Swiss extreme death metal band Near Death Condition plan to unleash their sophomore full-length Evolving Towards Extinction on Unique Leader Records.
Evolving Towards Extinction was mixed at famed Hertz Studios (Vader, Hate, Dead Infection, Vesania etc.) in Poland and mastered at Iguana Studios in Germany.
Words Of Wisdom
Between The Dying And The Dead
Pandemic Of Ignorance
Praise The Lord Of Negation
The Anatomy Of Disgust
Evolving Towards Extinction
Communing With Emptiness
Nostalgia For Chaos
Founded in the band members’ native Switzerland thirteen years ago, Near Death Condition unleashed their “Delusional Perception Of Reality” demo in 2005 which earned Near Death Condition a signing with noted brutal death metal label Unique Leader. In 2011 the band released their first album, The Disembodied – In Spiritual Spheres.
The article starts like a bad joke: a writer walks into a bar in Brooklyn. He hears people talking about black metal. He suggests Deafheaven and everyone there, including the bartenders, tell him that’s not black metal. He then omits vital information about this bar, knowing that all of us would immediately gang-rush it in support, and goes on a lengthy tirade that uses a logical fallacy. The begging the question fallacy relies on setting up a false association, and then arguing against the object of that association with what it’s associated with. It’s like this: “Knowing the connections between black metal and airborne AIDS, it’s unbelievable to me that anyone would support black metal, unless they really like people writhing in the street from autoimmune diseases on the wind.”
The actual argument in the article is here, six paragraphs down:
There is a level of inherent elitism in every special interest group. It’s just maybe more pronounced and ingrained in something as fringe as black metal is today. This is probably the same way Sex Pistols fans felt when Green Day and the Offspring blew up in the nineties. However, at some point you need to just accept that the thing that you love may get more popular or have elements of it co-opted by other genres—and if you take a step back, that’s part of what makes music or any other art form valuable to the culture. The conflict occurs when you overlook the fact that nothing exists in a vacuum and in order for anything to thrive it has to be identifiable to people on some level, otherwise it’s just an abstract mass floating aimlessly through the conceptual ether.
What he’s done here is cleverly re-define “elitism” to mean fear of other genres using black metal’s technique. However, the example he began the article with is that of other bands pretending to be black metal. Not a single elitist has argued against bands appropriating black metal technique, so long as they do it in their same camp. The point of elitism is to keep out impostors.
Impostors, you say? Yes: genres form because small groups break away from what everyone else is doing. These small groups then do something in an unorthodox way, and it works. The large group, fearing that it has been left behind, then creates a bandwagon effect where they all start imitating the small group. If the small group wishes to survive, it needs to oust the bandwagon-jumpers and keep itself internally consistent.
This is why many groups are elitist and not just in music. They are trying to preserve their way of doing things which is different from what the herd wants to do, while the herd wants to appropriate the mantle of these rebellious groups while continuing — underneath the aesthetic — to do exactly what the herd always does. In this case, they want to dumb down black metal into emo/indie/shoegaze/rock. That’s why people hate Deafheaven.
It’s not popular to defend elitism because elitism itself is under a similar attack. The herd would love to consider themselves elitists, but in the time-honored tradition of morons everywhere, they get it wrong. To them, elitism means finding the most obscure band possible and browbeating the rest of us for not knowing about it. It’s like a shibboleth or entry code to the cool kids group. But that group only appeals to hipsters, and those are actually irrelevant, since they produce nothing except low-run memes for each other.
Actual elitism is defense of the values of a genre. Not any band and definitely not every band can be black metal. However, the anti-elitists would like to argue that just about anything can be black metal by, you know, wishing it so. That amounts to obliteration by assimilation and adulteration, and would terminate the black metal genre. It seems that like this writer, most anti-elitists aren’t actually black metal fans, and what they want isn’t black metal, but the usual music that they like to be labeled as black metal… so they can be elitist (but humble) about it.
Those who read this site on a regular basis know of our devotion to the unholy triad who invented underground metal, namely Slayer, Hellhammer and Bathory. You can see one of these bands, albeit missing one original guitarist and drummer, as Slayer comes to your town this may.
2013 brought some good and some bad, but the shockingly and disturbingly bad was the loss of Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman. Nothing can really be said here except that he was the voice of a generation — Generation X — and one of the few people to spin a truthful line about reality instead of writing “yeah yeah yeah” and some chat about hooking up with girls in discotheques.
With Gary Holt (Exodus) on guitars and Paul Bostaph (Forbidden) on drums, Slayer rattles onward with original members Tom Araya and Kerry King rounding out the lineup. With tourmates Suicidal Tendencies and Exodus, both members of that liminal time in the early 1980s when all of these genres formed, Slayer will be visiting the following cities in May, with more dates to be posted soon:
The simpler the music is, the harder it is to execute in an interesting way. The best of grindcore rises to this challenge by inventing ways of making texture expand upon a simple riff idea. Like grandmasters Carcass before them, Dead Infection use a gurgling bass deluge to convey a hidden complexity.
A Chapter of Accidents benefits from its concept, which is anchored in lyrics, and gives to each song a different set of needs because each is a short narrative or story relating an unfortunate and often miserably ironic incident. This bends the song structure to the story, which consists of a setup, a quandary, a revelation and a conclusion, and thus allows the band to adapt its grinding riffs to a simple but not simplistic process of development. As in most grindcore, the main riff repeats with interruptions; some of these are offsets, which are like counterpoints formed of different shapes or rhythms, but others are deviations to small motifs which represent parts of the story. As a result, most of what you hear when listening to Dead Infection is one powerful, thunderous and bounding riff that breaks for contrary views, thought-detours and development by layering, where drums or guitars either double-time or vary texture to add complexity.
Where Carcass is slower and is based on what sounds like 1930s-1950s music translated into power chords and made ironic with grotesque lyrics, Dead Infection is more like a troupe of mercenaries backpacking through the mountains on their way to set up an assassination or coup in that it is self-contained and for its own purposes only. It sometimes plays with riff motifs from the past, like heavy metal riffs reduced to their simplest essence, but essentially it is its own thing: a vocabulary of grindcore adapted to this type of worldview. Combine that with the vocals that sound like a dog guarding the gates of hell, and you have a formidable but thought-provoking package.
Photo: Paradise Lost from a MetalRecusants.com article, by Vivien Varga.
