Category Archives: News

How the internet changed heavy metal

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Many of the old school metal fans observed how the rise of the Internet coincided with the death of the underground and its replacement with the “funderground.” They opine how one-click access to music removed much of the challenge of finding music and created a culture of casual acceptance, not aggressively finding and hoarding quality material. There’s truth in that, surely. But there are other effects as well.

For example, easy access to music limited the emphasis on quality. When you buy music with limited funds, you tend to care about the best and/or cutting-edge material only. When the cost of trying out a new band is nothing, the tendency is to listen once and then file it by aesthetic category. “Sounds about like regular death metal. I need something different, maybe with a flute or jazz licks.”

Two more subtle effects occurred as well. First, the Internet in its post-AOL incarnation become fundamentally a social place. Metal on the internet became regulated by this social influence because the people talking about music on the Internet did so from a social outlook. They wanted to meet other people, and the music was secondary to that. As a result people began searching more for the ironic and music with novelty, leading to a rise in hipster-metal and related forms.

Second, the Internet made basic information about technique and style easily available. Learning how to write death metal no longer required listening, learning and working with other bands, zines, radio, etc. The user could visit a forum or any number of blogs and get a quick overview, which encouraged people to migrate over from other genres and adopt metal technique to the composition used in those other genres. This was not so much a genre mashup as an extraneous genre disguised as heavy metal.

With those two factors, emphasis switched from the music itself to the music as a “flavoring” to be applied to something else. Whether social flavoring, or a way to dress up those post-punk slash lite jazz hymns that your band had been kicking around for a decade, metal became the outlet for those impulses. The tendency of our media and society to see metal as “rebellious” made it a natural target because just about everyone wants to be different these days, in other words, rebels against the normal way of doing things.

In theory — which sometimes corresponds to reality — this would precipitate a focus not on the outward aspects of metal but its inward attributes, like spirit, compositional style and content. That day may come, but now that’s a much harder sell. It’s easier to dress up the same crap, push it down the line and produce it from your desktop, then spend all of your focus on the social and surface appearance aspects of the music. That’s how success is made these days.

Dementium adds voice to Puerto Rican metal revolution

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As part of an ongoing revolution, Puerto Rico launches a quality metal band every few months. In this case, Dementium — featuring Organic Infest bassist/composer Jose “Chewy” Correa on bass — create a fertile mix of styles from the late 1980s, mixing majority speed metal material with death metal influences. However, the core of this album breathes the more intense varieties of speed metal like came from Exodus, Kreator and Destruction.

Using the tried-and-true German formula of fast verse riffs with periodic melodic insertions balanced against slower choruses full of rhythmic hook, Dementium stack riffs against one another in songs that generally conform to a verse/chorus structure. However, these solid constructions detour into related riff clusters like a person lapsing into daydream, and these variations prove to be varied and to enhance the mood. This kicks the band out of the strident chanting repetition that killed many of these bands.

Although the style comes from the past, a number of updates shine through. For example, percussion fits more into the later Metallica pattern of sparse but energy-inducing rolling beats. Riffs take advice from later death metal and Correa’s melodic bass underscores the compositions like a cross between Sadus and Iron Maiden. Vocals mix the Kreator shriek and the Sodom chant with the bouncy energy of later Exodus. It provokes a desire to see the style grow with this promising new band.

For more information, see the Dementium Facebook page.

Diocletian – Gesundrian

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The sheer power of war comes alive in the third full-length from New Zealand warriors Diocletian, Gesundrian. The name Diocletian comes from the Roman emperor of the same name who waged what came to be known as the Diocletianic Persecution, which was the final and most severe attack on Christians in the Roman Empire. This band carries on the tradition of hatred and violence from those ancient times in the ferocious Gesundrian.

Not unlike similar acts such as Angelcorpse, Diocletian crafts war metal band but delves into more chaotically melodic construction rather than remaining a cookie-cutter clone of the Canadian bands. Gesundrian thunders forth with a dirge-like riff that builds an intense ardency, like sadness warping into anger, and progresses into a violent and powerful stampede of riffs throughout the entirety of this album like hordes of horseback warriors in the midst of battle.

While not offering anything fundamentally new, Gesundrian maintains the warlike spirit of metal, musically, lyrically, and structurally. For those who crave the invigorating dangers of ancient times, this is a work for you. Sound the drums of war: Diocletian approaches.

Corrosion of Conformity – IX

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Former thrash band Corrosion of Conformity will release their latest album on June 24th via Candlelight Records.

