International Day of Slayer — June 6, 2010

Every June 6th, metalheads worldwide come together to do something upon which we can all agree – listening to Slayer! Finally, one of the most dismissed cultural groups in the world has a holiday to call its own.

* Listen to Slayer at full blast in your car.
* Listen to Slayer at full blast in your home.
* Listen to Slayer at full blast at your place of employment.
* Listen to Slayer at full blast in any public place you prefer.

It’s a holiday for metalheads worldwide.

International Day of Slayer — June 6, 2010

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Black Metal and Anonymity: A Traditionalist Perspective

Experience dictates that the modern black metal listener is in essence a “hipster”; a self referential, individualist, egocentric and more or less self-pitying individual. Moreover, experience also dictates that the modern and profane black metal musician has more in common with the lowly pop artist than with the principles and individuals that helped to create the original Norwegian black metal movement.

There was once a moment in time when black metal, like all great artistic movements strove to express something eternal, whether that was the paradoxical juxtaposition of beauty and death, the joy in battle and the growth that ensues due to struggle, or the essentially inexpressible infinite cosmos.

One of the more salient features of the nascent black metal scenes was the romantic obsession those involved had with the past. Black metal’s obsession with bygone ages pointed to a nascent, articulated, although perhaps not fully defined, desire to rediscover traditional knowledge, including the mythology, and the social and traditional norms that defined their venerable, Indo-European culture, namely Norse. As these individuals invaded the undergrowth of wisdom distilled in the remaining works of bygone ages, listeners, onlookers and now later historians were and are provided with a glimpse into the workings of a movement that pre-eminently strove to rediscover lost wisdom and to participate and explore the multifaceted plains of reality, and its highest level therein, namely the Supreme Principle.

This desire to participate in the highest level of reality can be used to shed light on the enigmatic drive to self-imposed anonymity, such that these original European Mystics indeed strove towards. As we traverse the iconography and interviews, or lack thereof, of the original black metal scene we are forced to recognize the tools by which these individuals imposed anonymity among themselves; one recalls the corpse paint, used primarily although not exclusively to obscure their physical attributes. Indeed, we recall, the use of pseudonym to obscure, nay to eschew their name and ego. Recall lastly, the ambiguous relationship these individuals had with media, in itself the pre-emptive tool for modern ego worship, as either non-existent or outright hostile. Regardless of later sensational developments in the scene, the originators reveled in a mystique of anonymity that pointed not to a new marketing gimmick but rather to the participation in a higher principle or reality, from which peek their ego and its gratification seemed comic.      

Awaiting the sign of the horns
A thousand black clouds storms
Blasphemous Northern rites
Mysticism touched
Pentagrams burning

– Immortal, Unholy Forces of Evil

The Main purveyors of the early black metal scene, and especially the Scandinavian Mystic Varg Vikernes seemed to be in fact consciously aware of this higher reality, from whence all proceeds. Commenting on the “illusory” nature of material reality, and its reliance upon a higher principle for its substantial and formal manifestation, the lyrics of “Lost Wisdom” proclaim:

While we may believe, our World, our reality
to be that is, is but one manifestation of the Essence

– Burzum, Lost Wisdom

Although such an outright recognition of the Supreme Principle is rarely encountered as explicitly in other black metal bands of the time, the anonymity and symbolism utilized by many of the protagonists within the scene, for example Enslaved and their conscious decision to explore the themes surrounding the Norse gods and the profound metaphysical symbolism implied therein, seems to point to an implicit recognition of higher principles, and perhaps the higher principle itself, from whence an expression of anonymity logically follows.

Rene Guenon teaches us that it is a mere modern deviation from the Supreme Principle and traditional doctrine that has led to current notions of crass individualism, ego worship and “originality”. Current artists are very nearly obsessed with having works attributed to their ego, and such modern profanities have even led scholars on an endless search to provide the public, and novelty seekers, with the names of those artists who completed Medieval masterpieces. Of course these Medieval artists, due to their participation in the higher Principle from which all things emanate, had not the hubris to associate their works solely with their own ego. Likewise, a search for traditional knowledge and the participation of and recognition of a supreme Principle led to a general anonymity amongst the original black metal adherents from Norway. This participation precludes the notion of anonymity described as “infra-human”, implying the dissolution of a particular in a crowd, but entails rather a participation in a higher supra-individual order. Consider the words of Rene Guenon:

The being that has attained a supra-individual state is by that fact alone, released from all the limiting conditions of individuality, that is to say it is beyond determinations of name and form that constitute the essence and the substance of its individuality as such; thus it is truly anonymous because in it the ‘ego’ has effaced itself and disappeared completely before the ’Self’

