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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Why “Christian metal” is an oxymoron

Any genre of music can be said to have an ideology, or ideological range. The musicians and fans had to pick the music because it sounded like something they wanted in their lives. With a really dumb genre, that would be distraction or posing like a slacker or a pimp. With more complex genres, the aesthetics and organization of the music suggest ideals people desire. For metal, the aesthetic — finding beauty in dischordant darkness — and organization — a “riff salad” that narrates like a poem — suggests a rejection of the human perspective for a more holistic reality.

It is this style of metal, from its first riffs derived from the modernist-classical-lite melodies of horror movie soundtracks, which, by eschewing fixed “meaning” for a sense of fitting together as a whole and having an architectonic clarity as the songs, shows us a world from the perspective of a movie, or a scientist, or history: the camera pans back and we no longer think of individuals involved as being important in their own right. We think of the story, the situation, and the outcome, but with our knowledge we cannot be limited to an anthropocentric position.

This is how, without even reading the lyrics, we can tell what metal has in the way of values and worldview, which if you believe in them enough to think they’d make a good organization for civilization, you call an “ideology.” The ideology of Britney Spears is “what the hell, who cares”; the ideology of jazz is cosmopolitanism; the ideology of techno is vibrant distraction; the ideology of classical music is a respect for intensity and attention span. All forms of art have some form of ideology, although sometimes it is hard to recognize because it is subtle or, in many cases, non-challenging (see “Britney Spears” some words ago).

The Metal Ideology

With a little more analysis, we can enumerate the metal ideology as follows:

  • Feral naturalism – Horror, predation, violence, and battle are praised for their intensity as experience and their power. Morality is thrown away in favor of this appreciation for the mechanisms of reality.
  • Technofutilism – As in horror films, technology and social institutions are useless for dealing with the problems we face.
  • Realistic individualism – The wisdom of crowds is feared and seen as false, since they pander to each other (poseurs, sell-outs). However, the individualist is realistic and so knows that everyone in a crowd is an individualist, and that’s how a crowd forms.
  • Nihilism – Morality is a human imposition, as are value and purpose. Nature doesn’t care what happens to us, and neither do the gods. We’re in the driver’s seat and whether we sink or swim is 100% up to us.
  • Holism – There is a frustration with the tendency of modern society to break down experiences and concepts by using exclusive logical OR operations in a categorical context; it is either a truth OR an opinion, but can’t be both, and so on. Metal is a genre of logical AND, in that it sees all of our judgments as attributes and reality as the only arbitrer.
  • Ludic, absurdist materialism – In a metal view, we are only fleshy bodies and we can have transcendent thoughts, but we will always be what we are. From that, we can clear aside pretense and enjoy life, which is inherently absurd, gross, terrifying, crass, insane and beautiful, the most rational design ever, rewarding.

Evidence for each of these assertions can be found in metal lyrics, imagery and through a thoughtful perspective on the sounds and structures used in metal songs. You could claim “the past is alive” and “only death is real” as good starting points, but even early Black Sabbath lyrics have the romanticist, naturalistic, holistic and nihilistic tendencies that create the above values system. In this, metal bands are not dissimilar to European Romantic poetry and classical music, which was also post-moral, saw the individual as a means and not an end, nationalistic, and playful.

Christianity, on the other hand, is more complex because it is open to wide interpretations. Narrowing in on what most people believe, we can see it has several basic tenets, originating in its idea of individual equality in the eyes of God. To a metalhead, this interpretation of Christianity seems anti-nature, because we are not equal in ability and any interpretation of equality is a human imposition that does not exist in nature; further, metalheads distrust the creation of alternate realities like God, heaven and hell. Not all interpretations of Christianity have these tenets, and some in fact are closer to what metal believes (the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Johannes Eckhart or Arthur Schopenhauer come to mind). But for the mass religion that conquered much of Europe, these are its beliefs:

  • Dualism – Christianity believes in a second reality that exists outside of this one. This reality, in which there is pure moral “good,” is called Heaven and we are supposed to impose it on earth; Hell exists in this same spirit realm.
  • Morality/peace/benevolence – In Christian lore, the best possible method of living is one that is peaceful, as that way you do not interrupt others. To a metalhead, this is ridiculous because people can be doing things that while not explicitly immoral cause bad consequences, and so of course you interrupt them.
  • Discrete individualism – Christian dogma supports the idea of the individual as absolute in that they are to be granted as much freedom as possible, and can be judged only by God, and should be forgiven when they screw up. This is to a metalhead imposition of the will of the Crowd on the individual and a type of slavery, as it retards those who do have a clue from acting to keep the clueless from dominating via superior numbers.

The common root of these Christian beliefs is humanism, or belief in the predominance of the human form and its incarnations, individuals. The Christian God is shaped like a human; Christian morality rewards never harming or killing humans even if they’re doing insane things; Christian morality emphasizes how we’re all equal. We can see how the elaborate dance of morality and theology supports a much simpler human truth, which is the desire of the ego of each one of us to be independent from forces which can humble it with reality. We want to be free from the consequences of making bad decisions and the social judgment of others, because either can show us to be incorrect or to have a weakness, and that scares us in a social setting and makes us lose social status. The root of Christianity is affirming the ego’s power; the root of metal is affirming the power of nature and by unintentional consequence, decreasing the supremacy of the ego.

Romanticism

Romanticism, the parent belief of metal, originates in a more naturalistic time before beliefs like Christianity separated the self-valuation of the human individual from nature, and gave them an imaginary reality (morality) with which to compensate. Although Christianity means well, the unintended consequence is that it makes people more selfish because instead of just trying to live their lives, they are now trying to prove and justify their worth in a moral context. The resulting drama creates many social problems because it ultimately boils down to a denial of reality in favor of individual withdrawl from reality, and it creates neurosis and ego competition.

For this reason art — which tries to affirm our bonds to reality, or through unitivity remove us from false worlds and the withdrawl into our own perspective — has been at odds with society for at least a millenium, perhaps longer. Where social control, power, law and religion require external affirmation for the individual to justify themselves, art confronts the accepted vision of reality with a fantasy that is metaphorically more accurate than the “scientific” and “objective” beliefs of a dying society. Art reconnects us with cause/effect reasoning by taking us out of a false context, and through a new context, showing us where our values lie.

Both Romanticist art and metal are therefore in conflict with Christianity as 99% of its audience practices it, and they have run into additional conflict through Christian propaganda trying to emulate the original art forms. When a Christian or secular humanist (atheistic version of Christian morality) sees metal, which is a value system that not only denies their own but makes it look like an arbitrary fantasy into which people escape their fear of mortality and failure, they have a tendency to do what any good propagandist would do: make their own version of the art in question, and then point to that new creation which did not emerge from the artistic movement but was imposed upon it, and use its existence to claim that consensus does not exist in the artistic movement.

