Slayer Show No Mercy turns 30

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Three decades ago, on December 3, 1983, Slayer unleashed Show No Mercy upon an ungrateful world. This event changed more than one band’s future; it helped launch the next generation in metal.

Combining the fluid tremolo strum of hardcore punk with the melodic song structures of Iron Maiden and the angular, rhythmically precise riffing of Judas Priest, Slayer sculpted from raw elements the future of death metal. With the guitars freed from having to emphasize offbeats, riffs became more fluid and tended toward phrases, jazz-style, instead of bouncy percussion in the style of rock.

This broke metal free from much of what had kept it confined by allowing guitar to become the primary lead instrument in every sense. Rhythmically, melodically and in developing song structure, the guitar dominated and aligned every other instrument including voice behind it. The result was a new flexibility in songwriting that helped launch the genres death metal, black metal, grindcore and thrash.

In addition, Slayer converted heavy metal’s flirtation with the occult from a type of provocation to the easily offended, to a mythological view in which dark occult forces manipulated the weakest among humans in a quest for world destruction. They were thus able to symbolize the darkness, corruption and mental servitude they saw in the society around in the religious symbols of centuries before.

The result was a form of music more powerful and intense than anything before. The band came into their own on the following three albums, relying less on the heavy metal tropes from before and developing their own language in a proto-death-metal style. But it all began with Show No Mercy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4n9PUj6YFA

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Buy metal and help the homeless at Century Media’s parking lot sale

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In conjunction with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, heavy metal record label Century Media will hold a food drive at the label’s parking lot sale on December 7, 2013. Those who are not local or can’t make it can donate online.

The parking lot sale and food drive will take place from 12-4PM on December 7 at Century Media’s US office at 2323 W. El Segundo Blvd., Hawthorne, CA 90250. For more details about this event, please visit the event’s Facebook page.

If helping others for the holiday isn’t your only motivation, other benefits exist as well. USA residents who donate $20 or more will receive 20% off their CM Distro order between Jan. 1 and Jan. 31 and receive a free vinyl slipmat. If you attend, and bring one of the following items, you will receive a free gift courtesy of Century Media:

  • Canned protein (such as tuna, sardines, stews, and soups)
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Fruit juices
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Personal care items (such as lotion, deodorant, and toothpaste)
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Profile: Codex Obscurum editor Kevin Ord

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Photo: Aaron Pepelis.

There’s a seismic disturbance in the metal world. As the power of the internet winds up, the flood of information has increased to the point where people are searching for ways to reduce the data overload. As a result, they’re turning back toward zines, reviews and edited sites and away from crowd-sourced data and social media.

On the forefront of this change is Codex Obscurum, a formerly small but rising zine from the eastern coast of the United States. Staffed by volunteers, run on a non-profit basis, and dedicated to old school underground metal as well as contemporary developments, Codex Obscurum has won over its share of devotees.

We were fortunate to be able to catch a few words with Editor Kevin Ord, who has taken over the helm. He gave us the lowdown on changes at the zine and its future direction, as well as (at our interviewer’s insistence) some speculation on why zines are surging forward as the rest of media swarms and retreats in confusion.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how you got involved in underground metal?

I’m from Worcester, Massachusetts. I have a wife and three cats and I’m a paint contractor during the day and zine publisher at night. Like most kids in the 80s I got into metal through other kids in school with bands like Slayer and Metallica. I can pretty much thank Headbangers Ball for introducing me to underground metal. It was appointment television on Saturday nights. I also remember getting a copy of Pit Magazine in the early 90s and being obsessed with hearing what all of the bands in there sounded like. I was already a huge fan of horror movies so the art grabbed me right away.

I like to be able to hold something physical. I think a lot of people do. I want something that a kid might find in a shoebox in 10 years and say “I remember this; I’m going to reread it.”

What made you want to work with underground zines? Have you been a zine reader for long?

I wanted to work on an underground zine because I was sick of just bitching about stuff on the internet. I wanted to actually create something instead of always just tearing stuff apart. I’ve bought zines randomly for at least the last 20 years. Reading the Slayer Diaries book definitely motivated me to make Codex Obscurum better.

To you, what defines an excellent zine? Were there any favorites of yours from the past that you still turn to as examples of underground metal zine greatness?

I think variety defines an excellent zine. We have 12 different writers for Codex Obscurum and I think that variety of opinions and tastes makes it something everyone can learn something new from. I find out about things from my own zine I didn’t know about just because we have so many writers from different backgrounds. I still turn to the Slayer Diaries like I said. He had the advantage of being in the right time and place. But I think it’s an excellent record of a specific time in metal. Maybe one day Codex will also be a good record of metal in 2013. Who knows?

Are there advantages to the zine format that newfangled ways like Twitter and blogs do not offer?

You can read Codex Obscurum on the toilet a lot easier. I like to be able to hold something physical. I think a lot of people do. I want something that a kid might find in a shoebox in 10 years and say “I remember this; I’m going to reread it.” Stuff like blogs just seem so disposable.

