Does metal cause violence, or violence cause metal?

the_heavy_moments_in_lifeWe recently had a mass stabbing here in Texas. Whenever we have a mass shooting anywhere in the world, I brace for the inevitable: they’re going to blame heavy metal.

They did it with Columbine. They tried it with a dozen others, blaming metal and/or industrial, even if the music wasn’t really “metal” at all. Since the 1980s, when Judas Priest got sued over supposedly backward-masked lyrics exhorting fans to kill themselves, it has been a common media trope to blame heavy metal for suicide, violence and self-harm.

A writer over at ScienceAlert asks the vital question of whether metal causes violence, or is caused by violence, in the context of an article on metal and self-harm.

First, the article points out that most people grasp the right meaning of song lyrics only 28% of the time on a four-song test, which puts us 3% ahead of guessing randomly. Even backward masking doesn’t seem to make a discernible impression.

The article dissipates a bit after that, attacking opera as likely to inspire suicide, and sort of missing the point there. Opera is about the heavy topics in life, lost lovers and regaining honor and other intense life-decisional topics, much like metal is.

In fact, if metal has a relationship to violence, it’s as neither cause of or caused by, but “aware of,” because metal is for realists who don’t deny the dark side of life as well as the light. If that was spurred on by early exposure to violence, horror, sadness or a lack of parental love, so be it — we all have to “wake up” sometime and face reality.

Fortunately, psychological research shows that they needn’t have bothered. Teenage metal fans are also more likely than most to suffer neglectful parents. That’s a much more credible explanation of why they’re drawn to both self-harming and a musical subculture that expresses their disaffection with mainstream society that has failed them.

From the article, it sounds like metalheads are just those who awaken a bit earlier. Opera fans tend to be in their 40s-80s and are aware of all that life entails, including those “heavy” decisions and heavy moments like saying goodbye to others or choosing aggression over passively accepting fate. But somehow, we never hear the media reasonably discussing this idea after a school shooting.

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Album covers: Transilvanian Hunger

[AllCDCovers]_darkthrone_transilvanian_hunger_1994_retail_cd-front

With the arrival of A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Darkthrone presented a new musical evil with the help of a new visual evil. The first four of Darkthrone’s black metal albums depicted a sole band member in a state of aggression, triumph and/or despair, in black-and-white photos stripped of all decoration, reflecting the intentionally unaesthetic music of the band.

live_in_leipzigThis minimalist approach culminated both visually and musically with Transilvanian Hunger, showing a photocopied, grainy picture of Fenriz dehumanized beyond recognition, holding a candelabrum and presumably screaming his lungs out in the night. Some of its appeal lies in its ambiguity; feelings of futility, anger and power are intermixed, widening its significance.

Although Darkthrone’s visual idea was immediately inspired by Mayhem’s Live in Leipzig, its monochromatic, Xeroxed quality also has an eerie resemblance to Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4 from twenty years earlier and its anguished enigmatic quality to Edvard Munch’s The Scream even further back in history. The parallel is not entirely farfetched: it echoes the troubled mind of Fenriz himself, who reportedly loves art that comes from “the exhaustion of easy life”. To black metal fans the Transilvanian Hunger cover is presumably the one archetypical image of what “necro” signifies, much like The Scream is still very much considered the face of existential anguish.

Various_Artists_-_Peaceville_Vol._4The “necro” imagery, however, may have been unintentional: In Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces, Fenriz asserts that mere photocopies from the TH photo session were the only thing he could find at the time to send to Peaceville Records, implying that the same picture could have been reproduced in a more polished fashion. But it doesn’t seem entirely unlikely that the use of a photocopy was inspired by Peaceville’s 1992 compilation album, Peaceville Volume 4, spoofing both cover art and title of the famous Black Sabbath album mentioned above and containing one of Darkthrone’s pre-TH songs, implying that the use was deliberate after all. (Rabid speculation is any fan’s right, right?)

In any case, the cover of Transilvanian Hunger effectively summarized its music by a single iconic image and was later emulated by hordes of lesser bands and is to this day worn on t-shirts by serious music lovers and the occasional hipster alike.

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Sinister – The Carnage Ending

sinister-the_carnage_edingIf you can imagine a hybrid between older Grave and Centurian, you have the essence of the new Sinister, which like side project Houwitser specializes in fast, simple riff-fests that evoke ancient feelings of ornamented function like the spires of historical castles.

