Dissenter, Eldrig, Cauterizer

Cauterizer – Then the Snow Fell

This band made the classic mistake of trying to make death metal a bouncy, jaunty, ironic hard rock genre at the time it was moving away from all that garbage. Had they tried it eight years later, they would have been Slipknot, but instead, they’re mostly forgotten. Sound is like old Therion and old Entombed played by Motley Crue.

Dissenter – Apocalypse of the Damned

We put Behemoth and Hate Eternal into a blender and got a highly competent effort that’s painful to listen to. Repetition of themes is aggressive, as is mirroring of similar rhythms throughout each piece, and like all metal made after 1995, there’s zero sense of dynamic, just a constant high-volume assault — a lot like hip-hop. A shame since these musicians are clearly above average in proficiency.

Eldrig – Kali

I wanted to like this. As atmosphere, it’s well-done; note choice is good, rhythm is good, dynamics are well done. As art, it’s a non-entity because there’s almost no change. It’s like Hindu-themed apocalyptic wallpaper.

Black Funeral – Vampyr: Throne of the Beast

This is an inverse review: all the Black Funeral albums other than this one are lesser. Vampyr is the peak. Seek Vampyr if you like Black Funeral.

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Gates of Enoch, Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ in Houston, Texas

Gates of Enoch, Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ
March 2, 2008
The Meridian
1503 Chartres
Houston, Texas 77003

Long ago, before heavy metal was even a glimmer in the eyes of King Crimson and Black Sabbath, when the land of south central Texas had nothing on its pan-flat surface but swamp and hogs, a developer’s eye gleamed and soon a city was being sold to northern suburbanites as a green, natural, sunny and pleasant place. To this day developers continue to create it, sprawling across the humid plane like pancake batter, and so the city pulses through a serpentine mesh of freeways which converge at various points, some forgotten and some celebrated.

At one of these convergences, to the northeast of downtown, an innumerable series of obstacles prevented our reviewer from hearing the Gates of Enoch set and the first four bars of Averse Sefira. Having just released their fourth album (you probably have the MP3s already) Averse Sefira from Austin showed fine form on the end of this tour of established acts. In all fairness, every band on the tour showed massively professional performance ability, so what distinguished one from the next was showmanship and songwriting. In these crucial areas a separation occurred but proved itself to be so messy that few want to untangle its inextricable threads.

Averse Sefira

Averse Sefira took to the stage with the power of those who carve a place for themselves by both fighting the status quo and not fighting the reality of what will be eternally rewarded; they mix traditionalist black metal with the aggressive machine motion of death metal in its peak years, relegating the latter to rhythm with the former insurgent within it as leadership of each song. This enables them to preserve the mystique of underground metal which is the fusion of seemingly random bits into a whole order, an occult process in itself during a time of linear causal logic. Their rhythmic composition comes straight from the halcyon days of early Deicide and Incantation, but their melodies, fusing Graveland and Enslaved and something as uniquely American as Thomas Wolfe recalled a graveyard angel, surge straight from the heart of black metal.

Advent Parallax, the newest from Averse Sefira, steps forward in technique and adjusts the previous sense of concept albums into a new lexicon, where the concept is revealed in serialized views of a prismatic, untouchable reality. They did not back down; they made it more technical, shaped the songs from less obvious shadow forms of structure; gave themselves license to play with elements that dour conventionalists might find threatening, yet kept them in the spirit of the most traditional of all underground black and death metal. Not surprisingly, the album sounds better live, because its synthesis is new and still supple, and putting it to a click track (or even the knowledge that it would be recorded) could dim some of that resonant light.

Mixing two songs each from their last three albums, Averse Sefira delivered a set with more technical verve than previous adventures. Where some shows had been chaotic and organic, and others sniper-precise, the fusion of the two is a grand adventure in pushing things out of control and then with the paranoia of a sentry snapping it back under control. This delightful duality shadowed not only the playful but militant spirit of their music, but also the fusion of ludic black metal and mechanistic mimetic death metal. The triumph came in not only holding together these raging daemonic tendencies but pouring them into form, using the crucible of the classics and an exploratory fire of the now.

Setlist:

A Shower of Idols (Advent Parallax)
Descension (Advent Parallax)
Nascent Ones (Battle’s Clarion)
Helix in Audience (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)
Battle’s Clarion (Battle’s Clarion)
Plagabraha (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)

Belphegor

After Averse Sefira, Belphegor played a super-competent set of ultra-generic black/death metal. There is no way to criticize it, like most modern travesties. No notes were missed. Rhythms were exact. The crowd loved it and bought tshirts. Yet it did not recommend itself, either. It is as one critic has said of life itself: “The problem is not in being mediocre. The problem lies in not being great, because that is all that stays the memory once the last royalty check is cashed.” Indeed — we move away from this artefact of history and the juncture of styles at this point in metal’s career, a conjunction that has mastered the aesthetics of these intrusions without knowing in any way their derivation, significance, or even that they could form a language and not a procession of forms cut from whole shadow shapes.

Immolation

Immolation played the most varied set of the evening, comprising one simple song from their first album (“Those Left Behind”), several from their most recent entitled Shadows in the Light, one from the nu-metal influenced Harnessing Ruin, and a smattering from other albums, priming us for their epicenter with “Nailed to Gold” from Here in After, probably their most ambitious and engaged moments of the night. Relentlessly professional, they played both exactly and with a good deal of the microscopic re-evaluation of intention shared between individuals in a musical outfit that encloses “feeling,” giving the energies of the crowd and the band a chance for chiasmatic influence within the rhythms of what was played. Their material improves greatly with the new album. Retrospective analysis suggests this band, formed in 1986, never fully left behind the ambition to join Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer in the speed metal camp, and they have filtered through underground death metal their impulse to write surging rhythm riffs with an accelerated rock beat ever since.

The result, a trademark anticipative recursion and complementary unison offset by a shuttling opposite architectural closure, called by fans “that Immolation riff,” shows up too much in their work; some hypothesize that it began with the use of pinched harmonics to accentuate an expected rhythmic closure, which showed this band how much the dimly lit faces glow when presented with something so digestible. Since that time, Immolation have fought their impulse to write bouncy technical rock, and struggled for death metal. They come farthest on Shadows in the Light. They still could benefit from more diligent staging of their work, so that when they crash into a gratifying chorus or transition, it is rarer and so purer in context though less pure in immediate essence. Their set was as solid as any in metal, rock, jazz or blues, but with a good deal more energy. They could learn a great deal from the first Metallica album if they wish to continue this course.

Setlist:

Passion Kill (Shadows in the Light)
Swarm of Terror (Harnessing Ruin)
Burial Ground (Dawn of Possession)
Nailed to Gold (Here In After)
Son if Iniquity (Harnessing Ruin)
Hate’s Plague (Shadows in the Light)
Immolation (Dawn of Possession)
Lying with Demons (Shadows in the Light)
World Agony (Shadows in the Light)
Bring Them Down (Unholy Cult)

Rotting Christ

Rotting Christ showed this audience the greatest technical performance of the evening. They not only played difficult material. They played it as if it was no big deal. Their problem is that while they write beautiful choruses, and have many creative riff ideas, they like writing boring songs. A two-part stomp beat, a trudging power chord ride that shifts position upward like the “after” part of a weight-loss commercial, and in the ensuing mixture whatever beauty is created is crushed under the weight of the trudge. Beauty is what they aimed for, and what they created at rare times, mainly through an excellent knowledge of harmony and a willingness to write melodic lead rhythm picked riffs and harmonize them. One participant put it best when he said this band have become generic metal. There are black metal vocals, speed metal drums, death metal strumming, power metal choruses, and heavy metal rundown verses. It was both inspiring and the greatest disappointment one could have. Caught in the veil of humanism, which presupposes personhood to supplant nature’s judgement of skill in presenting the dynamism which drives the universe away from entropy, this band played to please an idealized, averaged, mythical crowd and as a result they had people standing in cadence during verses and becoming animated for choruses. Guys, take a risk — write something from your minds and not your hearts.

Conclusion

The show proved an adventure worthy of undertaking for the power of Averse Sefira and Immolation. All things considered, Averse Sefira impressed most, because their set was the least contrived with honest and goofy joy and worship of the power of their own music replacing a more serious mien. Immolation played as well and with more technicality, and also took great gleeful pleasure in their songs, but that performance proved more self-cognizant and less self-reflective, as if they were watching themselves from the audience. The musicians of Averse Sefira were less aware they were onstage and playing music, and seemed to be lost (60%) in the music they clearly enjoyed hearing and (40%) in the emotional and energetic tides of the crowd, although a scan of the audience revealed they appealed to a portion of the audience more likely to watch intently than drink, “mosh,” or chant only the choruses  they knew the verses also. Even more importantly, their songs are written less from a template, and retain the chaotic inspiration that their wide-ranging lyrics bring. Yet neither Immolation nor Averse Sefira were justifiably missed, as both delivered top-notch performances upholding the distinctive DNA of underground death metal.

(Thanks to Cynical and M.S. for the setlists.)

Bands:
Gates of Enoch
Averse Sefira
Belphegor
Immolation
Rotting Christ

Promoters:
The Meridian, Houston Texas

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Absurd, Der Stürmer, Satanic Warmaster and Goatmoon in Tampere, Finland

Absurd, Der Stürmer, Satanic Warmaster and Goatmoon in Tampere, Finland
February 1, 2008
Tampere, Finland

Soon after the new year, Finnish newspapers Aamulehti and Turun Sanomat and the tabloids Ilta-Sanomat and Iltalehti published news items both online and in print which claimed that Finnish neo-nazis Furore Finnum were organizing a tour of neo-nazi bands. Despite a massive email campaign against the show, and other brilliant strategies like publication of the gig organizers’ home contact information on the Finnish anarchist site takku.net, the show was to go on.

A public venue was arranged for Tampere in a well-known metal bar and another, more private, gig was arranged for Turku, with the location spread carefully. The gig in Tampere was sold out, but not to neo-nazis: on the contrary, our reporter found that no more than 10 percent of the people who were interested in the gig, either in the negative or in the positive sense, had made any research towards the philosophy, interviews, lyrics and imagery of the particular bands. This is not to condemn the metalheads, who sensibly were interested in these bands and what they would be communicating musically, visually and spiritually and not at all interested in becoming caught in some political discussion dating to the 1930’s whose one of the sides in some countries it is criminalized to take.