What has changed in the three issues of Codex Obscurum? Have you and your team altered your approach based on this learning?

Our original editor had a substance abuse problem that we weren’t aware was as bad as it was. So he is now in treatment and will not be returning to the zine. So Steve and I have taken over formatting and printing Codex Obscurum. We got a lot of feedback on issue #1 and #2 and changed the zine a lot based on this feedback. The top priority was making the zine a lot more legible and easier to read. I think we achieved that with issue #3. I also wanted to make the zine less random and more focused on music. We tried to pack as much music content into #3 as possible. Getting support from artists like Mark Riddick and podcasts like Hellcast has also motivated us to make the zine better.

The top priority was making the zine a lot more legible and easier to read. I think we achieved that with issue #3. I also wanted to make the zine less random and more focused on music.

What’s the best way for someone to get ahold of Issue #3 of Codex Obscurum? What about for them to support the zine in intangible ways?

If someone wants to get ahold of the zine they can go to codexobscurum.bigcartel.com. The zine is $3 + S/h. If someone wants to submit their album or demo for review the can contact me at codexobscurumzine@gmail.com. If someone wants to support the zine just tell a friend. We like it to be done DIY.

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Suuri Shamaani – Mysteerien Maailma

suuri_shamaani-mysterieen_maailmaThe esoteric ambient/organic noise project of Beherit‘s Nuclear Holocausto Vengeance, Suuri Shamaani, will see its Mysteerien Maailma re-released next week by KVLT in Finland (€ 11 pre-order).

Like Justin Broadrick project Final, or post-Napalm Death project Lull, Suuri Shamaani attempts to shape sound itself using overlapping drones and ambient noises to create internal harmonies. Mysteerien Maailma (commonly called the “mysterious mailman” album for its resemblance to that phrase in English) represents a more ritualistic and ordered vision of that approach.

Those who enjoy the later music of Beherit, especially Electric Doom Synthesis, may appreciate the extension of ideas here. Like other post-black metal ambient project Neptune Towers, Suuri Shamaani discards what we recognize as music to shape an adventure or topography out of sound.

It is more like poetry made with discovered noise organized into a music-like language than it is composed music as we know it. Because its sonic texture is lighter than that of booming guitars or bright keyboards, Mysteerien Maailma requires a quieter listening environment and more investment of attention from the listener.

Limited to 300 copies.

    Tracklist

  1. I (3:52)
  2. Valve (14:32)
  3. Tähdet Ja Avaruus (9:58)
  4. IV (4:24)
  5. A17 (4:39)
  6. Jännite (3:33)
  7. Säde1 (3:03)
  8. VIII (3:21)
  9. IX (7:39)
  10. Okkultismi (4:44)

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Metal and Marginalisation: Gender, Race, Class and Other Implications for Hard Rock and Metal symposium on April 11, 2014

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The University of York in the United Kingdom will be hosting the Metal and Marginalisation: Gender, Race, Class and Other Implications for Hard Rock and Metal symposium on April 11, 2014. The topic is marginalization as understood through the concept of Otherness and expressed through the categories in the title.

According to the organizers of this symposium, “metal frequently casts itself as a marginalised group in mainstream society, with fans and musicians often reveling in their outsider status which is reinforced by references to non-conforming traits (Satanism, for example).” The strong social traits that result and the rituals enforcing them create “a dominant framework of a classed/gendered/sexualised/racialised identity, marking belonging to the ‘imaginary community’ of metal.”

The symposium’s organizations have issued a Call For Papers requesting 300-word proposals by December 16. These are open to the metal community as well as academics, so if you want to speak/write on these topics, or even better channel them from relatively standard academic fare to something more “metal,” get writing.

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Heavy metal shows piracy is not killing music, offers new business model

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The music industry — and the television and movie industries — appears to be in free-fall. After years of having an exclusive means of delivery, its market hold has been fragmented by the internet and increasing distrust of big media. Looking over the past decade, the picture adds up to a slow and steady decline with downloaded forms of media failing to replace the profits of their physical counterparts.

Although the industries responded with initiatives to stop piracy, many observers disagree that piracy is the root of industry’s woes and think instead that there is a need for a new business plan in the media industries because the old profit model has failed. However, no one is sure what that plan will be, since media is no longer a high margin industry with tons of excess profit between cost and sales price, but a low margin industry where people aren’t willing to pay much for media. Think of the difference between a 1990s-era $150/month cable bill and today’s $15/month Netflix bill.

The new holy grail is to find a business model that allows bands to have more promotion than being independent can provide, but does not lead to the excess and inefficiency of the big record labels of the past. Right now, the industry is all ears to anyone who can demonstrate a working business model that shows a profit. As of recently, one of the possibilities is offered by a heavy metal band you’ll all recognize: Iron Maiden.

“Iron Maiden’s BitTorrent data suggests Brazil is a huge driver of fans – and given Brazil is one of the biggest file sharing nations on the planet, this is a strong indicator of popularity,” said Greg Mead, CEO and co-founder of Musicmetric.

