Category Archives: News

Rob Flynn expounds on how commerce crushes creativity

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Alternative metal band Machine Head frontman Rob Flynn recently launched a blog-based tirade in which he excoriates the current music industry for being too industrial in its approach to music. In his view, as soon as something succeeds and lots of people show up to make money off of it, creativity is crushed.

His specific beef is the twofold: the focus on quick sales as a means of determining the value of a band, and on the high charges passed on to bands through union rules for playing past eleven at night. However, Flynn also hits on some ideas that parallel those expressed by underground metal musicians.

The music business has sucked the life out of creativity. No one is encouraged to take risks, no one is encouraged to push the envelope, because it’s all about first-week sales! It’s about pointless radio play and how good your last tour went. How venues and promoters are squeezing the last drop of spontaneity out of your soul by not ‘allowing’ you to playing past curfew and not drawing outside the line.

When we play that game, we essentially applaud mediocrity.

There’s nothing dangerous about music these days, there’s nothing surprising about it either. There can’t be.

His complex rant (mainstream media would say “rambling”) ranges from topics such as how social media disconnects us and a loathing of requisite patriotism in music to the glory days of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1970s, but his point is clear: the more we formalize, make profitable and regulate the process of music, the more we convert it from being a passion into another blockhead industry.

Flynn concludes with a voice of some desperation. “Someone has to stir the pot. Something needs to come along and wake us up out of the slumber.” As underground metal observers, we note that any time a new genre becomes popular, it soon gets mobbed by imitators and marketers who drag it down and turn it into the same old “safe” but “edgy” stuff that in fact has no value to anyone. These people are apparently blind to the fact that they have crushed the value of a genre they pursued specifically because it had that value. Then, having polluted something else, they look for the next big thing to latch on to and parasitize, dragging it down as well.

Twilight – III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb

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Commercial black metal. Oh dear.

Advertising agencies would like us to believe that Twilight is a “black metal supergroup”; but looking at the list of musicians involved, there isn’t much to do with black metal, let alone a noteworthy record within that genre. If there was a desire to be accurate, the band would be billed as “a group of musicians without much in common, to whom we rented a studio and told them to make something that we could promote”. It’s here the band succeeds…but not anywhere else.

The only thing (fit for print) in my mind while listening to this was: “How long does it take for something experimental to become established and lethargic?” Really, there is nothing new on this album. Noise rock was done in the 80s, stoner rock spawned as well, caveman moshcore flourished in the 90s, and linear, monotonous, American “black metal” has insulted eardrums for over a decade. We all know what these genres sound like. Mashing them together and adding constipated vocals does not constitute a new art form. It is not experimental or new. Nor is it worth releasing.

The most disheartening aspect of this release is that most of the musicians involved are talented to above-average degrees. Unfortunately, none of it comes through on this release. They (and us) would be better served heightening their unique take on their own art form, instead of limply moving to this unremarkable, bland middle-ground…but that doesn’t pay the bills.

Teitanblood – Death

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After black metal collapsed, fans went looking for the next great genre to fill the void. Unfortunately, the only “new” developments post-1996 have been of retrogression. Whether combining metal with vapidity (“post-black metal”), commercialism ((Watain, Satyricon)), or frequently both; fans were left without any direction to look to. After reviewing the situation, some honest people realized that “progression” was a sham and the solution was to take metal back to its earlier underground roots in death and speed metal.

Enter Teitanblood.

First, it must be mentioned that this band has a great many features pulling it ahead of 98% of contemporary death and black metal bands. Most importantly, the band is actually metal. It is not pop, grunge, or Japanese videogame music masked with metal aesthetics. Second, the music is competently organized in a manner which facilitates quick understanding of what the band is trying to achieve. Tracks are chaotic bursts of energy which merge the frenetic, kinetic mayhem of black metal with the lucidity of structure offered by death metal. Stream of consciousness motion stays grounded by the relatively consistent vocals, which serve as an anchor between the listener and the assault.

However, this type of composition is not without its pitfalls: due to its nature, songs end up sounding relatively uniform. This is not unheard of in the realm of death metal; however, the band seems to be discomfited by this and thus inserts disruptive moments which share more in common with modern black metal than is comfortable. These consist of slower, “ritualistic” meditations, which in reality is merely minor chord noodling over constipated rantings. Presumably this is supposed to compensate the direct audial rampage offered by the higher-energy sections with a darker mood, but it ends up sounding like a gimmick.

For Teitanblood to progress, it needs to learn how to unify these tendencies into a coherent presentation. If it achieves this, it will deserve all the praise heaped upon it now, but genuinely – as of now, the universal praise of this band reveals the general starvation of the underground metal community for quality releases.