We call this imposed, false, externalized metal “Christian metal” because its defining factor is that it is Christian. It is not a genre, but can appear in any genre; it is an ideological tag with a parallel in neo-Nazi music in that what matters most is its message, and it uses metal as a conduit for that message, instead of wanting to create metal for metal’s sake and therefore explore the values of metal.

A History of Christian Metal

Metal is a romanticist movement which was inspired by the classical era of European humanity, including as part of its view many Romantic philosophical ideals which are pre-Christian in their derivation and anti-Christian in their values.

  • Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath were originally a blues band who later shifted to metal to reflect an interest in the occult. After three albums in which massive drug use and public outcry over their beliefs battered them down, they created an album which had several pro-Christian songs. This does not necessarily reflect their beliefs, nor is likely to do so, but illustrates the confusion and doubt they encountered at the time and the religion of their youth to whose programming they returned. Further, their songs which had a “warning” about the occult were a product of their having an interest in occultist themes, but not necessarily a propagandistic outlook on it (where in contrast, every single “Christian metal” band that has ever existed has taken a preachy, condescending, demagogic tone toward their audience).
  • Metal – Metal, in Black Sabbath and related bands of that era including King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, and Blue Cheer, reflected a tendency toward darker worldviews which could best be described as Romanticist in the spirit of the literature, art and music of the post-Renaissance in which artists disaffected with the humanism of the time sought a greater meaning than a moralization to existence through art. Poets like Keats, Wordsworth, and Shelley were a revolution against a secular Christian movement in which, despite little talk of afterlife and spirituality, a tendency existed for the first time in European art to preach a secular morality to which one adhered or drifted into the ambiguous, obscure and “evil.” The works of those poets and others from the modern Romanticist movement were invoked by the similar themes of early proto-metal bands, including a fascination with the morbid and with ancient times, a desire for transcendence within the world itself, a ruthless sense of self-discipline and heroic character, and a desire for more significance in life itself more than a concern for post-death salvation.After some years of heavy metal, the movement had solidified much of its artistic technique but had degenerated into hedonism, and fortunately was able to merge with the more dogmatic punk to form the first generation of speed metal. These bands were alarmingly preachy and leftist and as a result quickly self-destructed, prompting the extreme side of metal to go “underground” and dispense entirely with morality and, in the lead of heroes like Bathory and Slayer, who arguably invented the next generation, to preach an imaginative, Romantic “Satanic” outlook which like Black Sabbath was more fascinated with the occult than with preaching its values. The music of Slayer for example uses metaphorical Satanism to describe the errors and horrors of war, disease, violence and crime. Following these bands was a genre made more alienated by the increasing failures of society to recognize its error, and made somewhat bitter by the increasing resentment rising from a society (America at least) that in 80% of its members found an affinity for Judeo-Christian beliefs. Death metal and following it, black metal, as a result were more violent and more dogmatic toward Christ and Judea; part of this was inherited from their “hidden” ancestors in hardcore punk music, who as part of their alienated nihilism recognized religion as the social control mechanism which many of us allege it is.

    From the No Right to Disagree With Us Department:

    The national poll of 1,000 American adults conducted April 26 through May 6, 2002 found that 17% of Americans – or about 35 million adults – hold views about Jews that are “unquestionably anti-Semitic.” source

    With the state of metal now, virtually every formative band in the underground has taken a negative stance on Christianity (and many have attacked Judaism and Islam as well). This is a result of the evolutionary process within the genre detailed above. Times have changed since Black Sabbath, and to a perceptive youth of today the strengthening role of religion and secular moral symbolism derived from religion is not only clear but alarming. Consequently, the most popular metal genre ever, black metal, is unanimous in its destructive impulses toward Christianity and its parent religion, Judaism from the middle east.

  • Why Christian metal is destructive – The Christian — or to a philosopher, humanist, whether secular or ecclesiastical — worldview is the underlying outlook of our society. That means that anything which is not Christian or secular humanist is the rarity, not the other way around. Christians confuse a lack of symbolic agreement with Christianity — saying “I am a Christian” or similar — with a lack of agreement. Essentially, secular humanism and Christianity are the same philosophy and they’re what all but a few people in our society take for granted as “correct.”With this in mind, it makes almost no sense that Christians would attempt to subvert metal for their own dogma, yet they attempt it because symbolically, metal is threatening to the Christian outlook because it endorses a theory in which good and evil are necessary balance, yet does not endorse true “evil” (selfish, deconstructive, callow acts). We should be cynical toward the Christian metal perspective and question it at all times, because it is paradoxical for the following reasons:
    • First, if people should write about what they really believe in, why should they spread the dogma of a religion that they didn’t invent?
    • If they really believe this religion, then metal – as a movement with overwhelming occultist, nihilistic, fascistic overtones – is something they should avoid. Why would they choose to join a genre which contradicts what they believe?
    • Is there no greater “trend” than the 2,000 years in which Judeo-Christian religions have been gaining prominence in the west? What is “un-trendy” about following the same religion that at least 80% of the people in your country follow?
    • Why should metal desire “a lot more of the youth” to be interested in it, if conformity is not our goal? Metal is like many genres self-selecting, and does not aim to be broad. By your logic, we should start making music like Britney Spears (except with a Christian message!) in order to get a wider audience.
    • How can one “truly feel” something which one has to be taught in order to regard it as true? A man raised alone in the forest may invent a religion, but perhaps not the whole dogma of Christ.

    There is obviously more to be said along these lines of questioning, but it’s not necessary here. I’d like to close by mentioning something else: that every single “Christian metal” band that has ever existed has been a poor copy of a “secular” band. Even the most popular, “Believer,” were a ripoff of an Atheist album coming out a year earlier. The separate nature of “Christian metal,” and that the genre itself draws a clear distinction between “secular” and religious music, demonstrates how Christians view “Christian metal”: a tool for preaching acceptable lyrics into a genre that has otherwise on the whole rejected Christ.

In 1990, ninety percent of the adult population identified with one or another religion group. source

In our current time, Judeo-Christianity is not only dominant in social thinking but has become secularized and dominant there as well. Prior to Judeo-Christianity’s arrival, concepts such as “morality” and “equality” and dualism were rejected by the inhabitants of Europe as insane or alien. After years of slowly working its way into that culture, Christianity became the dominant religion through its influence among the poor, the downtrodden, the pathetic, the less-capable and the spiteful. Currently, Judaism and Christianity are the dominant religions in America and most of the Western World. For example, both presidential candidates in the last election spoke extensively of their relationships to “God” and of the “morality” of their ideas, including vice-Presidential candidate Joseph Liebermann who considers himself “the moral voice of the Senate.”

