Dead Horse plotting its return

dead_horse-horsecore_revivalSuccess in life often comes down to timing. Some of metal’s best bands, by virtue of being ahead of the curve, simply get there too fast and go too far to be as noticed as the others who plod along and thus are right about where their audience expects them to be, thus understands them and thus can appreciate them.

It reminds me of the friend of mine who wrote an English paper in high school that the teacher dismissed as nonsense; when he handed it in at college, he got an A. He was just too far out ahead of the curve. In the same way, Houston’s Dead Horse were just too ahead in too many ways at once for most people to grasp. Thrash is a hybrid between punk songs and metal riffs, so named because of its popularity with thrashers or skaters. Thrash bands like DRI (also from Houston), COC, Cryptic Slaughter, MDC and Fearless Iranians From Hell (from San Antonio) were famous for short intense songs of social commentary that was more existential and practical than political. Dead Horse took it even further to a nearly literary level.

After producing a series of demos that were well-received in the underground and even among “normals,” Dead Horse recorded and self-released their first album, Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That’s Time Consuming. After that, they gigged like maniacs and finally got on a larger label to release their second album, Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers, at which time a death metal and progressive metal influence was flowering in their music. But after that, they never really got a handle on things again, despite releasing a pair of well-received EPs. As often happens in Texas, the local scene swallowed them, in equal parts of taking them for granted and resenting them for rising so far so fast.

Fast-forward to last year. Most of Dead Horse is now gallivanting around in Pasadena Napalm Division, while original frontman Mike Haaga makes his living making oddball soundtracks and performing live. Like many talented people in metal, he left it behind, probably outraged at the simple inability of metalheads to unite to do anything, a self-defeating practice that delights their detractors (what’s better than an opponent who commits suicide?). But the other band members have continued on and played a show in Houston which was memorialized in their Making a Dead Horse Live DVD.

According to most recent reports, the band is returning for a live performance at Fitzgerald’s this Saturday, possibly with Kurt Brecht of DRI making an appearance. It’s good to see this legend rise again, and this time, perhaps stay in flight.

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Speed metal history through sound

cliff_burton-metallicaHere at the DMU, one of our goals is chronicling the history of metal, from its dual origins in hard rock & classical music up to its current form of diverse genres. The Heavy Metal FAQ is the definitive tome of metal knowledge; however, one of the best time-tested methods for communicating this information is simply through listening.

Last month, Australian radio program Burning Bitumen presented a 2 hour long aural history of speed metal, from its humble beginnings in ’70s hard rock, to the ’80s NWOBHM, up to the current state of speed metal which attempts to amalgamate the influences of the past while still striving to innovate.

For those who are new to the genre, those who would rather experience sound than read about it, or those who just want to listen to a couple hours of solid metal; this is an excellent place to begin.

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University offers degree in heavy metal, and not all are thrilled

heavy_metal_foundation_degreeNew College Nottingham in the UK have recently announced that from September this year they will be offering students a foundation degree in Heavy Metal.

“We’ve created this pioneering course in response to student demand and Nottingham’s growing music and creative economy. At its heart is music performance so students will be forming bands, gigging and promoting, while academically delving into what makes metal such a music phenomenon. Applicants will be auditioned and will need to demonstrate an ability to play or sing up to Rock School, ABRSM or Trinity Grade 5 standard and have knowledge of music theory at ABRSM Grade 5,” the school announced in its class syllabus.

Further, New College opined, “Due to the largely unstructured nature of the music industry, the FdA in Music Performance (Heavy Metal) places a strong emphasis on the development of entrepreneurial skills designed to allow the students to work confidently on a self-employed basis.”

As supportive as I am of the growing area of metal studies in academia, this course sounds like a terrible idea – unless of course it consists of 21 hours a week forced listening to and analysis of Demilich’s Nespithe, in which case it’s worth every penny.