Like fellow high-speed metal legion Angelcorpse, the songs on this album rush forward with unrelenting speed and battery but slow down for moments of melody or artfully-suggested pauses, like a knight resting on the crest of a valley before battle. Many of these riffs will be familiar patterns, not just from death metal but types of melodies famous in other ages.

To keep that from being overwhelming, The Carnage Ending features many of the fast and aggressive chromatic riffs that build tension and heighten energy in the way they did on the first three albums. While this album is not as carefully put together as Cross the Styx, and has more redundancy among riff types, it maintains its memorable moments in a sea of high-energy blasting.

The Carnage Ending erupts from a pure old school death metal background and does a more than credible job of rendering itself. Some of the chaotic material on here seems offhand, but the songs have been trimmed back so that they are expressive and not disorganized. The result is hard-hitting, raging death metal from more than one former age.

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Summoning – Old Morning’s Dawn pre-order

summoning-old_mornings_dawn-pre-orderTolkien ambient black metal project Summoning have unleashed their latest recording, Old Morning’s Dawn, via Napalm Records. The pre-order links are now active and the final product will be released June 27, 2013.

Napalm Records promises that “Despite the long break, the congenial duo Silenius and Protector did not stray an inch from their patch. Their distinctive melodies are the heart of all the songs on the latest longplayer, and bring the listeners directly into the fantastic world of Middle-Earth.”

Old Morning’s Dawn follows up on 2006’s Oath Bound, which united the epic spirit of power metal with the gentle melodic atmosphere and inner savagery of black metal, making the ideal soundtrack for medieval battle or spiritual occult warfare against the modern world.

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pre-order CD 12 EUR / pre-order DLP 23 EUR

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Interview: Andrew DiMatteo, Editor of Codex Obscurum zine

codex-obscurum-zineSince the introduction of Codex Obscurum, a new printed zine of the style common from 1980s-2000s, interest has risen in this ancient but effective form of metal journalism.

After the punks (and really, convergence of technological ripeness) introduced D.I.Y. record labels, fanzines and shows, the 1980s brought us some of the first fanzines which were generally xeroxed paste-ups of hand-drawn illustrations and typed text. What made them great was the content: new bands no one had heard of, described in detail, and interviews with the bands people wanted to know more about. They were news and quality control in one.

With the dawn of the internet age, zines seemed destined for an early death. But as publishing information got easier, the quality of the information decreased because people were posting just about anything and the audience treated it all as having that standard. In the current day and age, a zine suggests an edited, deliberate and thoughtful publication, and it has more cachet than a blog or Facebook post.

We were fortunate locate Codex Obscurum editor Andrew Bastard and get in a few questions about the latest old school zine to hit metal:

What did you like about classic xeroxed zines, and what advantages do you think they have over glossy magazines?

I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t like glossy magazines; I had a subcription to Metal Maniacs from approximately 1995-2001. I still have boxes of them somewhere and love to flip through them on the shitter. I also have a bunch of old xerox zines in a three-ring binder that I still read to this day. There is some magic behind a xerox zine though that glossy color zines just lack…the fact that you know someone sat there and put the zine together by hand, a true labor of love.

Has the internet changed how music is sold, listened to and discovered? How does this affect classic-style zines like Codex Obscurum?

Absolutely. Music almost isn’t sold any more aside from vinyl collectors and hardcore music owners. I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD online; I’ll buy from distros at shows/fests here and there but for the most part, I’m in the business of discovering older demo bands that you can’t purchase anymore so I download 80-90% of what I listen to these days. A lot of those blog sites are down these days too so even that has become difficult.

On the flip side, the internet has made listening to new music so easy. Full albums are up on YouTube, along with sites like Bandcamp and Spotify. The net’s been an awesome resource for new bands to get heard.

What inspired you to take on this somewhat anachronistic format, and what advantages do you think it offers over other formats?

I’ve wanted to do this for years ever since I first started working at a Kinkos while in college; I had the resources to do it cheap; I just needed the time to make it actually happen and I guess I finally found that time. I’ve always loved the old style of doing shit, being it releasing demos on cassette, tape trading, zines etc. so this was only natural. This is my way of contributing to the scene while at the same time keeping the old school fires burning. It’s so easy to tell which n00bs are in this scene to stay and which ones are in a “phase” and will be gone soon: the fakes don’t care about the zine; the true lifers love it and are ordering it via snail mail from all corners of the globe.