The night at Tampere was a phenomenal success. Despite some late attempts by the mass media to stir up trouble by warning the immigrants of Tampere not to go out during the night because there are nazis about, there were absolutely no problems in or near the gig taking place. The police scouted the area a bit, a couple of reporters came to ask irrelevant questions and so on, but that was it. People at the door were also checked with metal detectors. Some people came in rather drunk because for bureaucratic reasons this night the place was not allowed to sell except the mildest drinks, but I guess no-one was refused entrance which is lucky considering the hostile reputation of that bar’s doormen. Hundreds of fans, musicians, artists, distributors and casual listeners with differing political, spiritual, musical and social outlooks were present. This is exactly what had caused so much fear and rejection: the normal person interested in metal, underground rock, etc. does not buy anymore the moralistic condemnation of ideologies that for various reasons utilize the symbolism of fascism and/or National Socialism. Many of them may be ideologically opposed to those ideas, but they do not support censorship of them, which is a perfectly self-consistent view.

Goatmoon

Because there was only 3 and a half hours of time for 4 bands to perform, the pace was rather hectic. I would have liked to chat more with the wonderful people present but did not have the occasion because soon after we arrived Goatmoon started blasting away on stage and even later between bands there was only 10 or so minutes of interval. Goatmoon, which is essentially a solo band of BlackGoat, consisted of 4 members in this performance, including Harald Mentor and a rock guy who fell on his face near the start of the gig. The drunken and hysterical energy and an “amateurness” that some people despised were actually the traits characteristic to Goatmoon this night which made the performance feel very personal. They went through a short set of hit songs from their two albums and closed with a cover of Finnish RAC/Oi band Mistreat. The cover song was possibly the most memorable piece of their set and really got the audience going.

Satanic Warmaster

Next was Satanic Warmaster who provided the most mystical and melancholic black metal experience of the night. The band is known from sweeping, rocking, emotional black metal anthems that refer to older black metal in a tribute-like patchwork of intense feelings. Satanic Tyrant Werwolf, who acted like he personally knows each member of the audience, and for all we know he does, gave some sharp and clear statements on stage about the importance of the event and recommended the audience to behave themselves. They hammered the audience with a set of tracks such as “Vampiric Tyrant”, “Raging Winter”, “Carelian Satanist Madness”, “Wolves of Retaliation”, “The Burning Eyes of the Werewolf”, “A New Black Order”, impeccably executed by a lineup of session musicians. The feeling of dark might especially towards the end of Satanic Warmaster’s performance got me thinking that this is how Emperor should have been when I last year saw them in Helsinki. The art of Satanic Warmaster is so dramatic and personal that it actually works as an esoteric trick on behalf of Satanic Tyrant Werewolf in reducing his ego from the picture and becoming a medium for the whole audience, and black metal in general. For a spontaneous listener it will seem like a bag of cliches, or a masterwork, or actually both. This goes for others of his projects too.

Der Stürmer

Der Stürmer managed to up the level of intensity even further by marching on stage, imposing figures illuminated from behind, raising arms in salute while music from Wagner’s Siegfried was playing as intro music. One could not help but visualizing the mighty shape of a victorious eagle, rising from the shades of long gone battlefields. The dreams and hopes and sorrows and battles of the won and the lost wars of Europe manifested there for one instant. Then the pounding started. Der Stürmer’s violent, almost nihilistic battle metal filled the air. The most dominating in the atmosphere were the big skinhead -style vocalist brutally shouting the manifestoes and slogans of W.A.R. with equal intensity in songs and in between songs and the skilled drummer who managed to interrupt blastbeats with militant marching fills and invoke something resembling a more technical version of Capricornus’ drumming madness on early Graveland. While the performance continued without flaw, the hour or more of Der Stürmer’s vengeful attack was maybe a bit too long for their minimalistic and monotonous style.

Absurd

Seeing the infamous Absurd performing live was of course the thing most of us had been eagerly waiting for since the gig was first announced. Despite the original philosopher of the band being present behind the scenes, understandably the line-up was the new Absurd, with no common members with that which performed the classic albums “Facta Loquuntur” and “Asgardsrei”. Nevertheless, when Herr Wolf captured the stage after the “Leben ist Krieg…” intro and launched into the title track from “Asgardsrei”, there was little doubt that this new incarnation of the band is capable of evoking unique radicalness and danger as only Absurd could, from its inception. Ask the members of the audience who were at the receving end of the flying mic stand! Wolf’s close-cropped haircut and chest armor brought to mind a medieval warrior, Oi! provocator and Judas Priest at the same time. His absurd (how else?) stage mannerisms included bouncing to the beat, grinning at the audience, picking fights and talking in German. The songs they played included “Werwolf”, “Gates of Heaven”, “Pesttanz”, “Eternal Winter” and “Der Sieg ist Unser” from “Facta Loquuntur”, “Als die Alten jung noch waren” and “Für Germanien” in addition to the title track from “Asgardsrei” and an assortment of tracks from the later albums which I do not know well enough to name, but they all worked very well to these ears. It’s doubtful that the old lineup could have played the songs with this technical precision, but of course I do admit to a slight mourning in my soul at that the earlier, most cult, lineup disbanded.

Conclusion

After the gig ended, everyone had to leave as soon as possible because the band had already stretched the limits of the reservation of the place. It was wet outside and lousy weather so we returned to our hotel without further adventures, to rest from this very positive experience and to prepare for forthcoming battles. Overall the gig was very memorable and positive and one of the best in a very long time. People who attended the next night’s gig in Turku said it was a full success too. My deepest appreciation goes to Furore Finnum & the bands for bearing with all the trouble and mess caused by ignorance and cowardice of some people. It will be remembered as a triumph of idealism and spirit over moralism and repression. It’s a gift to live in a country where this was possible and where exist people with the right spirit to make it possible.

– Written by Devamitra

Bands:
Absurd
Der Stürmer
Satanic Warmaster
Goatmoon

Promoters:
Takku

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Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Ascension in Hollywood, California

Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Ascension
April 13, 2007
7021 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, California 90028

Confusion marked our entrance into the Knitting Factory, where it was being decided that bands would not play in the order originally listed. Making it more chaotic, they all played on the same stage, ensuring that hasty transfers of band would scatter personnel and equipment across the stage and inevitably result in some “who has the voice mike” satire. Despite this tower of live performance Babel, the bands involved bravely sallied forth with loins girded in guitar straps and gumption alone.

The first band, Ascension, played to a mixed reception. Their style would be hard to describe except that it is that fusion of death metal and black metal that underneath the skin sounds like it was assembled from old B-list speed metal bands, and so is very chorusy and bangy but not very clear. It would be hard to tell much about this band from their presentation at the event, but this did not appear to jar them as they bashed out a comprehensive set.

We were excited to see Averse Sefira play as the third band after several other local acts which presented music in varying degrees of conceptual completion. Most of these bands are good at what they do; they can play their instruments, know enough of the genre to make a competent stab at it, but the question is “what do they communicate?” It is a hurdle every new band, no matter how old or seasoned its members, must overcome, and seeing these new acts struggle to define themselves by what they would give to their audience in the form of transferred experience drove our pulses to fury in preparation for the main act.

The crowd gathered, expectantly; you could tell this mix caught the curious and the diehards alike. I have often wondered what impels the choices people make in attending shows, and why they would pick one metal band out of thousands, as if it alone differentiated itself enough to be meaningful or relevant while others became slag in the battle for mining threads of coherent mentation. Most metal bands, like most people, are working in an archetype or combination of archetypes, assembling a product which fits into their known scope of experience and little more. They qualify as metal but other than the clueless and the fans who attend a weekly show in hopes of bolstering lives of boredom, attract few hearts or minds, and not for long.

It is in this arena of meaning that Averse Sefira reign supreme as occult art… Where metal bands can narrate tales of war, AVRS the have the *soul* of a man *engaged* in an apocalyptic war. You feel the same hellish strife that perhaps the hobbits Frodo and Sam struggled with at Mordor in Tolkien’s *Return of the King*, or the epic conflict a lone hunter finds when crossing the frozen north to reach a new land. Whether or not metal “has” soul, these tales of soul-conflict are what sustain its listeners during a time when every other pressure exerted on them is an exhortation to give up and make the kind of compromise that makes products not leaders.

When Wrath and Sanguine were testing their microphones, they were demonic beasts barking as wolves do when threatening their prey. The sound guy was having trouble getting everything right, then a projection screen rolled down on Wrath’s head which infuriated him and the apprreciative listeners of AVRS. They were in the middle of their first song, but he continued to play well. This show in Hollywood may have had problems, but the occult war music of AVRS transcended this and remained powerful on those beings that understand it.

I brought my friend and battle-comrade Mateo, and he called for a song, Argument Obscura. Wrath heard, so the band played. The Carcass like an animal seized sonic space with aggression toward dominion, and Sanguine’s fingers were claw-like tentacles across the mangled fretboard of his guitar. Wrath continued his defiant performance, bass weaving with the military aerobics of his stage presence, ignoring all obstructions (see passage above about chaos onstage) while returning to the surging rhythm of the music like a descent into hand-to-hand combat. The band held a posture and backed it up with quality, complex music and a performative impact that was both metaphorical and literal: this is war for art.

The crowd, as always, hovered in uncertainty without an echoing voice of overlord to tell them what to think. Many would have been happier with an updated version of Motorhead like Goatwhore, or the mishmash of metal successes over the past thirty years that most bands try to mix into a whole with few real standouts. The Averse Sefira assault caught them by surprise because it was not just aesthetics, not just music, and not just presentation: it was a whole, a moment where art spoke a worldview through the methods of its creation and the mentation required to get there. Open mouths and a buzz of generic dialogue flickered to life after the band left the stage.

Much of the metallic occult, with Yamatu — contra (“pvre”) stereotypical Black (“fucking”) metal — brings one into an ancient world long forgotten, like Atlantis or Lemuria. Averse Sefira’s performance was no exception, although given a “so-so” when they really deserve the highest praise, but this seemed to go to 1349 who managed a tight, dynamic set but did not achieve that vector of ideas that separates the great from the competent. Their performance was reminiscent of Mayhem’s “De Mysteriis dom Sathanas” and matched it in intensity, but did not leave that otherwordly sense one has when confronted with ideas that change the way future ideation will form. It was not the trance-like cessation of reality, except in metaphor, that Averse Sefira brought to the stage.

