Arctic Music Group (AMG), famed for quality death metal releases at reasonable cost in the early 2000s, will restructure itself into Arctic Media (AM) along with its imprint labels Arctic Music, Frozen North and Punktuation!.
Under the leadership of Julian Hollowell (Kult of Azazel, Hateplow) Arctic Music and Punktuation! will focus on extreme metal and punk. Under Ricktor Ravensbrück (Electric Hellfire Club), Frozen North will focus on electronic and industrial music. Finally, Mike Gallo of SBS Recordings will lead the new label imprint Blue Light which will focus on blues, country, reggae and world music.
Current roster artists include Vein Collector, Kult ov Azazel, Hod, Ptahil, and the most recent signing, iconic electro/rock/industrial act The Electric Hellfire Club. New releases have already been scheduled into summer of 2014. AMG will continue to work with distributor MVD, which will ensure its product will be available in all formats worldwide, both physical and digital. The label plans an emphasis on vinyl and other formats in addition to standard CD and digital downloads.
Viewing itself as a “a label run by musicians for musicians,” AMG has pursued musicians of longstanding status in the underground to implement its new vision. The label is currently accepting and reviewing submissions from artists and will also consider licensing existing releases from artists whose current contract terms have expired.
Massacre carved a place for themselves in the death metal community years ago and with their foundational From Beyond, an album of tremolo-picked columnar death metal with big fuzzy production at a time when many death metal bands were still trying to emulate the muted-picked speed metal of the previous era.
Over two decades later, Massacre returns with Back From Beyond which sees release on April 1, 2014 via Century Media records. We were fortunate to be able to grab a few words with bassist Terry Butler, whose work with Massacre, Death, Six Feet Under and other Florida death metal bands has made him a towering legend in the community.
You’re about to unleash a new work, Back From Beyond. Since the title effectively compares it to your breakthrough album From Beyond, can you tell us: how are these albums different in approach, in style and in production?
In the case of From Beyond, the songs had been written five years prior, so when we signed to Earache, we just jumped in the studio and recorded them. We tried to keep the production simple and raw. The approach for Back From Beyond was “let’s not rush and re-hash songs for a quick release.” We took our time with the songwriting and production. It’s been 22 years, why rush? The production is better on Back From Beyond. Tim Vasquez did a great job!
What do you think Back From Beyond is adding to death metal, twenty plus years past its inception?
We are just playing Death Metal the way we like it. Heavy riffs, catchy in your face and brutal. I like rhythms I can remember. As far as adding something new, no one is adding something new these days. It’s all been done. We are just doing what we do.
You released an EP, Condemned to the Shadows, in 2012. How different is that material from what we’ll hear on Back From Beyond?
It’s musically in the same vein. More of the same basically. We re-recorded the two tracks from that EP. They are sonically different and production-wise sound different.
Can you tell us how Massacre assembled? I know it pre-dated Death, but after Death fragmented the members came together for From Beyond. Can you connect those dots for us?
Bill Andrews formed Massacre in ’84. At that stage it was mostly covers. Kam [Lee] joined in ’85 and a three-song demo was released. Rick [Rozz] joined in ’86 and a four-song demo was released. In early ’87, Rick, Bill, and I joined Death. After four years in Death, Bill and I contacted Rick, and Massacre was back together. We signed to Earache and put out From Beyond and Inhuman Condition. After several tours the band split up again. Now 22 years later, we are back. That’s the gist of it. In a nutshell.
At the time when From Beyond came out, most of Florida death metal was focusing on blasting and choppier, more muted strum percussive riffing. Massacre went for the full on fast-tremolo strum and big fuzzy burly warm sound guitar production. What made you take this different path?
That’s the Massacre sound and philosophy. Rick was in Mantas in ’83 writing this way and in Death in ’84 and ’85 writing this way. He wrote most of the material on From Beyond. He wrote half of Leprosy. I co-wrote four songs on Spiritual Healing. So what I’m trying to say is: this is our style. The songs on From Beyond were written in ’86. No disrespect to blasting, but the Massacre sound was cemented years before.
Do you think your different path helped ‘From Beyond’ achieve the cult status it has among death metal devotees?
Yes, in a way. The band didn’t at the time, no, but we were influencing the likes of Napalm Death, Carcass etc. Joining Death, then coming back and putting out From Beyond only helped the status of Massacre. The whole time I was in Six Feet Under, people kept asking about Massacre. For the band to still be relevant in 2014 speaks volumes about the music!