What zines influenced you back in the day? Did you also read glossy magazines? Did the two complement each other?

I’m only 30 so I missed out on a lot of the classics that I later obtained through trades, eBay, etc. I always had Metal Maniacs around the house but I also loved to read S.O.D., Unrestrained, etc. and some of the shithead, xerox style zines that inspired Codex Obscurum are Slayer (duh!), Pagan Pages, The Grimoire, Mutilating Process, Worm Gear, Metal Forces, etc. I dont know they they complemented, per se; I just liked reading about bands that I liked and discovering new bands through writers that I shared similar interests with. I gotta give a shout-out to Nathan T. Birk, particularly his Apocalyptic Raids column. He knew how to keep it old school even in the newer glossy mags. 90% of the bands he wrote about that I had never heard of, I’d find myself enjoying not to mention he just had a great writing style.

We’ve gone — over the span of only a dozen years — from a time in which information scarcity was a big deal for underground metal, to a time in which information overload (and a thousand times more bands). How do you think this has affected the underground?

I don’t even know how to answer this; I will say I hate the popularity of metal these days. It’s the biggest trend going and we’re flooded with mediocre bands copycatting Anthrax with flip brim PBR hats on and cut off blue denim shorts and Vans sneakers that think they are doing the scene a favor when in reality they are just wearing on those of us that have been involved our entire lives. It’s really frustrating but all you can do is bask in the fact that this is, indeed a trend for them and they’ll give up and move on to something else soon enough and this metal pop diva faux show will all end.

How will people get ahold of this zine? Rumor is it that you’re charging very little over postage costs — do you hope to make money on this? What will keep you going forward, pay your writers, etc.?

On the Codex Obscurum Facebook page you’ll find a Big Cartel link to order online. I also accept snail mail cash or money orders; all that info is also in the “about” section of the FB page. $2 an issue covers what it costs for me to print these things, and shipping costs are as low as I can get them. I’m not looking to make a dime on these although I think I will make a little money on the side in the end which will probably go towards stickers or t-shirts or something. None of the contributors get paid; we’re all doing this out of our love of the old school art.

Why do you think metal is important?

Metal is the only form of music, in my opinion, that truly shapes the lives of its fans. You don’t see any other music genre that has such heart felt, loyal followers that leave and breathe and bleed for it like you see in the metal community. I guess that’s what makes it “important” to me: you don’t just listen to metal, you are metal. And metal is you.

What function did print zines serve in the original underground? Do they serve the same function now?

Back in the day (BITD) print zines served a much more legitimate function than they do now. Before we had the internet, zines were how you found new bands and how you learned about said bands and the doctrines that these bands prescribed. BITD you had word of mouth, tape trading, snail mail letters and shows; those were your only means of discovering new bands and learning what those bands were all about.

Nowadays you’ve got the net which makes it so much easier but not nearly as much fun. A zine in this day in age is honestly kind of pointless. I could just take all of the info that I put into Codex Obscurum and post in on my facebook wall, or on a blog or whatever and the readers would get the exact same information, faster and far more conveniently but it all harkens back to keeping the flames of old burning and like I said before, it’s fun.

I love physically holding a zine in my hands, and being able to fold it up and throw it in my back pocket and whip it out whenever I’ve got some down time and read a piece or two and then put it away. That’s why record collecting is so big these days and the advent of these die hard releases where you get all these extra goodies: people like to hold and possess the things they love and always have it on hand somewhere to go back to and reference whenever they like.

Can you tell us about yourself, and your past. What other projects have you had? How did you know/meet your staff? Who are they?

This could take forever but I’ll keep is short and sweet and try not to self promote too much .. I currently play in two bands, the first band basically rips off Motorhead, Discharge, Venom and Celtic Frost; we call that band PanzerBastard. The other band is an old school, shithead black/death metal band called Deathgod Messiah…paint, spikes, bullets and Satan. Total South American ‘fago blasphemy…prior to these two, I played in Horn of Valere, an epic, melodic fantasy based black metal band out of Providence, RI.

I currently live in Boston, MA (Jamaica Plain, represent!). I also have a solo project that I haven’t touched in years called Shayol Ghul, also fantasy based. I’m a huge fantasy sci-fi nerd and I mean that in the truest sense, not just one of these Game of Throne over-nighters (was reading that series in detention in high school in 1996). Look at my book shelf and you’ll see what I mean…

My ‘staff’ are just a bunch of local metalheads that for the most part, I’ve known for years just from being around the scene and going to shows etc. most are involved in their own bands; eventually I’ll probably run a feature in the zine showcasing the contributing members personal bands.