Adramelech – Psychostasia re-issued by Xtreem Music

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Adramelech, long viewed as a younger brother to legendary Finnish death metal band Demigod, ride again with the re-issue of their classic Psychostasia on Xtreem Records. Revered for their ability to mix subtle melody with mid-paced death metal rhythms to produce an enveloping sense of pervasive darkness, Adramelech like Demigod found their way into many death metal collections but remained out of the spotlight that favored more dramatic bands.

The new version of Psychostasia features three live tracks, two taken from the Seven EP, and remastering of the original album. According to those who have heard it, this produces a louder but more even sound while preserving the nocturnal atmosphere and menacing ambiguity of the original.

Xtreem Music, a continuation of Repulse Records, continues a long tradition of putting out quality underground releases and now augments that tradition by adding quality re-issues such as this one to its catalog. A new generation of fans — being of the personality type too alert to be fooled by the circus music of metalcore or bore-drone of shoegaze black metal — may discover the majestic power and infernal might of classic Finnish death metal with this release.

Track List:

  1. Heroes in Godly Blaze 4:11
  2. Psychostasia 4:06
  3. Seance of Shamans 3:27
  4. The Book of the Worm 6:11
  5. Thoth (Lord of the Holy Words) 3:10
  6. Mythic Descendant 4:19
  7. As the Gods Succumbed 5:02
  8. Across the Gray Waters 3:59
  9. Intro – Heroes in Godly Blaze (live) 5:51
  10. The Sleep of Ishtar (live) 3:56
  11. Seven (live) 4:18

You can purchase Adramelech – Psychostasia here:

Heavy metal hall of fame launches in Arlington, TX

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Former lead singer of Warlock and full-time metalhead Jerry Warden seeks 501(c)(3) status for a Metal Hall of Fame to go in his home town of Arlington, TX. He has trademarked the name and plans to showcase the memorabilia he has collected over the years of his involvement in North Texas metal.

“We’re just waiting on the nonprofit status,” Warden said, “and then we’ll have a full tank of gas.” Among other exhibits, he plans a display of the “big three” of DFW area metal: Gammacide, Rigor Mortis and Pantera.

Our only caution here at DMU is that “heavy metal” is a much-abused term. Metal-Archives took a sensible position on allowing only metal bands, but then bent that position to include the post-punk hybrid modern metal bands; MIT’s “Heavy Metal 101″ takes a similar line-drawing approach. It’s harder for a public display to do that when people are going to come there to spend money based on the expectation of seeing their favorite “heavy metal” bands, whether those have any relation to metal or not.

Is all metal speed metal now?

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Tom G. Warrior is a relentless innovator and amazing composer. As he details in his book Only Death is Real: An Illustrated History of Hellhammer he grew up in an abusive, uncertain environment within a broken home. He also grew up in “perfect” Switzerland, a place that has more rules than people. These events shaped his personality or rather, the limitations that are still imposed upon it.

What happened was that young Tom G’s ego was crushed and doubt was introduced into his mind. Doubt about the purpose of life, or even his own life. Doubt of self-worth. Fear that at any moment he might find himself without a justification for existing, and be truly discarded and alone. That’s a heavy load for a young person to carry, but the sequential success of Hellhammer and then Celtic Frost lifted Tom out of it. It also pushed aside a healing process.

When Celtic Frost evaporated, Tom launched on a series of attempts to find popularity again, but on his own terms. First, his highly inventive industrial music, and later, attempts to be contemporary. The latest two are below, and they are marked by a duality: a great underlying talent, desperately attempting to ingratiate itself with newer metal audiences. Like all things that do not take a clear direction, they are thus lost on both fronts.

This is not a hit piece on Tom G Warrior. Like many metalheads, I hold him in the highest regard. He is one of the great innovators and farseeing minds in metal. However, his tendency to try to adapt to what is current shows what is currently happening in metal: in a dearth of ideas, the genre is recombining past successes that represent the culmination of earlier genres, and is trying to recapture its lead by offering a buffet of different influences. But alas, like the music of Triptykon, these forays are lost causes.

Currently a morass of subgenre names exist. We can call it metalcore, or modern metal, or math metal, or tech-deth, or even djent, but all of it converges on a single goal: to make a form of that great 1980s speed metal — Metallica, Anthrax, Testament, Exodus, Nuclear Assault — that used choppy riffs made up of muted chords to encode complex rhythms into energetic songs. To that, the modern metal bands have added the carnival music tendency to pick entirely unrelated riffs to add variety, the grooves of later speed metal, and the vocals and chord voicings of late hardcore and its transition into emo.