“With their constant touring, [the] report suggests Maiden have been rather successful in turning free file-sharing into fee-paying fans. This is clear proof that taking a global approach to live touring can pay off, and that having the data to track where your fan bases lie will become ever more vital.”

Despite being extensively pirated worldwide, Iron Maiden have managed to put themselves in the £10-20m for 2012. This means that despite the growing popularity of the band on social media, and the extensive and pervasive torrent downloading of the band’s music, books and movies, the band is turning a profit. This is in defiance of the past business model, and the idea that piracy is killing music. In fact, piracy seems to be saving music in Iron Maiden’s case.

One reason for this may be metal itself. It has a fiercely loyal fanbase and a clear brand and identity, even down to the uniform-style black tshirts that fans wear that differ only in band logo and art. The audience identifies with the genre, which stands in contrast to genericized genres like pop, rock and rap. It doggedly maintains its own identity and shuns outsiders. As a result, fans tend to identify more with their music, and place a higher value on purchasing it.

The music industry should listen up. Piracy may or may not be evil, but it’s a way of life for many people. High margins, such as found by selling a $0.25 CD for $18, are now gone. But heavy metal shows us a different business model in which although much of the product is pirated or given away, bands are still able to thrive and in fact do better than they did under the old model. Perhaps the future isn’t so dark after all for the music industry, at least in heavy metal.

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Does metal have a finite lifespan?

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Keith Kahn-Harris, a metal academic whose work in metal academia has been covered here and elsewhere, writes that metal may be suffocating under the weight of its own success:

Metal today is in crisis. Metal’s crisis doesn’t feel like a crisis. In fact it sometimes feels like quite the reverse. This is a crisis in which most are unaware that there is a crisis – and that is the crisis. The crisis is one of abundance.

He goes own to elaborate on how this is a sort of entropy where the proliferation of options has created a form of paralysis. “Almost everything that I ever wanted in metal now exists,” he writes, showing us that perhaps the glory years of a genre are during its time of struggling for recognition. What happens when it becomes fully recognized?

For Kahn-Harris, much of the glow is gone. He ties it to the ease of availability of music and information through the internet, but in my experience, it’s more likely tied to the expansion of metal as a market. When it’s new and fringe, metal is outside of the world of social oversight, including socialization and markets, public morals and most laws.

But as metal succeeds, it becomes a commodity and thus, information about it will proliferate. Today it’s the internet, but in yesteryears it was radio, magazines, and label propaganda in your local record store. To my mind, the internet isn’t anything new, even if it’s slightly more efficient (although with the surfeit of information, this advantage diminishes).

While this abundance has fulfilled my metal dreams, it has been accompanied by a strange sense of deflation. To some extent this is because dreams fulfilled are almost always disappointing. There are also good reasons why abundance does not necessarily satisfy. The ease of finding what was once obscure takes away the pleasures of anticipation, of discovery, of searching things out. The fact that metal music is no longer found exclusively in physical media removes much of that precious ‘aura’ that can accompany physical art objects. Demo tapes were exciting and mysterious objects because one had to ‘work’ to track them down…Today, there isn’t much frisson to googling something and finding it. Stripped of the aura, rare and obscure metal recordings become much more mundane.

Kahn-Harris’ article is engaging and thoughtful and worth reading for any who have wondered why metal seems so stagnant of late. Sure, there’s more bands than ever before, and they’re all technically competent (this is new, quite frankly) but so few of them have anything interesting to convey. All their work is in the packaging, at the surface, in style and not substance. Artistically, metal is dead. What’s the usual culprit?

An unusual source offers a parallel critique of a similar situation in software companies:

Here’s the problem that ends up killing company after company. All successful software companies had, as their dominant personality, a leader who nurtured programmers. But no company can keep such a leader forever. Either he cashes out, or he brings in management types who end up driving him out, or he changes and becomes a management type himself. One way or another, marketers get control.

Did metal run out of leaders, and get taken over by marketers? Or is this natural entropy, where there are so many options that none can compete on substance? Or is it, as is the way of things, that once something gets popular it gets dumbed down for the crowd? Commendations to Kahn-Harris for introducing this germaine and insightful topic.

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The Art of Metal: Five Decades of Heavy Metal Album Covers, Posters, T-shirts and More by Martin Popoff and Malcolm Dome

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As the interest in heavy metal history continues to grow, it’s natural that attention will eventually expand outside the music. Visual aesthetics have long been important in metal, whether that is album covers presenting an experience before the first note or posters chronicling infamous concerts, in addition to the general culture of style metal imposes on itself.

Newly released tome The Art of Metal: Five Decades of Heavy Metal Album Covers, Posters, T-shirts and More seeks to compile this history in chronological form. Stretching from the early proto-metal bands, up through the NWOBHM, and then reaching the current day; the book attempts to complement visual reproductions with analyzing artistic development from the perspective of the artists and musicians themselves.

A coffee-table style book clocking in at 224 pages, The Art of Metal can be picked up for $30 via Amazon.

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