“From these two religions we find at least all of our last ten presidents and their ancestors, and among the believers we find the owners of every major media establishment in the country as well as most of the smaller ones. Virtually every Congressperson has prominently featured in his or her campaign propaganda the Christian or Jewish nature of his or her morality, and most television anchors will make reference to secularized Christian moral concepts or the Judaic “God” in the midst of a supposedly objective broadcast. Before Judeo-Christianity, these concepts did not exist in the Western world; their sole origin is in the religions of Christ and Moses (who were both born Jewish).

This article is not an attempt to smear the people ensnared by these sick ideas; on the contrary, I view them as “victims” also in that their consciousness has had a control mechanism implanted within it. This goes for secular people like yourself, who in good faith sit down and write me a letter like the one quoted above in which you espouse humanist ideals of “individual choice” and “belief.” In the cases of believers however, those ideals do not exist; what does exist is conformity to an ideal of social control, and metal rightly rejects it.

Christians see themselves as very tolerant of people of other faiths, with 81% of Christians saying that Christians in the United States are “very” or “somewhat” tolerant of people of other faiths. People who are not Christians agree with this view for the most part, but not nearly as many of them are fully convinced of Christian tolerance. Only 54% of non-Christians see Christians as being tolerant of people of other faiths. source

Another Form of Humanism: Satanism

Satanism in black metal, death metal, “doom metal,” heavy metal, evil metal, speed metal, thrash and grindcore/metal hybrids arises from the need of metal musicians to understand emptiness in the universe and find a metaphor for its acceptance, a trait in evidence in death metal, black metal, heavy metal and ambient metal to extremes. Much like Romantic poets John Milton or William Blake explored the occult, evil and Satan as metaphor, metal bands find Satan a tempting metaphor for a society against which you can rebel without escaping its psychological trap.

Many of society’s abused denizens, looking at the over-the-top exultation in Satanism, Evil, deviant or degenerate behavior in metal, find themselvs turning back in disgust: “Awk! These kids are just trying to piss me off – contrarians, they only want to invert what is, and to create attention for themselves.”

One could not be more wrong. Contrarians wish to behave “badly” to grab the attention that comes from swimming the wrong way up the stream, but to get that attention, they depend on a cousin of pity: the belief that those who choose a different path are lost and looking for the others to bring them back in to a hearth of comfort and goodness. In short, a contrarian affirms the belief system she is rejecting.

Satanism, as practiced by death metal and black metal bands, does not involve an inversion but a surpassing of moral norms and social custom. To understand this, one must first understand the nihilism of metal bands: they do not believe there is “good” or “evil,” but see events as disconnected from any form of absolute other than their inherent function – that is to say, metal bands believe that events do not have a face value and instead view existence with a scientific eye that traces a complexity of causes, reactions, and similarities but does not attempt to ascribe any of it to absolute forces except logical tendencies.

Where Satanism exists for metal bands it functions as metaphor in following the footsteps of the Master: in each mythology where he touches, the Satan-figure is the youthful and ambiguous rebel who rejects what has come before in favor of his own path, and despite his consequent exile from society, finds truth in what he has created and found. The cry from Milton of Satan’s independence – “I will not serve!” – echoes in a genre that insists on finding out its own answers, and creating its own paths, on an individual basis. Unfortunately, that leads to the ego-basis of Christianity and secular humanism, and shortly afterwards, the sickening morals that constrain begin again.

Resistance

You can strengthen the genre of metal by resisting this form of social control in form of boycotts, public awareness of its true intention, and a refusal to accept it as metal. If it is played on the radio, call in to speak the truth about its agenda. If a friend plays it on a stereo, speak out against the controlling mindset of the music. If someone tells you that it’s “open-minded” to accept music that attempts to destroy the philosophies of the genre to which it theoretically belongs, tell them that art does not reprogram human souls toward giving in to a fear of death, and that true metal will liberate them from their fear of existence.

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History of the band Mayhem

Like a dark breath of forbidden fantasy, black metal came into a world of orderly containers and sprayed them with foaming blood, black bile, and most of all a poisonous uncertainty about the safely egalitarian but boring lifestyle of the first world. In this genre, Mayhem were the band that by sheer persistence evolved into being one of the founders of the new black metal style, but only after years of thrashing in the dark and confusion of the fatalistic tendencies that eventually brought the band to artistic collapse.

Formed in the early 1980s by Oystein Aarseth, or Euronymous, the band released two demos which built upon what Bathory and Celtic Frost had achieved by making it more minimal, less coherent, and less friendly to the ears; in truth, the first anti-social music. The latter of these, “Pure Fucking Armageddon,” had attributes of extreme crustcore infused into its fractured heavy metal stylings, bringing criticism from a metal world which was then just beginning to accept Morbid Angel, Kreator, Destruction and others as a new form of “music.”

As time went on, two important things happened: first, Mayhem released “Deathcrush,” their first release and the best snapshot of the musical style they were attempting to produce, and second, the vocalist “Dead” [Per Yngwe Ohlin] from the Swedish band Morbid joined Mayhem to replace previous vocalist Maniac. The underground was slow at first to embrace the newer music, but soon there was a firm niche carved out for Mayhem: those who rejected the desire for logicality, in the modernist style, that death metal represented. As Euronymous said, “Black Metal is so extreme that not anyone can get into it. This isn’t any funny hobby which stupid kids shall have after they comes home from school.”

With the introduction of Dead, the conceptual impetus behind the band changed, and soon the blocky and deliberately awkward music of “Deathcrush” was metamorphosizing into a sleeker, melodic variant with more dynamic change in the songs, producing different “settings” to tell a tale, somewhat like a micro-opera in harsh guitars and howling vocals. Similarly, the appearance of the band went from t-shirts and jeans to black clothing, black boots and facepaint – corpsepaint – in black and white. In concert, Dead cut himself onstage, surrounded by the carcasses and heads of slaughtered animals. A full rejection of the positivity, pity and focus on individual lives of democratic humanism, the new appearance and music of Mayhem emphasized the bold, terrifying, morally ambiguous and deathlike in life itself. To understand it, one had to realize that the passion given to the music was an affirmation of life, but a different form of life, than that endorsed by the nominally Christian Nordic countries.

