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.
From 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).
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.
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.
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.
In an effort to remember the founders of metal who helped shape this style into what it is today, a group of bands in India have released Motorhead Tribute India, an album of 13 covers of classic Motorhead songs.
Motorhead Tribute India was compiled by Srikanth Panaman, who recorded the bands from Bangalore in his studio, and released the album on Iron Fist Records who are selling it online. Covering a dozen classic songs, and an imaginative re-envisioning of “Ace of Spades,” the CD clocks in at almost an hour of NWOBHM/punk crossover or proto-speed metal, depending on how you want to look at it.
In an interview with The Hindu, Panaman summarized the experience as “The original idea was to do a tribute gig, and then we thought if we’re spending that kind of time and money working on it and rehearsing, we might as well release an album to back it up.”
Active from 1976 onward, Motorhead helped revitalize the metal sound by stripping it down to raw and fast technique, using melody as the basis for song form, and introducing the gruff voice that later influenced punk bands who later influenced grindcore and death metal vocalists to go even further with this style of vocals. With an assortment of death metal bands on the bill, this CD should be a fitting tribute to the influence of influences, Motorhead.
Luckily, the Blinded by Faith guys were pretty cool about our skeptical approach and out of their good nature, agreed to an interview in which we ask them some of the tricky questions about being a metal band in A.D. 2013. After the interview, you can find a live stream of Chernobyl Survivor so you can see if we’re right in our assessment.
You named the new album Chernobyl Survivor. Chernobyl shows up a lot in popular culture, as diversely as in Kraftwerk songs and video games. What does Chernobyl mean to you? Was that why you chose this as the theme for this album?
The band has been through some rough patches with some founding members leaving the band. The three of us that were left (Tommy, Julien and Mick) felt like survivors. We worked a lot to finish the album and find new members for the band. We are currently really happy about the band’s situation and better times are ahead of us!
This may seem obvious, but does the music reflect this topic? A couple of these songs had moments that sounded like a reactor boiling over or radiation permeating a small ruined industrial town. How much does theme infuse what you write about?
Our most recent album is definitely the most agressive and brutal we’ve ever made. I think this comes a lot from our band situation and the music reflects how we felt at the time.
Can you tell us about your origins? Were you in other bands before this, what music inspired you, and what caused you to come together to make this style of music?
We are from Quebec city in Canada and most of us have only been with Blinded by Faith. But Mick, one of the two guitarists, was with GFK, a hardcore band, before. Iron Maiden, Children of Bodom, Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir are some of the bands who had a lot of influence on our music especially in our early days. At the start we were just friends who loved metal and had fun playing music together.
Speaking of style of music… what style of music are you?
We think of us as a death melodic band with other influences such as deathcore and power metal.
Were there any other bands or albums in particular that influenced you this time around? I may be reading too much into it, but I picked up some influences or maybe responses to Obscura’s Cosmogenesis and perhaps the most recent Ulcerate album. Am I anywhere close?
To be honest, none of us listen to this band, but we’ll check it out! For Chernobyl Survivor, we were influanced by Lamb of God, Slipknot, Soilwork, Dragonforce and even early Genesis (“Watcher of the Skies” [from Foxtrot – Ed.]).
Do you think of yourselves more as a metal band, or as a progressive band?
We see ourself more as a metal band. But I can tell you that there will be more technical and progressive elements for our next album.
Where did you produce Cherobyl Survivor, and what do you view as responsible for this crisp but full sound? Did you aim for any particular historical benchmark?
The album was produced at Hemispehere Studio with Antoine Baril (Augusy’s drummer) and the album was mixed by Jeff Fortin (Anonymus guitarist). I think the crisp and full sound you desbribe suits the songs really well, since they are really agressive. So this is what we wanted to achieve as well as finding our own sound and style.
What’s next for Blinded by Faith? Are you going to be on tour, or continue writing? Do you think you’ll continue in the same style?