– Rene Guenon, The Reign of Quantity and The Signs of the Time

The key to understanding what has been said above is to recognize that in this case the Ego has effaced itself in the face of the higher Principle from which it has emanated, nay from which all things, states and possibilities emanate, while in itself remaining unaffected and unchanged by this manifestation. It is the ego that produces the “subject vs. object” sensation and produces the dichotomy of “I and Thou”. However, participation in the Supreme Principle implies a transformation, in which one becomes consciously aware that all of existence is indeed one, and that all must fundamentally be attributed to It, the Supreme Principle. Indeed, all dichotomies will have been overcome, the barriers of subject versus object will have been overcome, and one will attain immortality. Hence, in aspiring to this reality and perhaps participating in it, Black Metal musicians were quick to live among the shadows, obscure, nameless, formless, recognizing themselves and their works as naught but one of the infinite possibilities inherent in the supreme principle. It should therefore come as no surprise in connection with these thoughts that certain musicians chose such pseudonym’s as if to reflect cosmic principles, representative of the venerable Indo-European tradition of the Norsemen.

Brahman cannot be realized by those who are subject to greed, fear and anger.
Brahman cannot be realized by those who are subject to the pride of name and fame.

– Tejobindu Upanishad

Delving deep into primordial traditions long forgotten, those Scandinavian mystics seem to have uncovered long forgotten mystic truths, hidden within the depths of the most primordial of the Indo-European traditions – Hinduism. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Indo-European traditions that a study of, and adherence to strict Traditional principles, a fascination with the Norse Legends combined with some occult influences, however badly understood, would lead the black metal warrior down the road of ‘Self’ discovery. It is well known that Odin himself is etymologically derived from Gwoden, another name for Indra, a God venerated as the leader of God’s in the Hindu Pantheon. With the inherent and complimentary relationship between these two Indo European worldviews, namely Hinduism and Norse Mythology established, not only etymologically but through the recognition that all true traditions aspire to the same essential goal, realization of the Supreme Priciple, it is fair to conclude that both contain within themselves the seed for mystical realization, or a knowledge of the “essence”. Of necessity, we turn to Hinduism, a more complete metaphysical system to fill in some of the blanks as to what Vikernes and company were aspiring to during the apex of the black metal phenomenon.

Return to the ring of our forefathers gods
The flames of Midgard’s fires and ancient mysticism still are

– Enslaved, Fires of Midgard

According to Hindu tradition the purpose of life is to become united with the ‘Self’, Brahman, the Supreme Principle, that which is enshrined in the hearts of all, according to ones station in life and capacity to do so. Again, this is the same Supreme Principle alluded to above, from which participation in, a true supra-individual anonymity necessarily springs. Although the original black metal purveyors may not have been consciously aware of the heights to which they were ascending, nor of the full traditional implications of what they were doing, it comes as no surprise that when re-discovering their traditional legends that they would inadvertently ascribe to the goal of, and rediscover some of the outstanding tenants of a more primordial, and complete Indo-European tradition, Hinduism, whose purpose again, much like that of the ancient Norse religion, was and still is to help facilitate the discovery of ‘Self’ knowledge, participation therein and the realization that all proceeds from the Supreme Principle.

Once again, truth is one, and it is the same for all those who, by whatever way, have attained to its understanding.

– Rene Guenon, Oriental Metaphysics

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May 1st 2010 – Bolt Thrower, Benediction, Rotting Christ – The Next Offensive

Awakened in remorse

To rebuild from destruction

Recreate life’s evolution

Returning from the brutality of a Bolt Thrower show to recollect the events that defined it brings to mind the task of Ernst Junger, depicting the graphic scenes of martial violence and destruction in his soldier’s memoirs, ‘Storm of Steel’. Not merely the sounds of war and chaos, but the philosophy of death is what one has to confront on such a stage, and this sums up the depth of the Bolt Thrower experience. The great elemental gods of Britannia fired the opening salvo of the evening, unleashing a torrential downpour on the troops to be in attendance once conscripted into the dismal but still functional ULU venue, around the University College London site and home of the un-elite Utilitarian philosophy. A single flash of lightning, probably striking the Cenotaph for the war dead a few minutes away in Whitehall, would indicate that this night belonged to only one elite group, and the slowly multiplying hordes as if signalled to the venue by this storm omen, proved that the headliners were in everybody’s iron sights.