A budding metal musician would be much better off getting a degree in music – whether at a predominantly classical or jazz institute, they will get a much broader grounding in the theory and history of western music, and thereby understand better which bands and ideas are good and which are garbage. By the way, for those that don’t know, Grade 5 Rock School is not a very high benchmark for musicianship at all.

I’m sure that the college believe they are helping facilitate people into a niche and commercially lively area of the economy, but I wouldn’t be as optimistic as they are.

Its been a long time since the UK produced a viable classic metal band that could draw in a consistent crowd (let alone produced a noteworthy scene or movement), so its hard to think of a stable, growing sector in the UK metal economy other than Iron Maiden’s stage crew. Remember also that most metal musicians the world over will at least have to supplement their income with other work, if not wholly support their music through a day job. It’s also not as though, when business is slow, you can go play a few weddings or open mics when your stock repertoire consists of Slayer songs and originals that are probably only Slayer rip-offs.

I could of course be completely wrong about it; but if it were my kid choosing their degree — £7,000 a year for something that will only look bad on their CV — I don’t think I’d be too quick to let them test out the possibility of me being mistaken.

No quality metal band before now ever required this qualification to propel their career in the right direction or provide them with worthy scene credentials, and that will probably remain the case.

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Interview: Varg Vikernes

varg_vikernes-sol_austan_mani_vestanAmong metal’s legions are many for whom society is not a fit. Society tries to find rules to make everyone get along; metalheads, who “think outside of the box,” tend to look toward what they see as right, not socially compatible. As a result there are many in metal who stand above the crowd and are impossibly iconic for their unique worldviews. One such man is Burzum’s Varg Vikernes.

After creating in the course of four early albums an impressive body of art that essentially ended black metal as it was by raising the bar beyond what others could easily participate in, Vikernes was imprisoned for sixteen years for his alleged role in church arson and murder. During the time he was in prison, he put out two more impressive keyboard-based albums and several books’ worth of writings before falling silent around the turn of the millennium.

Upon his release, he didn’t slack off, either, but pushed out two new albums influenced by the rising drone-NSBM trend from Eastern Europe, and has released a film, is currently working on a role-playing game, and continues to produce numerous writings and a new theory of history. Since he is an object of interest as well as such a strong personality that he cannot escape notice, he has continued to use interviews and other public talking points to advance his ideas.

Whether we agree or disagree with the man, it’s hard to argue that his back catalog is anything but on the whole impressive, or that he isn’t articulate and forceful about his beliefs. Recently, he released his first post-prison ambient album, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, which in the words of our review is a “vivid journey from start to finish…Vikernes has returned, and has found his natural voice.”

Deathmetal.org was fortunate to catch Mr. Vikernes in a rare un-busy moment between his many projects, where he answered a few of our questions.

With Sôl austan, Mâni vestan you have left metal behind, and yet this work has as much identifiable personality as your earliest works. What do you think makes this style so adapted to where you are now, and what you want to express?

This type of music has always been a part of Burzum, from the very first album and all the way to Umskiptar, so I think those who appreciated the old non-metal music will perfectly well be able to appreciate this non-metal music as well. In a sense I keep making music in the same style, only I have left out the metal parts.

Can you tell us a little bit about the influences on this album? Were these influences instrumental to achieving this new sound?

I know where you want to go, but the truth is that I didn’t listen to any other music whilst making this whatsoever; I didn’t seek inspiration in any other music and I did not even think of any particular music whilst making this. However, upon completion I did think it reminded me a bit of a calm version of Tangerine Dream.

This album is made for the ForeBears film, and I guess it is correct to say that I was inspired by the concept of that film.

In your writing on Thulean Perspective called “Shadows of the Mind,” you mention how black metal can be a gateway to the Divine Light. What is the Divine Light?

That question is best answered with a link.

Your work seems to have been guided since its earliest forms by a sense of the “poetry” of existence, and a purpose to the human experience, while others were busy disclaiming this. What shaped your thoughts in this regard?

I think it is simply due to the fact that I knew instinctively that it was better before. I missed what once was. I longed for the past that I felt was better. I dreamt of things that had been but were no longer.

After Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, where do you see yourself going artistically? Will you continue to make albums in this ambient style, or re-invent music in another form?

I can dream of the past, but I never make artistic plans for the future. I just follow where my spirits takes me, so to speak.

What is the purpose of art? What habits or activities do you find most crucial to the spirit that drives your art?

It’s the spirit of the past trying to break free and influence the world we live in today. That’s the purpose and driving force too.

What do you think black metal had to contribute? Do you think your earlier aggressive work, and your newer more mellow work, come from the same place?

They do, and I think black metal is just a expression and (for fans) appreciation of the despair most men feel from living in a world that is not built for them. When you grow up, so to speak, or perhaps just grow wiser (many young men are wise too), you move on and instead of whining about the world we live in you do something about it instead. Black metal has woken up many good anti-Jewish Pagan Europeans and has thus lead them on the right course.

The lyrics to “Dunkelheit” suggest a natural mysticism to your work. Do you see this in the ancients as well? Do you think this knowledge changes people in such a way that they cannot be part of modern society? How do you see this as different from the Christian spirituality?

Christian spirituality? They have none.

I think the natural mysticism will wake up Europeans; the Pagan spirit is like embers waiting under the ashes. All it needs is some dry wood and it will turn into a flaming fire again, burning, warming and lighting up. Natural mysticism is, amongst other things, that dry wood.

Do you think history is cyclic, meaning that similar events lead to similar outcomes and thus, people eventually return to the same eternal truths? What do you imagine those would be? Is there a way to express such truths in art?

Yes, similar events lead to similar outcomes, and truth prevails in the end, always, so when they are blurred, distorted, hidden or spat upon they will always return to glory. There is no unversal truth in this context, becuase man is not universal, just like animals are not. I am part of the European species, and the eternal truth to us is Honour, and we will return to that for sure.

Is there a way to express such truths in art?

Yes, but it might not be understood by all.

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Dead Hills – Purgatory / Winds of Time

dead_hills-purgatory_winds_of_timeThis recording starts off with great promise: unlike almost all of the bands to experiment in this style, Dead Hills knows how to make the riffs of a good Burzum-style sweeping dark and morbid black metal romp work. For example, a standard song will work itself up to intensity through an excellent use of the “Burzumic sweep” and dark meandering riffs, creating an excellent dark and ancient atmosphere. The vibe is perfect.

After that, it’s harder to know where to go. Dead Hills fill the space with mixed elements from Nordic and Finnish black metal, which provides a highly musical and entertaining resolution to the album but radically changes each track from its Burzumic beginnings to something more like second-wave black metal. It will often revert to its atmospheric voice, creating a divide where some of this music sounds like conversation, and other parts sound like walking through twilit hills.

Although sometimes songs lose their center and wander, and thus become purely musical questions and remove themselves from the representative art of black metal, on the whole this release keeps up the energy and unlike almost every black metal band in the last fifteen years, produces an experience in which the listener can lose himself or herself. With that in mind, this is a promising start and a rare complete experience from Australia, which normally produces chaotic bands.

Weighing in at an hour and a half, this release may overwhelm some listeners but it also offers a good chance to really lose yourself in the sound and distance all other input, like a meditative course. The enemy of highly interrelated music like black metal is the standard lick, in which patterns that conveniently unite familiar riffs become relied on too much; where most bands have instead gone full into that mode, Dead Hills has tried to find its own voice before adapting riffs to that, and the result is noticeably clearer and more emotionally compelling.

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De Arma – Lost, Alien and Forlorn

de_arma-lost_alien_forlornA post-black metal project finally does what many of us have encouraged for some time, which is to drop the extraneous black metal and to bridge directly to the type of music they want to play. This is a Gothic/indie hybrid straight out of the early 1980s, complete with open-phrase drumming and soulful vocals. If you liked the darker side of 1980s pop like Sisters of Mercy, Dead Can Dance and Joy Division, you’ll like this detour into outspokenly emotional and catchy music.