Was Bill Andrews unable to make the reunion? Is he still into death metal at all?
Unfortunately… no. He doesn’t play anymore and doesn’t listen to Death Metal. I still talk to him regularly though. He lives in Japan now.
Rick Rozz has an entirely unique guitar style marked by, among other things, “whammy bar abuse.” What influenced this style, and are we still going to hear the torturing of whammy bars?
The whammy bar is still in effect and deadlier than ever ha-ha… He draws a lot of influence from K.K. Downing and Kerry King, as far as the whammy goes. I personally think it’s a lost art these days.
What do you think determines whether a band is death metal or not? Is death metal the same genre it was back in 1992, or has it changed?
I think it’s mix of music and vocals. Obviously the first thing is vocals. If you put opera vocals over Cannibal Corpse songs it’s not Death Metal, and if you put Cannibal Corpse vocals over Journey songs it’s not Death Metal. Darker, heavier music with low brutal vocals is the formula for Death Metal. I believe Death Metal has changed since ’92, a bit. There are more off-shoots, such as Black Metal, Crust, and Grind, these days. I think Death Metal back then was more about riffs and grooves; now it’s about speed and fashion.
About what mix of old/new songs do you think you’ll play on tour? How are you preparing for the tour?
The mix will be about 50/50. We still have to play the hits ha-ha. We will practice as much as possible for the tour.
From Beyond featured mostly “mythological” lyrics, drawn from Lovecraft and horror movies. It wasn’t so much “social consciousness.” Do you think metal tends toward a mythological direction?
I think it’s a mix of both. Obliviously you have your satanic lyrics and religious themes, but a lot of bands do sing about current events. The satanic and mythological lyrics are kind of written for you already.
How do you all feel about launching a huge new album and tour two decades after you started out? Did you ever think Massacre would get this big?
I think it’s amazing and we are very excited about it. Like I said earlier , it says a lot about our music that we are still relevant after 22 years.
Our staff is on vacation for the next two weeks, possibly longer. We’re re-assessing what we’re doing at the same time we’re sipping fancy cocktails on a beach somewhere, which suspiciously resembles our basements with a space heater and a poster of Florida. Our goal is to reach people with a message of DEATH METAL and it make take some re-assessment to make sure we’re going about that the right way.
Norwegian black metal band Mayhem have released the first side of their upcoming single, entitled “Psywar.” At 3.5 minutes it shows the band continuing their foray into modern extreme metal aesthetics.
The track starts out with palm-muted tremolo picking, which shares more with simplistic death metal than the band’s history of black metal. The verse begins with shouted vocals, with the guitar riff beginning to incorporate modern black metal’s ambiguous arpeggiated aesthetics; which then over-take the track in a short breakdown section, consisting of needling treble notes and “profound” whispered vocals. The track then goes back into action with rather standard modern black metal minor chord strumming, before a short homage back to basic death metal which concludes the track. In short, formulaic and predictable, though it is put together well and probably will garner the band financial reward.
Mayhem was noteworthy for its foundational role in shaping the Norwegian black metal scene. Although a few other bands may have had a more prodigious output, the role provided by the band in organizing the metal scene and the strength of its De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album cemented the band’s legendary status.
For those who are intrigued by what’s presented on this single, but wish to hear the band in its former higher state, visit our Mayhem review archive here.
If you’ve suffered through even a few years of big media, you’re probably aware how it functions through symbols. Where literature might describe something, big media trots out a handy symbol that might be described uncharitably as a cliche. Drinking = troubled. Strip bar = edgy. Slow dance = love. Motorcycle = rebel.
This follows the primitive superstition of simple people interpreting religion. When something is bad, put a demon on it. When it’s good, it gets angel wings. The world falls into rigid categories based not on what people do, but what category they belong to as assigned by the cult. This type of cult religion is most commonly seen in mass entertainment, corporate culture, fanboyism, politics and sometimes, even religion itself.
Metal is a useful marketing tool for big media. It enables them to label something as rebellious, “edgy” and dark without it actually being a threat. The albums are available in any store or Amazon. It’s not like joining the Thugees or Cosa Nostra. Like the motorcycle, it’s a cheap way to describe a character without having to actually think about it. And that character will be as much of a cliche as everything else in mass media because it’s designed for the lowest common denominator.