Entitled IX (it would appear the band scrapped the earlier title, Corinthians) the album sees COC continuing their recent pattern of mixing rock with a non-threatening and reduced version of their punk trajectory. Hook-driven riffs array to complement the sing-along nature of the vocal tracks. When vocals cease, guitar riffs pick up the sugar-candy melodic impulse and continue it onwards, with easy post-Sabbath riffing and bland solos which quickly fade from memory into the formless void. Simplistic in its catchiness, this album bears some semblance to Cathedral’s final album in that it represents a band stripped of impetus, creating entertainment as opposed to art. Although the talent and skill of the members involved still leaks through, thus lending the album more credence than many of its contemporaries, and probably earning them well-deserved financial success and recognition, nothing can save the lack of purpose to this album.

Corrosion of Conformity, along with DRI and Cryptic Slaughter, helped construct the genre known as thrash, which brought the epic quality of metal together with the topical focus of punk in a high-energy cocktail that inspired a strong reaction from an alienated generation. Although it was not simple protest music, the heroic looking-forward present in thrash stands in contrast to its anger and regret in an organic circle of experience, which is particularly stark when returning from the obscene vapidity present on album IX.

Listening single-mindedly is the only way to appreciate metal

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Metal worth listening to is worth listening to properly. You listen properly by listening single-mindedly. This means that you set aside everything else and put your focus on the music. Although our society places a false premium on time, this is even more important when you have little time: make the most of your time by making your listening experience the most intense one possible. Since attention spans are on the decline, actual listening is rare. Instead, there’s a hearing of background noise while doing something else. The rise of YouTube has exacerbated the issue.

Ideal listening conditions require one to keep all distractions out of reach and out of earshot, allowing as little other sensory input as possible. This means no distractions, no facebooking, no chitchat, no multitasking — leave that to the kitchen while preparing multiple dishes — and listening to entire albums from start to finish. This is most important and cannot be stressed enough. Create a ritual aspect through the act of listening.

Immersing oneself in the depth of an album, one senses the ebb and flow of momentum, the pacing and construction. Also audible are characteristics — you get to see which are effective and why — and one is able to consider the album as a whole, rather than as a collection of similar sounding songs in the same style. Even an average band sequences songs on an album in a particular way for a reason, even if they have not mastered use of theme and leitmotif. The truly great ones lead you on a journey, enable epiphanies, and insights that go beyond music.

When listened to single-mindedly, In the Nightside Eclipse elevates the spirit into the farthest cosmic realms; Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm plays out like a vision of the coming battle before the fact and a return to genesis with clearer, wiser eyes not unlike the role played by the “Bhagavad Gita” in the Mahabharata. Great metal at its best attempts to communicate facets of the ineffable: the vastness and timelessness of the universe, the pervasive nature of the primal life force.

To even begin to experience this, one needs to make a concerted effort at listening. This effort and immersion also reveals which music is timeless, which albums have almost everything in the right place but do not ascend into the pantheon and which are to be hung on a wall for the “collectors” only. A realization dawns about the elements that make albums great, beyond a purely musical value. Superficialities and externalities go out the window. You see into structure, or how all the parts fit together to make a greater whole.

On the other hand, it has become a common tendency to stream a song on YouTube while doodling on Facebook, watching video and playing video games all at once. The best you can hope for there is to pay random attention to how it “sounds,” maybe notice a few hooks or sudden, jarring changes make themselves felt, and declare it a gem. Then jump to the next song on the list of suggestions, repeat procedure. It is no surprise that so many record reviews now are breathless and full of praise yet notice nothing but surface traits of an album.

Casual listening can aid in the initial discovery of bands like you skim a novel you pick up in a bookstore as you decide whether to buy it (or put it on a mental list for later to get from the library). While distracted listening can aid in initial discovery of bands, prolonged reiteration of the same obliterates your ability to distinguish an exceptional album from a merely acceptable one. Listening habits decay and quality of metal declines in parallel. If your time is precious, reward it by listening to only the very best and giving all of yourself to the experience.

Swans – Cop

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Much can be said with very little, as is the case with the early era of the experimental titans known as Swans. Their discography ranges from the intensely violent to the melancholically beautiful and their sophomore effort Cop stands out as the perfection of the style present on their debut Filth which acted as the foundation of what was to come.

Influencing the likes of Godflesh, Cop launches forth with a cerebral wall of sound crushing everything in its wake like a colossal bulldozer laying waste to a city. The most consistently pummeling album in the Swans catalog — unlike later efforts (namely Soundtracks for the Blind) — attempts to engage its listeners in a gradual and destructive descent into the darkest recesses of the earth rather than projecting a more horror-inspired soundscape. The brooding ambiance conveys a sense of downward direction towards something unknown, like rappelling down a previously unexplored cave.

Though arguably not quite a metal release, it possesses heaviness both aesthetically and internally as well as the ability to create an all-encompassing atmosphere of destruction and dark curiosity. I recommend this album to any metal fan looking to explore the influential and often undiscovered Swans.