Online resources for metal pose a problem. On one hand, smaller entities tend to dry up and blow away as their members move on in life and get tired of paying hosting. On the other, large centralized resources are quickly gamed by industry and dominating by small in-groups. Thus the post-modern metalhead always has an eye out for new resources.
A recent entrant in this field is Metal Recusants, a semi-unorthodox site known for its wise-ass reviews and scathing commentary on the metal scene. We were fortunate to be able to get in some words with Dom, head reviewer and site founder, on his activity and the appeal of Metal Recusants in a time of increasing metal information overload.
What’s a “recusant,” why did you pick the term, and how does it describe what you do?
“Recusant,” similarly to “non-conformist,” is a term taken from English history. Recusants were Catholics in England who did not convert to the new Anglican religion. I thought of this term because I was looking for something similar to non-conformism. As you wrote on your site, metalheads do not conform easily and that is the message I want to pass on with this name. I think it fits in perfectly with our mission to promote less-known “underground” music but also in describing the “underground” way we write in and organise ourselves.
Our aim is to not only feature the most obscure metal band that no one knows about but also to provide a balance of the less-known acts with the better-known ones. Additionally, there are many opinions, different tastes and different writing styles that people have. I aim to highlight this with our site by not having strict writing guidelines. Apart from the way our articles are formatted I do not ask our writers to write in a certain style. I do not want MetalRecusants to become the next fruitless mainstream metal magazine in which you cannot easily tell the difference between reviews apart from the album name and the rating.
In many cases they are all written in the same way, most commonly in the third person the writer distances himself/herself from the music and gives an authoritative opinion of the music… Therefore, I do not ask our writers to write in the first or third person, I do not tell them to write in British or American English, I do not ask them to write “death metal” in capitals or small letters. Moreover, I do not ignore genres or sub-genres which I may not like. For instance, I hate metalcore but you can see that we have featured that sub-genre quite a few times. There is no one single music taste which is superior or better, we all have different styles whether it is the way we write or the music we choose to listen to. No one on this planet is a “metal guru” who tells you what you should listen to. We write our opinions in our own way and we let you decide whether you want to check that band out or ignore it.
“Recusant” is also an obscure term, a word not used in everyday language, and, hence, whether someone remembers the word correctly or not, he or she will remember that that is the site with the weird name – which is actually the majority of people, haha!
Apparently MetalRecusants.com started after you’d been writing other reviews. Where did you write, and what was the reaction?
I did not have any experience writing for other websites or magazines prior to starting this site. I have only been writing personal reviews on my last.fm journal after attending gigs and discovering new music. Therefore, the audience was usually my family and friends as well as the odd last.fm user who would stumble upon my writing. The reaction from my family and friends was great, everyone supported me, especially my parents and siblings. I always have the urge to share the stuff I discover if not by writing articles then by sending out emails or messages. On some occasions some friends and family learnt about new bands through me while on other I was just being a nuisance by filling their inboxes with messages.
Do you consider yourselves “elitists”? What is an elitist? How is that different from a snob, poseur, scenester and hipster?
Not at all. As I mentioned before, even though I am the one taking most of the big decisions for MetalRecusants, I still feature music which I may not like but my writers like and want to write about. Since my aim is to feature all kinds of metal (and non-metal with our “31 Flavors” series) music and I do not decide what music is featured by just looking at how the band dresses or if they are labelled as metalcore or black metal, I can safely say that I do not consider MetalRecusants as elitist.
What is an elitist? In metal, the most common term I came across of an elitist person is someone who listens to only the most obscure underground metal – usually death and black – and hates anything else unless it is an old band which had an impact on the metal scene.
I think elitists have many parallels with snobs, poseurs, scenesters and hipsters. They certainly tend to follow a certain limited type of music while ignoring other types. However, poseurs, snobs, scenesters and hipsters may be doing it more in order to show off and fit into a scene. This happens a lot in metal as well but I think the “elitism”, “hipsterism” and “scenesterism” in metal is much more than just showing off. It is a community in which you share the music you listen to with like-minded people.
That is why going to small club metal shows is my favourite activity because the atmosphere is very intimate and makes you feel like at home. Wherever you may find a metalhead, you straight away have something to talk about – you may not have the same tastes and opinions but who does? Metalheads may seem to be elitist but I think it happens in many cases because they have found what they like, they learnt which labels, magazines and venues they can rely on. They feel comfortable with that and I think that is perfectly healthy as long as you keep your mind open of course and do not start following blindly these institutions – something which unfortunately is happening in metal. Sometimes I think commercialism is taking over and some people are becoming victims of it by following things blindly. Sorry, I am straying away from the main topic so I will just stop here!
Do you treat other genres with the same outlook? Is heavy metal different from other genres, with — dare I say it — heavy metal “exceptionalism” such that it merits different treatment?
I always used to (and still do) compare heavy metal to classical music. I do that because when I was crazily into Iron Maiden at the age of 12-13, I would compare their three guitars and all the layers of their music to an orchestra. Being brought up with a variety of music, going to music school in the afternoons almost every day, caused me to draw parallels with classical music. The more I listened to stuff like Beethoven, Mozart or Chopin (which is playing almost constantly in my parents’ living room), the more I could compare it to metal music. Since this was happening in my early teens, it made me into a kvlt (or elitist) metalhead with easy justifications that metal is the only “just” genre in popular music because it has such serious and historical roots!
You could say I matured a bit now as in the same day you can see me listening to stuff such as Vader, ABBA, Beethoven, The Doors, Pearl Jam or Immortal. Anything goes really. It’s all music in the end. To answer your question, I do not think metal should be treated differently than other genres but I do think it is as much of a serious genre as classical music and it has a rich and fruitful history. Heavy metal is already not treated the same way as all the other genres, therefore, I believe, the greater society should start treating heavy metal seriously and not as just some teenager’s rebellious phase.
Is metal an art form, entertainment, both or does it straddle the line? Is there a difference between Beethoven’s Fifth or “Journey to the End of the Night” and Miley Cyrus (“Bangerz”) or “Game of Thrones”?
In most cases, I see metal more as an art form rather than entertainment. The fact that the majority of metal musicians create the music first for themselves, they make music based on how they are inspired, makes it art. They do not care how it is received by the greater public. If you start caring how your music is received by the average person, then that means you are not creating art anymore, you are trying to sell a product to a certain audience.