Murmurs of a mind in pure suspension of disbelief, a state like that before birth, the steadfast concentration without effort from the conscious mind of the warrior, concealed in vigil of death, on the edge of the forest… We are falling beneath the Earth (degrading to the regions of Malkuth)… We must return to an evolutionary path. By choice, or after the hymn of death has rung (renewal by fire): pulling ourselves into a black vortex, the yawning void of war. This is what their message conveys to me. Not many else today merit praise as warriors. The concept albums of Averse Sefira are Evolan retellings of Kali Yugas past and future, and the cycle has returned to the time for that era.

– Written by G.R.M. Pixeque

Bands:
Averse Sefira
1349
Ascension

Promoters:
The Knitting Factory

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Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Nachtmysticum in St. Paul, Minnesota

Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Nachtmysticum
April 9, 2007
201 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, Minnesota 5510

This show is one of those memories you forget is real, and find yourself a week later thinking how it occupies a space between thought and dream and a pinch-yourself moment in the midst of chaos. Arriving late after a harrowing evening involving taking a good friend to the hospital after he ate a rack of Xanax and downed half a bottle of Absolut, I was barely inside the door before a familiar guitar tone rose up into the soundcheck. Other people were hurrying toward the stage as well, and I found myself caught up in the anticipation.

Averse Sefira took the stage a short while later, and in summary, they were more confident with better presentation than any of the four previous times I’ve seen them. They stormed the stage with the confidence of a band who knows that they’re contenders, even if not everyone in the metal world has yet noticed. In harsh tones of deliberate rage, they announced their presence between songs, but the rest of the time they skipped the periphery and played like madmen. They were there for the attack, and it delivered.

The sound was superior to any previous Averse Sefira show I have seen, although as this was their first appearance in this venue, there is no previous instance for direct comparison. Balanced and powerful, the wave of audial information radiated from the speakers and preserved every pick strum, drum hit and overdriven vocal rage as it drove them into the audience. Although the performance was more important than the sound, it helps to be able to hear exactly what’s going on, a rarity at most shows.

They’ve honed their live presence since I saw them last. Not only are they more cohesive as a phalanx on the stage, but they have grown into their sound and stripped down their motions onstage to be simultaneously efficient and impulsive. This band will manage a tempo change without an eyebrow flicker, and then at exactly the moment when it is least convenient, add a flourish of rage in a gesture or the proud indomitable stab of a guitar. The combination of better sound, and more forceful performance, clarified their music in a live setting where previously it seemed a difficulty. In general, the only bands that have it easy live are the simple ones.

The set itself was obviously polished as well, this being their third week on tour. All tracks came from the two most recent albums. “Helix in Audience” is turning into a flagship song – a great, diverse, momentum-driven track with which they bring the set to a boiling point. Other tracks include “Detonation,” a great opener, “Plagabraha,” “Battle’s Clarion,” “…Ablaze” and several others from Tetragrammatical Astygmata. After an impromptu request for “Deathymn” screamed from the shadowed angles of the crowd, the band consulted each other with their trademark silent nods, guitarist Sanguine A. Nocturne hailed the requester, and the band launched into it all guns blazing, to great effect.

Their stage presence was typical Averse Sefira, but it cannot be taken for granted. None of the ingratiating, gregarious, vapid banter and skit-like dramatics lit up the stage, but a force of concentration, expressed less in the trivial acts than the commanding performance they gave. There was none of the mixed confused emotions that plague most bands on stage, where they’re half there as a job, half as a hobby, and unsure of whether to resent the audience of grovel before them. With Averse Sefira on the stage, the shared assumption that we were all of us there to see a performance to conclusion like a ritual united us, and we did not need reminders.

At the end of the set, I staggered out into the night appreciating what I had seen, but in skimming over the society functions of the night and cutting right to a powerful musical performance, it gained an atmosphere of the unreal… like something from a time long ago, when warlike honor was more important than whether the guy from the promotions company got his free beer or not. With delivery like this, these better-funded tours will be massive for Averse Sefira, as their live show is ethereally charismatic and puts so much back into the recorded material the two can barely be separated. Based on what seems to me like a clear success, I have a feeling they’ll be back on the road again soon, and don’t want to miss it.

– Written by kontinual

Bands:
Averse Sefira

Promoters:
Station 4

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Vex, Averse Sefira, Ayasoltec, Dagon, Abythos and Nodens in Austin, Texas

Vex, Averse Sefira, Ayasoltec, Dagon, Abythos and Nodens
January 27, 2007
Redrum
Austin, Texas

Extreme Texas Metal presents a number of shows adapted for the new millennial audience. As is demanded by those who own clubs, these shows address the problem of too much music and too few willing to buy by lumping together related bands into a longer show, hoping to create a sense of similarity in a genre and to help each band market itself through exposure, much as bands now market themselves with MP3s. In addition, as black metal and death metal have both ceased growth and are now in a time of middle age maintenance, set upon by tedious hybrids like metalcore (emo) and nu-metal (hip-hop), these allow the genre to circle its wagons and retain whatever of its own identity it can preserve. Unlike most promoters, Extreme Texas Metal have been mostly successful in picking acts which share aesthetic similarities enough to provide a contiguous show.

In this naturalistic view of music, the local favorites are grouped together and given a chance, after which we all see who rises and who falls. Names and faces from the past have come and gone, with some remaining, according to an order that previous generations would have seen as the will of heaven and in pagan years before that, as the judgment of nature. The show began on an interesting note with death metal band Nodens, who came from Houston to play to about thirty people. Their music resembles the mid-paced death of former years as updated with a simple form of the harmonic churning popularized by Burzum and other black metal bands, but it retains much of the punch and drop from rising drive to collapsing breakdown that makes death metal popular to this day. While it is clear that Nodens are still developing, there is promise here should they choose to develop it, although at this time the effect is somewhat underwhelming owing to a prevalence of simple patterns designed more to carry a crowd that express what the more esoteric and ambiguous portions of their music offer.

Ayasoltec

After presentations by Abythos, who emit a black metal mixture approximating the mean of Dissection and Darkthrone, and Dagon, Watain-inspired melodic black metal battery, the show took on a different aura when Ayasoltec took the stage. This band rose from the ashes of longtime Texas legends Masochism, who united a sense of Chicano identity with the insurgent desire for localization of early-1990s death metal like Cenotaph or Sepultura, creating a unique voice that never came fully together through lineup changes and the confusion of identity that plagued death metal after black metal arrived. With Ayasoltec, the musicians responsible have clearly targetted a new direction but are still feeling out how to develop it. Their desire is to evoke the second culture of the Americas, who integrated an ancient race of explorers (probably those who created also Easter Island and the cities of pre-Incan Peru) with the Amerinds who arrived later from Asia. These ancient cultures, as seen in Toltec and Olmec and Aztec, produced works of vast culture that are recently being discovered more in depth throughout the Yucatan and Central Mexico, and unlike the Catholics to follow were sun-worshippers who adored the idea of blood sacrifice as much as they relentlessly invented nurturing societies and high culture. One of the most revolutionary statements a band can make today is to bypass modern American culture as well as modern Mexican to exhalt these ancestors of amoral, occult religion and culture.

Ayasoltec balance this concept unevenly between wanting to find an outlet for their death metal riffcraft and exploring those genres which might unite a group of people behind an idea superior to anything else offered as relevant to them today. In this, their obvious guidepost is Sepultura’s work from “Arise” through “Roots,” which integrated indigenous rhythms and themes with the tumescent power of death metal. Their material as such is balanced between rhythm riffing which is often single-string playing, like a hybrid between “Roots” and early Vader, and the adroit riffcraft of Masochism, as well as new style based upon fast harmonic motion that would be called “solos” except for its rotating sequence of pattern choices that make a growing melody out of what would otherwise be a series of riffs. Like Gorguts attempted with “Obscura,” this new effort uses less conventional guitar techniques and a tendency toward abundant noise and develops songs around conventional riffing mated with exploratory work, as if bringing us out and then inside an esoteric mystery.

It is quite promising for a band to develop this much imagic and musical specificity, but this is balanced by the growing pains of fusing death metal with the more rock-oriented rhythmic format that Sepultura adopted in their later work (as did other bands; Sepultura is the most convenient example). Songs incorporate doomy riffs, the aforementioned riff cryptograms of periodistic development, and the acerbic ripping death metal in the style of Imprecation or Massacra that distinguished Masochism. The audience was fortunate to hear a good deal of this before one of Ayasoltec’s amplifiers decided it desired the hatred of the 150 people gathered there, and began intermittent failures through which the band and lead guitarist Juan Torres played with aplomb until it was obvious that catastrophic equipment failure ended the show. It was a highly professional performance and all attending channeled ire at that amplifier and hate it to this day.

Averse Sefira

After Ayasoltec, the undernoticed but unflagging Texas metal legends Averse Sefira took the stage with no fuss but much anticipation as the crowd swelled. The concept behind Averse Sefira is esoteric as that of Ayasoltec, in that they unite the stages of spiritual development between earthbound and celestial through the mysteris of Kabbalah, an ancient Sumerian science later appropriated by Judaism and Christianity in less of an amoral, blood worshipping form. Through this voice Averse Sefira channel abundant pagan nature worship and cosmology, as well as a healthy dose of modern heroic transcendental holistic idealism, using a synthesis of melodic black metal and the savage energy that early technical death metal bands like Morbid Angel and Incantation held high like a banner of war. As drummer The Carcass was playing on an unfamiliar, triggered drumkit loaned graciously by Ayasoltec personnel, it took Averse Sefira a song to reach a balance of intensity while adapting to the new rhythm format, but after this a set of songs from their past two albums seared the ears of the audience. In this, they showcased their most aggressive and imaginative attack to date, “Tetragrammatical Astygmata,” with standouts from the sleeper hit “Battle’s Clarion” that never got the distribution or production it needed to become as legendary as it is in live presentation.