What this represents is not a direction, but lack of one. By combining all known successes from late in these subgenres, modern metal is picking up where the past left off before death metal and black metal blew through and rewrote the book. The problem is that making music that is intense like those underground genres is difficult, and even more, unmarketable. It approaches the issues in life that most of us fear, like mortality and failure in the context of powerlessness and meaninglessness, and thus presents a dark and obscure sound that makes us uncertain about life itself. Like Tom G Warrior living through a shattered marriage of his parents and a society too concerned with order to notice its own boredom and misery, black metal and death metal shatter stability and replace it with alienated existential wandering.

On the other hand, late punk offered ideological certainty and heavy doses of emotion. Late speed metal, which Pantera cooked up out of heaping doses of Exhorder, Prong and Exodus, offers a groove and a sense of a party on the wild side. Inserting bits of death metal, especially its technical parts, and some of the frenetic riffing of Discordance Axis allows these bands to create a new kind of sound. But at its heart, this music is still speed metal. Where death metal played riff Jenga and put it all together in a sense that told a story, modern metal is based in variety and distraction. It exists to jar the mind, explore a thousand directions, and without coming to a conclusion ride out in the comforting emulation of the chaos of society around it.

But at its heart, these bands are speed metal. Like Triptykon who revitalize the E-string noodling and riff texture of more aggressive speed metal bands, with the bounce of Exodus and the groove of Pantera, these bands offer a smorgasbord combined into one. They mix in melodic metal, derived from what Sentenced and later Dissection made popular, to give it a popular edge. However, what they’re really doing is regressing to a mean. This has happened in metal before, when mid-1970s bands recombined Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath into rock-style metal, and in the mid-1980s when glam metal did the same thing but mixed in the gentler sounds of late 1970s guitar rock bands. When metal loses direction, it recombines and comes up with a mellower, less threatening version of itself.

All of this is well and good if we do one single but difficult thing: recognize that what we’re listening to now is a dressed-up version of what metal and punk were doing in the late 1980s. We’re walking backward in history, away from that scary underground death metal and black metal, and looking toward something less disturbing and more fun at parties. It seems no one has come out and said this, so I figured it must be said. Enjoy your weekend.

Master launches “North American Witchhunt Tour” in April

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A band from before death metal had coalesced into a genre, Master will tour North America during April 2014 as part of their “North American Witchhunt Tour” which will showcase a new touring lineup.

During the three weeks that Master will rage across North American stages in support of their most recent album, The Witchhunt, the band will comprise Paul Speckmann on bass/vocals, Alex Bouks (formerly of Incantation) on guitars, VJS on guitars, and drummer Ruston Groose.

Master continues evolving. From its earliest days as a punk/metal hybrid, to a period of intense technicality, and now in an era of massive aggression, Master has grown with the style it helped invent and now brings the latest iteration to fans across North America.

Tour Dates:

  • 4/17 Philadelphia, PA @Millcreek Tavern Inn
  • 4/18 Brooklyn, NY @ St. Vitus
  • 4/19 Wilmington, DE @ Mojo 13
  • 4/20 The Forvm – Buffalo, NY
  • 4/22 Chicago, IL @ Reggie’s
  • 4/23 St. Louis, MO @ Fubar
  • 4/24 Milwaukee, WI @ The Metal Grill
  • 4/25 Oklahoma City, OK @ Leon’s Metal Lounge
  • 4/26 3 Denver, CO @ 3 King’s Tavern
  • 4/28 Portland, OR @ Slabtown
  • 4/29 Seattle, WA @ 2 Bit Saloon
  • 4/30 Oakland,CA @ The Metro
  • 5/01 Rosemead, CA @ Spike’s
  • 5/02 Pomona, CA Characters
  • 5/03 Tempe, AZ @ Red Owl
  • 5/05 San Antonio, TX @ Korova
  • 5/06 New Orleans, LA @ Siberia
  • 5/07 Tampa, FL @ Brass Mug
  • 5/09 Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter

See also:

Sadistic Metal Reviews 03-12-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? The only path to metal glory is to make music that is metal both in form and content, and upholds the spirit of conquering the unknown and crushing the empty and pointless. Anything else fails and shall be mocked! Come for the impotent rage, stay for the occasional standout…

vrolok-voidVrolok – Void (The Divine Abortion)

After taking much, much too long to get started (by the way, the ‘tension building’ here is hitting an open E chord for 2 minutes), the first proper track begins with a drum beat that I’d expect to hear from GZA or Del Tha Funkee Homosapian. It only gets worse from there. This album sounds like someone took Burzum, Strid, xanax, and nu-metal and threw them all into a blender. The downright hilarious vocals are just as laugh-inducing as Nattramn of Silencer, and the bass drums sound like bongos. The tracks that aren’t overly long suffer from a lack of direction, and end much too suddenly. What a mess. No wonder this band has gotten much more exposure, they have all of the ‘eeevol’ ingredients that make their music sound scary to the tweenies, but to the experienced listener this is like hearing a group of circus monkeys play Aske.

hirilorn-legens_of_evil_and_eternal_deathHirilorn – Legends of Evil and Eternal Death

As black metal became awash in a sea of imitators, distinguish quality grew difficult due to the sheer number of bands that were releasing albums in the post-1996 entropic period of black metal. Thus it is refreshing to discover a release from that time with spirit and wonder in its construction. Hirilorn’s first and only album is that kind of release.