Black metal’s most familiar tropes are Satanism and painting your face to look like a clown. I mean a corpse. But every black metal fan I’ve ever met is, like me, friendly to animals and disinclined to perform human sacrifice. It would’ve been more interesting if Nevill had played against stereotype and made the evil children big Pet Shop Boys fans. As tiresome as Bret Easton Ellis is, at least Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” listens to Huey Lewis and Genesis.
This is how metal often functions in genre fiction: a lazy signifier of a character’s darkness, alienation and instability. In Elizabeth Hand’s “Available Dark” (2012), a girl describes someone obsessed with serial killers: “He’s creepy. He was into death metal, then black metal. Mayhem and Vidar and Darkthrone, bands like that.” Note the progression: death metal, a gateway drug, is less evil than black metal, but it still indicates that something’s not quite right: Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander listens to death metal. This is one reason it’s funny when two characters in Thomas Pynchon’s “Bleeding Edge” meet cute by learning that they share a love of “Norwegian Black Metal artists such as Burzum and Mayhem.” (Burzum is the musical project of Varg Vikernes, who also played bass in Mayhem until he murdered the guitarist.)
These examples show us the place metal has taken in the culture of mainstream society.
It is a certain kind of riskiness, a certain darkness, and a certain commitment to alienation. People who bond over liking black metal are people who have receded from society at large and are trying to go their own way. But with that truth, there is also the realization that metal forms a handy symbol, like the word “edgy” once did, for what the mainstream considers safe alienation.
It is alienated, true, but the fans aren’t the ones burning churches and murdering people. They are just spectators. It is for this reason that the music industry keeps trying to create “safe” versions of this music, so that people can feel like symbolic rebels but never venture beyond the safety of being obedient little cogs.
Old school swampy death metal band Autopsy continues its revival by pumping out another album of its newer incarnation of high-energy death metal, Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves, which will see release via Peaceville Records on April 29, 2014.
The seventh studio album from Autopsy will be right in line with its predecessors, with the band claiming that “blood will flow, brains will be destroyed, coffin lids will be opened…” Recorded at Fantasy Studios with producer Adam Munoz, the new album promises to sound and feel roughly like its two immediate predecessors, mixing rapid sawing riffs with slower, sludgy dirges.
If I ever have to declare a field of study — and I hope I never must — I will declare my intention to study transitional material. It is the most fascinating by far, and Black Sabbath Tyr demonstrates why.
Emerging in the final days of the 1980s and the first days of the new decade, Tyr shows Black Sabbath trying to keep one foot in what succeeded in the previous era while gesturing at inventing the next. The band is not bold enough to simply invent it, since they are too invested in being an industry in themselves. That puts them in the position of defending what they have by incorporating the current, not by redefining it and trying to become something new.
The 80s influences are most painful in the vocals, which bring back flashbacks to Miami Vice and War Games. The 1980s were above all a sentimental time: the late 60s had changed the nation, and now we were in the grips of a Cold War that threatened to eliminate us all in the absolute erasure of kill zone radius extermination. People sought emotion, a fleeting sense of beauty and hope in the night, before the coming darkness swallowed all. It was really a prolonged version of what Berlin must have been like in 1945, but no one could recognize it. They buried themselves in things: in work, in religion, in warfare or in ideology. And so the 1980s sound is that of the lover glimpsed on a passing train, a moment of hope in the doom, a taste of what could have been, drowned out in mechanical rumblings and coalescent submerging blackness.
While the elements of the proto-metal/prog fusion that Black Sabbath pioneered by adopting the longer phrase moveable melodies of modernist classical influenced Italian horror movie soundtracks are still present, the majority of the riffing on this album resembles 1970s hard rock emulating the electronic rhythms of 1980s pop. It’s not surprising that Ministry may have borrowed a few rhythm/riff-idea combinations from this album, given the raw creativity put into them and their mutual inspiration in the basis of 1980s “industrial” music through electronic body music (EBM). Black Sabbath balance the shorter, more mechanical hard rock riffs with their usual spanning chord progressions that give the sense of the camera pulling back to reveal a vista.
The result is highly melodic and merges with the vocals which sound like they’re right off a Mike & The Mechanics or Red7 record. The result neuters Sabbath to an uncomfortable degree because the focus is on vocals and synths and the guitar takes a rhythm role that supports those from the background. That has not stopped guitarist Tony Iommi from coming up with some rather odd and noisy variations on the riff that he uses to add uncertainty and a sense of being lost in a windswept plain to the otherwise more straightforward compositions.