Metal is not all about entertaining people, however, metal creates great music to rock out to on a night out, right?! I know this has been talked about in all documentaries and interviews and it sounds like a cliché but the following is true: metal music is always there with you and for you. It can make you smile, laugh, cry, feel depressed or be there just as a great soundtrack to getting drunk (or whatever else you might want to poison yourself with). You can only understand this if you truly get into heavy metal by listening to the albums, reading about the bands’ history and going to the shows.
What do you look for in a band that makes you think favorably of them and possibly write a favorable review? Do you treat demo and first album bands differently from established acts on major labels?
There are various things to look out for but I am always up for surprises. Actually, if I listen to a band expecting something totally different and I end up loving it then we have a winner. Nonetheless, for a band to receive a favourable review from me, the music has to reach out to me emotionally and bring me into a certain state of mind. There is no mathematical equation for this really. Some piece of music can reach out more to you than me or the other way around. And here I am talking about myself – I can’t speak for the other writers on our team. They may disagree with me.
Everyone is treated the same by us. Of course, I love to listen to demos and new bands – recently I discovered Dismemberment and we streamed Thunderwar’s debut EP The Birth of Thunder. Because we receive LOADS of requests every week, we end up picking randomly the music we feature. There is only so much we can do since this is not a full-time job for us. Therefore, I would like to aim this to any bands or record labels which got in touch with us and never heard back or did not see their music on our site: please keep getting in touch with us, maybe in a few months we will feature you.
About how many people come through MetalRecusants every day (or month)? Has this gone up over the past year?
The numbers keep increasing every couple months or so. At the moment we have on average 4,000 unique visitors per month. If I remember correctly, half way through or towards the end of 2012, we had some 1,000 visitors, so yeah, the numbers are going up all the time. It is overwhelming when I think that I had literally zero people coming in when I started this as a blog in 2011. The more writers we got, the more bands we featured then the numbers kept going up.
Can you give us your (Dom) background in writing, music and theory? Does your day job/school overlap with your metal identity and life? Do the people in your daytime world understand your nighttime world (metal) or are the two incompatible?
I was brought up with all kinds of music in my family and I went to music school until the age of 19 where I did music theory, history and learnt to play piano and guitar (both classical and electric). My background in writing? I am a History student at the University of Essex in the UK – and currently as an exchange at Purdue University in Indiana, USA – so I guess I get to do a lot of writing like most students do! I think having this website and being a humanities student benefits me both ways because I am now used to writing all the time but it is also improving my writing style.
So far, I did not have to “sacrifice” my metal way of life for my university studies and social life. On the contrary, I will be writing a dissertation about heavy metal behind the Iron Curtain and I have met some wonderful metal (and non-metal as well) people while at university. At Essex there is a Metal Society of which I was an “executive” last year. We did – and they still keep doing – loads of awesome stuff; from organising simple socials at the bar to hosting our own metal nights on campus. I had an amazing time with those people and I am looking forward to going back in June and seeing all of them again as well as meeting any new faces!
MetalRecusants does not rate (assign a numerical value to) a band. Can you go into depth about why you don’t like this method?
That is correct! So people actually notice this? Haha! I always found album ratings ridiculous and especially the ones with decimal points. I mean, seriously, 98.6% or 5.5/10?! Focus on more how the music on the disc in front of you communicates with you, what do you feel when you listen to it? Does it make you smile, laugh or cry? Be creative, let us know how you feel instead of coming up with a weird ranking table. I actually talked about this with the great guys from Cattle Decapitation, we had some laughs about some of the Metal-Archives reviewers.
Music, in most cases, for me is an art form. I do not understand how I can give a numerical value to an album. An album/band rating is misleading, in my opinion, because if someone sees a 3/10 rating, he or she will most probably disregard that album. That person would not have noticed that there might have been something in that album that he/she might have enjoyed. However, if there is no rating, that person can read a balanced and detailed review of the music and come across elements of the music that he/she might have not learnt by looking at the rating. I just find album ratings to be limiting one’s imagination.
Do you think there’s a hazard to over-simplifying ideas expressed in written form? What makes an effective review/article for you?
It can be a hazard but all you have to do is choose the right words. To be honest, sometimes I can’t be bothered to read through a 1,000 word article. Therefore, it is nice to see articles with embedded music players or videos. We have a rule of at least 300 words per article (excluding news posts) on MR which equates to a longer paragraph, which is not that much. As long as the review/article goes into depth about the aforementioned qualities of the music (that we are told whether the writer felt anything while listening to the music) and also given a brief background about the band’s history then it doesn’t matter whether it is a 300 or 2,000 word article.
Can you give us a bit of background on MetalRecusants, i.e. what year it began, how it has grown, and where it’s going in the future?
I started MetalRecusants in March 2011 during my last year of high school on the small Mediterranean island of Cyprus. I somehow started getting more and more familiar and associated with the Cypriot metal scene. A German black metal band, Ctulu, got in touch with me about playing on the island and doing an interview so I gave them the contact details of all the promoters I knew and also contacted them myself to get them to the island – guess what? They played on the island twice so far and I’m now good friends with them, we keep meeting at Wacken Open Air almost every year. Regarding the interview, I decided – after being convinced by members of Cypriot death metal act Vomitile – to start a blog with my friend from school, Christian, since there were no proper active zines in Cyprus; there was only a forum (Cy-Metal) and zines from Greece, nothing truly Cypriot though. As you can see though, I did not make this site into a site about the Cypriot metal scene; I wanted something more than that, haha! There are many great bands in Cyprus though.
As I wrote before, the site has grown because we kept on writing and writing and getting more contributors. It works on a word of mouth basis really. We write a review, a band shares it on their pages, people like it or dislike it and we get recognised. It is important that bands and record label share these reviews – especially at the early stages.
What does the future hold for us? Well, I want to keep on carrying the flame and continue what we are doing as long as possible. I would like one day to start paying all my writers for their hard work but that’s the future. One thing which will definitely not change is that we will keep on writing honest articles and we will never rate releases!!!
Do you think the metal industry has changed over the past few years? Have any genres waned? What seems to be “happening” now?