With this change, the following of Mayhem increased, especially as their recognizably different image placed them ahead of other musical efforts in the world of metal as less socialized and thus more extreme. Mayhem played a series of concerts across Europe, but recording and songwriting were sporadic, thus little material emerged from this period. At the end of it, Dead, in a moment of nihilism and darkness in 1991, slashed both his wrists and blew out his brains with a shotgun, leaving only a note: “Please excuse all the blood.” Euronymous, upon returning to the band’s shared dwellingspace to discover the cold corpse, took pieces of the brain and integrated them in a stew of ham and vegetables for the pleasure of eating human flesh; the band’s drummer, Hellhammer, took pieces of the shattered skullcap and made them into a necklace. As if a primitive ritual, the members of Mayhem paid their respects in death as in life: with coldness, feral opportunism, and a denial of any “sanctity” or “feelings” toward life, even that of a friend and collaborator. As Euronymous said later, about his form of “evil,” “It is basically hate to humankind. I have no friends, just the guys I’m allied with. If my girlfriend dies I won’t cry, I will missuse the corpse.”

During this time, Euronymous and his band were instrumental in the forming of a new black metal social group, or “scene,” centered around his record store in Oslo called Helvete [Hell]; the downstairs was a necrotic and bleak excuse for a commercial establishment in which the hatred and disassociation from commercial process was as much a barrier to purchase as anything else, but the upstairs was a practice room where Nazi flags and weapons hung over instruments decorated with inverted crosses. During the daytime, the store was a gathering place for musicians and fans of an anti-social nature; at night, Euronymous indoctrinated those who might be useful to the scene by inviting them to wild parties in which orgiastic appetites for alcohol fueled self-mutilation and eventually, rampant church and graveyard desecration [in Europe and many older American towns, the graveyard surrounds the church – a strangely forthright admission of the role of religion in society!]. Euronymous also started the first record label of the modern black metal movement, Deathlike Silence Productions. While these events stood against everything that Norwegian society of the time valued, authorities were permissive and did not “connect the dots” until far later.

It was at this time that many of extremist views, such as the skinhead-turned-rocker Kristian Vikernes – also performing in Burzum, joined the circle – and joined Mayhem on bass. Vikernes was an interesting counterpoint to those in the association so far; he was a hater of life but, like Dead, had an uncanny passion for life through art, and seemed to value his time in nature, away from people and their imaginary rules. His intent could be summarized in his most clarion statement, “I see Burzum as a dream without holds in reality. It is to stimulate the fantasy of mortals, to make them dream” – a replacement of morality with the über-Romanticist ethos of adventure and heroic classicism. Between the Gothic neoclassicism of Dead and the postmodern Romanticism of Vikernes, black metal became more than a style of music, but an ideological and social tool for change away from a highly regimented, moralistic society. Vikernes again: “We want to create the most possible fear, chaos and agony so that the idiotic and friendly Christian society can break down. We are overall not interested in that the truth comes through. When we spread lies we cause confusion and confusion leads to chaos and at last breakdown. People shall be oppressed and we support everything that oppresses man and takes from him his feelings as free individuals.”

It was part of this denial of the supremacy of the lives of individuals over ideas, emotions and even real-world activities that helped what happened next to occur. Two polar opposites existed in black metal, the fatalism and negativity of Euronymous versus the political and violent doctrine of Vikernes, and these were brought into conflict through the personalities. Vikernes claims Euronymous delayed the release of Burzum albums [on Deathlike Silence] by spending the money instead on degenerate pursuits; Euronymous presumably did not care and was more interested in the upcoming Mayhem release, which was moving slowly because of the personality conflicts in the band. Eventually, reality followed imaginary projections: on the night of August 10, 1993, Euronymous was stabbed to death by Vikernes; of 26 knife wounds, 2 were to the head, five to the neck and 19 to the back. Thus began the projection of Mayhem into legend, since it provided black metal in the modern sense with not only its first model of technique and imagery, but also its first martyrs. Dead was eulogized in a 1992 release, “Live in Leipzig,” which recorded an excessively bloody and violent Mayhem concert in East Germany. Teaming up with Attila Csihar of Tormentor, the remaining members of Mayhem put out “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas,” one of the most impassioned black metal albums released, yet one with its feet firmly grounded in old-school Venom/Bathory heavy metal styles. Their nihilism was so great they left Vikernes’ bass tracks on the album next to the guitar work of the man he killed, claiming in the press to have removed them so not to attract unwelcome attention from his family.

While the lives of its members had mostly run their course, and its most epic work had been produced, at least in conceptual form, before these deaths, afterwards the social and political importance of Mayhem was fully recognized. First, it gave many a central point with which to identify the new movement, and generated a wave of publicity especially in unison with the news of 22 churches burned in Norway, mostly by black metal “Satanists.” Even more importantly, Euronymous himself became a central figure, and his ideas [and those of Dead and Vikernes, who heavily influenced him] became dissected and discussed across the globe. Not only was this influential in the fanbase, but labels and bands worldwide began to see the importance of the new black metal movement: unlike anything from popular music since the 1960s, this was shocking; the people in black metal lived on the edge and fought to the death, something metal bands had always sung about but never acted out, much to the derision of punkers and other underground fans. The image of Helvete – the church of the anti-life – became predominant in the minds of many when conceptualizing new forms of social expression to the anti-oversocialization impetus that black metal and heavy metal share. In the years following the death of Euronymous, the focus he brought to the scene brought it to a dramatic rise and sudden death, as in late 1997 the genre became swamped with commercial bands in the mainstream style.

Mayhem itself continued on in the form of two major works, “Wolf’s Lair Abyss” in 1997 and “A Grand Declaration of War” in 2000, interspersed with numerous live albums and re-releases. where “De Mysteriis…” continues to be their most popular work, “Wolf’s Lair Abyss” is regarded by many as a highly proficient black metal album in the style of Satyricon mixed with old Mayhem, producing something with the same rhythmic thrust as “De Mysteriis” but with less of the operatic lack of total consistency in songs. “A Grand Declaration of War” is more problematic, taking a divergence into math-metal and pseudo-progressive stylings, which creates an album which sounds more like soundtrack than foreground listening, with Marilyn Manson influences in both songwriting and image. Because of this, and other factors such as the vast commercialization of black metal during the last six years, Mayhem is effectively dead in the underground and a small player with a devoted fanbase in the mainstream metal scene at this time. However, for every person who gets into black metal, the chorus of voices suggesting “De Mysteriis…” has an effect, for people continue to buy it at a great rate and praise it as immortal metal music and unmatched spirit in a genre filled mostly with angry people of little imagination.