In the meantime, some fairly well-known bands would run through comparitively uninteresting sets in order to plug new albums or just an association with Bolt Thrower on this Next Offensive European tour. For the one unknown band, clearly grateful to the Coventry squadron for being able to provide opening infantry support, Ancient Ascendant took to the stage with some confidence and raged through their set infront of the minimal crowd at this time. The sound was not good and the technical setup of the venue’s sonic equipment would be a recurring issue throughout the night, usually leaving bands with an unbalanced sound. Even less impressive was Ancient Ascendant’s music, which was practically educated by the newer schools of Death Metal exclusively, sounding like a more frivolously melodic version of Bloodbath. A lot of generic rhythmic business with some predictably inserted flourishes of lead guitar lines and none of the compositional sense that at the very least ripping-off the old school Death Metal formula would have imbued the songs with by default. Even the next band, The Rotted’s only listenable song was from the older generic Gorerotted project, which is not much less moronic than The Rotted who are really damn retarded in this incarnation, with their stripped down songs consisting of one riff from a later Cryptopsy song played out as blasting Punk music. It’s also quite strange and not recommended to watch old, drugged up men performing breakdowns.

Considered by many as nothing more than a brief distraction, this was soon forgotten as the once powerful entity of Promethean Greek Black Metal took to the stage and the floor swelled with eager hordes. For someone that reveres the older fraction of their catalogue as highly as the Nordic classics, the Rotting Christ set provided both frustrating disappointment but also possibly the biggest surprise of the evening (not the appearance of Diamanda Galas). The transition from ancient Heavy Metal-inflected compositions of blackened mysticism to a boring and cheap form of fast and extreme Rock music with pseudo-cultural embellishments that would make Vangelis either laugh hysterically or summon the wrath of Mars upon Sakis and company, was made quite some time ago when the band sold out to Century Media and although the recent jump to Season of Mist has only marginally improved the quality of their music, the bulk of their songs is blockheaded rhythmic work that wouldn’t sound out of place on a System of a Down joke and disembodied keyboards typical of mainstream Black Metal bands to accompany the minute flickerings of nostalgia that is the signature Rotting Christ melodic style, the same tactic used by fellow Greeks, Septicflesh. Within this disastrous but obviously crowd-pleasing selection of tracks was something quite unexpected given the current direction of the band and their most recent live performances. Almost as though the old spirit of Necromayhem broke free from his sealed confines, the band launched mercilessly into ‘Sign of Evil Existence’, flooding the crowd with a sea of beautiful, extended phrasal work, causing an absolute frenzy and evoking the first old school invocations of the night. Not content with such a brief introduction to arguably the pinnacle of their early discography, ‘Fgmenth, Thy Gift’ continued the magic of ‘Thy Mighty Contract’ with the folky but regal opening riff surging into those magestic, ascendant patterns of guitar. The higher register key of these older songs manipulated the flatness of the sound setup brilliantly, with every note perfectly audible and a memorable contender for song of the entire show.

Benediction were next on stage, an aging group of Death Metal punks fronted by Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh, Mistress and Never Mind the Buzzcocks fame, who nearly talks as much shit on stage as Barney Greenway, including an embarrassing appeasement of some girl’s sob story about a now deceased Benediction fan, thankfully met with a shout of ‘Only death is real’ from the front of the crowd. The set itself was a typically reliable collection of songs spanning most of their discography, better suiting the live environment than on CD, inducing as much violence from the crowd as their primitive, bouncy Death Metal can, like ‘Harmony Corruption’-era Napalm Death meeting ‘Tower of Spite’ by Cerebral Fix. It wasn’t much of a loss to have a guitar cut out during their stint, as the rest of the band seemed to push onwards, building up as much aggression as possible and justifying their placement on the bill, though it was huge relief to hear the end of Benediction at long last, for the lights to dim and the next offensive to commence proper.

Anticipation was immense for the legendary Grindcore/Death Metal ensemble and the battle hordes pushed forward like a scene from Braveheart, rivalling the force of a 90,000 strong audience gravitating towards the celebrity status of Metallica. Faint sounds of approaching war lingered from the amps over the field as Bolt Thrower finally took to the stage and launched straight into the sombre yet mammoth opening riff to ‘IVth Crusade’. The deliberate, sinister pacing of the double bass began to roll through and the crowd imploded into deadly chaos and aggressive force. As bodies began raining from the skies like mortar fire, crushing necks and leaving temporary indents of fallen victims, the atmosphere became thick with the smell of blood, sweat and the disturbing fragrances of shampoo. A large bulk of the set consisted of tracks from the last album but these were all delivered with enough power and rousing, anthemic vigour to blend seamlessly with the more skillful dynamics and evocative melodies of the older songs, from the brilliant rendition of ‘World Eater’ into ‘Cenotaph’ to the unforgettable lead guitars of ‘…For Victory’.

