Category Archives: News

Phobocosm – Deprived

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In the 21st century, quality death metal makes itself scarce in a genre that has become disappointingly stagnant since its peak in the mid-1990s. Any gems are shrouded by a haze of technical masturbation bands and equally soulless candied old-school imitators. The musicians no longer understand their art. Some challengers exist, such as Phobocosm, a recent addition to the death metal roster.

Phobocosm are a death metal band rising from Montreal that compose dark and dirge-like death metal in the vein of Incantation and perhaps Evoken, but with their own unique voice. They released a song entitled “Solipsist” from their upcoming full-length Deprived that burns with apocalyptic fervor.

The song begins with a chilling melody that picks up intensity and evolves into the musical representation of souls wandering across a vicious and ominous wasteland. This music exemplifies the spirit, and delivers crushing blows.

Phobocosm have the misfortune of inheriting a genre that peaked, attracted infiltrators and imitators, and now languishes in a mass of technically-competent but empty material. The Canadians try to rectify that with solid songwriting before they get to the technical parts, which makes Phobocosm a band to watch. Their debut album, Deprived, arrives via Dark Descent Records on September 30th.

Classical and metal experiencing same paradigm shift

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Over the past decade, metal and related genres have shifted toward a highly technical perspective on instrumentalism. Where earlier genres valued the primitive and passionate, bands now tend to begin with a grounding in jazz and progressive rock theory and expand into metal.

This raises the bar for entry into the genre, but on the level of mechanics only. Corresponding, creativity seems to have declined in the genre, perhaps because artists with something to communicate — a.k.a. “content” — now face an uphill path toward technical perfection before that content will be accepted in the genre.

A similar phenomenon occurred in the classical genre as well. Like metal, this niche genre struggles to keep existing fans while making new ones and not becoming “dumbed-down” like everything else in popular culture. As a result, it has become perfectionist on a technical level, perhaps to the detriment of content, notes an article on the evolution in classical music.

Today’s classical musicians are rarely given this choice between expression and perfection. As David Taylor, assistant concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, recently told the Los Angeles Times, “Today, perfection is a requirement. You must have flawless intonation, you must be a machine.” A single missed note or halting phrase could be a musician’s downfall: the end of a job interview, perhaps the end of a career.

This perfectionist culture can crush young musicians’ creativity: they’re too afraid of messing up to take risks. As Thor Eckert Jr. wrote for the Christian Post back in 1982, “the very qualities that made Rubinstein unique have been abandoned in the music world today. Rather than emotion, we now have technical prowess, rather than expressivity and poetry we have accuracy, rather than individuality, we have a bland sameness.”

The article goes on to discuss the impact that technology has had on classical music, namely a lowering of concert attendance and less of a tendency to purchase albums in favor of individual songs. This development threatens the mainstay income of classical musicians, and has driven them toward entrepreneurial ventures including pop music hybrids. While this particular source feels this is a positive development, many of us are not so sure.

When commerce takes over any given form, whether art or music or writing, it tends to increase the tangible factors of quality while decreasing the intangible ones, like content or profundity. This in turn drives artists toward increasing degrees of triviality and novelty in an effort to distinguish themselves, with the result that few focus on quality of expression beyond the technical at all.

Simultaneously, the knowledge of technical precision becomes democratized or spread widely at low cost, which means that soon the genre floods with highly proficient players who may have no ability to compose, improvise or otherwise contribute anything but “new” recombined versions of what previously existed. In metal, this has been a death knell; let us hope that for classical it is not the same.

Burzum releases “how-to” videos for classic songs

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Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes has released instructional videos showing those out there in black metal fandom land how to play along with a selection of riffs from classic Burzum songs.

The videos, released via Vikernes’ ThuleanPerspective YouTube account, show him playing each riff and explaining its context and purpose in the corresponding song with an ear for atmosphere and emotion.

Heavy metal and hacking in 2600 magazine

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The Summer 2014 edition of 2600 magazine includes an article by Brett Stevens about the intersection between the heavy metal underground and the hacker underground.

“Crossover: Where Metal and Hacking Met and Mixed” concerns the early years of PC hacking when hackers used the BBS underground and other facilities, some borrowed, to communicate about the nascent underground metal scene. It includes interviews with the leading hackers of that era who listened to heavy metal, including Cult of the Dead Cow and Erik Bloodaxe.

The article follows up on an earlier article published at Perfect Sound Forever, a long-running music e-zine, entitled “Hacker Metal.” That article introduced the concept of hacking and how hackers used BBS culture to stay informed about heavy metal and work around low media coverage.