Where Black Sabbath reach toward the future is in the layout of these songs and album. They are deliberately expanded structures with more variation between them, like scenes in a movie or different rooms in a house in a pursuit dream. This both reflects the influence of MTV and the increasingly technological nature of music which allowed radical changes in instrumentation, thus musicians could stick in entirely radical dynamic changes and have them work as more than a distraction. The album follows the same thought process, beginning with an acoustic introduction with semi-chanted vocals, as if invoking the Druids and giving the entire production a visual leadoff. The album itself moves like a conversation, starting with its most obvious big points and indulging in all the conventions of its decade, but then gradually bringing those back to roots and then expanding them with the final tracks, notably “Heaven in Black,” where hints of a more metal-oriented Sabbath emerge (especially in its recapitulation of the riff-idea for “Symptom of the Universe,” which as my colleague Martin Jacobsen writes, precapitulates the muted-strum technique used by all speed metal bands). Much of this anticipates the more epic conceptual and structural layout of both songs and albums that black metal and death metal would popularize; it is unclear whether Black Sabbath heard early prototypes of this notion, such as Bathory Blood Fire Death, but the similarities are great as they are to later Judas Priest like Sin After Sin and Iron Maiden’s epic 1980s material such as Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Interesting also is the choice of Odinist thematic matter wrapped in Celtic imagery, as if questing for a new identity for metal that united its past with future.
Tyr shows Black Sabbath twenty years into their career. They are less innovators than standard-bearers and so their tendency is to absorb outside influences and translate them into heavy metal to give their genre relevance in the wider world. There are also other influences from within the metal world, such as a notable increase in Iron Maiden-styled galloping riffs and broader themes. As one reviewer once said, some albums are more interesting than good for listening to, and thus are more compelling to write about; Tyr may be too 1980s for me to listen to again, and I remember chucking it across the resale counter at a used CD shop over a decade ago for that reason. However, it shows us a nodal point for heavy metal in its evolution and anticipation of the next era.
As part of our exploration of the ideas behind the metal, we take frequent peeks into the world of academia, where a number of metal academics are writing, teaching and evangelizing heavy metal as a cultural and artistic force. This is one mechanism for metal to rise above mere “product” status and be understood as a phenomenon with something to contribute to our understanding and society at large.
How did you become an academic? Was this something that you aspired to your whole life?
The academic thing kind of happened by accident. I wanted to be a musician — and I kind of was. For around 20 years I played in bands while supporting myself as a pizza delivery guy and, after finishing my BS in Journalism in 1997, a freelance writer for alternative newspapers. Most of my bands did OK, meaning that I toured a good bit, played on several independent releases, and had a little bit of regional notoriety. But I (finally) had my midlife crisis and accepted that music wasn’t going to happen for me. I enrolled in a Master’s program in Journalism, mainly because I didn’t know what else to do with myself at the time. And then it got interesting.
Do you identify as a metalhead? Or maybe I should ask: is there a pattern of metal music listening in your past?
I have always listened to metal, but I consider myself more of a punk rocker who loves metal than a metalhead per se. In the early 80s I discovered Venom and Motorhead, and then the metal/hardcore crossover thing. I especially loved Black Flag, who had a definite metal influence on their later albums. I listened to a lot of metal in the 80s and 90s, but it was kind of an addendum to the punk and hardcore music I really loved. During that period the metal bands were really macho and seemed too focused on getting mainstream success, which turned me off. But metal has always been an important part of my musical menu.
In 2006 I moved to Atlanta to be in Georgia State University’s Ph.D. program in Public Communication. I’ve always gone to a lot of shows, and Atlanta’s metal scene is huge, and there are tons of excellent bands right now. So I ended up going to a lot of metal shows and really digging it. By this time, metal, hardcore and punk had kind of morphed into this big ugly thing that I loved. I found myself being able to relate to the metal crowd better. The metal shows gave that unified-yet-dangerous feeling I used to get at punk and hardcore shows. Seeing these bands live made it click for me. Metal is best appreciated at shows. I’d see these crazy-ass, discordant bands I’d go home and listen to the music on my own. The noisy, extreme stuff started sounding more like music to me.
What do you find interesting about metal, both (a) individually and (b) as a research topic?