Would you give us a little run-down on issue #1 — what’s in it, how many pages, what type of content, etc.?

The first issue of Codex Obscurum is thirty 8.5″ x 11″ pages, double sided and folded in half, that ends up being 60 readable pages packed with text and pictures. The content is primarily band interviews and reviews but there are a few small personal bits in there; rants on this and that and a big written piece remembering Rozz Williams (Christian Death) because the zine came out the day of his suicide (April 1st). This issue has interviews with Hellbastard, Varg Vikernes, Steve Zing (Danzig/Samhain), Vasaeleth, Guttural Secrete, Skepticism, High Spirits and a few more.

Any plans yet for issue #2? Is Codex Obscurum going to be a “regular thing”?

Issue #2 is already underway. We had so much material for issue #1 that it didn’t all fit so we’ve already got a headstart on #2. It should be out in June, maybe July. I’m shooting for a new issue every 2-3 months. I’m going to keep doing it for as long as I can and for as long as my ‘staff’ remain enthusiastic about doing it! and of course for as long as the readers continue to read the damn thing — no readers = no zine so please support us! Thank you.

$3 plus shipping

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E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr – Kometenbahn

e-musikgruppe_lux_ohr-kometenbahnThe most immediate comparisons E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr will attract are to Tangerine Dream and other “cosmic” bands of the 1970s, but while the technique of this trancelike electronic waveform fits that description, its composition reflects on something more like the “chill-out” albums of the middle 1980s.

Kometenbahn uses many of the same samples and sounds as old Tangerine Dream. The Moog keyboards intermix with the highly sequenced percussive synthesizer that keeps time, and lengthy and intricate guitar solos use the same distortion and tuning. Even the studio sound is very similar.

How E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr differs from the cosmic musicians however is in structure. This music is built more like the 1980s techno and chill-out albums, like the KLF’s album titled after the genre, than the 1970s bands. The electronic acts of the 1970s had a lot more in common with progressive rock, and so structured each song around either a set classical form, or as an adaptation to the content being expressed.

In contrast, more like the 80s material Kometenbah is composed in layers shaped around a central circular structure. This is not verse-chorus, but more linear, with the idea that one alternating pattern attracts others and then variations are made to those to tweak intensity and build up an experience of their atmosphere and immersion of mood.

This album offers powerful stuff to those who love ambient music. It is a feast of sounds, textures and rhythms. While it does not use the cosmic song forms of Tangerine Dream and friends, it produces a more contemporary atmosphere of suspension of disbelief and exploration of not a labyrinth, but deepening detail of an intensely ornate and beautiful object.

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Infinitum Obscure “Arrival Of The Black – Vinland Tour 2013”

Mexican death metal legion Infinitum Obscure and U.S. death metal fixture Sorcery will tour together in 2013. The following dates will be on the map:

Apr 12 – The Black Castle – Los Angeles, CA
Apr 13 – Oakland Metro Operahouse – Oakland, CA
Apr 14 – Rotture – Portland, OR
Apr 15 – Studio Seven – Seattle, WA
Apr 16 – Burt’s Tiki Lounge – Salt Lake City, UT
Apr 17 – Sokol Underground – Omaha, NE
Apr 18 – Ultra Lounge – Chicago, IL
Apr 19 – The Foundry – Lakewood, OH
Apr 20 – Sergio’s Place – Silver Spring, MD
Apr 21 – Freddies Tavern – Bristol, PA
Apr 22 – Swayze’s – Marietta, GA
Apr 23 – Matthews Bar and Grill – Birmingham, AL
Apr 24 – Walter’s Downtown – Houston, TX
Apr 26 – Til-Two Club – San Diego, CA
Apr 27 – Cheyenne Saloon – Las Vegas, NV

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Interview: Karl Spracklen of the International Society of Metal Music Studies

karl_spracklen-international_society_for_metal_music_studiesAcademic acceptance of metal accelerates through conferences dedicated to studying metal, professors teaching about heavy metal, investigations of links between heavy metal and religion, and the launch of an international journal for studying metal.