Although a small portion of the metal community, the crossover between hackers and metalheads provides a fertile ground for the outlook that seeks to defy pointless rules and pay attention to the mechanics of power instead. 2600, named for the signal that allowed hackers to dial out on a line to which they were connected, provides a nexus for the hacker community who may now discover its inner Hessian.

Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal Domain

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The best-selling death metal band of all time, Cannibal Corpse maintains its audience by writing rhythmic hooks and cramming a half-dozen riffs into each song in a way that is memorable enough for the average listener. On their 13th album, A Skeletal Domain, Cannibal Corpse sensibly alter just about nothing to their winning formula.

If you can imagine the 1988-1990 period for Slayer and Exodus combined and turned up to 11, the basic idea of Cannibal Corpse will shine through the genre labels such as “death metal.” This music has little in common with early Morbid Angel, Deicide, Asphyx or other founders of the genre. If anything, it resembles 1980s speed metal given the death metal treatment with extremely distorted vocals, absurdist gore lyrics, and a higher dose of intensity in technique and speed.

Songs build themselves around either a chorus or a memorable riff, usually with hints of melody, and the rest of the time create a primitive groove based on an expectation of rhythmic satisfaction interrupted in sub-divided patterns that recombine the same few basic riff ideas. The guitars support vocals which take center stage in a monotone that foreshadows and echoes the dominant rhythms of each piece. Lead guitars sound straight out of the 1970s but played faster and more erratically, and bass while active and precise acts in a support role to guitars. The result delivers a compact sound that displays little internal variation.

When you listen to this album while distracted, after smoking a bowl, or while typing on the internet, it seems rather impressive. Each individual riff makes sense and the riff after also makes sense. The problem is that songs as a whole do not make sense. They fit together, but no internal tension or communication occurs, which leads to a very “postmodern” style where chaos surrounds an articulated foot-tapping chorus rhythm. The lack of relation and relevance between riffs and the whole of each song makes Cannibal Corpse seem like a stream of spare parts, even if linearly riffs follow in sensible order. You will hear a lot of Slayer in these riffs, which is always welcome.

Metal fans love this band and it is hard to see why they would not. It is catchy, extreme and chaotically hilarious. Its subversively discordant attitude toward all aspects of what most people accept as good and natural life makes it the surly kid who sneaks cigarettes into chapel. The best riffs are often the support riffs, which work in melody and challenging rhythms, and often sound like more intense versions of what second-string speed metal bands like Heathen, Atrophy and Assassin used to do. While I can praise what this album does well, and appreciate the ear candy attributes of it, there is no reason I would purchase this with my limited funds and listen to it on a repeated basis.

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Ferngully: The Last Rainforest

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Although it has little in common with the horror movies and apocalyptic fantasies reviewed here, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest won me over with its themes of humans losing touch with nature and becoming greedy narcissistic dorks who then cause the destruction of rain forests.

Warning: this movie is about 1 hour 15 min long and is children’s animated film, thus can be forgiven its heavy-handed approach since we all know that movies for children are basically propaganda from well-meaning but usually delusional dipsomaniac adults. The soundtrack has traditional folk music that sounds mystical and yet upbeat like Dead Can Dance, and this redeems much of the loss of atmosphere that occurs once any story transitions to cartoon.

The story involves loggers using a leviathan of a machine to chop down trees in the last rainforest and polluting the land as well. A human gets accidentally shrunk by the forest spirit (faeries in this case) and sees the reality of the situation and makes attempts to stop this. This evokes a physical/metaphysical antagonist who is like the Satan of forests. He was trapped in the trees in a long-past age but the churning of the machine inadvertently releases him and he melds with the machine and takes control of it. His intent is to finish his diabolical plot to destroy all forests and the life within them, possibly branching out Antaeus-style to destroy all life after that.

Naturally, our heroic characters launch on a quest in situ to defeat this monster. The intro mentions the pre-history: the humans also used to know of the existence of the fairies and during the black-demon cataclysm a Satan figure called Hexxus was spawned whose goal is to destroy the forest, and while the humans ran away and the fairies trapped Hexxus inside a tree. As you can imagine, a restoration of the magic in the soul brings back the fairies and possibly saves the last rainforest.