I actually ask a similar question in some of my band interviews. I like older bands to compare the times when they were starting out to now. I think I came to an agreement with Jonas Renkse of Katatonia/Bloodbath that the metal scene has become more “professional” over the years, it turned into this proper metal music industry which lost that “underground” spirit which was more evident in the 70s, 80s and 90s. I was not really present in the scene (or alive) back then so I can’t really tell. However, I can agree that the metal industry is “professional” at the moment.
There are more people taking care of the bands’ tours, the record labels, the public relations with the press and promoters. Nowadays if you don’t have a PR, you’re less likely to be recognised outside of your own local scene. There are so many bands nowadays that it is very hard for a band to break through on its own. I don’t think any genres have waned over the past few years. On the contrary, every genre seems to have many bands – whether it is new bands forming or older ones creating new material. How many “comeback” albums did we have in 2013?! I am not the one to follow what is “happening” now and I hate editors or journalists who think they are someone and tell the world what is “in” or “out”. Of course, it is great to tell the world what you think is “in” or “the next big thing” but stating such opinions in an authoritative way is rubbish. Nonetheless, there seems to be some kind of stoner/doom/old-school 70s type of revival with loads of such rock ‘n’ roll bands forming which I don’t mind at all!
Do you use subgenre terms, like “death metal” or “discogrind”? How would these be useful to a metal fan?
I usually use the basic subgenre terms like “death metal”, “thrash metal”, “black metal”, “glam metal” and “doom metal”. I have come across a lot of weird terms like the one you mention “discogrind” or “trance death metal”. These terms might be good sometimes to label some piece of music very briefly and might come handy for a review. I am, however, not a big fan of labelling. I prefer to use the basic terms and if I see that there are other styles in the band’s music then I will point out that it is a mix of thrash and death or doom and black.
Finally, the hardest question of all: what is heavy metal? What makes a band heavy metal? How do we tell the difference between a band that is hard rock, industrial, etc. and heavy metal, death metal, grindcore, etc?
That is a good question and a hard one indeed! I guess it is rather hard to define heavy metal nowadays because of how much the genre has evolved. Everyone likes mixing their metal with everything now; there’s jazz metal, discogrind, trance metal, psychedelic/progressive, operatic, orchestral, there’s literally everything you can imagine. For me, heavy metal is something that really rocks, really moves you and fills you with emotions. I will borrow our writer’s, David Halbe, phrase here: “if something rocks, it rocks!”
In the famous documentary Heavy Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Deena Weinstein defined metal with a deep bass, distorted guitars and masculine leather-wearing men. That could have been applied in the 80s but cannot be applied anymore in the 21st Century because the genre has expanded so much musically but also visually – you see a lot of bands not wearing the “traditional” black uniform with band T-shirts but still a lot of these bands do play very good metal. Winterfylleth comes to mind straight away.
If someone wants to learn to tell the difference between traditional heavy metal, death metal, thrash metal, grindcore, black metal and all that, then I would suggest going on a listening history trip back to the late 60s and make your way up through to the early 90s. There you can see the traditional evolution of these sub-genres and learn what are their basic differences and even come up with your own description/formula.
Keith Kahn-Harris, a UK-based academic who writes about metal, has recently opined that there’s a glut of metal and it has become impossible to tell good from crap, thus the genre’s stagnating. Does this type of thinking factor into your reviewing choices at all? What about your purchasing choices?
I actually did not know Keith Kahn-Harris’ work before – although I have seen that book on extreme metal on Amazon somewhere – but I checked it out right now and he does have a lot of interesting things to say. He is right that the scene is overflowing with a crazy amount of bands, especially now with the Internet. But I can’t really compare to how it was before when there was no Internet and your only choice was to copy a tape or trade. I was born into the Internet age and I’m used to having everything ready for immediate download either legally or illegally… I discover most of the bands that I listen to either through the Internet or from relatives/friends. And now thanks to MetalRecusants my e-mail inbox is a never ending discovery lane of new and old bands which is something I’m very lucky to have.
Anyways, to answer your questions, I do not think that it has become impossible to tell good from crap – obviously here everyone has their own definition of “good” and “crap”. You know, I think that the more you learn about the metal scene, the more you research and listen, you find your own personal satisfactory source of new music whether it is a few record labels you trust, a website/blog or a magazine. Metalheads are a very opinionated bunch of people and they can definitely tell what is good or crap for them. So, to give you some definite answer out of this brainstorming session, yes it can be sometime chaotic with the reviewing choices; what to assign to our writers, which band should we focus on more and interview, which show to attend. All of this can get frustrating at times but as I said before we choose what we review randomly; sometime because we like the music from first listen and want to learn more about the bands with interviews and sometimes because we want a bit of a challenge in writing about something new.
As for the purchasing choices, yes, I sometimes do end up having a headache as I want to buy too much stuff. That’s why I limit myself to purchasing music at concerts and record shops. I rarely order online nowadays – maybe if it’s a pre-order which I can’t wait for or if it is something which I know I won’t be able to find at my local record shop or I won’t be able to see the band in concert in the near future. I do not like purchasing digital downloads because it feels like buying air. If I am going to spend money, I’d rather have the whole package.
What’s an oration of disorder? What most people think of as “order” consists in telling other people what they want to hear and then manipulating them. That’s how you sell them products. But the selling of products is the opposite of what art and listeners need, which is a harsh voice to tell us the truth.
Shroud of the Heretic – Revelations in Alchemy
From the latest attempt of the Incantation clone camp comes Shroud of the Heretic with an album that combines a subtle melodic sensibility and the roaring chordstream bassy tremolo riffs that define that style. What is great about this is that it brings out the doom metal aspects of doom-death and is willing to allow the thunder to build and create the sense of sonic tunnel vision that makes this style so crushing. Shroud of the Heretic specialize in letting the music breathe through two riffs in combat from which a third rises, allowing the majority of the song to be taken in the interplay between those two riffs and then connecting them to other possibilities before returning for the descent. Revelations in Alchemy aims more for a doom metal aesthetic than a death metal one, and so benefits from the kind of repetition and churn that would not have worked on an Incantation album. It does not offer the same intensity as the older albums its worships, but it provides an alternative to the modern metal of this time that is well-composed even if not outright thrilling and terrifying. Given that its goal is, like that of most doom metal, to slowly press you into earth with inescapable repetition, Shroud of the Heretic seems to be on a path toward that end.