Metal is interesting because it’s never going to go away. Metal has the most ardent fans of any rock music subgenre. What’s really interesting is that metal has become more underground instead of being absorbed into the mainstream. In this way, metal subculture has had kind of a backwards progression. Diehard metal fans know their music isn’t going to get wildly popular and their scene isn’t going to be coopted per se. The bands just get more extreme and the scene gets more alienated from the mainstream. It’s perfect.
Metal is interesting as a research topic because there’s all this crazy stuff going on. Metal is not just music, it’s a collective identity. And this identity has a lot of implications about power, race, class, gender and sexuality. There’s this perception in the mainstream that metal is kind of dumb — that it’s this “trash” culture. And metalheads almost embrace this proud pariah thing. Being a metalhead might have negative impact on social mobility, but metalheads really couldn’t care less.
Your research indicates that black metal finds importance in “transgression.” What is transgression?
I’m a little bit wary of this question because I don’t want to establish some static definition. What seems transgressive for one person might seem like conformity to another. Kahn-Harris does a great job of addressing this with his concepts of transgressive and mundane subcultural capital.
Anyway, I think of transgression as purposeful refusal and/or inversion — finding beauty in ugliness, power through alienation or embracing the queer, for example.
You say that, “Black metal’s self-maintaining categorical imperative produces a constituency strictly demarcated and alienated from the mainstream” and suggest that black metal’s subcultural rules serve to further separate its members from mainstream society. Why do you think this behavior has evolved, and has it succeeded in what it was an attempt to do?
Black metal is interesting because its progenitors (well, the few surviving ones, that is) keep rewriting their histories to fit grand artistic and ideological schemes. From the onset, the early black metal guys like Dead, Euronymous and Varg Vikernes probably just wanted to make the wildest, heaviest music possible. They were kids who were playing around with dangerous stuff.
The crazy stuff like murders and church-burnings, well, that seems like adolescent one-upmanship to me — kind of a contest to see who could be the most hard and evil. But the murders and church-burnings were the grist for the hysteria, and the hysteria drew worldwide attention to what was before a sub-underground phenomenon that may well have otherwise frittered out.
Here we are over 20 years later and the progenitors (Hunt-Hendrix terms this bunch “hyperborean black metal”) are still, more or less the archetypes in terms of sound, self-presentation and at least to a degree ideology. I think USBM has backpedaled on the Norse/Aryan/Nazi stuff, which is bullshit anyway. But that ideology of transgression/refusal remains a linchpin of black metal. In this way black metal (like all other long-running subcultures) is a thing that cannot be: Can a collectivity of rebels really rebel? And if black metal’s categorical imperative is the annihilation of the self, why has it stayed around so long? “Success,” as the annihilation of the self, would have impelled an end to the subculture. And black metal is not going away.
I think the difference here (and the reason for the persistence of black metal subculture) is that we are talking about artistic and symbolic transgression — not transgression in the lived world per se. Dead and (especially) Varg Vikernes, among others, crossed the boundaries between symbolic transgression and transgression in the lived world, and ended up dead or in jail as a result. There’s not so much idiotic behavior associated with black metal today, or at least it’s not as idiotic. And so it goes.
The filmmakers of the black metal documentary “Until the Light Takes Us” refer to their film as a study in the decay of meaning. Does meaning decay? Is there any way to stop it from doing so? Does this correspond at all to the in-group behaviors you have observed?
It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the movie, and I think I should go back and watch it again. I only saw it once on cable, and I was probably playing guitar, eating dinner and working a crossword puzzle at the same time. When I saw it I thought it was pretentious and slow.
This is a tough question because I don’t know exactly what the filmmakers meant by “decay of meaning,” and I don’t know whether this decay of meaning was what they really intended to convey in the film — or if that was just a hifalutin concept to tack on in an interview.
Anyway, I don’t think meaning decays as much as it evolves. Meaning is polysemic. Meaning is relative. I think it’s most productive to look at black metal music and subculture as discourse. Meanings, within discourse, are not static.
A better way to understand black metal might be as an evolution of myth instead of as a decay of meaning. Black metal is in its way ideological, and thus subject to semiotics. Black metal subculture is — like it or not — a collective phenomenon. And subculture is the terrain upon which shared meanings are contested and policed. In black metal (or any subculture), meanings evolve through interaction. “Decay of meaning” sounds more badass, and thus more black metal. But I don’t think meaning is decaying in black metal. Meaning is actually fertile in black metal — especially the meaning of myth. And the collective negotiation of meaning in black metal is where the action is.