You probably do not want to watch this as an adult unless you are so drunk that you have an irrepressible urge to destroy rainforests and need a simple, step-by-step guide to changing your attitude. I mostly recommend this for adults to show to children, who are never too young to be taught the right propaganda — and I think this is probably better than the other options — to program them for zombie-like life among the office towers, fast food joints, sewage treatment plants and arms dumps of the modern world.

International Congress on Medieval Studies call for papers

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For those metalheads from black metal or other genres with a medieval leaning, an opportunity arises in the call for papers issued by the International Congress on Medieval Studies. If you write on medieval topics, you may consider submitting a paper:

Imbas is an interdisciplinary postgraduate conference hosted annually by NUI Galway. The conference gives postgraduate students the opportunity to present ongoing work and to discuss their research with peers in an informal, interdisciplinary setting. The 2014 Imbas committee is delighted to announce the call for papers for the 2014 conference. The theme of the conference is ‘East – West and the Middle Ages’, and it will run from the 28th to 30th November at the Moore Institute, NUI Galway.

Imbas accepts papers from all disciplines, with a focus on any topic from Late Antiquity to the end of the medieval period. Interested postgraduates are invited to submit a title and abstract of 250-300 words, for a research paper of 20 minutes, to the Imbas committee at imbasnuig@gmail.com by 15th September, 2014. For more information see http://www.nuigalway.ie/imbas/

Selected proceedings from the conference will be published in our peer-reviewed journal.

Metal academics might find it interesting to submit here and draw some parallels between medieval practices and those of modern black metal. If nothing else, this would be a great place for all the swords and armor pictures that from Manowar onward have graced metal with their presence.

Happy 63rd birthday, Rob Halford

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The legendary Judas Priest frontman (born 1951) is 63 years old today, August 25, 2014. Introduced to Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill by his sister, Halford became the vocalist for the group and quickly defined his iconic style of singing and found a way to adapt it to the new style.

With Stained Class, Halford adopted what became his trademark visual imagery, which is the leather and studs clothing that spread throughout metal after that time. He later expanded this imagery to include military gear, motorcycles, whips and chains.

Judas Priest defined much of 1970s heavy metal by taking its NWOBHM sound and adding the album-oriented stadium rock feel, giving the music greater accessibility, but simultaneously focusing on strong lead guitar and use of multiple riffs to create a puzzle-piece feel.

Without Halford, Priest might have accomplished this role but not in such an iconic sense or perhaps with such amazingly flexible vocals. Halford joins Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne and Tom Arya among others in the category of legendary heavy metal vocalists. Happy Birthday!

Wömit Angel releasing Holy Goatse on October 3, 2014

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In tribute to the original and perhaps most shocking internet meme, Wömit Angel plan to release their second album Holy Goatse on October 3, 2014 via Inverse Records.

The Finnish band, who some compare to Impaled Nazarene and Motörhead, will unleash their mixture of hardcore punk, metal and rock ‘n’ roll with low-tech presentation and high intensity rhythms. Consisting of Vile Anarchy – Drums, J. Violatör – Guitar & Backing Vocals, and W. Horepreacher – Bass & Vocals, Wömit Angel describe their music as “fetus aborting sado-metal” and direct it toward a less serious audience.

Much like other bands in this style, including Driller Killer and Impaled Nazarene, these Finns find spectacle and shock to be as important as the music they write and so have dedicated a career to essentially trolling the metal and rock audiences that they can lure into their insanity.

At the Gates reveals At War With Reality cover art

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Swedish death metal/metalcore hybrid At the Gates revealed the cover artwork for their upcoming album At War With Reality and issued some details about the concept and purpose of the new work.

The artwork, designed by Costin Chioreanu, reflects the topical direction of the new album toward “magical realism,” a literary genre that emphasizes the fluidity of what we think of as a static and linear reality. Said Tomas Lindberg, vocalist:

The concept of ‘At War with Reality’ is based on the literary genre called ‘Magic Realism’. The main style within this genre is the notion that ‘reality’ is ever-changing, and needs to be constantly re-discovered and re-conquered.

The band also released some of the song titles from the new album, including “Death And The Labyrinth,” “The Circular Ruins,” “The Conspiracy Of The Blind,” “Order From Chaos,” “Eater Of Gods” and “Upon Pillars Of Dust.”

The album was recorded with Fredrik Nordström at Studio Fredman. Jens Bogren, who mastered the new work at Fascination Street Studios, had this to say about the musical experience that it promises:

At the Gates line-up:
Tomas Lindberg – Vocals
Anders Björler – Guitars
Martin Larsson – Guitars
Jonas Björler – Bass
Adrian Erlandsson – Drums