name Jill Girardi. Originally a founder of maverick label Razorback Records, she now runs Dead Beat Shop in Malaysia, where she continues to keep death metal strong. We were fortunate to get in a few words about Dead Beat Shop and Jill’s own history in music.

I understand you run your business from Penang, Malaysia. How’s the metal scene there?

Yes, that’s right. I’ve been living in Malaysia for about four and a half years now. I’m originally from New York! For such a small country, the metal scene here is very big. New bands are forming all the time. In the past, it seemed like bands took a great deal of time to release demos and albums, if at all.

But now there seems to be a new crop of bands coming up such as Humiliation, Succubus, Nonserviam and others, that have an unusual work ethic for this part of the world and work hard to get at least one release out every year, if not more. More bands are starting to take note of this and follow suit, which can only be good for the scene in the long run.

As far as shows go, the size of the crowd really depends on the band that is playing and the scene politics here are much the same as they were in the States.

Can you tell us a bit about your personal history, and how this came to be your path?

Well basically I was a lonely kid and metal was the only thing in my life that made me feel better. Most kids discovered metal because the had an older brother, relative or friend into it, but I found my way to Metal all by my lonesome nine-year-old self.

I started a zine and record label called Mortal Coil in the early 90s with Jay Lipitz from the band Insatanity. That lasted a few years with a few releases, and then folded. I then formed Razorback Records with another partner which was very successful, although I quit the label in 2009 and moved here to be with my fiance (now husband), who is Malaysian.

I was going to quit the music business, but I found there was no other work I could really do, having been doing this for most of my life. So my husband and I opened a metal shop and a new label.. to make a very long story short, Dead Beat Media! haha

What sorts of metal does Deadbeat specialize in, if any? Why do you choose this style(s) over others?

We specialize mainly in death metal as I always wanted to stay true to my “first love”, so to speak. Death Metal has been my life for so many years, I don’t think I could change it now even if I wanted to.

I’m not averse to releasing other styles of extreme music, and in fact I have. But Death Metal is the music I’ve always been passionate about ever since I discovered it. I’m sure you understand what I mean…

You’ve recently released Warmaster – The End of Humanity. What do you think are the strengths of this band?

This band has heart. They love what they do and they truly enjoy playing Death Metal. And I think that shows in the music. The obvious way to promote them is to compare them to Bolt Thrower and Benediction but there are other elements in there as well, a little bit of Cannibal Corpse and also a little bit of a punk influence.

I enjoy the mid-paced songs that will suddenly break into a crushing, catchy riff that hits you like a hammer, and the unique vocals. I’ve released probably something near 100 CDs in my time in the scene, and some of them were sheer embarrassments, haha. But this is a respectable CD I can stand behind and be proud of having released.

If someone wanted to get into old school metal today, what would be your advice to them?

Take suggestions from your friends and peers. There is a reason why the classic old bands are still talked about today. Find out who they are, buy their CDs and explore the genre.

But remember to make up your own mind.. don’t just listen to what other people say or what the critics say. Don’t be afraid to disagree with others’ opinions. Trust your own judgment, and your ability to decide for yourself if a band is good or not.


DEAD BEAT SHOP [ email ]
LOT 2B-04-05 4th Floor
KOMPLEKS TUN ABDUL RAZAK (KOMTAR)
GEORGETOWN, PENANG
10000 MALAYSIA
Tel: +60124460316

dead_beat_shop

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Underground Never Dies! by Andrés Padilla

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This review includes a 3-page sample of the book, and streaming audio of the tracks on Side A of the accompanying LP of underground metal rarities. Side B follows with the continuation of this review.

Underground Never Dies! fills a void in the literature about metal so far, which is the “why” behind the underground. We know the facts from other sources, but facts are deceiving because they take on a life of their own. Underground Never Dies! knits the facts together with a narrative of the reasons people expressed for joining the underground.

Angling toward its topic matter from a zine-based perspective, Underground Never Dies! describes the informal network of fans, bands, labels and writers who stayed connected through postal mail and xeroxed 50-page fanzines. This substituted for the huge media network and financial power of the major labels, who soon found themselves wishing they had an underground also.