In a similar fashion to Enslaved’s classic Vikingligr Veldi, this album consists of lengthy songs with subtle harmonies and adventurous structures. Unlike Enslaved, however, Hirilorn are a power metal hybrid but not in such a way that sabotages direction in their music. A particularly outstanding element is the lead guitar, which often plays variations on the melodies of the main riffs throughout the song. It is very much in the forefront of the mix, which is quite unusual for black metal, but here the melodies are evocative and compelling, so this approach works. Vocals are a consistent mid ranged shriek, but occasionally clean vocals are used (such as in “Through The Moonless Night”). Though they are a bit shaky, the result is similar to listening to Quorthon’s singing; it’s not very ‘good’ but it is honest and therefore has a distinct charm.

Where this album succeeds is in creating a world to journey to; these songs tell stories which one can envision easily upon several close listens. It is performed well, ambitious, and seeks to create something new from black metal’s framework. Its failures are a tendency to be overlong and as a result this album feels unfinished at times. Still, this is an interesting work which is a definite highlight of the creatively uninspired late 1990s period of black metal.

stormhold-eyes_in_the eyesStormhold – Eyes in the Eyes

Once you strip away all the layers of other aesthetic, this is metalcore of the melodic “death metal” type, like a hybrid between The Haunted and Dark Sanctuary, which is essentially very basic heavy metal with reliance on too much unison between vocal rhythms and guitars. Good metal leads with guitars and vocals follow, because that allows the most expression; bad metal sets up a vocal rhythm to make people feel comfortable and has guitars echo it, which ends up sounding like a TV commercial.

 

ballgag-getting_fucked_by_lifeBallgag – Getting Fucked by Life

Extremely middle of the road grindcore. It’s hard to screw up grindcore, since there are no rules. This band keep their songs compact, balance between punkish open rhythms and grinding riffs that crunch momentum. Vocals are incomprehensible which makes all of this into one uniform texture. It’s both quality and unexceptional. Maybe drop the pretentious name and try to be a Napalm Death style grind band. Essentially, there’s raw material here that could be good and more importantly, the will to pare down songs so that they’re not random, but the band are unwilling to choose a direction. The nonsense shock name and nonsense shock album title are clues here, but even more so is the utter middle-of-the-road choices the band makes in tempo and riff that obscure its contributions. Refocusing this band would involve a lot more guts and probably a great deal more glory than this innocuous release will garner.

 

bane_of_bedlam-monument_of_horrorBane of Bedlam – Monument of Horror

This strong band is divided between trying to be 1980s speed metal and attempting to fit 2010s “modern metal” into that framework. The verses are rhythmic, single-chord muted strum playing with quick turnaround fills. Choruses use melodic guitar riffs and more expansive patterns to create a sense of space. Unfortunately the vocals tend to influence the music, both by forcing metalcore/post-hardcore guitar-chasing-the-vocals riff-writing and vocalizations of the emphatic type that modern metal uses, where the vocal rants out a beat and then relies on lengthy decay for the last few iterations. Waa waa waa, waa waa, waa waa waaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh. This in turn drives drums to play a catch-up role. The result is that this band’s strength in riffing and song assembly is buried under poor choices. They integrate radical contrast riffs into these songs like a 1980s speed metal band, and while they don’t do as many dynamic shifts in rhythm, they know how to avoid hammering a trope into the ground as well. If this band wants to get ahead, it’s time to drop the modern metal vocals and influences and focus on finding a unique voice in 1980s-style speed metal. Otherwise they’re going to get lost in the modern metal morass, which is producing ten times as many bands as it can sell, and find itself offering the same thing others do without being fully trendy and modernized.

nasum-helveteNasum – Helvete

If you’re someone that is just getting into grindcore, it’s easy to see why this release might appeal to you. It’s got a pretty good handle on riffcraft, good dueling vocals, coherent songs, and is very punk in spirit adn approach. However, Helvete quickly loses its luster. The songs are incredibly simple to the point where one can guess what will happen in most by hearing the first few seconds. It also gets too groovy (moronically so), throwing out a lot of the actual grind for this.