Composed of Andreas Pettersson (Armagedda, Lönndom), Frank Allain (Fen) and percussionist Johan Marklund, De Arma (Swedish for “the poor”) previously recorded a well-acclaimed split EP. This album will hit the streets on July 2 of this year, and while it’s being marketed as depressive and dark, a better way to describe it is having the same melancholistic spirit as Burzum’s Filosofem but within the context of 1980s Gothic rock. Since black metal and indie of this nature share a similar open-chord cascading-strum style, the transition was easy, but there’s very little black metal (or dark) in this. It’s just good darkside pop.

As the inaugural release on what is presumably a post-metal indie/Gothic label Trollmusic,Lost, Alien and Forlorn will appeal to a new decade of listeners who will find exactly what made this type of music appealing in the 1980s. As essentially pleasant pop music, but which acknowledges a sense of doubt and decay about the modern world, De Arma offer a gentle transition from the bubble-world of mass consciousness to the underground of semi-realists below.

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Christopher Lee continues his campaign against heathens

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At 91 years young, Christopher Lee has taken to his throne of opera pop music under the guise of “metal” in hopes to rekindle his ancestry. The nonagenarian has stated that he’s a descendant of the first Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, which most of his lyrics in his band Charlemagne are inspired by. The reoccurring message that Mr. Lee attempts to communicate is that Pagans and Heathens should be slain, and that Christianity should flourish – unrivaled.

We’re fortunate that this Christian warrior is offering the world yet another album of lackluster music to celebrate his ninety-first birthday. His next album The Omens of Death stays true to the nonsense that was previously established, but lessens the symphonic element that was heard on his first album By the Sword and the Cross and his Christmas Music album. The Omens of Death is set to release on May 27th and will most likely sell well due to Mr. Lee’s exploits in film. I personally couldn’t stand listening to this music while writing this article, but others may find the comedic value of it to be of the highest caliber.

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“Altars of Madness” art exhibit opens at Casino Luxembourg

altars_of_madness_exhibitFrom May 18 through September 15 of this year, a new kind of art exhibit is coming to the notable Casino Luxembourg gallery. This exhibit, entitled Altars of Madness, “displays and brings together the works of art of a generation of artists affected by extreme metal” through the use of imagery and content similar to that in extreme metal.

Even better, the exhibit explores the origins of metal and explains some of the purpose behind these genres. “Extreme metal emerged in the second half of the 1980s through three distinct musical genres with different principles, aesthetics and evolutions: grindcore, death metal and black metal. Like all underground cultures, extreme metal is not something that can simply be passed on: you have to experience it on your own,” says the exhibit program. This is a far cry from the media treatment of metal in the 1980s, 1990s and even 2000s where it was viewed as a sort of hard rock with better costumes.

The exhibit is divided into three parts, corresponding to those three genres. “Lucid fairytale,” “Death is just the beginning,” and “Dark matter landscape” each reflect the different values of each period. The grindcore exhibit “emphasises the political dimension of extreme metal,” by which the creators seem to mean grindcore. The death metal exhibit uses memento mori and vanitas symbolism to embrace mortality. Finally, the black metal exhibit explores nihilism, violence, Satan and “the romantic or symbolist note to black metal” which is a recurring theme.

On the whole, this exhibit explores metal in a way that is rarely done and needs to be done more. It’s not surprising that many of the artists listed are either experienced within the genre, used by the genre, or may even be pseudonyms, including Matthew Barney, Nicholas Bullen, Larry Carroll, Grégory Cuquel, Damien Deroubaix, Seldon Hunt, Gregory Jacobsen, Theodor Kittelsen, Harmony Korine, Élodie Lesourd, Juan Pablo Macías, Maël Nozahic, Torbjørn Rødland, Steven Shearer, Mark Titchner, Gee Vaucher, and Banks Violette. You might spot Nicholas Bullen and Theodor Kittelsen right away, as well as metal popularizer Harmony Korine (Gummo).