The Averse Sefira attack is well-honed not only from touring practice, which the band have gotten on jaunts to South America, Quebec, and Europe, but also from a study of successful extreme metal during the past twenty years. Like the most vital years of Deicide and Morbid Angel, they are short on pauses and small talk but launch immediately into each song with a one-line introduction adapted from the style of Slayer’s Tom Araya but with more lyrical relevance and grace. Their songs use a thematic flow of melodic riffs balanced against interludes of pure rhythm in the form of “budget riffs” that assemble a few notes into direction changes or augmentations, and build a rhythmic attack as they cycle periodistically but not linearly through a developing motif. Guitarist Sanguine A. Nocturne slashes out riffs in his precise tremelo playing while growling and whispering and screaming in a range of timbres in a style that must have been influenced by Burzum, yet in live performances balances the adroit precision of this playing with a small amount of swing that kicks in a demonstrative gesture of attack and release. Noisier adaptations of past riffs are deliberate, not accidental, and contribute to both the organic feel and the edginess of this performance.

The Carcass adapted well to the new drumkit after some experimentation, and was able to shape his organic battery around the highly audible exactitude of triggered drums, producing a sound that was more militant than previous Averse Sefira shows. The third member of this cosmological wrecking party, Wrath S. Diabolus, wielded his base with what seemed to more than one observer a greater degree of comfort and familiarity, showcasing a newly flexible style that complements the improvisatory chaos of his stringed counterpart. The band played six sounds with the presence that has made them legendary, standing defiantly in front of the crowd and delivering a top-notch show, while maintaining the mystery that has made this band a favorite of underground observers since their 1996 demo (and it is only fair to note that all members were in artistic projects for nearly a decade before that). It is hard to see why this band has not been acknowledged as the successors to Absu and Necrovore as the vanguard of Texas metal, but it is in part their quiet professionalism and musical and conceptual depth that makes them alienated from much of the scene which would prefer easily digestible music. No sonorous Twinkies here.

Vex

Coming out on stage after a brief equipment shuffle, Extreme Texas Metal band of the year Vex both impressed and disappointed. When one thinks about it, bad record reviews for competent musicians all take the same form: the elements were good but did not fit together into something that made sense or communicated an intent, so becoming like quality wallpaper an interesting accessory but not the experience of transcendental rediscovery of life that truly powerful art provides. Vex has become a similar story: their style ranges from At the Gates to Gorguts, but their songs are more a collection of riffs bent around a verse-chorus structure than a coherent whole or communication. Their new vocalist adopts poses and attitudes adopted most clearly from Pantera’s Phil Anselmo, sounding as out of place as a NAMBLA member at a Klan meeting, and the discoherence of overall songcraft allows each musician to masturbate profligately without enhancing the song. Guitarist Cioran seemed to contribute the subtler and more intelligent aspects, but the rest were jamming along to a tune known only to themselves, and the result sounded like a collision between Opeth and Cannibal Corpse trying to be a lounge act. Although many praise this band now, unless they gain enough discipline to pick a direction and have each individual make the sacrifice in glory necessary to make it work, they will become more of the detritus lining the long road back from failure, at least in the eyes of those fans who make their biggest contribution as a genre winds down by picking those who history (however brief) will remember.

The show as a whole was magnificent, in that few areas are fortunate enough to have this kind of force of organization making available the choices in art that we have here in Texas, and the promoters and club are to be praised for enforcing sensibility without making decisions the fans alone can make (or hopefully, the smart fans: a proliferation of the usual Austin crowd of dilettantes, hipsters, hangers-on, poseurs and assorted parasites were present but not overdominant, but we the thinkers would rather those idiots make no decisions for us). The night is best summed up by remembering the triumphs of Ayasoltec and Averse Sefira, the good initial effort from Nodens, and the speech made by Averse Sefira’s Wrath during the final soaring of their set, in which he drew a distinction between those who feel and believe in the music as a way of life and a mapping of philosophy that shows us a values system for living heroically, and those for whom it is only fashion. Time will tell that ultimate judgment, but for now, the power and determination of these bands suggests an intense future for Texas metal.

Bands:
Vex
Averse Sefira
Ayasoltec
Nodens

Promoters:
Extreme Texas Metal
Redrum (Austin, TX)


Another take:

Fall has ended; winter has arrived, and the die-off is upon us. Those who saw metal as a fun trend are hopping onto the next one, and, resultingly, there will be fewer and fewer bands aiming towards this crowd. With this dying of the bands, however, comes room for new entities, similar to how a pack of wolves picking off the sick and weak deer creates room for more deer to exist. This show seemed to reflect aspects of this transition; the percentage of bands worth seeing was perhaps the highest of any show this author has been to.

Nodens

Nodens plays relatively brutal death metal, but with some melodic enlightenment, with two guitarists playing deft riffs in counterpoint over the requisite blasting drums. Songs do a good job at shifting moods in a logical order, implying a coherent narrative, although the overuse of certain songwriting techniques (all instruments dropping out to create a climax while bringing in a new riff) robs them of their power, and each song seemed to lack a finale, a closing statement, a destination to the journey. Nodens is worth keeping an eye on, and worth witnessing live, but in their current form, they still need work to reach the upper eschelons of the genre.

Dagon

Watain for retards.

Abythos

Seemingly attempting to combine every sub-genre of metal known to man, Abythos is probably most comparable to the more tolerable parts of the post-“Slaughter of the Soul” Gothenburg sub-genre, in that it melds mostly traditional heavy metal riffing with distorted vocals and occasional blasting sections, with a few doom sections and undistorted intros thrown in for “good” measure. The problem is that in this mish-mash of ideas, no internal logic shines through, and thus the entire thing can only be interpreted as disconnected emotions, pure sacharrine, melodrama with no drama, which quickly becomes BORING. Musicianship is good, but who cares? Only reccomended for those trying to cure extreme insomnia.

Ayasoltec

It’s impossible to win when fighting against problems with gear, but Ayasoltec handled it as well as imaginably possible. On the border between avant-technical death metal and a distinctly Mexican take on Graveland’s “Thousand Swords”, Ayasoltec thrives on serpentine, arcane lead-riff work, with amazingly organic song progression crafted from the ability to manifest small changes in a melody to profound effect over time, and in the usage of discordant “solos” (quoted not as a method of slight or insult, but simply because it’s difficult in this case to determine what should be considered as a solo, and what should be considered more of the lead riffing, so complete is their integration) that flow in and out of the lead riffing amazingly well. The band also wins favor with this author by having a bassist who is not simply a stage prop, but who, while mostly following the melody of the guitar, brings in differently accented rhythms, giving a second angle on the music. Unfortunately, the appreciation of the music was somewhat dampened by factors beyond the band’s control; the guitarist’s amp had problems, causing the guitar to frequently drop out. The band handled this admirably, though, with the two remaining members continuing to play while the guitarist sorted out the issues as quickly as he could, and managed to get right back into where the band was without faltering, until the next drop out. A few rough edges exist musically- a few of the transitions are unduly sudden for music that largely depends so much on flow and gradual change- but, for those who would like to experience art that is truly mystical, art that conjures storms and spirits from beyond this world, Ayasoltec is strongly reccomended.

Averse Sefira

Judging by the number of people on the floor, Averse Sefira was the first of the bands who played that night who attracted Hessians to Austin. Facing difficult circumstances, with drummer The Carcass playing on triggered drums, a sensation completely unfamiliar with him, the band faltered at first, but quickly pulled together, in a particularly noisy and intense set pulled entirely from the band’s most recent album, “Tetragrammatical Astygmata”. Guitar and bass combined to form a musical haze of sound, creating something akin to a more poetically evocative version of Antaeus’s “CYFAWS”, intertwining energetic physical motivations with a zest towards the transcendent ideal, bestial fury with spiritual contemplation, in a manner such that the former of those pairs exists to work towards the realization the latter. Guitarist and vocalist Sanguine Mapsama provided the central element of the assault, with fast, dissonant lines inciting the flesh towards bloodlust and throat-damaging shrieks programming the audience by example of their complete inhumanity. Master percussionist The Carcass, who is apparently too demanding for ordinary mortal drum sets, created amazingly complex yet completely mesmerising rhythms, tastefully enhancing and embellishing the guitar’s rhythms, and directing the dynamics of the pieces. And finally, Wrath Sathariel Diabolus, the bassist of the trio, anchored the band’s sound, occasionally briefly playing with no accompaniment, as a forshadowing of renewed attack, and also greatly helped the band’s stage presence, being the most visually imposing and physically active member of the band. The crowd was appreciative, if not fully understanding, of what occured before them, and all were seemingly changed by the experience. Then again, who could remain un-touched after witnessing such a potent, if obscure, art? A special word must be given to Wrath’s short speech on the meaning of metal as a genre. War is raging between those who see metal as a genre communicating the transcendental and eternal, as a lifestyle striving for meaning in a plastic world, and those who see it as trivial social entertainment, and Wrath directed that which he is named for at the latter camp, to the appreciation of a surprising number of those in attendance.

When I make this sign, it means I stand for metal as an art form, and as a way of life. It has nothing to do with your stupid metal cartoons or your Spinal Tap movies. Think about what you mean when you make this sign. If it’s something you think is fun to do on the weekends, something that you think is funny, something that makes you smile, then FUCK OFF! We’re taking it back.

– Wrath of Averse Sefira

Approximate setlist:
Plagabraha
Decapitation of Sigils
Helix in Audience
Cremation of Ideologies
Hierophant Disgorging
Mana Anima
Detonation

Vex

A stark contrast to the previous band; rather than a statement of the esoteric, Vex seemed to be an embrace of the transient, fulfilling every metal cliche along the path to entertaining many yet making no definitive statement. If you can imagine a non-musical sign of a bad crowd-pleasing metal band, it was probably present here; from the tough-guy vocalist wearing a tank-top, to said vocalist jumping into the crowd to mosh, to one guitarist’s utterly insipid way of trying to sound “cool” while asking for water. Musically, “fragmented” barely begins to describe it; blasting death-metalish sections are followed quickly by random acoustic parts, followed by traditional metal breaks and doom passages, into outright stadium rock. What is sort of tragic about this, though, is that many of the individual pieces are quite good. Guitarist Ciaran obviously has a good ear for a melodic riff, and if the band would focus on these aspects of the music, without worrying about throwing in other elements to keep people of all tastes entertained, and give each song a clear concept to work towards, an overarching vision, it would be excellent. However, this doesn’t seem to be happening, and therefore this reviewer is unable to reccomend this band to others.Compared to the previous show seen at this venue, operations have improved vastly. The club was much more “under-21 friendly” (previously, they charged more for minors), and the bathroom, while still not pleasant, was improved. The venue continued its tradition of letting people to congregate on the outside porch between bands and during bands which they had no interest in seeing, an idea appreciated by this reviewer. Also, the crowd featured fewer attention whores and seemingly fewer hipsters than the previous show this author attended (probably by virtue of it not being marketed as a Halloween party), an appreciated improvement. The show ran smoothly, and the soundman seemed to know what was going on, and found a reasonable sound for each band.