We’re currently doing gigs in Canada and promoting our most recent album Chernobyl Survivor. We’re also in the writing process for our next album, untitled for the moment. As mentioned before, the album will be more technical and progressive, but still melodic and brutal. Everything is going great so far and we have a lot of songs almost done.
How important do you think “style” is after all? Could you have written this album in a different style, like say “power metal” (hope that’s not a “bad word” in your experience) or black metal?
Any piece of music can be adapted to any particular style. In our case, we were aiming for something fast, agressive and melodic. I guess that’s why we ended up with an death melodic metal album.
I really enjoyed the way a lot of your melodic riffs seemed to comment on each other and evolve, more like would happen in an early-1970s progressive rock piece (like, say, from Yes or Camel). Do you view this as important to expressing your ideas in music?
It’s important that a song has a unity as a whole and that it evolves along the way as you say. As a matter of fact, Tommy is a huge fan of Camel!
If you had to pick an ideal tour with which to travel the world, what other bands would you put on the bill with yourselves? Would you come to Texas?
It would be a dream to tour with bands like Opeth or Devin Townsend. In the near future, we’d really like to tour in the US as it’s close to Canada. If that’s going to happen, it would be for the promotion of our next album wich we are currently writing, so keep in touch!
Wander over to the pre-order page for Autopsy’s The Headless Ritual, where the new album recorded this summer can be ordered in advance of its release, so that you get it as soon as possible after it slips off the presses and zooms through the mails, smelling of new plastic and old gore, into your sweaty little hands.
At that point, our editorial statement emerged as follows:
During the early days of death metal, Autopsy were distinct because of their ability to use multiple tempi per song, to employ harmony and theme, and to use seemingly sloppy, grotesque, overflowing riffs to convey themes of death, suffering and disease. Their career arguably peaked with 1991′s Mental Funeral, an album of many varied songs of different lengths and song structures, presenting a strange landscape for the listener to navigate.
Last year’s Macabre Eternal showed Autopsy returning to the sound of old school death metal and the abrasive aesthetics that came with it, but not quite entering the realm of the weird where obscure song structures and riffs contribute to mood as much as they did on older Autopsy releases. Although that album showed promise, its somewhat consistent approach created a uniform intensity which resulted in much of the content getting lost on some ears.
Macabre Eternal showed Autopsy returning to their older style in a faithful and stalwart form. Let’s hope for The Headless Ritual not only returning to form, but resurrecting the type of content and artistic attention to detail and purpose that made older Autopsy stand head and shoulders above the crowd.
Researchers at UC Berkeley have been doing research into how sound is linked to visual perception, and they are ready to present their initial findings. According to the study, there is quantifiable evidence that correlations between the type of composition and specific colors exist.
Researchers asked participants to pair works with a 37 option palette and found that: “…people tend to pair faster-paced music in a major key with lighter, more vivid, yellow colors, whereas slower-paced music in a minor key is more likely to be teamed up with darker, grayer, bluer colors.”
The team repeated the experiment by asking participants to match tracks with facial expressions, with similar results: “Upbeat music in major keys was consistently paired with happy-looking faces while subdued music in minor keys was paired with sad-looking faces. Similarly, happy faces were paired with yellow and other bright colors and angry faces with dark red hues.”
They found that dissimilar people reacted similar ways, implying that there is a commonality to the way humans perceive sound: “The results were remarkably strong and consistent across individuals and cultures and clearly pointed to the powerful role that emotions play in how the human brain maps from hearing music to seeing colors.”
What does this mean? Beyond confirming what composers have known for years, it provides a scientific framework for investigating how people perceive sound and relate it to other senses. Of particular interest to this author is investigating how these findings can provide information on mysterious phenomena such as perfect pitch or synesthesia.