The reason for this is that, as any advertiser can tell you, the most effective force in marketing is word of mouth. It takes ten TV ads about how awesome Altars of Madness is to be equal — possibly — to one friend telling you about “the most intense album ever.” Zines were a personal connection by people who threw out the false objectivity of mainstream media, and instead focused on presenting what they found meaningful.

Underground Never Dies! unites several threads while explaining this phenomenon. On one hand, this book is an incredible treasure trove of images and words from the past, reproduced exactly as they appeared in the original zines, flyers and letters. Looking more deeply, it’s an exploration of what it means to have the underground mentality through the words of those who participated and distinguished themselves, including luminaries like Fenriz of Darkthrone and musicians from At the Gates.

What makes this book exceptional is that it takes the same approach a zine would, which makes sense seeing how the author Andrés Padilla is editor of Chilean zine Grinder Magazine. Using his practiced approach, he goes for a metal version of Hunter S. Thompson’s “gonzo journalism” and discards the pretense of objectivity, instead looking at the scene as a personal experience with shared objective components between a select group who actually did notable things back in the day.

Parts of this book will take your breath away as you realize you are looking at historical objects reproduced as if in a museum, and that these objects represent the time and place where movements that are with us to this day were launched. From demo covers of bands that were later genre-defining to classic interviews where bands explained their motivation, even extending to lost promotional photos of bands 30 years ago, Underground Never Dies! is like an inverted periscope into the deep and murky world of underground extreme metal.

What makes this book more than a souvenir is its intense exploration of the why, however. Personal statements from notable scene personalities, including Alan Moses of Glorious Times fame, as well as clear articulations from zines in the day about what motivated the participants, line these pages and show us how the underground wasn’t just a musical movement, but a social movement, if not a separate society entirely.

The first 500 copies of the book come with a LP recording of unreleased classic metal tracks from back in the day. You can peruse the tracklist here, or listen to the live soundstream that follows this article. The CD/LP will be sold separately in addition to the book, but it’s hard to imagine wanting one without the other since both are essentially archives of rare information.

Interested fans may wish to seek our initial report on Underground Never Dies!, or our announcement of the book’s impending release. Of interest also is our interview with Underground Never Dies! and Grinder Magazine author Andrés Padilla (which you can also read in Spanish). For background, you might also enjoy reading The Heavy Metal FAQ and our public domain metal zines archive.

3-page PDF sampler of Underground Never Dies!

Streaming MP3s of Underground Never Dies! LP/CD – Side A

1. Incubus – “Engulfed in Unspeakable Horrors” (5:19)

2. Slaughter Lord – “Taste Of Blood” (3:13)

3. Mutilated – “Hysterical Corpse Dislocation” (3:05)

4. Dr. Shrinker – “Cerebral Seizure” (3:06)

5. Aftermath – “When You Will Die” (3:52)

6. Exmortis – “Beyond The Realm Of Madness” (3:24)

Side B will follow with the second part of this review.

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Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) book details underground metal

extreme_metal-30_years_of_darkness_1981-2011As the years have churned by, interest in underground metal has grown as metal fans have become more experienced and come to want more complete assessments of the music of their youth, and as outsiders and new fans discover this field. To support this, a fleet of books have been launched to cover it.

A recent addition is Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011), by Salva Rubio, a writer in Spain. Rubio holds a degree in art history and works as a screenwriter and writer in his native Spain. Right now, the book is only available in Spanish, but it’s possible that a translation to English and other languages will follow.

According to the website for Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011), the book “includes essays about the ethical and aesthetic nature of Extreme Metal, a formal account of what distinguishes each style and how they are meant to be played, a chronological, style-by-style story of how each kind of Extreme Metal evolved.”

The book has a Facebook site in an effort to build some community behind the release.

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Interview: Wan

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Swedish band Wan recently released Enjoy the Filth on Carnal Records, creating an album that’s most similar to 1998-faire like Impaled Nazarene Latex Cult and Disfear Soul Scars.