– Written by Cynical

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Appreciating Deicide’s Legion

Sometimes an album requires 15 years of examination before it can be addressed adequately. Deicide released their second album Legion in the summer of 1992, and it proved to be the apex of their career. It was long in coming, delayed three times by Roadrunner, and I was obsessed with obtaining it.

I was fifteen going on sixteen, and for almost six months I hardly cared about anything else. Girls? What are those? Can they get me the new Deicide album? No? Then forget it. My mania began when Deicide had come to town on a week’s notice the previous winter. They had never before played Texas, and a whole state’s worth of hessians had been clamoring to see them since their eponymous release over a year before. The show itself was a revelation. The band was tight, proficient, ferocious, and surprisingly charismatic. They tore through the entirety of their sole album which only a few breaks for frontman Glen Benton to praise and incite the crowd, as well as an intermission while the security team hastily nailed the wooden stage barrier back together after we smashed it to pieces in our fervency. Once the band had exhausted their catalog my friends and I caught our breaths, and started to walk towards the exit. That was all the songs they had to play, after all.

Suddenly a voice boomed at our backs- “We got a couple of new ones for you!” Glen and company had taken the stage once more. “This is from our upcoming album Legion! In Hell I Burn!” The room ignited. We rushed back to the front of the stage and joined the crushing wave of bodies. The new song was chaotic and technical, and Deicide were clearly excited about their new material as they played it to the hilt. “Holy Deception” followed with the same inflammatory delivery, and then the band stood down and left us to sort out our tangled hair, soggy shirts, and missing shoes.

And he asked him, What is thy name?
And he answered, saying,
My name is Legion: for we are many.

Mark 5:9, KJV

I was bewitched. Deicide was already my favorite band and the brief taste of new songs further tightened their grip upon me. As Legion continued to be delayed (as it happens, it was announced before the band had even completed it) my anticipation became feverish. One Friday my friend Chris, with whom I’d attended the show, came to my house to “show me something”. It was a new album but he wouldn’t let me see it and instead just put it in my CD player. A droning roar and cacophony of bleating sheep drifted out of my speakers. What could it be? Legion was finally to come out on Tuesday, and I had already planned to devote the whole day to buying and listening to it. The first notes of the opening song struck abruptly and I was still confused. What WAS it? Then a familiar death-preacher voice cut through the tangle of guitars and blast beats; Chris grinned as he pulled the CD longbox out of the bag, and there was a full-sized photo of Deicide in all their Satanic glory. Glen’s bottomless black eyes stared back at us as the songs hammered the room. The record store had gotten the CDs early and decided to put them on the shelves for the weekend. And for all the build-up, for all the anticipation and impatience, every note of the album was worth the wait. Chris and I finished listening to it in disbelief, then immediately started it again. It was a good day to be a Deicide worshipper.

Almost two decades later I have listened to this album literally thousands of times. At 29 minutes it is very easy to set the CD on repeat and feel my brain cells become awash in hellish audio napalm again and again. It never loses its impact. I know every note by heart, and I have studied it and dissected it by every available means (the Hoffman brothers hard panned their guitars, so adjusting the balance switch will yield new and enlightening information about the song arrangements). Many people didn’t understand Legion upon its initial release. The preceding album was a collection of intense but highly musical anthems about the occult, godkilling, and Satanic suicide. The songs were brilliant and infectiously mnemonic, and they allowed Deicide to rise to a status second only to Morbid Angel in the Death Metal movement.

Legion, however, was a headlong dive into the abyss; a feral and fractured deconstruction of the band’s first outing that transformed their established sound into a berserker rage of sonic violence. The arrangements were twisted and jarring, the production was ear-shattering, and the message was more focused and dire than ever. This was not just an album, it was a mission statement. Glen Benton had already repeatedly decreed his own suicide at age 33, and this deadline seemed to serve as the impetus of abandon with which the band attacked each song. Legion was an affirmation of the Great Beyond, albeit one that promised eternal torment and pain, as well as an utter rejection of life, comfort, and the mundanity of daily existence that reduces people to craven weaklings.

Accordingly, the less cerebral portion of the Death Metal fanbase was alienated by such a challenging offering and it could be argued that the backlash to Deicide’s audacity was a large contributor towards the mainstream success of bands like Cannibal Corpse. Nevertheless, time inevitably bears out the merit of all great efforts and as such Legion is now widely regarded as a groundbreaking classic. Virtually all Death Metal releases in the following five years bear the marks of its influence, most notably in regard to increased attack and tempo. Despite its impact, no band has ever managed to truly recapture the nature of this release. This is true for even Deicide themselves, who ultimately reversed course with Once Upon the Cross, and then degenerated into the same low-grade Death Metal drudgery that they had once endeavored to dismantle. In fairness, there could not really be a Legion II and to their credit the band declined to attempt one.

The tragedy of Deicide and their legacy is that a whole generation of hessians know the band as a blunt, inelegant, and jock-brained outfit that write thudding tunes with a weak grasp of Satanism and even weaker sense of songcraft. This is not the band I remember, the band that fired my imagination and made me want to take up arms and scourge the Christian vermin. To me, Glen Benton died at 33 because the man he has become is a man long dead. A white hot rage is one that will consume a soul rapidly, and Deicide’s brand of rage was enough to consume them all. Still, I refuse to allow their transgressions to negate their contributions.

Legion will always be one of the best albums ever, no matter what Glen and his current line-up of mercenary Christians do next. It no longer belongs to them; it belongs to the fans and the people who still listen to that album year after year without surrender. If you haven’t listened to it in a while or avoided it because of the band’s recent output, challenge yourself to embrace this masterwork in all its caustic, quixotic glory. You will become a believer. You will become Legion.

by David Anzalone

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Demilich and Averse Sefira in Texas

Demilich, Averse Sefira, Biolich, Abythos, Sothis, To Scale the Throne and Spliteye
June 3-4, 2006
The Backroom, Austin, Texas
Walter’s on Washington, Houston, Texas

To love something is to love the world enough to believe in love, and to sacrifice all future delights which could prove an obstacle to the beloved. Underground metal — or rather the artistic music within that genre which seeks to expand knowledge and experience instead of pleasing the Crowd with novel interpretations of what they already know — is a work of love. The Demilich/Averse Sefira shows in Texas were such a heroic undertaking.

With minimal funds for promotion, and a style that can both be recognized as technical yet does not fit into the “technical” vibe of jazzy death/prog rock, both bands undertook a journey of reconstructing an underground where the label underground has come to mean something as typecast and invariant as mainstream pop music. Because most people in metal are already invested in this predictable cycle of purchase impulse and reward, many of those already in the “underground” not only ignored but actively opposed this attempt to resurrect the better values of black and death metal’s vital years.

AUSTIN

Spliteye took the stage early and, entirely professionally, banged out their blend of old school death metal and nu-metal hitch beats to a few stalwarts. They were followed by Texas black metal band Abythos, who made wholly derivative sound that was musically competent but expressed nothing but the desire to be in a band, and California act Sothis, who fused Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth in a rock style. Sothis brought a trailer of equipment including extra amplifiers, three keyboards, guitar processors, and the like, which naturally blew the power system and shortened their set to three songs. After them came New York avant-grind band Biolich, who apparently began life as a Demilich cover band but now creates songs that hybridize Napalm Death, Neurosis, Godflesh and indie/avantgarde rock.

After a prolonged and somewhat futile sound check (the Backroom is built on an ancient Indian burial ground whose time/space distortion renders any sound system incomprehensible), Averse Sefira smashed out a set of five songs from Tetragrammatical Astygmata and three from their first two albums. Facing a tough re-integration for their first show of the Texas mini-tour, the band became cohesive on the third song but played a looser, noisier set that was reminiscent of early Voivod covering Immortal. Averse Sefira played nearly nonstop, the stage rattling with the pulse of their drummer’s battery, and provoked an excited crowd response. The looser rhythms gave the band a chance to work its stage presence, pushing the warriors in full regalia (spikes, leather, bullet belts, corpsepaint) nearly into the crowd. Among those who could understand compound sentences response was favorable.

Local luminaries from Masochism, Cthonian Appanage, Acerbus and Vex appeared during the Averse Sefira set, as did promoters from Extreme Texas Metal and Morbid Thoughts Records. There was a biker conference in town so several of these showed up determined to demonstrate that bikers are just as stupid as the rest of the population and thus worthy of assimilation into mainstream culture. Members of the crowd who were fond of one or another of the opening bands, adhering to the cognitive dissonance that supposes that bigger bands oppress smaller bands and that is the only reason smaller bands are openers and not headliners, stood back with disgruntled faces and drank $4 beers. No one noticed the whining, and by the time most observed the above, Demilich were doing their sound check and taking the stage.

Two things are immediately observable from Demilich live: the integral synchronization of five musicians through difficult material, and the sleepy-eyed offhandedly casual presence of frontman Antti Boman, who burped and gurgled like a demonic frog throughout the performance. Although Boman unites the action, the martial presence that leads it is the industrial/jazz hybrid drumming of Mikko Virnes. Although original bassist Ville Koistinen was absent, the low-end complement of Corpse (his day job is in Deathchain) thrust the music forward with the pulsing, visually dramatic attack found in bands like Motorhead or Suffocation, which enhanced the abstract tendencies of this music with an earthy, sensual grounding. It drove forward like metal, cycled in on its harmonies like jazz, and migrated between ideas like classical. This aspect of the music of Demilich suggests not only the potential seen by original death metal musicians, but calls to mind a time when most death metal bands were distinctive not because they sought a way to “be different” but because each had its own concept of reality and had crafted a musical style to express it. At the end of the set, diehard Demilich fans were satiatedly exhausted and the Crowd at the bar remained baffled and unsure of socially approved response. Thumbs up from this reviewer.