Further in this paper — this is Pure Fucking Armageddon — you say “Black metal atomizes the ‘I,’” — forgive me if this is redundant, but are you sure that black metal did this? Are some people so constructed that their spiritual, social, philosophical and mental needs are incompatible with our current civilization?
Black metal at least symbolically atomizes the “I.” And this brings us to another of black metal’s many paradoxes. Black metal’s refusal/transgression is in its way individualistic, but the identity of the individual in black metal is oftentimes atomized — or at least obfuscated. I mean, look at the interchangeability of people with corpsepaint! Look at how similar (and similarly unreadable) the band logos are! And when Joe Smith changes his name to Sardonicus, well, Joe Smith is symbolically annihilated.
Sure, some people’s spiritual, social, philosophical and mental needs are incompatible with our current civilization. This is nothing new. Subcultures are collectivities that exist within the greater culture — and these collectivities, even black metal, operate as havens for the proud pariahs. Black metal indeed fulfills spiritual and philosophical needs for the alienated — and it also offers an identity and a sense of belonging. So in some ways people actually find identity through the conduit of black metal. It’s strange.
Do you think there’s a point to academically chronicling black metal past the 1993-1994 watershed era? Is the music today even from the same genre?
This is another yes and no answer. Today’s black metal is far evolved from what Mayhem and Emperor did way back when. Personally, I don’t think the music of any of those bands associated with murders and church-burnings was that good, anyway.
Every subgenre of rock music undergoes continual redefinition. For example, today’s hardcore is nothing like what hardcore was in 1982. Today’s psychobilly is not the same as the psychobilly of 1990. And of course the same goes for black metal.
Genre classification seems a necessary evil, though. The meanings of genre and accompanying subculture classifications evolve semiotically, and today’s meanings are never exactly yesterday’s or last year’s meanings. Scholars from the symbolic interactionist camp would probably have a lot to say about this. I think that genres and subcultures should be conceptualized as continuums with permeable, ever-evolving boundaries.
Today’s music and today’s scene is not the same as, aargh, “back in the day,” but the archetypes of hyperborean black metal are still hugely influential.
You say that maintaining boundaries is a key function of subcultures. Why is this?
This questions brings me back to Kenneth Burke’s idea that identification is an act of negation. By identifying as one thing, we negate the other. By saying what we are, we are also necessarily saying what we are not. To have an insider group, you must also have an externalized other. Maintaining difference (or some might say faux individuality) is a categorical imperative of any subculture.
You also mention that the kind of acts that succeed in a subculture environment are those which set the individual apart from the herd, and include criticism of the subculture itself. Wouldn’t that make a subculture self-consuming? Are any of them post-individualist?
Subcultures are kind of things that cannot be — or at least they become things that cannot be as they balkanize. This is to say that yes, subcultures are in a way self-consuming and/or self-negating. Such subcultural self-negation is especially prevalent in rock music subcultures. For example, there are scads of scrawny male musicians with that dyed black comb-over haircut who play guitar-driven, post-pop/punk songs about longing and heartbreak and insist that they are “not emo,” when they are exactly that.
More often than not, music subcultures that purport to be individualistic are in fact post-individualistic in that the act of joining the subculture actually negates one’s individuality in a process of conforming to the norms of expression, behavior and self-presentation of that enclave.
And then there’s the black metal bunch, of which some participants claim to be post-individualist. For these folks, black metal negates the “I.” Still, this negation of the “I,” of obliterating Joe Smith’s identity in the process of becoming Sardonicus, paradoxically provides a means to set oneself apart — even sometimes operating as a portal to small scale rock stardom. Many black metal musicians decry fame and popularity — unless and until the potential for said popularity becomes a possibility, that is.
You mention another thinker (Butler) who says that black metal is comprised, to an extend unmet by other forms of music, of references to “the enduring, the abiding, and the transcendent.” Why do you think black metal values these things? Can you think of any other philosophies or belief systems that value similar ideals?
When I was a kid, KISS was my favorite band. After one of their shows, I was talking about the experience with one of my friends. He was saying that a KISS concert was like a religious revival in that it was a cathartic, theatrical experience where a group of people worked themselves into a collective frenzy, led by a charismatic leader. That was a pretty perceptive analysis for a 12 year old. It blew my mind at the time, but I knew it was true.