While the metal community may not have found a position on this change as of yet, the very fact of its existence is startling to those of us who experienced metal in the 1980s or 1990s, when society viewed us as outcasts of a likely deranged, intoxicated, criminal and Satanic nature. From the censorship battles of the 1980s, when the Parent’s Music Resource Center (PMRC) attempted to prevent younger people from acquiring metal in record stores and tried to legislate a requirement for lyrical content warning stickers on metal records, to the 1990s bourgeois bohemians wrinkling upper lips at the impolitic and feral nature of metal, society hasn’t liked us.

Luckily, academics don’t see it that way and have forged ahead with metal study, coinciding with a massive “hipness” of metal in the mainstream press and hipster underground. Metalheads might find this interesting because academic study can balance out what social pressures amplify.

We are fortunate to have Dr. Karl Spracklen, Professor of Leisure Studies at Leeds Beckett University, here to tell us more about his projects, the International Society for Metal Music Studies, its conference, and its journal.

Why study heavy metal?

Heavy metal is an important part of modern culture and everyday life, so studying heavy metal enables us to understand both of those things. For me, the interesting thing about heavy metal is the tension between metal’s strong sense of being part of a non-mainstream subculture, and metal’s place in the industry of modern pop and rock music. That’s because I’m essentially a sociologist. Other heavy metal scholars might be interested in the way the music is constructed, or the meaning behind song lyrics, or the history of the scene, or the use of heavy metal as a philosophy or ideology of life. Heavy metal is just a subject field, a lens, through which we can think about problems in other academic disciplines.

You’ve created Metal Music Studies to in part serve as “a bridge between the Academy and the wider genre of metal music writing.” What is the wider genre of metal music writing?

People like you — we want the journal to be read and used by journalists and writers who are fans and critics of heavy metal. We want people from outside the university system, non-academics, to read the academic papers but also get involved in writing articles for the journal themselves. There will be a separate section in the journal for shorter pieces that are not written in the standard, academic style: articles that are more polemical, or articles that respond to key issues in the metal scene,

Do you think academia has been hostile to metal in the past, or simply seen it as being part of the amorphous cloud of “rock” without an identity of its own?

I think there have been academics who have been very dismissive of heavy metal in the past, people who have seen the music as serving no good purpose in everyday life. I think for many of these critics, their own prejudices and tastes have got in the way: metal has always had that blue-collar association, and some cultural academics still can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the diversity and depth of the genre. There are also some academics who think heavy metal is a great evil, and we still see some papers written that claim metal fans are more likely to be criminals and so on. This is just bad science, but every time someone publishes these crude generalisations the press picks up the story. This journal is the journal of the International Society for Metal Music Studies. This learned society is partly for academics who have a professional interest in metal, but also those in the industry who want to be a part of Metal Music Studies, including musicians and journalists, and fans. You should join up. When you do, you will get a subscription to the journal. And all your readers should join! (Advert over.)

You’re taking an inter-disciplinary approach as opposed to a pure musicological one. What are the advantages of this approach, and does metal uniquely require them?

Inter-disciplinarity is the only way you can create a subject field such as metal music studies. If all you do is focus on one discipline you miss half the interest, half the story, and half the explanation. Just think about how and why death metal appeared on the scene in the 1980s. Part of it was technological, such as the practice of certain producers and studios; part of it was musicological, such as the evolution of certain vocal styles, riffs and beats; and part of it was social, a reaction by bands and fans against the mainstream metal of the day. Heavy metal is not unique in requiring inter-disciplinarity to explore it: sport and leisure are other possible subjects of this kind of work, and there are many others.

When you speak of the journal publishing “high-quality, world-class research, theory,” what do you mean by “theory”?

When we mention theory we are suggesting we will publish academic papers that develop new theories about heavy metal, or that use heavy metal to develop new theories in their parent disciplines. A lot of academic work is research (investigating stuff), but not all of it, and we’d like to see papers on theory as well as papers based on new research.

What sort of topics would one research in metal? Does this include statistical approaches?

There are hundreds of possible research topics in metal! In Metal Music Studies, we will be interested in research about the music itself, the industry, the fans, the spaces, the lyrics, the metal media, metal in wider society, metal in different countries, genres, philosophies, histories, ideologies, the politics of metal, metal events, metal and globalisation, just to list a few obvious research topics that come to mind. My own academic interest in heavy metal is the local extreme metal scene in the north of England, elitism in black metal and the ways in which the Norwegian BM scene of the early 1990s has been mythologised.