Regardless of the current tedium of record sales and popularity contests, Mayhem contributed an indelible influence on not only metal, but music of resistance to socialization as a whole. Their ideology – part blank-faced fatalism, part fascism and part feral atavism – was carried upwards by the voices of many who were similarly frustrated with the pity-oriented egalitarian society of the first world, which preached that avoiding death was more important than achieving heroic or passionate things. Against this belief system black metal, and Mayhem most visibly, agitated. “True satanists are superhumans,” stated Euronymous in a now-infamous interview. A few years later, Vikernes gave a clearer view: “Strife is evolution, peace is degeneration.” This did not sit well with not only Christians and Jews, but also many people who had become dependent upon society and its pity toward those who are less-able as a whole, thus raising a cry against black metal as music of “hate” or “intolerance.” While those would clearly like to file black metal into a wholly political category, the raw artistry and imagination of bands like Mayhem make that appear a one-dimensional look at the story. As Ihsahn from fellow Nordic rockers Emperor said, “You’ll never understand me because you sit in the audience at a horror movie. I’m up on the screen.” There is no place in the current society for bands like Mayhem; they are beyond its rules and mental conditioning, and always will be. And for this, wherever anguish at social predominance grinds, there will be new fans of the fundamental works of Mayhem, which not only outlive their creators but will forever be a mythos larger than life itself.

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Black Metal History

The genre that came seemingly last of all the metal genres was the one that considered its ideals the most seriously and consequently, produced a radically distinctive form of music. While black metal was somewhat of the cousin of speed and death metal during its early days, during the 1990s it bloomed into full musical form after developing a philosophy more coherent with its dark aesthetic than the hedonism and liberalism of the past. In a consequent blaze of controversy, the black metal genre streaked across the public perspective briefly before proliferating into a variety of styles and mainstream versions of its sound, forcing older variants out as a flood of similar bands absorbed the genre.

The Early Years

Black metal existed first as a singular concept in aesthetics, and later began to proliferate musically, only differentiating itself from death metal in the theoretical arena when its philosophical divergence became clear to the Norwegians in the early 1990s. A comparison from history can be found in the invention of the telephone; while Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone itself, the complex switching systems necessary to connect multiple parties within a city awaited later inventors. Similarly, the aesthetics [appearance and stylistic refinements of music] of black metal were created long before it really existed as a genre, influencing a period of long lull in the 1980s.

There is confusion as to who “invented” black metal, but it is clear that like death metal, its origins came from the same general area and were spread across creators worldwide contributing to the process. While Venom were the first band to grab headlines with their sensationally stripped down riffing and overtly occultist yet ludicrous image, it was Bathory, Sodom and Celtic Frost who gave the genre its enduring form. Where Venom was limited musically to deconstructed heavy metal, these bands took the neoclassical phrasing and minor key melodies of NWOBHM bands like Angel Witch, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and matched them up with the droning three-note roar of early crustcore as exemplified by Discharge. As both bands depended on diminished melodies in power chord riffing it was a seamless match.

During this formative era of black metal, several general styles emerged. First was Bathory with a smoothly flowing, fast-tremolo picked flow of sound over consistent throbbing drums; next was Sodom, making three-chord primitivism which moved at high speed with unsteady and abrupt changes of riff, tempo and texture; also included were Hellhammer, who specialized in droning minimalist music that often resembled hardcore punk played in minor keys, and Celtic Frost, the continuation of that band into grandiloquent constructions resembling the musical staging of operatic scenes; finally, there was Venom, who continued to produce their heavy metal/punk hybrid which delighted in using the simplest possible musical devices to convey the broadest changes available.

From this time onward, the genre slept while innovations were made in the death metal camp, with a few notable exceptions soon to be covered. The same year that Bathory unleashed its first opus brought about a small but intense wave of hardcore/metal hybrids front by Slayer but including within the next two years formative works from Sepultura, Possessed and Morbid Angel. While the basic approach of death metal was to create intricate arrangements using extended phrasing in an architectural style, its essential approach involved rhythm and chromatic progressions which did not admit much obvious melody. The tightly-woven, complex and interlocked riffing used by early death metal bands produced a sense of deconstruction and immersion but gave little new direction. As the genre wound up for its grand entrace, black metal again split from the pack in the 1987-1988 era with Sarcofago and Mayhem, and was then silent for another four years while death metal raged.

Sarcofago presented something offensive, abrupt and even ludicrous to people of the time who were schooled in the riff salad style of death metal, with stilted and broken sounding rhythm changes matching akward, nearly imbecilic riffs which fit together into songs with an uncanny, barely discernible continuity. While the majority of the formative work of Sarcofago, “I.N.R.I.,” was abrasively disassociative rhythm riffing, the album held itself together with some admirably sonorous yet barely logical melodies, seemingly as if formulated on a whim by demons of a distracted but perversely insightful mentality. Ignored at the time by most, Sarcofago in part generated the impetus toward the bizarre and primitive that spurred the next generation of black metal into action.

Simultaneous to the release of “I.N.R.I.” was the fourth release from Sweden’s Bathory, “Blood, Fire, Death,” in which the rippingly fast and simple works of earlier albums had been turned into theatrical yet emotive quasi-operatic pieces in which rasping vocals and singing coincided and song structures staged dramatic encounters of their parts more than repeating cyclic patterns. Across the water in Norway, Mayhem were putting the finishing touches on a massively incompetent but enigmatic work known as “Deathcrush,” in which tortuous guitar patterns arced over drumming with the grace of an exhausted pack animal, and horrific howling vocals textured the mix. The following year, Merciless assembled “The Awakening,” a fast speed metal album with touches of death but an undeniably morbid melodic sensation. Together these releases defined what would go into the mix of the genre coming next: the aggression and grandeur of Bathory, the abrupt and convoluted structures of Sarcofago, the rough aesthetic of Mayhem and the dramatic staging of Celtic Frost, who had just unleashed their discontiguous but impressive masterpiece “Into the Pandemonium.”

The Modern Era

Again some years went by in which death metal was the primary focus of the community and fans. Where mainstream metal had vanished under the dual onslaught of grunge and the progressive selling out of speed and heavy metal bands like Metallica and Testament, the underground shot to the forefront of the minds of those who expected metal, and consequently, became the area where development in metal occurred while the more popular bands did their best to reiterate their essential sound and presence as a means of not losing ground. As death metal became more accepted, however, it became slowly infested with the same mentality that clogged mainstream metal: an underconfident, socially dependent, accepting and undiscriminating mentality which placed excellent bands next to derivative, unimaginative acts without thinking twice.