While black metal (as Butler contends) indeed references “the enduring, the abiding, and the transcendent” most overtly, I think it is a bit of a stretch to say that black metal is in fact more spiritually transformative than other genres. I’m sure that fans of jazz, classical music and techno, for example, would all tell you that their preferred form of music operates as a portal to other realms of consciousness — much in the same way that black metal (or football, for that matter) does for its adherents. Any form of music, any form of ritual, surely, offers an entrée into the realm of the ecstatic — for someone.
In this way, all music (black metal included) operates as a portal to the numen, the ur-mind. I daresay that all philosophies or belief systems value similar ideals. They just have different ways of getting there. Loud music is my way of getting there.
In your paper Pure Fucking Armageddon, you repeatedly refer to the black metaller as the “sin eater, a pariah who finds spiritual illumination through the excess for which he is damned.” Do you see a parallel in this to the writings of William Blake, who notably said, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Is there some reason that all us post-moderns are trying to break through mundanity, trying to get back to the real underneath the surreal “real,” as if we trusted the “subtext” more than the “text” in our modern existence?
I’ve heard that Blake quote several times, but I’ve never actually read his work.
I also find the use of the term “real” somewhat problematic here — mainly because I’m intimidated by “real” in a Lacanian sense. I could keep reading Lacan for the rest of my life and never be exactly sure that I got it.
Anyway, I think that all forms of ritual and creative expression have always sought to break through the mundane to some degree. Baudrillard, Bakhtin, Huxley, Nietzsche and Marcuse (among countless others) have theorized this forever.
So, in a postmodern sense, one could capably argue that genres such as black metal seek to shatter the hyperreal (see Baudrillard) in an attempt to “get real,” as it were. And what could be more “real,” more shattering, more pre-cognitive, more pre and post symbolic than death itself?
In Doin’ it for the Dudes, you define heavy metal as being centered around “power.” What is this power, and why is heavy metal obsessed with it? How does this correspond to heavy metal’s fascination with all things dark and evil?
There is nothing about heavy metal that isn’t contradictory in some way, it seems. There is a lot about heavy metal that I’m uncomfortable with. There is a lot about heavy metal that is downright dumb. But the wrongness and the dumbness of heavy metal is, for me, part of its allure.
There are few, if any subtleties in heavy metal. The “power” of heavy metal is blunt force. The shows are as loud and physically punishing as possible for fans and performers alike. A metal show is something to be endured as much (or more) than enjoyed. Lyrically, metal is about war, the occult, torture, dismemberment, totalitarianism and death.
Ultimately, heavy metal is masculine power, performed by and for males.
You write about how heavy metal is hypermasculinized, yet doesn’t challenge conventional genre roles. Do you see a parallel between those two?
I’m not sure I understand this question. Why would hypermasculinity challenge conventional masculinity? I see hypermasculinity as the amplification of conventional (hegemonic, heterosexist) masculinity.
What I have found through my work is that the performative (hyper)masculinity of heavy metal bolsters the hegemonic masculinity of the culture at large in a way that, nevertheless, is not empowering for heavy metal males in an extra-subcultural sense. Heavy metal masculinity is double-edged masculinity.
Heavy metal links the performativity of masculinity with the performativity of working classness. This is to say that heavy metal males, quite often from middle or upper-class backgrounds, enact archetypes of working class masculinity. These symbolic enactments of working class masculinity by metalhead males function to render a disempowered heavy metal male subject. In other words, by participating in a proud pariah subculture that is considered by many to be “white trash” or “low” culture, heavy metal males become “white trash” or “low” culture.
Of course, it would be wrong to paint the heavy metal experience for males in a single, broad stroke. Heavy metal males also experience their subcultural participation as empowerment. They don’t care what society at large thinks of them. And if they experience participation in metal subculture as empowerment, then, for them it is empowerment. After all, however we experience something is, for us, reality.
By enacting a mutated, caveman-style masculinity that is so over the top it’s almost satirical, heavy metal males support hegemonic masculinity — which is a hierarchy of males in a heterosexist hierarchy. The male power exerted in heavy metal’s male hierarchy does not translate as power in the masculinist hierarchies of the greater culture, however. You’ll rarely see heavy metal males becoming senators or corporate CEOs.
So, in a nutshell I’m saying that heavy metal dudes, in the process of becoming heavy metal dudes, join an outsider enclave and are relegated to the fringes of society. And they celebrate this. They don’t care what people think about them, their music and their subculture.