The fact that it is very punky is another shortcoming; a lot of this music is just that — hardcore punk with some blast beats and nu-metal inspired groove — with very little actual grind to be found. What is left is aesthetic only and that tires quickly. Many do not wish to give this band bad reviews on account of the tragically unfortunate death of the singer/mainman, but it would be an insult to the artist to not grade this honestly: a C/C+ at best. If one is really interested in this band, their first album and the material before it are much more compelling, but you could always just listen to Discordance Axis or Blood instead. Turd chunder.

skeletonwitch-beyond_the_permafrostSkeletonwitch – Beyond the Permafrost

This is like the soundtrack to some pimply-faced kid wherein he imagines beating up the bullies and emerging victorious; except he never actually does this and continues to get beat up because he’s a wimp. That’s what this album sounds like. Retreat into a fantasy world that is incongruent with reality, dress it up with some weak black metal shrieking and Gothenburg riffs, rinse and repeat. It’s no wonder this stuff’s so popular – it hits all of the right marks to endear it to the mall going young teen demographic. None of these riffs even sound menacing, most are major scale based. So you get weird happy sounding riffs in music that is trying to sound evil. This band even labels themselves ‘thrash’…..well if this is thrash then I’m the new leader of the DPRK. Someone call the US government to let them know we have new suitable music for torturing prisoners in Guantanamo.

abyssic_hate-suicidal_emotionsAbyssic Hate – Suicidal Emotions

When bands claim direct inspiration from one other band in particular, one must approach this description with caution. Does said band actually take techniques/methods of their influences and incorporate them into new song structures? Or does said band merely try to sound as close to their influences as possible? For this album, it’s the latter.

There are some truly excellent, somber riff passages here. The problem is that instead of building up to a conclusion (such as in Burzum or Graveland, the two biggest influences on this recording) Abyssic Hate just drone on in repetition of the aesthetic influence. Three of these tracks could have had several minutes shaved off of each and they’d be no worse for the wear. The shortest track is the most complete, but that is only by virtue of it not being as overly repetitive as the longer tracks can be. If this group could develop its sharp riffcraft into more adventurous song structures, we’d be looking at something interesting. It doesn’t, so the end result is something that is atmospherically soothing, even a little eerie, but after a few minutes that wears off and you’re left with the sounds of a radiator buzzing for 40 more minutes.

anton_bruckner-symphony_number_2-herbert_von_karajan-berlin_philharmonic_orchestraAnton Bruckner – Symphony No. 2 (Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, 1981)

Artists who produce great and powerful bodies of work leave behind less-noticed works that are by no means lesser. Bruckner’s Symphony No. 2 is actually his fourth symphonic work, and is relentlessly overshadowed by his more intense symphonies such as the lengthy and crushing Eighth, which produces a pervasive sense of inexorable conflict and restless destructive renewal.

The Second on the other hand builds quietly from a nearly pastoral origin to a peaceful state of mind that then like a dragon rising from the mist turns to fire and warfare in the tumultuous and restive finale. Beginning with a gentle interweaving of naturalistic themes, the first movement assembles them in a style not dissimilar to the riff sequencing of Celtic Frost or Incantation, a type of prismatic construction that excels in placing repetitive in sequences interrupted from within such that each recurrence is a return with new knowledge to a familiar theme and thus an expansion instead of a reiteration. These build to the two middle movements which reflect more of an inner state of mind, in which melodies are carefully organized into a developing sequence which shows balance and harmony. Expert organ improviser Bruckner shows his true power here in his approach to the sonic tapestry where resonant sequences gradually alter themselves and through negative space and absence generate a higher intensity of presence. These techniques expanded with his later symphonies but can be seen in a lighter application here as part of a focused series of techniques.

The finale rotates between nascent versions of several triumphant melodies, bringing each one out of primordial chaos so that it can develop, then detouring to another, then returning, so that these melodies complement each other and explode in a triumphant final martial processional followed by a meditative recapitulation of the mood and theme of the earlier movements. The result is a breathtaking dynamic that shatters not just expectations but the intractable egoism of humanity that renders them closed to the inherent adventure of life itself.

Listening to Bruckner always reminds me of the secret of life that hides in plain sight. These immersive and epic symphonies etch out a clue that all of life is pervaded with meaning and holiness, and we deny it only to feel “in control” which is nothing but pretense. I don’t care what religious tradition you come from, or even a negation of religion, because you can access this sentiment through any viewpoint. It is simply this: life is an intricate and balanced design of great beauty and thus, truth, and through this we learn why we endure, and even more, why we strive.

This outlook is always just below the surface of all that we perceive, but it hides from us, because we must be open to it to see what is potential, and thus, what is immanently real. Although most people choose death and control over being part of the great complex beauty that breathes incessantly around them, Bruckner reminds us that the option is always there to lose ourselves and gain a cosmos.