James Labrie – I Will Not Break
Coming to us from Dream Theater, James Labrie knows his audience likes jazzy heavy metal with a focus on positive themes. It makes sense that Dream Theater’s heritage is half Iron Maiden and half Rush, because they adopt the rhythms and harmonies of the former while using the quasi-prog stylings and outlook of the latter. Labrie continues in this vein but with more of an alternative rock sense of melody, creating something that sounds like a hybrid between Queensryche, Foo Fighters, and the kind of inspirational alt-rock-folk music that makes it into Lifetime Movie Network films at the end, when the girl hooks up with the right boy and apologizes to her mother and maybe even, finds Church (or God if she’s lucky). The result is probably a perfect commercial product in that it makes you feel good, with a “positive message found in the unlikeliest of places” (NPR) just like Rush, but has a basically good rhythm and is melodically compelling enough to hum along. But, like fellow Canadian artist Bryan Adams, Labrie has also indulged in a cheese fest that takes him firmly out of metal and plants him into the category of adult-oriented radio rock for people who want something a little cheerful and a little “edgy.” Thus he has left the hall and entered the suburban living room, while a vacuum runs or taxes are done, and the kids are upstairs listening to Dead Infection.
Asgardsrei – Dark Fears Behind the Door
The distinctive ambient intro that opens this album remains one of the high points. While all of the elements are correct, like many post-genre bands, this is essential a mishmash of styles put into the framework of faster abrupt death metal. Many of the tropes here are familiar from black metal and death metal of the past two decades, but are put into a uniform flow of high-speed tremolo picking. There are some bizarre riffs here, and the band specialize in horror movie-sounding lengthy power chord phrases, but these often seem to lead nowhere. There’s a good aesthetic idea there, but for it to become musical, it must arise from the other riffs. Instead, it’s more like a tour of compartments on a train where each one offers something different but in roughly the same style and so it seems to add up, but ultimately it’s a search for the compartment with the interesting riff and that’s fairly random. As far as style, these guys have a distinctive one that’s all their own, despite being very retro to the point of outright allusion, but because of the way riffs are contexted as part of the overall rhythmic composition nothing stands out as out of place.
Subreality – Endless Horizons
Imagine Blind Illusion, kicked forward a half-generation and thus using deathy vocals over melodic but buoyantly regular speed metal. These six songs were recorded in 1996 and finally released in 2004 but they sound like they’re straight out of the days of later Kreator or any of the death-influenced speed metal of the late 1980s. If you live for 1980s speed metal and like the somewhat shaky instrumentals of the underground, as well as the hangovers from 1970s metal which infest this like a Dave Murray impersonators’ conference, this divergence into metal history might appeal. Rhythmically consistent, Subreality has found a few grooves it likes and stays within them, using the mid-paced beat to hang riffs from like tentpegs holding canvas. Many of these riffs anticipate patterns that Pantera would later use to make its own music, previously a glam hair band with extensive heavy metal stylings, seem more “tough” on its way to discovering bro-core. Like most speed metal that does not take the riff salad approach, this quickly heads toward repetition as a familiar comfort and sing-song choruses outlining the rhythms of the song title. Not only that, but in the worst of the European approaches to speed metal, this is strictly verse-chorus (w/occasional riff detours) music based on the pace of the vocals, so it develops slowly if at all and features heavy repetition. Some have said this is an underground classic. “Classic of what?” I might ask.
Grace Disgraced – Enthrallment Traced
If you combined later Carcass’ Necroticism with later Suffocation, and decided that from modern metal you’d take the twisted riffs that converge on themselves through intricate lead rhythm patterns and discard the true randomness, you might be on a path to Grace Disgraced. Despite its fondness for internally rhyming names, this band makes a noodly type of death metal hybrid that emphasizes a contrast between spidery lead riffs and djent style percussive single-string riff texture. These songs do well once they get started and maintain a solid internal correspondence and tension; the real challenge this band is going to face in the future is figuring out how to make these songs distinctive. Much gets lost in the wash of riffs, blast beats and interludes; without shaping these songs around some distinctive trope, as Suffocation did (but Carcass ultimately did not) they’re going to find themselves getting lost in the background noise. In addition, many of the riff types are highly similar between songs which leads to a further loss of distinctiveness. All instruments are well-played and songs hold together without becoming random although often it’s difficult to discern what they’re trying to say.
Adamus Exul – Arsenic Idols
The black metal that doesn’t sound like “post-metal” (emo, indie, shoegaze, metalcore) fully is generally built on the same model that later Gehenna and Gorgoroth built on, which is the churning sweep riff followed by a fast metal tremolo riff and over the top vocals. Adamus Exul makes a competent bid for this style and generally does it well but adorn it in so many other decorations that it becomes hard to tell where each song is going. In that there’s a revelation; these songs introduce themselves well, and deepen the experience with internal richness, but never manage to pick a place to go. Thus the band uses a lot of radical percussion and decoration to transition out of each song. By the last two tracks on the album, Adamus Exul have almost totally lost concentration and/or their hoard of ideas, and the release trails off into gibberish and leftover speed metal tropes. The first four tracks however show some potential as a musical experience but fall short of exposing themselves to the raw nihilism of black metal, in which they can no longer hide in the world of what is socially valued, but most confront the emptiness of life itself and the need to give it meaning through finding purpose which is not necessarily inherent. That is lost here and so what has promise ends up being an entertaining and aesthetically distracting experience but never leads to any profundity which might give this album staying power, even if it is better in technique and composition than most of what crosses my desk.
Malevolent Supremacy – Malevolent Supremacy
Looking at this title, you might think: middle of the road death metal with deathgrind influences. That indeed describes Malevolent Supremacy, who write songs around the blast-beat buildup and breakaway much as the Skinless-style bands did, but instead of aiming for slouchy brocore grooves, Malevolent Supremacy like high-speed riffs and clattering drums racing to a conclusion. These riffs rip along at the high speeds you might expect from the second Vader album and do fall into grooves, just not the simplistic bouncecore ones favored in fraternity houses and meth dens worldwide. Songs are well staged and unravel with some subtlety. However, this band relies too much on vocals to lead the guitars, which is backwards, and have a tendency to build up perfectly good songs only to extrude them into repetition as a way of preserving whatever mood was created. Too many flourishes on guitar also interrupt what would be, if stripped down and allowed to breathe as themselves, some powerful death metal songs. The frenetic approach rarely works because it smooshes all of that nice death metal textural complexity into a single background drone, which then requires the vocals get dramatic to compensate, but that doesn’t work so perfectly workable song structures get interrupted with “contrast” that amounts to fast breaks and quick turns to evade the attention of the listener. This band has potential but should probably try another tack.