Born of the desire to surpass this mess, the modern era of black metal began in Norway with the first releases from Darkthrone, Immortal, Emperor, Burzum and Mayhem. Each differed from the death metal before it in an emphasis on melodic composition and intricate, classically-inspired song structures which functioned as motifs, returning to not verses or choruses but clusters of riffs and musical ideas which framed their concepts in a setting, not unlike the work of an opera or ancient Greek tragedy. This new form of metal was more vivid and emotionally evocative than the thunderous assault of death metal, and also less concerned with the immediate social values around it; it embraced independent thinking, a dislike for all social dogmas and humanism, a Romanticist love of nature and predation, and a penchant for fantasy and thoughts of ancient times.

The reaction of the death metal boy’s club was unanimous: “fags!” However, the new style rapidly gained ground and soon a second generation of the modern era, including bands like Ancient, Gorgoroth, Graveland, Behemoth, Abigor and Gehenna among others landed in the crowd. Many of these bands were inspired as were original black metal pioneers Darkthrone by the melodic tremolo picking of Swedish death metal bands from the previous generation, which caused the pace to be picked up as the aggression, but the fundamental differences remained. From the reaction to the first wave of black metal, and a desire to get “purer” and farther away from the possible infestation of death metal bands, black metal bands starting with Darkthrone on “Ablaze in the Northern Sky” began to use a fuzzed-out, lo-fi sound and primal song structures similar to those of Hellhammer, early Bathory, and Venom.

While this initially drove away the more sycophantic fans, it was a failing strategy for the same reasons it failed in the production of hardcore music: it made the genre extremely easy to emulate. As demonstrated by bands such as Dark Funeral, it was easy to transition from death metal and make primitive and fast melodic black metal songs which sold in the underground, and soon there were more ex-death metal, ex-crustcore and ex-rock personnel surging into the scene. By the time of the middle 1990s, bands such as The Abyss and Marduk had joined the party, creating in their process templates which any bands could use to emulate the style – and did.

In a few short years the genre had gone from a handful of bands making distinctive music to a horde of bands making indistinguishable music identified only by novelty factors of instrumentation, voice and concept. Nothing was any longer being achieved in the central group of black metal bands, so most of the “old guard” of Norwegian bands backed out and allowed their music to dissipate, as indicated by Darkthrone claiming their “Total Death” album would be final one from the band. As the hordes of scenesters and clone rock artists gathered, bands such as Graveland, Summoning and Ildjarn began experimenting in ambient forms of the original style, writing longer melodies and integrating semi-symphonic instrumentation in digital form in some cases and making rawer, less rock-like music in the case of Ildjarn.

The Drama

Much has been said about the dramatic entry of the Norwegian scene in the early 1990s. Articles ranting about the terror the “Inner Circle” and “Black Circle” would bring to Christian society overstated the case, and so by the year 2000 most fans were tired of hearing the same stories of the genesis of the scene. These will be mentioned here only for the purpose of conveying the ideology of black metal, and its effect upon society at large that in turn reflected the response of civilization to black metal and some of the factors that contributed to its demise.

In the beginning, there were a handful of black metal bands in Norway loosely unified around some ideals and a few meeting places, including the shop Euronymous from Mayhem ran called Helvete [Hell]. There is some debate over whether or not there was a formal “Black Circle” as initially was claimed by American and British publications, but clearly the members of these bands communicated and met within the 4.5 million person country. Strange things began happening in Norway: churches burned, a homosexual man was slit open, miscellaneous assaults and grave desecrations occurred, and then to cap it off, Euronymous was stabbed one night in his apartment. Furthermore, implications of fascism and/or Nazi beliefs were pointed at many members of the underground, most of whom quickly denied them.

First, the vocalist Dead of Mayhem committed suicide with a large knife and shotgun, leaving a note “Excuse all the blood.” Some time later, Varg Vikernes of Burzum was arrested for burning churches and murdering Euronymous; at the time of this writing, he is still serving his term [when arrested, Vikernes was near famished from lack of money to buy food, yet had 150kg of explosive in his basement for use in destruction of churches]. Over 20 other black metal musicians and fans were arrested for burning churches; a total of 77 burned in Scandinavia during that time, although not all have been definitively linked to “Satanists.” Several other musicians did time for killings, assaults, desecrations or unrelated arsons, including Jon Notveidt in Sweden who served 8 years for being accessory to a killing, and Hendrik Moebus in Germany, who served several years as accessory to a murder before being arrested for making a Roman salute while on parole. While the carnage was not widespread, the effect was; Europe saw a wakeup call to some Pagan values and anti-Judeo-Christian sentiment, and America saw a chance at rebellion and consequently, marketing.

Further, the community of black metal had a chance to demonstrate its values. While most members of the scene when pressed denied they had been involved in fascist or Nazi politics, they were indifferent to the roles of others in such things. Equally noncommittal were many around Euronymous after his murder; Hellhammer, the drummer of Euronymous’ band Mayhem, shrugged and said, “One of them had to die,” when queried about the feud between Vikernes and Euronymous. Most bands interviewed spoke positively of nature, negatively of Christianity, and displayed disdain for social behavior that placed the lives of individuals above that of a collective movement. This made many uneasy, especially in tolerant, peaceful and normally quite uneventful Scandinavia.

The Aftermath

When the mainstream bands such as Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth and Marduk that attracted hundreds of thousands to black metal are confronted with the ideology of the founders of modern black metal, they quickly shake their heads and walk away. “Not for us, thanks.” In addition, their music is fundamentally different from that of the underground bands; where the originators of this style used diatonic and chromatic riffs and melodic modes, most of the “aboveground” black metal uses pentatonic scaling and much of the same riffs and rhythms of metal bands from the 1970s. Thus is exemplified a split in the genre: the bands who are doing what metal bands always have, and the bands who are moving away from traditional metal toward a more neoclassical, less rock-n-roll, more intricate musical form.

This split extends to every area of the black metal scene at the time of this writing. On one side, let’s call it the “left,” there are bands who embrace the current era and its variant aesthetics, including the mainstream genres outside of metal; a good example here would be Ulver or Sigh, both of who create postmodern metal from fragments and samples of other genres arranged into pieces delineated by key or rhythm. On the right would be the classicists, the old-schoolers who either only support black metal in the established tradition or who embrace a “purity” of both musical rawness and ideological allusion to the Greco-Roman, Viking or fascist values. For all intents and purposes this split is permanent, with the sides diverging into assimilation on the left and obscurity on the right, yet somehow they keep attracting audience, albeit a degraded one.