What have been the consequences of your heavy metal research? Has it led to you being thrown out of fancy restaurants and ostracized by your peers? Or are people opening up to this art form?
I rarely go to fancy restaurants and have yet to have been thrown out of one for my metal scholarship.
That said, I do sometimes get the impression that some (by no means all) of my peers in academia think that heavy metal is not something that is really valid and that, in turn, metal studies is not a valid pursuit, either. Some folks think the academic study of metal is about as worthwhile as the academic study of professional wrestling, for example. (There are many parallels between metal and professional wrestling, by the way. And I think professional wrestling is a worthy topic for academic study as well.) I’m guessing this all somehow comes back to the distinction of “high” and “low” art.
If metal became acceptable for the mainstream, that would mean the genre had been rendered toothless. If metal didn’t offend somebody, well, it wouldn’t be metal anymore. Metal (and therefore metal studies) will probably remain to a degree relegated to the low art ghetto, and that’s just fine.
Where has your research taken you since the two papers, Pure Fucking Armageddon and Doin’ it for the Dudes, that launched your career as a heavy metal academic?
As you know, academic publishing is a painfully slow process. I submitted a couple of articles based on chapters of Doing it for The Dudes to academic journals and am waiting for the reviews. I expect that I will have at least one metal studies article published this year. I am attending the Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience conference in Puerto Rico this spring. I hope to make some important contacts at that event.
I don’t limit my research work to metal studies, however. All of my work somehow merges cultural studies and critical theory traditions to examine the interplay of gender, race, class and sexuality in constructed group identities. I have written an article examining the evolution of the term “queer” using Ernesto Laclau’s logic of equivalence that will be published this October. It’s a provocative piece, I think. I’m proud of that one and looking forward to seeing how that is received.
My metal studies work would be useful for anyone studying how gender is enacted as a collective identity. Likewise, my gender studies work might be useful for someone who is studying metal.
What do you think a study of heavy metal has to offer the wider society around us?
Studying heavy metal allows scholars the opportunity to examine the interconnectedness of (here we go again) gender, race, class and sexuality in a particular art form/subculture. So the study of heavy metal offers clues — on a micro level — as to how gender, race, class, sexuality and (yes) power are deployed in the whole of society.
If you are an academic with related interests to Mr. Sewell’s, he welcomes communications via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Continuing the tradition of Texas shows that require the National Guard to calm down the audience afterward, Last Nightmare Productions presents Destroying Texas Fest VIII, featuring the following acts of pure power:
Occasionally, even the most cynical members of the DMU venture into the outside world to a realm where supergroups come together and convulse the media in marked excitement. Corrosion of Conformity members Mike Dean and Reed Mullin have put together a project entitled Teenage Time Killer, a 21-track album featuring many prominent names within the music industry.
Nick Oliveri (MONDO GENERATOR, ex-QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, KYUSS)
Aaron Beam (RED FANG)
Pete Stahl (SCREAM, GOATSNAKE)
Greg Anderson (SUNN O)))), GOATSNAKE)
Karl Agell (ex-CORROSION OF CONFORMITY)
Tairrie B. Murphy (MY RUIN)
Mick Murphy (MY RUIN)
Vic Bondi (ARTICLES OF FAITH)
Clifford Dinsmore (BL’AST!)
Pat Hoed (BRUJERIA)
Other guest musicians that were previously announced as taking part in the project:
Max Cavalera (SOULFLY)
Tony Foresta (MUNICIPAL WASTE, IRON REAGAN)
Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein (MISFITS)
Keith Morris (BLACK FLAG)
Phil Rind (SACRED REICH)
In a recent radio interview, Mullin stated that the project originally was conceived of as a short EP endeavor, but quickly grew to a larger album (seemingly) encompassing the earlier styles CoC has been affiliated with over its career, describing it as a mixture of “old hardcore punk, punk and metal stuff.”
Additionally, the band has revealed they have completed recording and are in the process of mixing their new album entitled Corinthians, which will be released via Candlelight. A release date has not yet been set for either record.
Corrosion of Conformity was best known for its foundational role in the 80′s scene, which along with Cryptic Slaughter and D.R.I created the genre of thrash, an organic fusion of punk and metal. Eventually, the band lost its sense of direction and started playing stoner rock for Scion AV festivals. Here’s to hoping the words about a return to the punk and metal days of the band represents an artistic change from their recent albums and is not simply a marketing ploy to intrigue older fans.