HOUSTON

The nation’s fourth-largest city is known for its Los Angeles-style layout, having grown entirely after the advent of the personal car and the warehouse-style suburbs that boxily fringe the rotted core of unskilled labor that is the inner city. Consequently, any event requires travel, and to unite Hessians from the city wide requires good publicity, yet there’s no agency for such things. With the demise of the independent record store thanks to a shrinking profit margin and rising Internet file-sharing, there are few places to post fliers where metalheads will see them, and the magazine Rivethead is no longer in print so there’s no news source. Our L.A. Weekly-themed paper, the Houston Press, is expensive advertising for underground shows. And local bands? William Burroughs noted that “itinerant short con and carny hipsters have burned down the croakers of Texas,” and it’s not much different in metal: our scenes are cannibalistic. Each band self-promotes so aggressively that its only sense of community is as a means to that end, and thus plenty of lip service to “scene unity” occurs but no one takes the simple step of supporting only bands of quality. It’s either all or nothing. Because of this intense Balkanization of fans, each local band has its cadre of people who can be conned into coming to the show and for this reason each metal show in Houston has more bands than a compilation and the same 83 grubby people attend. The venue treated this performance like a local show, called the usual people, opened the bar and left it at that, so attendance was poor. To their credit, both headlining bands performed as if they were at Carnegie Hall and ignored the fact that this giant city produced only a few attendees.

The lineup was much the same as in Austin except with the addition of To Scale the Throne, a local band who throw in pieces of Emperor, Satyricon, Grand Belial’s Key and Cradle of Filth but play music that fits the patterns of punk hardcore: verse, chorus, breakdown, reprise. It wasn’t good; it wasn’t bad: it wasn’t important. This reviewer caught Biolich in Houston. Their performance was professional. The music can be described as modern hardcore with infusions of indie rock, early grindcore and drone. Two major factors influence appreciation of this performance. First, one cannot take a technique-oriented approach to producing art, because art is a communication between artist and audience in a way that is both entertaining and profound; the artist must have something to say, and use technique to that end, because making art on the basis of technique alone produces a uniform texture of affect on the audience. Next, one must realize that when emo and hardcore merged, they created a style of music based on skipping the path to a destination for cyclic demonstration of that destination’s importance, resulting in music without suspense or adventure. Ultimately, it drifted into “safe” territory both ideologically and musically, and reduced its own importance. With this in mind, it is clear that while Biolich are musically adept and have pushed many boundaries of technique, their songs remain unconvincing. The suspended rhythmic hook of progressive hardcore rapidly starts to resemble the bounce of nu-metal, and the jumble of styles creates a neurosis of inspecific contextual framing. Elements of this music were quite good, including the crisp but jubilant drumming and experimentation beyond obvious harmonics extending to Godflesh-like implied melodies via drone. If this reviewer had any advice, it’s this: stop trying to shock or stimulate, chuck all the grindcore parts, and finish the songs you started on the indie parts, because that is where this music really shines. As it was presented, the music seemed promising but insubstantial although the professionalism of band and stage show were appreciated.

Since the venue was in a Beirut-style urban meltdown area of Houston and the audience paltry, this show felt entirely like an underground chamber music event during the Inquisition. A city oblivious went on watching overtime repeat “Friends” episodes and buying furniture at Ikea while an exceptional and artistic performance graced its sonic topography and one of the most amazing metal performances to ever grace the city tore apart the night. Averse Sefira took to the stage first without pretense and lanced ears with a fast, accurate and yet impassioned version of their setlist from the previous night, with the addition of “Detonation” in the middle. Touches of improvisation in vocals and stringed instruments created an organic specificity to the music which belonged to that night alone, and the energy level remained high as the music moved between different moods. What distinguishes this band is their willingness to write passionate melodies and put them in songs that uphold all of the savagery and feral wisdom of heavy metal, and this came through in a mesmerizing forty-five minutes of complex but intuition-friendly music. Those who were present exchanged glances as if to say “How did we get this lucky?” and several longtime observers commented on how effective this band is in a smaller setting. If you missed it, punch yourself in the face.

Demilich assembled onstage and, exchanging a glance, launched into their set like a machine firing in the mist and frost of a neglected morning. Utilizing three guitarists, their brand of technical death metal relies on complement more than a continued layer technique, with each instrument presenting a different view of the whole and then achieving synchronization over the course of songs. Stringed voices peel off and converge, then take on parts of the whole much as earth and sky are required for a horizon. One guitarist, sds, plays chords underlying the melodic lead riffing which is exchanged between two lead rhythm guitars harmonizing while Boman’s belching underscores the rigid yet engaging percussion. The setlist was the same except for a new song (title unknown) which veered between peaks and valleys of tone with sweetened acid melodic differential between riffs, producing an aura of instability yet deliberation. The lead rhythm guitar of Aki Hytönen was as exactingly precise as it was freespirited, and often melted off into solos both chaotic and commenting on the sonic landscape beneath. Like evolution viewed through geographic time, the band fell off and reunited with a depth of harmony that caused the entire club to resonate with the distinctive symbolism of geometry. A drained audience filtered into humid darkness after a set demanding of both listener and band; it was probably the most technically impressive performance of mainstream music this reviewer has seen (jazz itself, while requiring one basic skill, does so at the expense of reasoned composition, and soon approximates a mean without dramatic fluctuation in intensity). Did you miss it? Punch self in face.

Luminaries from abroad and local dotted the crowd: Cynicalkontinual, Keltic Myth, g0sp-hell, Gestalt, Lyle from Brooklyn and one guy from Hellwitch who demonstrated the importance of having a video camera where Children of Bodom is concerned. There was a sense of privilege and fortunate accident for all who witnessed this unique performance, and an unsettling feeling that perhaps Houston has some inner fracture which prevents its metalheads from recognizing the musical (but not “scene points”) importance of such a gathering.

OBSERVATIONS

As metal is a hybrid, made half of ancient belief and filled in with modern popular art, its artists are suspended between getting the attention of “the community” and expressing something of that which is eternally metal, namely the worship of raw power and realism in a human world of sentiment which avoids it. Most of its artists convert this into a sterile emotion which like the receptacle tip of a condomn catches anger and neutralizes it, but the best escape this mould. However, repetition does not enhance a genre but makes it prone to erosion, since repeated structures fall in a row when the same force is applied to them. Ask all the hardcore punk fans who, after “equalizing” the genre into a participation-fest, were stunned when it evaporated overnight because no one could any longer tell the difference between bands. “The community” is its own worst enemy, and far from being manipulated by a twisted controller, it is driven by the desires of individuals who, when enough join in, drown out any clear voices with the distorted murmur of a mass.

Thus for those who seek quality music, it is more important to assess the music itself than to care about the most popular pundits, because these people are walking brainstems who repeat in “unique” ways what others have said and quickly run the genre into uniformity. This form of informational entropy seems important when it’s new, and is hard to distinguish because the bands in question will probably be able to play their instruments just fine, but have nothing to say. The musics that exemplify the opposite tendency, which is for the few realistic and yet imaginative artists to create works which will be praised years on by listeners baffled as to why more people did not “get it,” are ignored — for now. Yet we are all familiar with the old refrain that it was better back in the formative years, and all of the bands now lack something the founding bands did not. They are more distinctive in using different instruments, mixing in different styles, or having “unique” appearances, and they’re musically far more competent, but there’s a question as to what the music means. Interestingly, this blight is shared across literature and music and visual art at this time, suggesting that a combination of populist “entertainment” and a lack of comprehension of meaning itself among artists, has obliterated not only quality but the valuable tenet of having something to express in art among these contemporaries. Self-importance of the artist, and preaching to the converted through “safe” ideologies, has produced music that repeats its own premises instead of discovering not new but experience-laden ground; these songs and stories tell us nothing other than to sit quietly and imbibe the cliches and commonly-held truths of a culture that, lacking an integral component, derives its knowledge from paid entertainment that appeals to the broadest possible group. Could it be a sign of the decline?

It is no surprise then that it is neutral art, whether we call it bourgeois or suburban or plebeian, because we learn nothing from it except a unique combination of aesthetic values. Paintings do not touch our souls, but they match our towels and perhaps are calibrated according to the paint colors for sale at our local malls. Music is background to television watching or work, and cannot be unsettling or educational or evocative or provocative, no matter how many obscene or blasphemous elements it uses. How many of those kids chanting “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” along with Rage Against the Machine actually did anything about it? It’s false art, propaganda and degenerates rapidly. Art like the actual underground nurtures what is true and denigrates the false through a representation of experience and wisdom, and never comes full circle to its premise like postmodern art. It takes one through a wandering route to a new place that is also familiar with the old, with its origin… we can only praise those who are slowly but embitteredly learning that there are no new truths, only new statements of eternal truths, and that our entire detour into “progress” in music has been on the surface/aesthetic level and has resulted in empty, pointless, interchangeable “art.”

Bands:
Demilich
Averse Sefira

Promoters:
Morbid Thoughts
Extreme Texas Metal

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Twilight of the Metal Idols

Eras are relative. Most people, if they are lucky, will live about three-quarters of a century and in that time they usually come to believe that the goals and standards of their time were superior to those that followed. Sometimes this is a belief that is fueled by idealized perceptions, particularly in the case of the Baby Boomers, but other times it is a truth that cannot be ignored no matter how much denial we heap upon it.

My era is the rise of metal as a viable art form, circa 1985. Some will snort and cite the ilk of Motley Crue and Ratt as a case against any artistic content in this music. My response is that those bands were not metal bands, not in the way I think of them. The difference is that nobody who cared about those bands then still truly cares about them now. Fans of yore catch a glimpse of an entertainment news segment that features a bloated Vince Neill loping across and arena stage, and there is no sense of pathos, no sense of glory days gone by, no sense that an era is at an end.