Some would say that there was a mystique about black metal that took a long time to die; it didn’t break in 1996, when The Abyss made an album so textbook Norwegian black metal that it provided a template for other bands to follow, and it didn’t even break in 1998 when all but a handful of the original bands had moved on to making more contented music. The year after however appears to have brought the death of black metal in a form emerging from within, similar to the story of Baldr’s death that conceptualizes a later Burzum album: betrayal from within. When the first of the more mainstream bands emerged, the underground took a clue from Darkthrone and it became de rigeur for the non-commercial bands to slap out albums with monochrome art and blindingly distorted, low-technicality music. As before however, this made it easy for further emulation to occur, diluting a genre with exactly what it opposed, and turning it from a movement where concept, music and action were joined into another form of entertainment for couchbound teenagers.

Black Metal Belief Systems

Conventional wisdom in the Judeo-Christian west holds that nature is lawless, dangerous and pointless; to give life meaning, there must be a moral goal, such as civilization itself: the conquering of natural frontiers and environments, taming of natural impulses in humans, and reduction of the law of the fittest – an equalization, as F.W. Nietzsche and later others pointed out. Nietzsche saw this equalization as a form of “revenge” on nature by depriving nature of what makes it threatening to the individual human, namely the potential imminent death – a form of judgment – for being less than capable in a situation calling for endurance and survival.

Sixty years after Nietzsche’s most influential period of work, explosions on the Polish border awakened the globe to the second world war. In this war, a conflict between the most fundamental division of ideology was established: collectivism versus individualism, with the latter favoring the kind of product-oriented, technologically-based, container-logical lifestyles currently seen in the first world nations. It was those insular and self-pleasing ways of living that first irked black metallers, and demonstrated to them a social devolution: there was no longer any competence needed, only obliviousness. Many black metallers, like Nietzsche, found greater inspiration in nature than in post-Judeo-Christian western society, and identified what Christians find horrible – the bloody, competitive, anti-individualist character of nature – to be an example of the most sublime beauty.

The ideological inclination of black metal remains disturbing to most and illegal in many countries. Yet it is not unique to black metal; as history shifted in the 1960s from a predominantly conservative society to a liberal society, thanks to the counterculture, and its effects were only felt with the children growing up in the 1980s, their response mirrors that of some who rejected the flower powery view of the politics and society. Among the thinkers and dissidents now coming back into favor are ecological fascists like Pentti Linkola and Theodore Kaczynski, as well as various stripes of nationalist and racial separatist leaders. [The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish self-defense organization, claims that National Socialist and Neo-Nazi movements are increasing “worldwide.”] It’s hard to see what the future holds but this controversy remains in the forefront of not only black metal, but international politics, as shown by the amount of air time it is given by the entertainment industry, news media and American/U.N. politicians.

Interestingly, black metal joins not only the far right, but the far left, in many of its sentiments. As the world anti-globalist and anti-capitalist movement picks up speed, it echoes many of the ideals of black metal: natural ecosystems; ethnic uniqueness; population control; an end to technology-driven, product-oriented, convenience-based lifestyles. Protestors across the world in anti-war and anti-globalism protests would be shocked to know they have something in common with a group of bloodthirsty church-burning fascists who idealize the occult, but perhaps would be glad at least for a sympathetic ear. Interestingly also, the “modern primitives” movement as seen in events like the Burning Man festival and the survivalist trend around the time of Y2K align themselves in the same general direction these ideals seem to be taking, but the final synthesis has not yet been heard.

Subdivisions

After the initiation of modern black metal in the Scandinavian style, a fragmentation occurred along the general lines of techniques used to unify song composition, creating a number of subdivisions in the black metal subgenre [genre = metal, subgenre = black]. The following are general descriptions of these substyles and what they implied for changes in black metal as a whole.

Rock

The heavy metal style of black metal, descended directly from Venom and NWOBHM bands like Angel Witch who inspired them, is essentially rock music with some neoclassical influences in the loosest sense. Pentatonic, verse chorus music that stays within basic harmony, heavy metal/rock-styled black metal is recognizable for its radio friendly ways, redundant harmonic constructions and verse/chorus arrangements. Good examples include Venom of course, Dimmu Borgir albums after Stormblast, Cradle of Filth and Dissection.

Raw

Descended from Hellhammer and some early Bathory, this is mostly rhythm music which like hardcore punk is fashioned from the harmonic space of a basic interval between two anchoring notes, often a fifth. While this style is easy to do, it is difficult to do well, as the number of bands emulating Hellhammer and falling far short of what Hellhammer produced have found.

Epic

Symphonic styles and epic song structures often seem to go together, as seen in bands like Summoning, Graveland, Heidenreich and early Emperor. Where most bands indulge some complexity, these bands aspire to a demi-operatic state of unifying concept with staging, projecting a theatrical view of the action described in a song through the pure sound and arrangement of riffs. These bands are often the closest to classical music in types of melody and depth of layering, but it is important to note that epic is mainly a description of the complexity and arrangement of a band, not its techniques, so there is complete overlap with other styles mentioned here.

Trance

Music designed to utilize the undulating nature of the sweep picking of a guitar as suspended between unchanging percussion of a basic nature, this style is inspired by generations of metal with ambient experimentation, including Slayer, Von, Massacra, and Bathory. The most notorious band working in this group is Burzum, but other bands such as Nargaroth, I Shalt Become, Ildjarn and Darkthrone have created great works in this area.

Melodic

The oldest style of modern black metal, the melodic compositional approach was first utilized by Norwegian bands looking for a way to make simple power chord music more than thudding rhythm and chromatic patterns. Immortal’s “Pure Holocaust” is the best example of this, with highspeed tremolo picking whipping distorted noise into a flood of searing yet beautiful sound, but there are also examples to be found in Behemoth, Darkthrone, Mayhem and Sacramentum.

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VNV Nation and Imperative Reaction in Austin, Texas

VNV Nation and Imperative Reaction
May 14, 2005
La Zona Rosa
Austin, Texas

The choice of venue for this show was particularly apt, as it avoided the twin pitfalls of Austin clubs, which are either cheesy, deliberately-seedy rocker establishments or urine-stained bars with a stage attached. La Zona Rosa is clean and utterly utilitarian, with a medium-sized bar, a good stage and a wide concrete floor for attendees. It can fit quite a crowd, and its airconditioner was working at peak performance, which is appropriate for a show where digital technology is the primary instrumental focus. This created a backdrop of non-event and let the event itself stand out.