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Saint Vitus on 35th anniversary tour of North America

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Classic heavy metal doom metal band Saint Vitus embark on a tour celebrating the band’s 35-year history from May 8-25, 2014. The band will be playing the entirety of their Born Too Late album, the first to feature Scott Weinrich on vocals. Saint Vitus made a name for itself in the world metal community for being one of two bands to continue the 1970s style of metal throughout the 1980s and 1990s, making heavy metal hymns slowed down to reflect a completely alienated worldview.

Tourdates:

  • 5/08/2014 Launch Pad – Albuquerque, NM
  • 5/09/2014 Club Red – Phoenix, AZ
  • 5/10/2014 Cheyenne Saloon – Las Vegas, NV
  • 5/11/2014 The Observatory (Psycho De 5o Fest) – Santa Ana, CA
  • 5/13/2014 The Echo – Los Angeles, CA
  • 5/14/2014 SLO Brew – San Luis Obispo, CA
  • 5/15/2014 Strummer’s – Fresno, CA
  • 5/16/2014 Thee Parkside – San Francisco, CA
  • 5/17/2014 Branx – Portland, OR
  • 5/18/2014 Highline – Seattle, WA
  • 5/20/2014 In The Venue – Salt Lake City, UT
  • 5/21/2014 Marquis Theatre – Denver, CO
  • 5/23/2014 Red 7 (Outside) – Austin, TX
  • 5/24/2014 Fitzgerald’s Downstairs – Houston, TX
  • 5/25/2014 Three Links – Dallas, TX

Lineup:

  • Dave Chandler – guitar
  • Scott Weinrich – vocals
  • Mark Adams – bass
  • Henry Vasquez – drums

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Interview with The Inverted Katabasis author Dean Swinford

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We were fortunate to get some time for a chat with Dean Swinford, author of Death Metal Epic I: The Inverted Katabasis. As a person with extensive experience in both death metal and literature, Swinford provides a great deal of insight into both.

You’ve walked dual paths in this life, both metal and literature. Do you see any parallels between them?

I definitely see lots of parallels between the two. Indirectly, you can find groups in any metal subgenre that work with myths or legends of some kind. More directly, so many metal songs have connections to specific books and stories by modern authors.

Beyond that, so many of the thank you lists in the liner notes specifically mention authors and books that influenced the musicians. I’ve never seen that done so consistently in any other modern music genre.

Both metal and literature are ways to, and I’m paraphrasing Dante a bit here, walk through the dark forest. I guess what I’m doing is joining the two so that I can write about the ways that the two paths become one. Just a note about the images in the interview — I’ve included some sketches from my journals to go along with the questions. I draw a lot when I’m writing and I think the images help to show how I worked through and continue to work through ideas for the books.

Figure 1. One of my characters (David? Nekrokor? Svart?) in the woods

Figure 1. One of my characters (David? Nekrokor? Svart?) in the woods

Your book, Death Metal Epic I: The Inverted Katabasis, is a fictional account of early 1990s Florida death metal — but it’s clear it was influenced by events that were far from fictional. What inspired this book, and how does it connect with your own story?

You’re right that the book has a number of features taken from my own life, but I’ve put them within the context of someone in an early 1990s Florida death metal band. I grew up in Miami and I was the music director of the college radio station at Florida International University.

A friend of mine did the metal show at University of Miami, and he also ran the metal section at Yesterday and Today Records. As you know from your experience in college radio, it’s pretty thrilling to talk to people from the labels, meet people from bands you like, and, of course, get music sent to you in the mail.

The places in the book are places I’ve lived in or traveled to, so in that sense, it’s a way for me to revisit different parts of my life. I’ve always liked coming of age stories and novels about artists and musicians. This seemed like a way to write that kind of book, but in a context that I’m familiar with. Also, I wanted to write something relatively light and funny that still dealt with some deeper themes.

I used to write stories that were more surreal or fantastic in their approach. I still use that kind of voice for the “metametal” chapters in the book. As I got older, I started to realize that it was more interesting and satisfying to write a story about every day events, about getting annoyed at your friend or suffering through the stomach flu.

One of the things I’ve always liked about metal is that it tends to be very escapist. I like songs about dragons, ancient rites, and forgotten deities precisely because I don’t encounter those things on a daily basis.

One of the things I’ve always liked about metal is that it tends to be very escapist. I like songs about dragons, ancient rites, and forgotten deities precisely because I don’t encounter those things on a daily basis. I guess if I’m doing anything new in the book, I’m taking that escapism and juxtaposing it with the kinds of struggles a lot of people seem to encounter as they move into their twenties.

Figure 2. Journaling with a portrait of Nekrokor

Figure 2. Journaling with a portrait of Nekrokor

Do you think death metal was inspired by literature? If so, what, and how did it shape the genre?