Queen V – The Decade of Queen V
Flopping into the metal pile because guitars are used, Queen V should be filed instead under 1968 style music: brassy female vocalist, ironic songs, lots of hook and some boom. This is music designed for movies in that I can’t imagine anyone sitting down to something this unsubtle and finding meaning in it, but it would be something that a brain-dead leech like a movie producer might use to symbolize a character having a rebellious moment in between blowing her boss and getting mugged by hipsters. The music itself is crass and obvious. It whallops you over the head and howls at you. Nothing in it is poorly-executed, but as a judgment call, it seems to be designed for either people who have trouble digesting five-note runs or who like to play loud music to assert their personalities while they shower, mow lawns, mope over breakups or other drama. That erects a barrier for metal fans who would probably find it unsubtle and repetitive, but this might appeal to people who like Tracy Chapman and Liz Phair and other strong female vocalists with very simplified points to make.
Grave – Endless Procession of Souls
On the surface, this album is like later Fleshcrawl or Dismember works, a big warm hug of fuzzy Swedish distortion and adorably principled misanthropy. It stays within the traditional death metal style, but imports a lot of its song structure and riff from speed metal, which means there’s more chugging and bounce on this one. There’s also too much reliance on vocals leading the rhythm guitar and, while contrast is generally a good thing, too much contrast that is wholly unrelated to what went before and therefore seems more like an unmarked subway stop than a discovery of something sublime and previously obscure. For many who remember the speed metal of the late 1980s, a lot of this will seem paint by number: riff etches out a chord progression, counter-balances it with some unique feature like a melodic hook, and chorus re-hashes what is implied by the riff. Songs rip along and might warm you up on a chilly day for their uptempo but not pointless faster consistency. Like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul, most songs focus around a family of similar rhythms which gives this album a very consistent feel. Many of the patterns on here show a strong Celtic Frost influence, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As an album, it is not detestable and definitely is better than the majority of stuff out there, but it may lack the clarity and unique articulation that makes people want to throw it on the player in the first place, which is much how I feel toward later Fleshcrawl and Dismember.
Nebiros / Nekromanteion – In Command Tenebrae split 7″
The new black metal underground has mixed the 1980s style of black metal with some of the more punk-influenced elements of death metal, creating a new style that is equal parts Angelcorpse and Venom, Bathory and GBH. Nebiros leads in with a track of fast storming proto-black metal in the Sarcofago style, complete with emulation of the “catch-up” drum fills which filled in the space between uneven length guitar tracks and the drums which were recorded later. This song rips through several quick riffs, then slides into a groove like one that early Samael might have used, before trailing out in a blaze of reprise of earlier riffs. Nekromanteion begins with a more melodic ripping death metal approach, using a grand riff to instill a sense of rhythm that explodes outward in a combination of two riffs, an open percussive riff more like something on a hardcore album, and a Norwegian-style minor key melodic riff. The result cycles after this point before ending in a processional riff that contrasts its initial theme. This goes for a softer approach with more atmosphere than the Nebiros track, which is why the two complement each other well. It’s hard to tell from this limited sample whether these bands are able to develop more material that maintains this level of interest, but for a starting gambit this 7″ shows a lot of what is missing in contemporary metal and two styles that can render it.
Morfin emerge from the potent musical texture of the late 1980s and the transitional era between speed metal and death metal where Sepultura, Destruction, Kreator and Sadus ruled the day. This period was known for its tendency to wrap up a diverse influences under a speed/death banner and make music that straddled the genres, which often produced a potent ferment of riffcraft but left songwriting behind as it tried to balance many diverse elements in the same band.
Although the vocals on Inoculation are heavily van Drunen-influenced and often exhibit rhythms found on the first two Pestilence LPs, riffs and their underlying melodic sense are straight out of late speed metal, with a comparison to a more melodic version of Kreator or Arise-era Sepultura being apt. The primary technique in riffcraft is the ability to ride a rhythm established by the vocals, then extrude it to achieve an effect of completeness, and then return to its initial state. This creates riffs with lots of focus on the offbeat and a tendency to wrap up firmly at the end of each phrase. While this is more compelling than your average death metal riffing, it is also less likely to rely on the phrasal riffing that produced the best of the death metal genre.
Fortunately, like transitional bands Dark Angel and Sadus, Morfin uses a great deal of internal riff variation and knits these riffs together to keep a mood rolling. In these riffs, familiar patterns from heavy metal through death metal can be recognized, but ultimately the band will return to the roaring rhythmic hooks that create foot-tappingly powerful choruses. Notable is the ability to use melodic mid-paced riffs to flesh out the second half of a song, creating an intermission and contrast before returning to bouncy mayhem with more of those classic Destruction-era riffs. Like Mortem from Peru, Morfin is not so much a death metal band as it is a retrospective of metal past and present with a focus on energetic, compelling tunes.
Often, when frustrated with the current state of metal, it’s refreshing to look towards the past. While the metal underground has been increasingly well documented, there are still quality releases that slip through the cracks; whether for lack of advertising, geographical isolation, or simply being too far outside the milieu at the time.
In the late 1990s, Finnish black metal project Haven In Shadows released two demos – Legend of the Wolf and Moments of Honor. These demos feature similar material, with the main difference being the former is an instrumental recording whereas the latter adds vocals and expanded guitar work. Production for both demos is cold and tends towards “low-fidelity”, though all instruments are distinguishable in the mix.
Tracks on these releases are mid-paced melancholic narratives, unafraid to incorporate both major and minor tonal relationships. A wide variation of “color” is evoked by this, which allows the band to express a more profound meaning than would otherwise be possible. Power chords are used, though rather than having the movement between them be the inferred melody in the listener’s mind, they are the foundation for melodic variation to occur above. In this way, the band moves closer to the tradition of classical music manifested within metal.
Rather than the more exoteric approach favored by other bands, these releases attempt to answer the question posed by the original wave of black metal: “What have we forgotten and how can we recall it?” Meditative at heart, this is something lost within the current generation of black metal and is worth rediscovering again.