Some months ago, I had the opportunity to briefly meet a legend. He had been in music since the late 1970s, and every band he had created was successful and made a significant mark upon the genre. True, he was aging and weighed more than he should, and the hair dye and concealer was obvious up close, but he was a legend nonetheless. I was always a fan of his work and it was exciting to finally meet him, but seeing him in that time and place struck me in a way that I never expected. It made me sad. This is not because someone I admired was showing his age, or that he presented badly. On the contrary, I was pleased to find that he was gracious and friendly. It was when he walked on to the waiting shuttle van that I felt like I was watching him disappear forever, that he was the last of a breed that was about to go extinct. He was a “big name,” one who had survived many trends and industry coups, but he still had everything in common with those who made their marks in smaller but equally indelible ways.

Metal music, especially in its most extreme quarters, is about death worship or more often a cynical acceptance of this inevitability. Why, then, are the losses in recent years so poignant to so many of us? Why is it harder than it should be to see people like Quorthon and Piggy go to the soil, even though their most important contributions were already years behind them? The answer is simpler than any of us might realize: these passings are not part of a cycle. They are glaring red flags that indicate a clear termination point that is definitely closer than we want to acknowledge. Metal is an art form that has suffered diminishing returns for over a decade, and the deaths of its pioneers are painful in the face of knowing that they will not be replaced. Even now I feel that there are still new bands worth hearing, new albums worth acquiring, but I cannot lie to myself and believe that the current output is every bit as valuable as ones from “the good ol’ days.”

This is where I claim my era. Many neophyte fans of metal are confused when anyone over thirty decries the current crop of mediocre glut, because they were not there when the best albums were released. They cannot understand that there was a time when damn near every release that hit the shelf at the local record store was something special, something that would be cherished and revered for decades to come. It is useless to live in the past, but the beauty of music is that when played it is always in the present whether it was written 1808 or 1988. To know this allows me to revisit, revere, and remember, as much or as often as I choose. It allows me to look at where metal is now and attach it to that legacy without dismay or bitterness.

In the last few years, I have avidly acquired many of the pieces that I could not readily afford when they were first released as I was but a child. I have a room in my home that houses these gems, a room where they are allowed to rage forth and be ageless again and again. But despite the best moments when I am in the thrall of a favorite work, it is hard to not feel heaviness in my heart and know that an era, my era, is nearing its end. My role, and the role of those who preserve those days as I do, is to refuse to forget but also to accept that things will never be the same. As the years drift by we will see the passing of more heroes and innovators and the best thing we can do is bow our heads for a moment, take their records from the shelf, play them at maximum volume, and remember our era once more.

by David Anzalone

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Ambient metal

People frequently ask “So what is an ‘ambient metal’ band? Have you actually seen one? Are there any metal bands out there who, if asked, would identify themselves as ‘ambient metal’?” To understand why the term is used, it is important to examine first why bands do anything that they do and second, what the term “ambient” means in the context of history.

Bands are assembled of individuals who together, in some form, decide what their output will be and create it. While much of this is a spontaneous project, there is behind-the-scenes transfer of information through shared musical influences or ideas and concepts the band members collectively find useful. It is unlikely that four guys with guitars sat down one day and said, “We should be the next cutting-edge thing. I know – let’s do ambient music, but on guitars.” A more realistic version is that a band formed and started playing with some ideas they found intellectually or musically stimulating.

The earliest human music was strictly rhythmic; the next generation of change brought linear melodic music; the generation after that used harmony and syncopation to integrate the two, and this slowly gave way to the furthest evolution of form, in which melody as the primary content expression was given context by the most complex understanding of musical devices yet known. Despite its seemingly technical origins, this music achieved an acme of expressiveness in artistic outlook. Human culture is still waiting for another artistic movement with the patient spirit and yet unbridled passion of Beethoven, Bach, Strauss or Wagner.

In the media age of the 1950s-1960s, the previous popular forms of Christian hymns, blues, country and polka were whipped into a single entity and called “rock music.” It has the populist features that classical music lacks: repetitive beat, droning pentatonic harmony, and constant dynamic intensity. It is cyclic music of an unchanging character. This linear constancy reflected the literature and ideals of the early industrial age, or modernism, although presented in a postmodern (“non-hierarchical”) aesthetic concept, until punk music distilled rock music to a few chords and shattered the illusion of uniqueness to any given rock band.

We might call rock “discrete music” because it aimed at a simple, 1:1 ratio between simple and gesture in the music. While earlier music had used pentatonic scales, including accidental or “blue” notes, blues and rock standardized on the pentatonic scale plus a single blue note; most rock is major, harmonic minor, or blues scale composition because these allow a flexible harmony in which no notes are specific to major or minor keys, meaning they can be used over different tonal centers without any notes that sound bad against a chord. Rock standardized the song format on a simplified version of English sea ballads; rock standardized constant syncopated percussion; it also standardized topics and a role (sexual initiation of teenagers). It broke away from the classical idea of phrases which periodically harmonized to exclusively use chords — descending from the guitar’s role as a rhythm instrument in ensembles, minus the ensemble — which caused rhythmic strumming within a narrow tonal range to replace the many notes and changing time signatures of what came to be called “lead rhythm” phrases. Borrowing from Anglo-Celtic, Scandinavian and German folk music, and adding a simplified version of the instrumentation used in German beerhouse bands, it took the lowest common denominator and made a fixed form of it. In short it was the perfect product, but in order to do that, it had to simplify itself into interchangeable parts which each had contextless and thus universal emotional symbolism.

In the 1970s, a countermovement arose in which musicians began looking to new forms for inspiration, and found them in the neoclassical: a merging of classicalist ideas of melody and layered structure with the newfound populist beat patterns of reduced structural changes to prevent intrusion upon the actual song pattern established by melodic architecture. Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and arguably the first ambient guitarist, Robert Fripp, embraced principles of this ethos contra the simplistic lifestyle support of mainstream rock. In this atmosphere underground metal was born with 1983 luminaries Slayer, Sodom and Bathory. Each put out an album colored by the dark careless phrasing of Venom and wrought in the tremolo strum and ambient offtime rhythmic structures of extreme hardcore. This heritage forms the basis of all underground metal.

The opposite of discrete music, but not yet approaching the complexity of classical, ambient music creates a harmonic texture and relegates percussion to a background role, letting the phrase lead the change of song structure, key and tempo. An ideal ambient composition takes unchanging rhythm and over it layers phrases, creating harmony from their conjoined effect in the way classical music does, making moods “ad hoc” relative to its starting point. Where discrete music focuses on each piece of a song being a thing unto itself, using a universal set of symbols, ambient music invents symbols specific to each song and as a result gives pieces of a song meaning only when existing in the context of others. In this, selected metal and synthesizer music (synthpop, electronica, ambient) are closer to their classical heritage than the distillation of popular memes that is rock. Not all metal and ambient music fits this description; many artists, figuring that their listening audience would rather have something immediately recognizable and familiar in a “new” form, use rock-styled composition with different instrumentation.

Good examples of ambient metal are found in At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours and Darkthrone Transilvanian Hunger most prominently, but these are the end product of an evolution that began when Black Sabbath began imitating the phrases of horror movie soundtracks in streams of power chords. The first three Morbid Angel albums, anything from Burzum, the first two Sepultura EPs, and Sarcófago I.N.R.I. all exhibit ambient tendencies, among many other albums. Not surprisingly, these bands tend to write about topics that are not “universal” in the sense of common to all human beings in the way morality is surmised to be absolute, but write from a perspective outside that of the human, as if showing us interactions of people and nature in a dispassionate, nihilistic universe which delights in conflict and interconnection more than symbols held up above nature itself.

As any change in musical style points to a change in thinking patterns, the rise of ambience in metal signifies a falling away from mainstream views — which tend to be discrete, moralistic, utilitarian, and universalist — toward a naturalistic and scientific view of reality. The linear is broken; the complex and multithreaded view of causality that ancient civilizations had, in which no single event led to change, but a collaboration of events, has been restored in the music itself, as has a belief in varied dynamics, implying a greater narrative range. In this light, it is impossible to see this music as anything but an ongoing revolution, even if the names used here are still foreign to most of the bands producing it.

Ambient music and its relation to metal

The genres grew up simultaneously and converge in the current generation
by Alex Birch

After Burzum started producing pure electronic soundtracks to Pagan mythology, Fenriz from Darkthrone decided to go avant-garde and composing electronic space explorations, Ildjarn left his Discharge-empowered poetry and began producing synth-layered soundscapes, and Beherit, in an attempt to revive the band from the dusty archives, set out to create simple but haunting digitalized neoclassical harmony, many metal fans previously only accustomed to the sound of raw guitars, slamming drums, dark basses, and tearing screams from the abyss, now began taking great interest in what the electronic genre had to offer. To the surprise of many, electronic music was close to the compositional and aesthetic roots of metal, acknowledging new bands using ambient and metal to fuse a blend between two modern instrumentations.

am-bi-ent (am’be-ənt)adj. Surrounding; encircling: ambient sound; ambient air.[Latin ambiens, ambient-, present participle of ambire, to surround : amb-, ambi-, around; see ambi- + ire, to go; see ei- in Indo-European roots.]

– The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

As shown by the etymological explanation above, ambient music is an artistic medium trying to achieve an atmosphere or a particular surrounding, based most commonly on electronic sounds that are looped until the listener feels a certain mood and place arise within the mind. Usually the artist takes use of a basic synth-layer, using that as a base for a melodic or harmonic development. The synth-layer can collaborate through assonance or dissonance with another layer, in order to create balance and expand the instrumental possibilities. Tribal beats or other forms of percussion may be used to set a rhythm along with the flowing electronic waves, but most commonly these are left out completely. On top of the basic flow of key tones, the ambient artist experiments with melody and harmony, which we as listeners recognize as thematic communication. The melodies are often looped for a certain period of time, in order to achieve a form of transcendental, hypnotizing effect. Only by listening to the music continuously without interruption, perhaps over a time span of 30 minutes or longer, can the intensity and the thematic realization reach a high-end point.