As Wan is trying to break in to the post-modern metal scene, where outside genres often get disguised as metal for the sake of riding the coattails of black metal’s 1990s notoriety, they are emphasizing their metal nature and associating with black metal.

We were fortunate to be able to catch a few words with Wan, who write to us from the darkened winter wilderness of Sweden.

When did Wan form, and what influenced you at the time?

As the song “Day of Reckoning” suggests, we formed in July 2009 with the aim to celebrate the oldschool metal scene. The influences are as obvious as they are filthy. Bands like Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost have a deep impact in our minds and in our tunes.

Are the members of Wan metalheads of long standing, or is this a recent discovery?

We are four old bastards who have been breathing, eating and crapping metal for ages!

What other types of music do you or have you in the past listened to?

Some of us emerged from the early punk I guess. Personally I enjoyed different types of music as a youngster. Depeche Mode was a band that I liked a lot, and I still think some of their earlier stuff is great.

Coming from Sweden, which is a tiny country from which many important metal bands come, it seems it might be difficult to get known, like the bar is higher. How do you hope to overcome this?

As you say, there’s a lot of quality bands hailing from our dark regions. To be honest there’s even more shitty bands as well that, in my opinion, never should have been! So yeah, there’s quite a competition in the scene, but we’re not going to do anything other than to let our music speak for itself. Some people will enjoy our filth, some will be ignorant bastards.

Were the members of Wan active in other bands or artistic activities before Wan? Can you tell us about these?

We have all been in numerous bands and acts throughout the years. The list would be long and bore your readers out of their minds! It has been various styles anyway, but always metal or dark music in one way or another. Also at the present time we keep ourselves busy by playing in other bands. Not gonna ramble any names though… If you’re interested you’ll find out.

This is an awkward question, but I must ask: why do you classify Enjoy the Filth as black metal when it sounds more like late-period hardcore? Do you know of any other black metal releases that sound
like this, and how do you separate them from hardcore bands like Driller Killer, Disfear, etc?

Hmm… we obviously don’t share the same musical references. There’s a lot of punk influences within our music, but all in all I’d say that we sound a whole lot like Venom, classic Bathory and Darkthrone. Rock ‘n’ roll blackmetal that fuck bands like those you mention in the ass!

Enjoy the Filth inspired me because it seems very deliberate; there are no random riffs or bits out of place. How do you write songs, and what’s your “quality control” process?

The songwriting is more like a beerswinging metal process. We just meet up and create our songs more or less spontaneously. This is who we are and the kind of filth we have inside of us, so it comes rather naturally.

How does Enjoy the Filth differ from your earlier release, Wolves of the North?

It differs in the sense of production and that the drum-machine thankfully got a knee in the crotch, and Dimman did one hell of a job! Music and lyricwise it don’t alter that much.

Do you think as a practical matter that a black metal scene still exists, or has it been absorbed by other forms of music?

The underground scene as it once was doesn’t exist today. Still there’s a big metal scene in Sweden even if the focus lies elsewhere these days. The genuine music and minds involved will never be absorbed or replaced by any other forms, and will forever stand strong!

What’s next for Wan? Will you tour on Enjoy the Filth, and/or write more music?

We sure hope and aim to go out on some live performances. A few organizers has showed interest. And perhaps we’ll get together and spit out some new material in the inspiration of the approaching dark cold winter.

If someone wanted to understand Wan, what bands and albums would you recommend they understand first?

Early Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost as mentioned before. If you would prefer some more “up to date” bands, I’d recommend you to torture your ears with acts like Aura Noir and Styggelse.

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Death Melodies Series: Johannes Brahms

The Death Melodies Series (DMS) continues with Romantic composer Johannes Brahms.

BrahmshomepicBorn in Hamburg, Germany in 1833, Brahms exhibited virtuosic abilities as a child. Much of his childhood was spent playing around the local scene including dance clubs (by his own account, “brothels”). As a result, some have concluded that Brahms suffered sexual trauma as a child, but there’s no evidence.