For more information, see the exhibit program or visit the gallery page.

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A generation passes on, and the world wakes up to metal

god_listens_to_slayer

Kids of the 1980s were flatfooted out of luck when it came to heavy metal. The newspapers of the time all condemned it as leading kids to Satan, drug abuse, and promiscuous sex. Politicians mentioned it as a sign of the moral decay of our society, and the general view was that metalheads were dirty, stupid, incompetent and probably sociopathic.

But then, much as the 1960s were 20 years behind that time, 20 years and change passed…. and suddenly the kids of the 1980s were the good workers, family people, responsible adults, etc. of the 2010s. Time warps forward and catches up with itself, and suddenly the past is not so misunderstood. It is in fact a platform on which we stand to look at the light of the future.

Some of this involved sad events. The early death of Jeff Hanneman spurred a lot of soul-searching on the part of metalheads. When the wise elders you’ve always counted on to be there for you, and to figure out the hard stuff, are suddenly gone, you realize you’re the elder now. There’s nothing between you and the cold horizon of the cutting edge. Many people recalculated lives in the blue light of early morning, hiding out in bathrooms and attics where they felt for a few moments the world would not discover them.

Unspeakable things have happened however. For starters, the Wall Street Journal discovers death metal history:

Mixing Black Sabbath’s sludge with the guttural roar of Motorhead and adding the jackhammer speed of thrash kings Slayer, death metal bubbled up the 1980s via the decidedly nonmainstream metal underground tape-trading scene. The style then splintered into so many subgenres—black metal, doom metal, stoner rock, grindcore, post-metal—only a metallectual could keep track of them.

Those of us who have labored for years at describing metal find this gratifying; the world is not only awakening to metal, but taking its origins seriously. This is generally seen as a sign of trying to figure out its significance and place within society, which is far different from the “pushing back” of the past. We’re getting the same treatment The Beatles did, just thirty years later and in a lower-key mode.

Along that vein, a new book called Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal has just been released, and this podcast interviews the writers and metal musicians to peer into metal history. These are nascent efforts, and “definitive” may be premature, but like previous metal books they are a good start toward where we’d like the study of metal to be.

While this is happening, a celebration of the life of Jeff Hanneman, guitarist for Slayer, drew thousands into Hollywood to hear a retrospective of Hanneman’s life and probably, destroy the theater.

But that was always the point. Slayer wanted to point out that society was based on lies, and our falsehood and pretense made us oblivious to the real and important things going on around us every day. This in fact has always been the message of metal, from Black Sabbath waking up the hippies to Motorhead shocking the world with excess. While this sounds like a mission of destruction, it is in fact a mission of belief in life, and enough love for life’s importance to care about telling the truth.

This fits in with our world’s acceptance of Hessianism. Putting our heads in the sand and chanting kumbaya has failed. Putting our heads down and earning money and hoping we can buy our way out of the decay has failed. Reality is still with us, and it’s bigger than society. In fact, if you know the cliche, “Think outside of the box” — society, or the social process itself, is the box and metal is what sets it aflame and casts us out into the cold and terrifying but thrilling night, full of potential and hidden wonders.

Perhaps the most stunning moment of the ceremony:

The only truly quiet moment came when a letten sent by Hanneman’s wife, Kathryn, was read to the crowd. It was both a love letter to her husband, and a lifelong thank-you card to the Slayer devoted, who made Hanneman’s life what it was. “May you continue to reign in heaven,” she wrote.

For all of its darkness, metal is a vision of light. It is clarity, freedom from lies, but even more, an ability to see the possibility of life before we cover it with our fears of being insufficient, inequal, victimized or just coming up short. Metal is bravery, the kind of bravery that comes of worship of life itself. I hope she’s right, and there is a metal heaven, because it won’t be the static place of the storybooks. It will be a land of constant adventure, of ever-greater quests and challenges, and it will be a place where stout hearts reign for eternity.

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