Documentary film The Distorted Island: Heavy Metal Music and Community in Puerto Rico nears release, reveals artwork

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Artwork for a new documentary about Puerto Rico’s metal scene by the Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies Group, The Distorted Island: Heavy Metal Music and Community in Puerto Rico, makes its appearance today and in this blog. According to the creators of the film:

This upcoming documentary explores the emergence and maintenance of a metal scene in the Caribbean island. The documentary explores how local bands have survived for 30 years via strong community ties, while also highlighting the cultural and historical challenges faced along the way. Local artist Kadriel Betsen, a digital artist and guitarist for the extreme metal band Humanist, developed the artwork. Nelson Varas-Díaz, Osvaldo González, Eliut Segarra and Sigrid Mendoza compose the research and filmmaking team. Dr. Nelson Varas-Díaz is a metal fan and Associate Professor at the University of Puerto Rico who has led the team carrying out a research study on the local scene. The documentary will see its full release by the end of 2014.

When asked about the artwork for the movie poster, local artist Kadriel Betsen said the following: “This artwork attempts to capture the very essence of Puerto Rico’s Heavy Metal scene. A scene where a particular musical taste influences the way we perceive and express our culture, and where our culture enriches and influences the way we create music. These two powerful factors gave birth to the Distorted Island…”

For more information, see the Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies Group‘s Faceplant page.

Heavy metal as music of rejection, not rebellion

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The conventional media narrative regarding heavy metal is that heavy metal is the music of adolescent rebellion. Like the Puritan attitude toward sex, this double-faced approach allows media to both trivialize metal and use it as the basis of product branding, or the identification by consumers of the product with an attitude or social group. This attitude reflects the needs of the media more than what heavy metal actually is.

In branding, metal joins a cluster of products like Jack Daniel’s whisky, Marlboro cigarettes, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and other products that are used in mass culture films, books and music to symbolize rebellion. Much as the media sells sex ambivalently, rebellion is also sold as a duality: it is portrayed as bad, yet fun, and so often the compromise is to avoid it on a regular basis but to cut loose on weekends. Smart observers might realize that’s a great method of control, because by “capturing” the impulse toward anarchy and controlling it, you keep the workers showing up regularly every weekday. Similarly, it’s good advertising because it implies a safe rebellion: the rebellion is there, but it’s a product you can buy anywhere, so it’s socially approved and thus there are no real consequences to face.

But what about those who are dissidents? These see our society as going the wrong way entirely and refuse to participate. Much of this infuses metal through the people it attracts, who are either drop-outs or cutting-edge dissidents, depending on who you ask. As Jeremy Wallach reveals in a post to the Music, Metal and Politics mailing list:

The notion that metal is a cause or a symptom of adolescent psychological development gone awry has been roundly criticized for the last 20+ years not only for its practically nonexistent empirical justification, but more importantly. for its unstated ideological assumptions. Too often the “problem” turned out to be insufficient socialization–of working-class kids who refused to be docile, obedient, and unquestioning, and of middle-class kids who refused to be conformist and hardworking. But rock and roll kids have always been, in Simon Frith’s words, working-class kids who reject work and middle-class kids who reject success.

Zoom in on this: working-class kids who refused to be docile, obedient, and unquestioning, and of middle-class kids who refused to be conformist and hardworking.

In other words, if your parents were expected to work as entirely subservient to the system, you reject that subservience; if your parents were expected to lead within the system, you reject the attitude that allows them to do that without questioning the system.

What we’re seeing here is not rebellion, or disagreement with method, but rejection. These are people rejecting civilization as it is so constituted. This started with Black Sabbath rejecting the idea of “peace, love and happiness” — a once-removed proxy for egalitarianism and coexistence — peaked in speed metal’s warnings of nuclear war and apocalypse, and finally in death and black metal saw acceptance of the apocalypse and subversion of its methods of control and emotional passivity, respectively.

Heavy metal does not tell society that its methods are wrong, but that its approach is wrong. We are those who dream of a different world… one where intangible values triumph over those that are material, social, economic or political. Different generations of heavy metal reflect this dream differently and few seem to be able to articulate it, but it remains beneath the surface, peeking out periodically like divinity in an avatar, hinting at the invisible narrative pervading what we know as “normal” life.

Metal Music Studies journal now on sale

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The journal Metal Music Studies put forth by the International Society for Metal Music Studies is now on sale at this location. Individual subscriptions are £36 per year. The journal aims to fulfill the following mission statement:

To provide an intellectual hub for the International Society of Metal Music Studies and a vehicle to promote the development of metal music studies;

To be the focus for research and theory in metal music studies – a multidisciplinary (and interdisciplinary) subject field that engages with a range of parent disciplines, including (but not limited to) sociology, musicology, humanities, cultural studies, geography, philosophy, psychology, history, natural sciences;

To publish high-quality, world-class research, theory and shorter articles that cross over from the industry and the scene;

To be a world leader in interdisciplinary studies and be a unique resource for metal music studies.