How important do you think it is to study the history of metal? Does this include the context in which these musicians formulated their music?

The history of metal is a crucial part of metal music studies — and yes, this is musicological history as well as social or cultural history.

Do you think it is appropriate to view metal as a form of deliberate and purposeful art, or more as an entertainment product which reflects community attitudes?

Heavy metal is both of those things, sometimes at the same time, but not always. That’s the reason why it is an interesting subject of study. People in the scene, musicians and fans, talk about heavy metal being something artistically important and culturally authentic, something that stands against everything we dislike about mainstream pop music. But so much of heavy metal is part of that mainstream, and even death and black metal are shaped by the forces of commerce.

What, in your view, is the dividing line between “metal” and “rock”?

Metal is one louder. Actually, there isn’t a clear dividing line, and for many people I think there is a smooth transition. For the purposes of the journal, we will allow histories of rock music as they shed light on metal’s evolution. We will probably also allow in scene studies where there is a connection between rock and metal fans, in the same way we will publish research on the intersections between metal and punk, or metal and goth music.

Do you personally listen to heavy metal? Does study of metal require enjoying metal, and/or does enjoying metal lend anything to the study?

Yes, I listen to a lot of heavy metal, mainly black metal and doom, and local bands from the north of England. I try to get out to gigs when something comes around worth travelling for: the last gig I was at was Enslaved in Manchester, England, with the mighty Winterfylleth in support. I think being a metalhead myself allows me to understand the nuances of the scene, its history and the music. I think that makes my research have a certain depth to it. But I do think it’s quite possible to do research on heavy metal and not personally like it.

Many people view metal fans as people who are social outcasts who are unlikely to pursue education. Why do you think metal fans are so alienated? Do you think your research will bridge this gulf as well?

I think that stereotype about the average metal fans is out-dated. I think metal fans tend to be very intelligent people, and that’s why they are drawn to the music. I’m hoping the journal and the International Society for Metal Music Studies will prove that there are metal fans who are able to articulate their passion for the music while remaining critical and measured.

Are there any sources in the metal community who are doing what you are doing?

None that I know about.

Who are your forebears in this field? What is the history of academic involvement in metal?

Robert Walser and Deena Weinstein were the key academics who first proved that heavy metal was worthy of serious academic study. Keith Kahn-Harris has been important in championing the field.

Prof. Martin Jacobsen is teaching an English class at WTAMU about metal lyrics, and Prof. Josef Hanson is teaching a metal musicological course at University of Rochester. Are you aware of these? How would this type of activity fit in with what you’re doing, and vice-versa?

I wasn’t aware of these, but I’m not surprised. I use metal in my own classes on the sociology of leisure.

Can you tell us more about the upcoming journal, including when it will be available, and what sorts of things to expect in it?

The new journal’s first issue will be out at the end of 2014. The content of the journal will demonstrate the range of metal music studies, so an ideal issue would include perhaps some of the following (these are just ideas, and this is not an actual list of contents):

  • research published by a range of established names, early career researchers and those from parent disciplines;
  • research on the performance and production of metal;
  • research on the analysis of metal lyrics;
  • research on new sub-genres and fandom;
  • research on the evolution of heavy metal from rock music;
  • ethnographic research on a metal scene in Kenya;
  • research on the aesthetics of metal;
  • research on the social psychology of death metal growling;
  • and smaller pieces discussing whether black metal is dead or alive, written by a print journalist and a blogger.
  • The bulk of the content will be original research and theory papers (6-10k size), alongside smaller articles/opinion pieces (1-3k) devoted to discussion of metal by ‘serious’ non-academics (journalists, fans and industry insiders).
  • There will also be book reviews.

How does one join the ISMMS?

At the moment ISMMS does not have membership, as it is not yet set up officially and legally with the authorities in the States. Amber Clifford is the Treasurer so her email contact should be used for anyone who wants to join the Society. When the paperwork is finalised membership details will be confirmed via the ISMMS web-site, the Metpol mailing list, the ISMMS Facebook page and other channels.

Do you accept submissions from people who are not academics, merely metalheads or metal journalists?

The journal will accept submissions from independent scholars and non-academics, and the society will accept such people as members. There will be a separate section in the journal for shorter papers that will allow non-academics to contribute, but there is nothing to stop independent scholars submitting full papers – all full papers will be subject to peer review against the usual standards of academic writing. We want to encourage such contributions.