Due to its very nature as music, ambient is ideal for meditation, as it means long listening hours, often with a calming and soothing effect for the mind, body, and soul. Its instrumental simplicity adds up to this, but the compositional method is often very complex. The artists can integrate different kinds of sound effects to create additional musical experiences: rivers flowing, people screaming, distorted political speeches, and even computerized sounds from a car or a machine, to further enhance and set the mood to its relative course. The leading melodies often intertwine with the basic synth-layer, ending in collaboration between rhythm (“pace”) and harmony. Some artists are able compose entire songs only by manipulating a few synth-tones, co-ordinating them into different patterns or cyclic key melodies, and as a result achieve an echoing effect in harmony. Percussion-only, like one tribal beat played against another, may also create an ambient-effect of great use — the possibilities lie within the ideas of the composer. Not surprisingly the ambient genre is a very experimental one, fusing metal, folk, jazz, and even classical music, into an organic symbiosis.

Ambient music can be seen as a structuralistic form of music, meaning the listener must recreate the compositional structure within the mind, in order to understand the ideas communicated through the musical medium. While popular music and most of the metal created today, are built around the concept of musical progression through key choruses that function as leading melodies, ambient music often lacks melodic development and instead tries to achieve an atmosphere by slowly building up harmonic tension over a large time span. The listener is forced to maintain a close relationship to the variation in tonal, melodic, and harmonic presence, and forge all partial developments of the music into a central motif. While this may sound academic, it is often very simple: by paying attention to the music you’re listening to, following the progression of the composition itself instead of the melody, you will automatically gain an understanding of the underlying structure within the music.

This does not mean that the structure in ambient music “exists” in the objective sense of the word, but that it functions as an assessment of the how the music is structured and what it tries to tell us through ideas. This, along with the fact that ambient music is created to achieve an atmosphere, makes it a very esoteric listening experience, almost like a religious ritual or an intense philosophizing thinking process. There are many kinds of ambient music and, like in metal music, certainly not all subgenres are relevant in the categorizing of the main genre. What they all share in common is a free compositional method of creating music, breaking the boundaries of verse-chorus-bridge-thinking and using the rhythm as a pacesetter and not as determiner of melodic or harmonic progression. This leaves the field open for the artists to create different patterns of ideas without being restricted to a linear beat, like in rock or popular music.

The relationship between ambient and other forms of music may seem far-fetched, but is in fact something that has helped it gain a larger listening audience outside underground circles. Metal music, like ambient, is built around the compositional idea that originates from classical music: long and intense pieces communicating an active life experience, through the inherent variation in musical structure. The free boundaries of harmony in classical music, are in ambient used to let go of all sense of percussion and instead form a continuous rhythm by regularly looping melody and sound effects, until a consecutive working arises and determines the overall thematic and musical base, on which to build upon through progression or deconstruction. Like with classical and metal music, ambient is through its free composition able to take use of partial experiences, and merging these together to form a central motif. While most rock and popular music is built around one key melody without significance to experience, classical, metal, and ambient music can only be understood when interpreting the melodic/harmonic and structural changes in the pieces, and construct these together inside the mind of listener, into a solid whole representing and describing an overall ideal, sensation, feeling, or experience.

The links between metal and ambient music are therefore multiple, and when leading bands within black metal realized the decay of the genre as a whole, they quickly turned to what must have been seen as an obvious next stage within creating neoclassical music: pure electronic textures, free from drums and conventionalities, trying to revive classical music through modern instrumentation. The ambient veteran Klaus Schulze proved that this was fully possible by releasing his album entitled “X”. In it he composes pieces functioning as musical biographies of famous German artists like Georg Trakl and Friedrich Nietzsche. While the first pieces are entirely created using the infamous synthesizer (an electronic instrument creating musical output by mathematically or by hand, manipulating keys and sounds by different musical techniques), Schulze gradually integrates classical instruments like violins. In the final piece he takes use of a full symphony orchestra and manages to create music where the classical meets the modern ambient sound techniques. The result is beyond what any artist within the ambient field so far has achieved.

Other ambient projects like the old-school synthesizer masters Tangerine Dream, began experimenting with the possibility in letting concurrent synth melodies function much like a symphony orchestra works with counterpoint, leaving out most percussive determiners and thereby form a music driven by a free melodic progression in sound. Post-techno projects like Polygon Window instead went the other way and tried to create harmony by working with tribal beats and looping them concurrently, so that a meta-harmony was taking shape as both rhythm and key melody. Early artists like Screaming Corpse would even strip the music of all melody, instead collaborating with sound effects in order to fuse different collage into central motifs. Buzzing sounds and distorted screams passing a digitalized filter, would function as instruments themselves, experimenting with echo-effects and extreme reverbing techniques.

This method of composing music was later developed into what we today refer to as “industrial ambient”, meaning a form of music that by working with machine-driven beats and sound effects replicating mechanistic and robotic parts of modern society, achieves a post-industrial form of electronic music. Similarly many projects take use of sound effects from nature, which nowadays is called “nature ambient”; samples of thunder, running water, moving glaciers etc. together with electronic instrumentation, in an attempt to describe an experience related to nature and its process as organic system. Amir Baghiri demonstrates this when forming melodic motifs by using water drums to evoke the soul of nature with its own organic material. Neoclassical ambient artist Biosphere can also be added to this list, manipulating sound effects from nature with cold and bleak soundscapes, forging a timeless atmosphere set out in the freezing northern Europe.

However, the most common form of ambient is that of long and simplistic synth tones, balancing between different tonal heights and variation in intensity, slowly building up a meditative state of mind within the listener. Lustmord and Lull are two classic examples of this compositional method: no percussion, no beat, no central melodic or harmonic motif, only hour-long sonic textures forged by the most simple of tonal variation. The theme is only understood by listening to the whole piece from start to finish, paying close attention to the underlying structures in the music and placing them in context with the central compositional idea. Metal works the same way: the understanding of the music is only apparent to the listener who follows the structural progression and not simply trying to find any “truths” within the aesthetic alone. Classical music is even more free from boundaries than metal, and requires a high attention span in order for the listener to follow each small harmonic change, and realizing its relevance from a larger contextual “truth”, which is assessed only within the mind of he or she who listens, but nonetheless is a result of an assessment of what the medium is trying to communicate.

Sometimes the entire musical picture is disintegrated into monotone sound waves, like a radio transmission being converted into pure synth layers, moving back and forth between two levels of intensity, much like the waves of the sea meets the shore. Post-Beherit project Suuri Shamaani composed music this way, following a logical progression of its previous attempts in creating solid and flowing music without as little rhythmic restrictions as possible. Inspired by synthpop masters Kraftwerk and the previously mentioned Tangerine Dream, Suuri Shamaani gained a new presence within ambient music with its desperately bleak, dissonant, organic, over-simplistic instrumentation. Fenriz’ side-project Neptune Towers was following the same lead when breaking apart the sparse beats found within the music of Tangerine Dream, and instead using the synthesizer to both shape rhythm and harmony around improvised melodies, thriving on free contextual motifs connected to the organic space of universe.

Similarly have some ambient artists been trying to use instrumentation from more traditional elements like heavy metal, to explore the possibilities in letting metal, ambient, and classical music collaborate on a common idealistic basis. Canadian ambient project Ashtorath and the more well-known artist Robert Fripp, found new life in the electronic genre when integrating classical harmony and metal instrumentation, like piano and guitar solos, even taking use of violins to achieve a neoclassical atmosphere.

While the composition behind ambient music has been complex as in the case of Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream, the simplicity of the instrumentation has remained as a hallmark for most of the material created within the ambient field. The veteran and official founder of the concept of ambient music, Brian Eno, stated in the liner notes to the album Music for Airports, that it had to be “[…] able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” His music was built around this idea: simple key notes balancing on equally simple central motifs, both working as background meditation, but also providing the listener with a deeper contextual depth that only could be found by paying close attention to the structural core of each piece. In this sense, ambient music is both passive and active, as the mind of the listener concurrently experiences a background and a leading theme. This was nothing new to the metal fans that started to listen to Klaus Schulze and Neptune Towers after the outbreak of populism within the genre after 1996.

Metal music follows the same compositional method as described above: what to most people sound like “noise”, is to the regular metal listener a clear and distinctive form of music close to the classical ideals. This is understood only by seeing through the “noise” generated by the guitar riffs and the slamming drums, and instead paying attention to the underlying melody, structure, and thematic presentation. Still the metal artist is able to take use of the “noise effect” by manipulating it and turning it into an aesthetic pleasure – an important part of the musical experience as a whole. Classical music almost completely breaches the boundaries of passive/active switching by its continuous flow of partial melodic development, but similarly has the ability of being understood as both an overall tonal advancement towards a certain key motif, and as partial context in melodic detail: the focus on the partial and the whole becomes a clash that can equally by seen as the switch between the passive and active listening experience. As listeners of classical, metal, and ambient music, we both interpret the active experience and the “passive” one automatically generated, by letting the mind making a continuous re-assessment of the overall advancement of the music. This is how we are able to remember certain key parts in a musical piece, from over an hour of perhaps 40-50 different melodies; we’ve registered the overall tonal variation and from there on, remembered the partial textures built around the central motif of each piece. This can be compared to the sense of hierarchical memory by which our brain often functions: you read the word “Burzum” and think of keywords linked to that phenomenon: “ambient”, “Odin”, “Discharge”.

Is should be somewhat apparent after this reading, that ambient and metal music have a lot in common, and that the narrative basis in metal music made a logical progression away from blues/rock standards, instead trying to conquer new grounds by leaving the standardized format and migrating to an open and free composition closer to that of classical music. With that migration, the blockheads that still today are producing four-chord-cycled riffs, were left behind and still to this day do not understand nor comprehend the genius in Neptune Towers or later Burzum and Beherit. The metal artists proved once again that their ideal was an elitist and romanticist one, creating art after experience and ideal, and not after commerce and popularity. Ambient was the choice for many serious black and death metal bands when the genre became crowded with too many populists, and since the ambient field was both close to classical/romanticist ideals, and offered a modern way of reviving ancient wisdom from centuries far left behind, it was seen as the only step towards a more unrestricted musical area, filled with the passion and atmosphere that defined the best of black and death metal. Today most serious metal fans also listen to classical and ambient music, knowing these three genres contain a lasting artistic expression towards natural and traditional ideals, free from conventions found within blues, rock, and popular music, breaking new boundaries as further possibilities are explored, along the way on the journey to the stars.

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