Brahms received a formal education in composition and toured around Germany with violinist Joseph Joachim. The result of the endeavor proved to be beneficial for Brahms’ career. He was invited to play for Liszt, though Brahms’ nerves were at a fever pitch and he couldn’t perform. Liszt then decided to play Brahms’ Scherzo, Op. 4 by sight, which he in turn simultaneously critiqued while he played.

Shortly after, Brahms became acquainted with the Schumanns. The first time Robert Schumann saw him play, he claimed that Brahms was a genius in his diary. Later, Robert Schumann jumped into a river while trying to kill himself. He survived and was put into an asylum. Brahms decided to keep Robert Schumann’s wife, Clara, company and help around the house. Though tensions were high with Robert being in an asylum and diminishing in health, Brahms started to write his first symphony. Clara aided him and they loved being around each other. She advised Brahms that his symphony that he was working on would be better suited as a piano concerto (below). Robert Schumann eventually starved himself to death in the asylum. Out of respect for the deceased composer, Brahms concluded that he wouldn’t “get together” with Clara, and he left.

Brahms spent most of his career in Vienna. He donated much of his money to charities and friends, and he wore the same worn patched-up clothes. Brahms was also known as a prankster. He had a trick rocking chair that he would get people to sit in. They’d either end up falling completely backwards or falling forward on their knees, and Brahms would just laugh at them. He was also keen on walks in nature.

Musically, Brahms was one of the dominant composers of the Romantic Period. When he was younger he was intimidated by Beethoven, but he eventually overcame his personal hurdles and wrote some very remarkable works. His first symphony is commonly referred to as Beethoven’s tenth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wzHj0CylLs

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Sadistic Metal Reviews: Alien Invasion

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If you want something done right, do it yourself. That also applies to being yourself. Metal has a commodity that the markets and social groups want, which is that it is untamed. Rebellious. Disobedient.

That type of rebellion, if domesticated and made harmless, could mean a lot of money. Your hum-drum product could now be an “edgy lifestyle choice.” Your boring minivans could seem like party wagons. Your corporate brand could get some spiff back in its step and be dangerous again, with a little heavy metal(tm) brand rebellion.

And yet, metal resists. To be used by others for their own purposes is to be conquered, and to be conquered is to be assimilated. For metal that would mean being another flavor of rock, which is the music we turned to metal to escape. In other words, total failure.

Not everyone got the memo. There are a number of bands, both successful and obscure, trying to make a name for themselves by helping with the assimilation. It’s time to mock them sadistically and take vengeance upon their self-image.

drudkh-eternal_turn_of_the_wheelDrudkh – Eternal Turn of the Wheel

A fantastic example of how modernity twists the heart of black metal beyond recognition, this album is fruity symphonic rock masquerading as metal through the vocals and guitar tone. Songs start with nothing and go nowhere, though still manage to take up an inordinate amount of time. Entirely derivative of what came before it, there is nothing on this disc to make it distinguishable from the other bands in this style; though at least the groove is catchy.

zarach_baal_tharaghZarach ‘Baal’ Tharagh – Eternal Darkness

With over a hundred releases, you would think this one man band would stumble upon a consistent formula or develop some song writing ability. Wrong. This uses the overblown “recorded through a trashcan on a boombox” aesthetic to fool the unwary into thinking it’s black metal, but it’s just ineptly performed 3 chord garage rock played with marginally faster tempos and over processed vocals that make Xasthur sound like The Three Tenors. Occasionally, early Satyricon/Ulver styled weepy riffs are played, but the inclusion of a Stooges cover confirms this guy should just quit poisoning the world of metal with his toxic, vapid nonsense and play in a pub band.

altar_of_plagues-teethed_glory_and_injuryAltar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury

“Artistic” performance dancers music video and “moody” image aside, Altar of Plagues attempt legitimacy with metalcore fans/Facebook headbangers by playing the “we heard Deathspell Omega” card. Gone are the weepy and whiny one dimensional Slowdive songs for clinical depressives, and here is The Dillinger Escape Plan attempting to intonate their guitars during a meth binge. All the faux-intellectual interviews about Björk having more artististry than “that stupid death metal nonsense with the blastbeats” doesn’t change this simple fact of life: screaming over random dissonance while stop-start “hitting a trash can” noises are played over it is not “high art.”