Perfect pitch is the ability of recognizing any tone by reflex and it has often been linked with color perception – the octave system, much like the visual spectrum is divided into unique tones that repeat infinitely in the same pattern. Conventional wisdom throughout the years has held that it’s purely a genetic condition, however, composers such as Zoltán Kodály maintained that the ability could be learned, given enough training.
Synesthesia is the condition where stimulation of one sense triggers a reaction in anther sense – such as seeing colors morph and shape according to what tones ones is hearing. As this research becomes more exacting, creating models of this will be ever more feasible and could one day result in a new type of artistic experience – one in which all senses are activated simultaneously by an artistic work.
That’s a long way off though; and for now, much more research needs to be done and the team will start by focusing on seeing if the same results occur in foreign countries with different styles of music: “…Palmer and his research team plan to study participants in Turkey where traditional music employs a wider range of scales than just major and minor. ‘We know that in Mexico and the U.S. the responses are very similar,’ he said. ‘But we don’t yet know about China or Turkey.'”
Billing itself as “the first serious study published on industrial music,” a new book entitled Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music has gone to press in an attempt to uncover this cryptic genre that has directly contributed to much of heavy metal’s approach to both percussion and topic matter.
Finding it difficult to unite a genre that stretches from Einstürzende Neubauten, Throbbing Gristle, and Skinny Puppy to Ministry, VNV Nation and Godflesh, author S. Alexander Reed explores a “network of ideologies” which are traced through industrial music’s attitudes and practices. In particular, he analyzes its troubling side, such as its “ambiguous relationship with symbols of totalitarianism and evil.” Like metal, industrial plays with the dark side, and this book attempts to uncover the relationship between that dark side and positive attributes found in the music.
Citing thinkers like “Antonin Artaud, William S. Burroughs, and Guy Debord,” the author creates a hybrid between a history and an explanation of industrial music, presenting a viewpoint that will probably not make it onto the evening news, but might stimulate the curiosity of those who like extreme music and appreciate its relevance in darkening days.
Rock and roll came from some very old ideas but it flourished starting in the 1950s and picked up speed in the mid-1960s as technology and social demand (“adolescence” replacing traditional adulthood initiation) created a greater perceived need for it. The pentatonic scale, originating in India and through it the middle east, was probably known to the ancient Greeks. Transposed into modern tuning, and put into the simple song format of Anglo-Celtic folk music with the percussion and harmony of German waltz bands, and suddenly the basis of rock music was born through many parallel pop music traditions in America.
This “world music” worked because it was the simplest possible form of music possible, and as a result, became the basis for popular music that like advertising jingles hung in the brain with catchy rhythms and melodies and intensive repetition of a personal message. As this exploded into form in the 1950s, it became at first innocuous soft pop fluff but picked up momentum in the 1960s as it became angrier and more alienated, as if a prelude to metal’s recognition of society’s decline and self-immolation.
One of the vanguards of the darker movement, which unlike the other nine-tenths of rock music was not based on personal feelings and desires but a dark sense of invisible undercurrents of meaning to modern decay, was California’s The Doors. Fronted by lysergic poet Jim Morrison and rounded out with a group of talented musicians including Jon Densmore and Robby Krieger, the band was founded on a number of ideas but driven by the keyboard sounds of Ray Manzarek, who both played lead keyboard with his right hand and kept a bassline going on a bass synthesizer with his left.
Much of metal’s heritage trickles down through diverse acts like The Doors, King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Iggy and the Stooges and other loud music that was not protest music but apocalyptic and mystical counteraction to the hippie vision of personal pleasure leading to societal happiness. Manzarek contributed intricate jazz-inspired solos and haunting lonely basslines to one of the bands that gave metal a sense of how to frame its epics, and how to develop beyond the literal to make a mythology out of the everyday.
Manzarek died today of cancer after a long battle against the disease. We commemorate his passing by celebrating his contributions not only to rock, and through it to metal, but to the ongoing development of the cultural heritage of our society as it struggles to survive modernity.