Blue skied days make me think of aliens landing amongst us like in the old science fiction films. Except this time, the aliens are disappointed in what they find. “We have analyzed your transmissions,” the vocoded digi-translator says. “We are hoping to contact the people of Aurelius, Plato, Nietzsche and the first Morbid Angel album.”
Sadly there is no one here who can help them. The old Romans are dead, the ancient Greeks long gone, even the days when philosophers wrote about real topics are over, and Morbid Angel have ventured on to different goals and styles. If the aliens came looking for old school death metal, they’d find themselves presented with over a million options, very few of which resembled the glory of what once was.
This leads us to the interesting question: what causes some human endeavor, whether a civilization or a culture or death metal, to collapse? Nietzsche believed the answer to be nihilism; Joseph Tainter thinks it is when groups find diminishing marginal returns in self-organization; Aurelius saw a failure of spirit as the cause. When I was less experienced, I would have agreed with Nietzsche or Tainter that an internal/external source was the cause; the more I’ve seen, the closer I veer toward Aurelius’ view which is that things die when their spirit dies.
In metal, we’ve had a great spiritual death for quite a long time now. Death metal and black metal produced a huge backlog of technique, imagery, creativity and complexity between 1984 and 1994, but then pretty much faded away. In their place first came imitators, then metalcore, and now the emo/indie/gaze crowd of “post-metal” types who are making the same music that was popular back in the late 1980s. History has reversed itself as it always does when collapse comes to town.
Erik Danielsson of erstwhile black metal band and now happy melodic heavy metal band Watain offered his own vision of how this inversion occurs:
I think that throughout the course of history, there have always been very few bands that have been able to live up to my standards, at least of black metal… Then there are thousands and thousands of misrepresentations and misconceptions of it. But true and genuine black metal is always something that will always be a minority in the music scene. A small minority even.
Then there’s all these people that kind of want to… It’s just like punk, you know? You have a few real punk bands, and you have a thousand bands that try to do the same thing, but fail because they don’t have the right spirit and they don’t really believe in it. But at the same time, it fascinates a lot of people, because it is an extreme way of expression, and it is controversial, and it’s therefore also popular and people are fascinated by it.
That’s why it’s also so often, like with other forms of extreme art, whatever it may be, that’s why it’s also so often misused, and just even commercialised, just for the sake of that, horror sells. And extreme metal sells, controversy sells, and that’s why there’s so many charlatans in this kind of music.
He makes a good point but it’s not the whole story. At some point, the genre was stronger and had a higher ratio of actual black metal to imitators. What is an imitator? Someone who adopts the surface appearance of some other thing without understanding its spirit, inner structure, values or motivations. Why do imitators do it? For the social value; that’s all imitation can deliver. If you imitate something, you can sell it, achieve popularity, or even just have some rationalization for your lifestyle and a way to spend your time that you feel doesn’t make you look like a complete l00zer to your friends.
This makes the original ideals of black metal look smarter than they seemed at the same. “No more, no core, no fun and no trends” is an anti-social statement, meaning that it is designed to block the passage of metal into a social movement. As discussed in Until the Light Takes Us, the decay of meaning is inevitable once power passes from the innovators to the art shop displays, poseurs, political types and record label tyrants.
Black metal supergroup Twilight welcomed a new member in the middle of 2012: Thurston Moore. “We’re not coming together to make music,” Moore said then of the group. “We’re joining forces to destroy all rational thought.”
Unfortunately, the band itself has also imploded. With news of their new album—III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb, out March 18 in North American and March 17 in Europe through Century Media—comes the announcement that Twilight has broken up. The album will be their last.
I will never be happy for anything that inconveniences Imperial of Krieg in any way, as he carried the black metal flag at a time when the USBM underground had declared itself dead fetus and put up the banner of failure. I also have no enmity for Thurston Moore, who was quite a gregarious and interesting fellow when I met him, or any of the other musicians in Twilight. They’re just trying to have careers. However, they were also symbolic of the downfall of underground metal in that they symbolized its acceptance by the indie rock hierarchy.
The thing about rebels is that they either fail and are destroyed in anonymity, or they become the new Establishment. Since most people love a chance to believe that their problems are caused by oppression, not their own poor life choices, revolutions are very popular; just about everyone loves one, except the cynical and flatulent elderly. Thus as a revolutionary you have a better than average chance but, if you succeed, you live to become that against which new generations revolt. First country, blues, jazz and rock were a revolution against established music, then punk was a revolution against popular music. Then indie was a revolution against punk.
Black metal, like heavy metal before it, was a revolution against the mentality of revolution. It was “heavy” in that instead of promising flowers, love and peace — all appearances, all social things — it promised darkness, warfare, conflict and predation. Metal has always been the music that says our problems cannot be solved by appearances and must be addressed by dealing with reality itself, which is the one thing that most people never want to do.
The message of metal is never initially popular. What is popular is the perception of metalheads being “outside” the social system, and thus able to perceive a truth and enjoy a freedom that those inside cannot. This makes those inside want to emulate the outsiders, but they do so only in appearance, resulting in them making imitations that have the spirit, values, goals and internal structure of the inside. Thus, the independent truth is dragged down into a morass of conformity and the same failed thinking that it tried to escape.
To those who have watched metal for some time, it presents a paradox. To the public, it seems like a railroad, where a line of cars stops and then we see what is in each, one at a time. To an experienced watcher, it more resembles an ocean, with currents swirling below and influenced by air above, and periodically the crest of a wave emerges before being dragged down by the rest, obliterated and recycled.
One of the warmer undercurrents in the metal ocean is “true metal,” which is that which stays true to the solid line of evolution leading from metal’s origin. As part of this movement, bands across the globe are continuing to make music that we associate with earlier decades, except that it’s newly created and generated from a contemporary impulse if not contemporary influences. Cruxiter, a Texas heavy metal/guitar rock band, is part of this movement.
We first reviewed Cruxiter’s self-titled first album in these pages a few scant weeks ago, but already the band’s spirit and dedication to its style have piqued interest with our worldwide readership. To go more in-depth, we interrogated vocalist Joe Gonzalez at length via a very modern iPhone yet with classic heavy metal spirit.
You formerly played in Hammer Whore, a death metally band. What prompted the switch to a heavy metal style versus a death metal one?