the_meads_of_asphodel-the_murder_of_jesus_the_jewThe Meads of Asphodel – The Murder of Jesus the Jew

Another example of mashing rock together with black metal, this one goes for the carnival of progressive and “space” rock being the focus of songs, together with riffs somewhat reminiscent of black metal if it were made by hearing-impaired children with Down’s Syndrome. Combined with ANGRY MAN vocals and lyrics so profound even your local metalcore band would be in awe, this band truly has it all for the devoted hipster. Functional people need not apply.

book_of_sand-destruction_not_reformationBook of Sand – Destruction, Not Reformation

Stupid protest rock by indie slam poets who play black metal ironically to get people to donate to AIDS research and “spread awareness” about other “social concerns” while rebelling from the safety of their Minnesota suburb. This is not black metal in the same way bands like Liturgy and Deafheaven aren’t. It’s a bunch of weepy, bittersweet screamo chords strummed really fast in a constant cycle while a violin wanders about aimlessly over the whole dreck to drum up some claim towards being “avant-garde.” Mundane crowd-friendly themes are pushed to the forefront to create a “safe, friendly and social” version of “black metal” that soccer moms with bowlcuts can listen to while on their way to the Deepak Chopra book club meeting in their “food not bombs” sticker adorned SUVs.

wan-wolves_of_the_northWan – Wolves of the North

Here we go again. What are they calling it these days anyway? Black n’ roll? This is no different than a poppy Oi punk band occasionally lapsing toward Venom-dom while flaunting Bathory and Hellhammer patches for “forum cred”. “EXTREMEE!!!!!” moments occur in a third rate NWN Blasphemy ripoff moment here or there, but it lapses into what sounds like happy 3-chord rock n roll all over again. This is the “black metal” version of Nirvana’s Bleach LP.

veil_of_maya-eclipseVeil of Maya – Eclipse

Is metalcore the final frontier for stupidity? Claiming to be a “progressive and technical death metal”, you can be assured from the band photo of college hipsters that this is not. “Djent” rhythm noodling, tough guy grunting, and a “beetle rattling around in a plastic bin” drum performance are just sideshow elements of what this band truly is: Spawn of Possession playing their favorite moments from Underoath and Thrice songs in double speed. This platter is so weepy and weak despite it’s speed and down tuning that this band might as well drop the whole “metal” act and just become Paramore already.

cynic-carbon_based_anatomyCynic – Carbon Based Anatomy

After seeing how pop music in disguise can be construed as something “unique” after touring with Animals As Leaders and discovering Sumerian Records, Cynic further desecrate their name by hiring the same PR firm that Opeth and Ulver consult with when writing their testosterone sapping abominations. The end result: Coldplay with ADHD. The only element retained from their past are their Holdsworth-esque lead noodlings, but there is no metal to be found here. Even the vocoder was dropped for choir boy whining and multi-tracked prepubescent crying, taking the forefront in songs that emotionally peak in a way that give them the feel of one of those “deep” Adele songs that go viral on Facebook.

fen-dustwalkerFen – Dustwalker

Wolves in the Throne Room was pretentious and bad, but this… Most of the tracks flounder about lifelessly with no purpose in a manner similar to Slowdive or Spiritualized while an “agonized” vocal track whines in a manner similar to Anathema and then, wait for it, the innovation occurs! Remember when people heard black metal to hear black metal? BORING. Now we have been graced with Fen’s contribution to the world of underground music: throwing out the vocal track to later day Katatonia songs and replacing them with raspy vocals. Like the other shoegaze black metal infiltrators, this band’s extreme riffs sound as heavy as a Type O Negative single and they will stop at nothing into forcing you to give up on life and retire to a frivolous existence of buying Deepak Chopra books and talking about the latest Walking Dead episode while in line at a Starbucks.

and_oceans-amgod…and Oceans – A.M.G.O.D.