What can a metal band do to make it easier for them to be studied? Is there a place, for example, where well-known metal bands can sign up to be part of a study, or to put their stamp of approval on the project?

There isn’t a place where metal bands can sign up to be part of research studies — sounds like a great idea, actually! In terms of endorsements, we are hoping some high-profile musicians and band will sign up to the Society and support its aims, and maybe even write in the journal.

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The relationship between black metal, ambient and neoclassical music

nordic_dark_ambient_neoclassical_black_metalIn the mainstream press, black metal has a reputation for being solely misanthropic, heavily distorted anthems of aggression and despair that are defined by their primitive minimalism.

While this may hold true for the majority of contemporary bands, this view overlooks the foundational bands of the genre, who possessed a deft sense of melody and the focus to create longer compositions that allowed for more introspection.

Just as black metal musicians created a more minimalistic form of death metal, some were able to apply the same approach to the ambient and neoclassical genres, crafting tracks that through the use of repetition, stirring melodies, and tonal variation reveal the genre’s primal elegance without need of layers of distortion.

Given the news that Neptune Towers is being released on vinyl and Burzum is releasing an album comprised entirely of electronic music, now seems a fitting time to investigate this interesting subgenre and how it arose from black metal in several instances.

Burzum

Favoring simple but expansive compositions, contemplative melodies soar over mild arpeggios; in addition to a few tracks of industrial nihilistic deconstruction. Through the utilization of modern technology, Burzum makes narrative and meditative music that like its inspiration Tolkien, takes the participant on an internal journey to another realm.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BajdtSD0eWk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30lt14WQ1w0

Neptune Towers

A side project of Darkthrone‘s Fenriz, in Neptune Towers haunting melodies glide over dark drones while otherworldly noises color the backdrop. Evocative tracks signal the coming to Earth of a yet-unknown alien species or perhaps the future evolution of humanity, the soundtrack to the future.


Beherit

This band fuses its earlier black metal style with the industrial, pop, and ambient genres, featuring melodies that would not be out of place on a metal album, but pairs them with repetitive trance-like drums, synths, and found sounds that coalesce into epic moments before fading away like the rays of a burned out sun. Fans of multiple genres should appreciate this one.


Ildjarn

Elegant and skillfully composed tracks celebrating the beauty of nature in their simplicity reveal a greater depth of expression than would be possible with over-produced tracks. Just as he did with black metal, Ildjarn with compatriot Nidhogg reduces neoclassical music to its most basic form and builds from it an enchanting structure.


Lord Wind

A side project of Graveland, with Lord Wind martial drumming and heroic melodies bring to mind the battles of old, while synths and choruses expand the project’s horizons, providing reach to contrast with the grounded and earthy rhythms. Well-crafted neoclassic folk music, this is the further continuation of Graveland‘s second stage.


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Sinistrous Diabolous – Total Doom // Desecration

sinistrous_diabolous-total_doom_desecrationSinistrous Diabolous creates funeral doom metal from the fragments of death metal. It uses the rapid strumming of slow chording that made Incantation so thunderous, merged with the abrupt tempo changes of Autopsy, and the mixed sounds and dynamic variation of Winter.

Total Doom // Desecration is as a result both shockingly absent of any of the trimmings of civilization or what we recognize as music, and also momentarily beautiful, like a ship emerging from the fog only to be lost again. Its primitive production and dark chromatic riffs enhance this sense of naturalism emerging against the hopeless mental muddle of humanity.

The atmosphere of murky ambiguity that enshrouds this album also grants it a resonant sense of purpose. Between power chorded riffs, interludes of pure sound or lighter instruments pervade, creating a sensation like slowly poling a raft through a dense swamp, looking for enemies.

Of note are the vocals, which deliberately abstract themselves into an uncivilized and primitive growl that calls alongside the music like a pack of dogs howling at a kill. Percussion fits the Autopsy model, being both alert and intense and knowing when to fade out into the drone.

Sinistrous Diabolous use heavy sustain not only on their guitars, but in the way riffs are sliced into these songs. Notes of doubt and ambiguity hang over every change, waiting for the song to roll over again and from the relentless ferment of its imagination, pull forth another riff.

While many doom albums come and go, and most either slide into the 1970s style or death-doom, this album cleanly integrates the last two decades of the variation in the latter styles, and comes up with something that is not only bone-crushingly weighty in sound and meaning, but also brings forth a beautiful melancholic isolation at sensing what has been lost.

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