HammerWhore was a big mix of a lot of metal genres; because each band member comes from different eras and has their own taste in metal music we had to compromise and we created an album that contained a bit from every sub genre. In 2007 HammerWhore broke up because of personal differences, so I kept some of the songs I wrote and started a new band that was more hard rock/heavy metal. In 2009 Miggy Ramirez and Rick Ortiz joined the band and this is really when we started to develop our sound. Then in 2010 we had personnel issues again losing our bassist, drummer, and guitar player. This is when we recruited the rest of the old HammerWhore line up to help us out. The “switch” to heavy metal just came naturally after spitting from HammerWhore and working with such a great group of musicians. I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, and that’s sing in and front a heavy metal band!
What is the Cruxiter? Is it a concept underlying all of your work?
The Cruxiter is a fictional alien computer that works through touch, connecting to the users nervous system and to the mind. The thing is, it doesn’t quite work with human biology and drives anyone who attempts to use it insane, but the Cruxiter is only a small part of the Cruxiter universe. It’s one of the few artifacts that we have here on earth from the faraway alien planet that is the subject of most of our music. So far we have not made contact with these extraterrestrials on our first album. First contact will be made on “Madness of the Void,” a track that will be released on our next full length. A look at this faraway world is probably similar to seeing ourselves in the distant future where technological advances have only made life more complicated with longer life spans and more inventive ways to kill each other.
This is a two part question: (a) what are your influences, musical and otherwise, in Cruxiter? (b) what bands do you think sound closest to Cruxiter?
I cannot speak for the rest of the band because each of us is very different when it come to the style of music we listen to. But for me it’s a combination of classic AOR, NWOBHM, eighties thrash and early seventies prog. Styx, Judas Priest, Lizzy Borden, Torch, Agent Steel, and Overkill were some of the first bands to really get me excited to pick up a guitar and sing. Really every time I hear a metal vocalist hit a high note or a guitar lead it really gets me going. As far as individual artists its Jon Oliva, Tommy Shaw & Dennis DeYoung, David Byron & Mick Box, Schmier, Tom Angelripper, Don Dokken, and Joey Tempest are all on the top of a very long list of talent that inspires me to play music.
The second part of your question is very hard to answer because we are trying to create something different but not straying from what we love. In my personal opinion I would say it’s a mix between early King Diamond, early 90s Mercyful fate, Uriah Heep, Stryper, Judas Priest, Di’Anno era Maiden. We still have a lot of material that we are working on that I think is more advanced and widens the spectrum even more.
Do you think the “true metal” genres like classic heavy metal and old school death metal and black metal are making a return? Or did death metal and black metal get lost in the shuffle?
“Making a return” destroys the true metal genres and spawns craploads of bands that really don’t know where the music comes from, then they make everyone look cheesy and people move on, which has already happened to thrash metal twice. All true metal genres have and always will thrive in the local and underground scenes. What genre is “in” at any given time is determined by what the “cool kids” are listening to, It’s very political, and it will never change.
Cruxiter is a classic heavy metal band, but you incorporate a lot of elements from what I’m calling “guitar rock.” How hard is it to combine the two?
It’s actually pretty accurate for some parts of our music because we are very heavily influenced by progressive music and classic rock but we really try hard to mix it up and make the music we write contain all aspects of rock and metal music. With the tempo changes and melodies of classic prog, guitar riffing from rock and metal, and AOR style choruses, even trying to add a bit of glam to it all.
But each song we write is different and has its own massage so it’s hard for me to explain it all without breaking down each song. Combining all these styles of music happens during the writing process… letting the song pretty much write itself, and allowing the changes to happen. It’s the vocals and solos that are dominant, and take full control during the writing of the music. We do work hard on the proper flow of the song making sure it’s chaotic and complex, keeps the listeners attention, and is pleasant to the ears. We also try to keep the music from being too heavy and noisy, down tuning and excessive kick drum is great for other bands but we like our listeners to hear without trouble how the guitars, vocals, drums, and bass interact musically.
You’ve just released your first and self-titled album. How did you record it, and where? What were the biggest challenges of recording?
We recorded this album at our home studio in a ranch house in Jim Wells County just outside Alice, Texas. Every aspect of recording was a challenge since we really had no experience. I had to watch all kinds of how to videos on YouTube about mic’ing vocals, drums and guitar cabinets, it was a lot of trial and error. The best part of recording was reworking the songs after playback adding harmonies, fills, and leads. But we learned a lot from recording this album and we are currently in the studio again and everything is running smoothly. Our next album is going to sound a lot better for sure and we are pretty excited about it.
If you had to identify the most important element in what makes a good song, what might it be? Do you think it’s energy, passion, emotion, content or some combination of the above?
A great song perfectly portrays a complex clash of emotions of a single moment in time with the appropriate energy pulsing and fluctuating between emotional highs and lows. It also needs guitar and vocal melodies that engrave themselves into the mind and the message and words find a spot to reside in listeners mind. Honesty goes along way when it come to reaching people through music.
What’s next for Cruxiter? Are you going to do small tours through Texas cities, or record more, or go national?
Right now, we are back in the studio recording new music for a second album. Now that we have some experience it should move very smoothly and we will get an even better product. We should be releasing a few demo songs on YouTube and maybe a short demo tape soon. They will not be the album versions of the songs just demos before fine tuning the structure, vocal melodies, and fills. We have already released “Under The Moon” demo on YouTube.
We will probably not be playing very many shows this year since we will be trying to complete our work in the studio. But we are playing in Houston February 8th at the White Swan for our good friend Angel’s B-day (bassist for Owl Witch). It’s going to be a really killer show. Houston is the top place to play metal music in Texas the scene has always been very strong and diverse. I’m alway excited to play in Houston.
Are there any challenges to being a metal band in Texas, with the local scenes being what they are and the distances between towns often being great?
It is pretty hard here in Texas especially since we don’t live anywhere near any of the major city. Corpus Christi is closest but they have no local metal scene and what’s hitting there now is grind and crust which is great but we don’t fit the bill. It’s a struggle for us to be a part of the scene in texas since we are so far and can’t participate in playing or attending shows very often. Playing gigs always means travel for us but its just part of the gig. Texas as a whole is full of die hard metal heads and familiar faces friends that will be playing music and supporting local shows till they die.