Everyone knows underground metal from Finland is often “quirky”, but …and Oceans have no character or idea to express beyond radio rock song craft with In Flames video game muzak underpinnings. So how do they draw attention? Covering it up with a “strange” band image, stupid name, tons of samples, and electronica interludes. This album makes post-1994 Amorphis look consistent by comparison. All of the “avant-garde” gimmickry this band employed doesn’t change the fact that this is Rob Zombie with swede-AIDS.

dodheimsgard-666_internationalDødheimsgard – 666 International

If this isn’t a joke… Going from Dimmu Borgir “extreme” blast section to a mash up between Voivod and Marilyn Manson before culminating in Queen styled stadium rock in one song, this band is about as “black metal” as Cradle of Filth at this point in their career. Like other sham artists Aborym and Ved Buens Ende, Dødheimsgard seem to think making a melange of the goofiest and most obnoxious sounds in juxtaposition to “harsh” metal moments is an evolutionary step forward. The androgynous band image suggests this band is making an attempt to draw in the Dimmu mall-goth crowd. In a perfect world, these clowns would drop the guitars and rasps out of their music, delete the extraneous elements, and just become VNV Nation or Apoptygma Berserk.

epicardiectomy-abhorrent_stench_of_posthumous_gastorectal_desecrationEpicardiectomy – Abhorrent Stench of Posthumous Gastrorectal Desecration

Maybe people were right in criticizing Obituary for wearing jogging shorts and touring with Madball and Agnostic Front during their The End Complete era. What we have here is pure, unadulterated idiocy. Nothing about this is metal at all. Growled out rap verses over chugging rhythms that demonstrate all the redundant noise one can possibly churn out of the first 2 frets on a drop tuned 7-string does not change this from being anything other than being hip-hop on guitars. “Liege of Inveracity has a slam riff” they say… True, but Effigy of the Forgotten didn’t sound like the Wu-Tang Clan either.

hacktivist-hacktivistHacktivist – Hacktivist

Djent with rapping vocals. Let that settle in for a moment. A conspiracy theory website lyrics slant for an image of “social awareness” to flaunt “importance”. What does this all mean? The abomination known as Hacktivist. With bands like Periphery and Animals As Leaders infiltrating the metal underground with their “deep” nu-metal for the impressionable, it’s no surprise that someone would attempt to “legitimize” this genre by force feeding the masses what is effectively Limp Bizkit after some guitar lessons. For all the “dissing” aimed toward the New World Order, this album reeks of a product that only modernity and globalization can produce.

baroness-yellow_and_greenBaroness – Yellow & Green

It’s no surprise this band got so big. Utilize the hipster rock slant Clutch uses for “street cred” with trucker hat sporting “stoners”, but then add the radio rock of The White Stripes into the mix, and you have even more inoffensive teen rock that sounds like Weezer. This band’s music is so painfully banal that it would be no surprise if one of their tracks has been licensed for use in a 16 and Pregnant episode.

mastodon_feist-feistodonMastodon/Feist – Feistodon

Somewhere out there, someone in a Sonic Youth t-shirt smoking a cigarette wedged between his pinky and ring finger came in his pants. By teaming up with singer-songwriter Feist, Mastodon have released their most hipster pandering product yet. Covering each others songs reveals the true ethos behind these abominations – weepy garage rock. You can throw down-tuned instruments and “loud” drumming at this thing all you want, but this is just Weezer covering an Alanis Morrissette song from both sides. Similar to other flavor of the month sham peddlers Boris, Mastodon is all ironic posturing first, band second.

lustre-they_awoke_to_the_scent_of_springLustre – They Awoke to the Sound of Spring

If you thought nobody would ever bother make an album consisting only of distorted guitar arpeggios and linear synth lines, you would be wrong. How this gets filed under black metal is a mystery, as this album is not even metal to begin with. This is hipster lullaby music, an album perfect for listening after consuming just a few too many frappuccinos. In fact, Starbucks should play this in their advertisements. They’d probably make a fortune.

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