Oh, sure. I mean, if Tolkien’s orcs made folk music of their own, what would it sound like? When one of Lovecraft’s protagonists hears the batrachian choir that tips him into madness, what does he hear? And I think that it contributes to literature through what you could call the “poetics” of metal lyrics and the textual features of liner notes—the mix of images and lyrics paired with personal notes and lists from the musicians.

You mentioned in an email to me that you’ve found some metal lyrics that remind you of Neoplatonism. Could you explain what you mean?

Neoplatonism refers to the synthesis of pagan and Christian philosophy into a kind of mystical and theological framework that had a pretty broad influence until the early modern scientific revolution. I write about its influence on the astronomer Johannes Kepler in another book of mine, Through the Daemon’s Gate. I guess because I’m interested in Neoplatonism, I see traces of it everywhere. I don’t want to go into too much detail on this, but one specific example I could talk about is pretty evident in Inquisition‘s Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm. The idea of the macrocosm influencing the microcosm comes directly from Neoplatonism. The concept that space is a kind of tomb is evident in classical literature as well. In Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, the narrator ascends into space, where he speaks with the ghost of his dead grandfather. It’s no accident that the last word of each part of Dante’s Commedia is “stars.”

Another idea that Dagon mentions in the liner notes is what he calls the “eternal quest for infernal tone.” That idea of the true disciple uncovering the most diabolic tone is linked to the thematic concern of the album, which is the power that the macrocosm exerts on those of us on earth.

In Neoplatonism, the interlocking spheres of the cosmos produce tones that are perfect and inspire order in the sublunary realm. That’s the mystical element of Pythagoras’s theories on tonal proportions. The key shift from Pythagoras to Dagon is that, while the Ptolemaic universe was seen as orderly and divine, Inquisition’s musings tend more towards a contemplation of the universe as infinite chaos.

Do you still listen to metal? If so, what inhabits your player these days? How does this differ from the hazy glory days of the early 1990s?

Of course. I still get excited when I discover a band. Plus, I do most of my writing while listening to music, so I like to get something new as a writing reward when I meet some kind of deadline. I just picked up the two Atlantean Kodex albums and I am loving those. It helps that their myth-themed approach is just the kind of thing that I write about in my book. I mean, the second one is based on the same Robert Graves book that my character Juan is obsessed with, so I had to check it out!

I’m also really into some of the newer Inquisition albums, as mentioned above. Other current favorites include Obscura, Mournful Congregation, and this Dutch doom band Officium Triste. Of course, I still listen to all the classics, too. I listen to Candlemass and Solitude Aeternus a lot. As I’m writing these books, I try to listen to music that corresponds most with the plot. So, right now I’m trying to listen to things that meet the approval of Svart, the mastermind of Desekration.

Figure 3. Journaling and sketch of Svart's record shop

Figure 3. Journaling and sketch of Svart’s record shop

Do you detect any influences from Gothic or Romantic literature in death metal? If these aren’t direct influences, do you think the two genres converge on similar ideas because they’re writing about similar experiences/concepts?

I think you’re probably right. You could probably catalog a lot of specific references, everything from the Frankenstein samples on Morpheus DescendsRitual of Infinity to the painting by Caspar David Friedrich on the new Atlantean Kodex album. As far as similar experiences and concepts, I’d say that metal lyrics, like Gothic and Romantic lit, use fantasy as an indirect way to represent complex emotions like longing and despair.

You’re writing a paper on prosopopoeia, which I’m told is a rhetorical device in which a speaker or writer communicates by speaking through another object or person. How do you think this applies to metal?

Yeah, that’s right. I’m working on a paper that looks at corpsepaint as a kind of mask, especially given statements by Dead that he used corpsepaint to become or give voice to a victim of the Black Death. What’s interesting is that prosopopoeia is a device that seems to clearly apply to black metal performance — Dead popularized corpsepaint, but so many bands still use it — but the rhetorical device is also evident in the lyrics on De Mysteriis. There are more than a few examples in the lyrics of address from the point of view of a long-dead spirit. I think that’s interesting in the context of medievalism, or the ways that contemporary culture still uses or speaks through the Middle Ages as a way of talking about our own time.

Do you think this type of “mask” applies to black metal and hardcore punk more than other genres? Why would a genre need to conceal the origin of its thoughts — do you think that determination lies more with the band, or what the audience can tolerate?

I think that idea of masking occurs in every genre to some extent and probably waxes and wanes over time. Right now, it seems like it’s often used more as a genre marker than anything. You can buy an action figure of Lars Umlaut, the Guitar Hero character modeled off of the guys in Immortal.