As with many musical genres, electronic music is not clearly defined; to generalize, it was an outpouring of people trying to reinvent music after rock went stale in the late 1960s, finding themselves opposed to the mindnumbingly predictable spectacle of rock stardom, fan worship, and schmaltzy brainless songs about love affairs and other ego-drama. Interestingly, of the early electronic music acts, most of them took a more functional view of life, seeing humankind and technology as working together for some purpose, with the role of art being to define that purpose. This was a dramatic contrast to the “me, me, me” attitude of rock music, and was manifested in things like Kraftwerk’s poignant warnings about the robotic psyche of modernity, Devo’s hints that perhaps our individualism drew us away from meaning, David Bowie’s notorious interview in which he praised far-right dictatorships, and of course the repeated appeals toward a new collective order which boiled over into industrial music.

In this collision of subcultures, styles have proliferated, each with their own tendencies, but over time, critics have observed, these have veered back toward the indulgent self-drama of rock music. One anomaly has been VNV Nation, who take industrial themes and put them into a positive, techno-influenced, trance-y form of synthpop which bounds across the eardrums in regimented throbbing beats, with classically-influenced keyboard playing underlying it. It is as Romantic in a sense of morbid foreboding as industrial music, but it is practical like pop, in that it channels its doubt into an energy returned to the audience with the sense of rising above the morass. It steers a tight path between the mournful and serious tirades of industrial and the vapid and distracting arias of pop, as if deliberately created to bring the two attitudes together for a values definition in the tradition of electronic music.

While VNV Nation drew the crowd, the opening act was Imperative Reaction, who inhabit that misty world of industrial music crossed over with gothic-styled synthpop, emitting a bouncy but dark and sacrificial vision. The gravel-tinged voice of the lead singer mixed with the shoutlike delivery of the keyboard/console player, who sequenced sounds and riffed along on the keys while adding necessary density to the singing. That is, it was often sung, but as frequently pitched in the purring whisper of throaty chant that seems popular in this genre. A live drummer skimmed digital pads with energy, contrasting the dancelike motions of the vocalist and the constant bobbing of the keyboardist; the result was visually engaging, although somewhat trite to those cynical observers who clustered toward the rear of the audience.

Imperative Reaction’s music is wrapped in the guise of pop industrial, complete with haircuts and eyeliner popularized by Trent Reznor most recently, but at its heart, it is simple pop; its construction ramps up to a cycle of verse-chorus and then segways through a conclusion to reach equilibrium and conclude. This left an anticlimactic pause after each song, leaving the audience with memories mostly of lush, ceremonial choruses and surly growl-murmur verses. This band is talented, and writes memorable pop songs, but there is nothing more to their intent and thus not much else to derive from the performance. Audience reaction was favorable.

After the usual set break, the VNV Nation logo appeared on two video screens and the intro to their latest album, “Matter and Form,” played softly. A brief hush gusted through the audience, and then the band took positions behind two keyboard-laptop units, an electronic drumkit, and a microphone. Singer Ronan Harris immediately drew focus for his aerobic mastery of the stage, introducing himself while pacing the range of the stage, and then launching into the first track from the new album. While his presence was commanding, the rest of the band performed with a term that describes the entire VNV Nation set – professional. They moved in time to the music and accentuated each motion they made in performing it, which is necessary when one’s set involves activating switches at the right time, whether on laptop computers, synthesizer keyboards or drum pads.

The professionalism was evident in the band’s tight set, with no technical lapses audible and short breaks between songs, and in their interaction with the crowd. Beaming as if he were in a state of perfect mental balance and joy, Harris massaged the audience with questions and jokes, hinting at the concept behind this music: in a dying world, focus on what can be done by bringing people to a doubtless, energetic and exuberant mental state, in which any self-sacrifice that might be necessary comes without the neurotic confusion that comes with existential fear. He brought health and benevolence to the group assembled before him, clearly happy to be where he was, and also expressing interest in those who had assembled. While it was definitely cheesy, in the way any stage banter tends to be, it was also somewhat fulfilling: a connection between the philosophies, music and appreciators of VNV Nation.

Drummer Mark Jackson at what looked like six feet six inches tall was the most imposing presence on the stage, his strong-chinned British face shining over the metal array of his drum triggers, and put this presence to good use through regular, commanding motions that resembled a cross between martial arts and modern dance. On either side of him were the two keyboardists, who kept a flow of sampled sounds integrated with their keyboard patterns through sequencing software on their laptops. Harris introduced them later; one was Norwegian, the other German. During the same interlude, he brought up the topic of languages, and addressed his audience in English, German and Gaelic, while speaking indirectly about the pleasure one can take in heritage and history.

The music played is both easy and difficult to quantify: it is a fusion of techno and synthpop, with the unrelenting pounding beat of club-oriented music, but it is styled in song structure like some of the more adventurous industrial bands, and in aesthetics like radio pop. Keyboard tones are friendly, and there is little of the indulgence in abrasive or otherwise amusical samples, nor is there much attempt to manage atmosphere through aesthetics: that is done entirely through the writing of the music itself. The result presents well and is easy to hear, but nonetheless more emotionally engaging with greater range than “alienated” bands, while avoiding the saccharine addiction to lovesongs and other personal drama that marks rock music.

VNV Nation started their set with a selection of their work that is alarm-inducing in its insights of the psychological mindset of our current time, then drifted into lighter fare from older albums, interspersing it with five non-instrumental songs from the most recent album. Older material was tuned up a small bit, but not so much as to lose its anthemic familiarity with the crowd, and newer songs were played much as they are on record, although it seems the keyboardists improvised with effects and timing in parts. After a satisfyingly long show, in part enabled by the band’s insistence on pausing for only a few seconds between most tracks, VNV Nation delivered a double encore, closing with “Perpetual,” which as the last song on the newest album serves as an answer to the first song played (“Chrome”), and “Entropy,” both of which dissect the thought process of modernity in excruciating detail reminiscent of 1980s industrial rantcore.

This concluded a full show on the material which most accurately posits a mental response to our time, and grants to those who listen and hear a method of conceptualizing a response, including some of the most ontological lyrics in popular music. In this it formed a culmination of sorts, as if summarizing the entire VNV Nation concept and history into a tangible, practical course of action, even if on the spaciest of topics. As if to reinforce this idea, during two of the encore tracks Harris and Jackson performed alone, as they had done on previous tours. The lights dimmed finally, and with a wave and some friendly words, Harris and company departed looking as satisfied and glad to be alive in the company of the like-minded.

Bands:
VNV Nation
Imperative Reaction

Promotors:
La Zona Rosa (Austin, TX)
Austin, Texas

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