In The Inverted Katabasis, you utilize a literary figure known as the katabasis. What is this and how does it apply to death metal and other underground genres?

Right — the katabasis is the mythical journey to Hell. It’s just a name to describe a kind of journey that lots of mythic heroes undertake. In most cases, it’s linked in some way to a quest against death or against the realization of one’s mortality. Orpheus goes to Hell to rescue his lady, but it doesn’t work out so well. He ends up wandering the world like a depressive, plucking doomy odes on his lyre until he gets ripped apart by Maenads. Dante’s journey into the underworld is a katabasis as well.

I’d say the connection to myth is really important. I remember seeing Nile a few years ago and it felt like they had, if even only temporarily, resurrected the dead gods.

So, an inverted katabasis is a journey out of hell. There’s a word for that, too. It’s called an “anabasis.” But I liked inverted katabasis better because it sounded more like something that could work as an album title. For David Fosberg, the inverted katabasis is an escape from the minimum wage hell of his life in Miami. Plus, my ironic treatment of the trope helps to put the book in its true genre, the mock epic.

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Several of the people I’ve talked to about this book have found in David Fosberg an uncanny portrait of the years following a successful second-tier death metal release that pushed the limits but never got big. Why do you think so many of these bands vanished into obscurity?

Thanks for that. In a lot of ways, I’m writing about metal, but I think that this trajectory is probably pretty common for people in any number of fields. The moment I’m writing about in the books goes from the time that death metal was big enough for bands like Napalm Death, Carcass, Cathedral, Godflesh, and Morbid Angel to get some major label attention to the influx of black metal that seemed to bring everything back to small, purposefully obscure labels.

In a lot of ways, this seems similar to the way the skateboarding industry crashed in the early nineties. As far as all the great bands that vanished into obscurity, my guess is that it’s because life is hard and, ultimately, releasing an album (or a book, for that matter) isn’t going to change that.

Do you think death metal has a place in education? If you were to teach death metal, say as a form of literature or art, how would you introduce it to your students?

Sure. There are a number of people working in that direction. Martin Jacobsen at West Texas A & M teaches a course on metal and literature. There’s an International Society for Metal Music Studies. Nicola Masciandaro and others have done a lot of work on theorizing black metal. I think if I were to link the two in a class, I’d do it as part of a broader exploration of medievalism.

You’ve moved on from death metal, but haven’t quite left it behind; it seems to live in your thoughts. What do you think is the enduring appeal of death metal? Did it have an artistic or generational statement to make that was profound then and remains so today?

That’s a good question. I think the way it pushes musical limits is important. Even with something like the speed of drumming featured in that recent Wall Street Journal article. For me, I’d say the connection to myth is really important. I remember seeing Nile a few years ago and it felt like they had, if even only temporarily, resurrected the dead gods. That process has long been an important part of human culture.

In another interview, you said that your own musical project had “layers of ambient keyboards and lyrics taken from myths, the sagas, and so forth.” Do you think you were ahead of the times, having seen how black metal shifted in that direction after its initial thrust (Neptune Towers, Beherit, Ildjarn, Wardruna, Burzum)?

I wish! I recorded it in a radio station studio like the one I describe in the book. By the time I started to figure out what I was doing, I had to return my studio key in a situation pretty similar to what happens to Juan. I still think there’s a way to use this approach to make something interesting. Maybe someday.

Yours appears to be one of the first entries in the “death metal literature” genre. Do you think this field is going to grow?

I think so. Since I’ve been getting my book out there, I’ve met a lot of people who seem really interested in the possibilities of metal lit, or whatever you want to call it. Kriscinda Lee Everitt has started a journal for metal themed fiction called Despumation Press, so anyone who has a story to tell should send in a submission.

Speaking of growing, I understand that The Inverted Katabasis is part of an ongoing series. How big does it get? Do you have fantasy worlds like Mordor and Hogwarts for us?

That’s right. The current plan is to do three books. What’s more metal than an epic trilogy, right? It might be even more metal if I never actually finish. I try to make the bands, characters, and albums in the books as convincing as I can so that they take on a life of their own. That’s probably one of my favorite parts of this. I really enjoy the creative process of inventing new band logos, albums, characters, and liner notes. Who knows? Maybe someday, someone will cover a Katabasis song or try to recreate the groundbreaking work of Astrampsychos.

Figure 5. The Astrampsychos logo and some notes on the ocarina

Figure 5. The Astrampsychos logo and some notes on the ocarina

What’s your next step in your career as a death metal writer — are you going to continue working on the books linearly, write short stories, or return to music and use it to accompany the next volume?

Right now, I’m trying to finish up the second book of the Death Metal Epic. The next one is going to be called The Goat Song Sacrifice. There will be new characters, new bands, new struggles for David Fosberg to endure.