Bolt Thrower commanded the crowd, Karl Willets looked like a war-torn veteran but still yet to be tamed as the ferocity of his vocals didn’t let up for an instant. Jo-Anne Bench is undoubtedly the most menacing female presence in the entire Metal scene, and the poorly balanced sound worked well to render the songs with more bassy fury than can be heard on record. The subtle rhythmic variations of Baz’s guitars on the other hand were not as discernable, but for a seemingly undiscerning crowd, this did nothing to quell the primal violence that tore bones asunder in a ritual of combat replication. The signature riffs were also fairly muted but managed to somehow shine through like the sun between Afghan mountain peaks, and as the band returned for an encore, the perfect choice of songs scorched the stage like a vast napalm attack, with the ominous theme of ‘War’ transforming into ‘Remembrance’ as though the sorrows of Arjuna had been cast aside as he takes to the empty plains of Kurukshetra, seeing the world as it is.

Even as the band exited, the feelings of confrontation and pugilism reigned as brawls ensued and battered humans walked out to count their wounds. The show proved how bands such as Bolt Thrower who retain their integrity, remain possessed by this same eternal process of nature’s evolution and deliver like a well-trained soldier, with precision and consistency will rule for the longest time. We will remember them.

-ObscuraHessian-

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S.U.P. – Room Seven

By the time 1997 rolled around Death Metal had all but returned to the primordial abyss from which it had emerged, and Black Metal had basically committed suicide. As if sensing the demise of extreme metal or unable to overcome the perceived expressive limitations of extreme metal, S.U.P. with an eye to their Heavy Metal and progressive rock influences, release a surprisingly expressive, intelligent and interesting album that could be referred to as industrial progressive death rock. Mid-paced, melancholy, unsettling, dreamlike and enigmatic, the listener of “Room Seven” is submerged into a world of varying and compelling experiences that often times work simultaneously to challenge and lift the listener beyond the simple, linear and emotive reactions that arise from rock and other forms of popular music. Despite some of the heavy metal fist pumping riffs and the common and accessible themes, “Room Seven” does a great job of placing the listener in a relative position of omniscience and thus introducing a position from which to contemplate and apply the wisdom of this release to one’s own life.

Masters at presenting simultaneously varying and subtly different shades of a theme, SUP reminds those who have the ears to listen that life is more than the mere temporal, logical and linear succession of events and experiences. Rather the listener is urged to contemplate life as the compound and expression of various and seemingly disparate elements, working simultaneously to create the complexity of life and its experiences, while remaining fundamentally connected. Vocals themselves, while melodic are emotionally restrained, dreary and often times express a profound fatalism, stoicism or a dissinterested acceptance of the superior forces alluded to above. Although “Room Seven” remains a compelling listen, the heavy metal and rock based themes preclude the possibility of this album reaching the cosmic heights of certain Black Metal and Death Metal classics, nonetheless as a testament to the intricacies of the human experience this album offers satisfying insight.

-TheWaters

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How to write bad black metal: the hot tub

On an intuitive level, we can tell that some black metal sucks, and some is good. The difference mostly has to do with the state of mind of the musicians.

When a musician is in a sane frame of mind, they want to show us a journey that parallels life. They are passing along learning, as all art does, but they’re doing it in a form that shows us the experience, and not the conclusions.

Lazy musicians, propagandists and idiots take another approach. They view a song as a binary proposition, with a good and a bad represented directly by parts of a song.

You can see this in all boring or pointless art: there is no journey, no struggle, no learning. The characters or objects in the art face a dark evil, then suddenly see the light, go to the other side and everything is OK. That light can be God, Satan, liberalism, Nazism, sex, drugs or any ideal. It’s just a very basic technique that’s common to people who haven’t thought through the whole “art” side of music.

To them, it’s just music. You find something that sounds cool and hey, that’s all there is to it. This is what mature artists hate about jazz and avantgarde music. They hate “music for music’s sake” that it means nothing, so it either comes with some baggage of theory to “explain” it, or is like that art exhibit where you see a stuffed rabbit impaled with a dildo sitting on a Bible wrapped in a condom, and you’re supposed to think it’s profound.

And when you think about it, all really great art resembles some struggle we’ve faced in our lives. Early black metal sounded like social isolation and a yearning for more in life. It sounded like a rejection of the comfortable sounds of the blues and church music, replacing it with minor key distorted hellhavoc from which elegant melodies somehow emerged. Not what you expected? Or more likely, what you experienced: when you get away from the crazy crowd, and look at nature and your own soul, you find something of greater value than the callow affirmation of “we can all get along, honest” peers.

Bad black metal — and bad metal in general — suffers under what I call the “hot tub” syndrome. Because it is binary, and has a good state and a bad state, and wants us to go from bad to good, the song can have only one major event: the transition. Because that transition cannot be explained by the art itself, but requires added “theory,” it’s random. As a result, the song needs a lot more embellishment to make the transition believable at all.

The result is a lot like this:

Eddie Murphy – James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub

We sing a song of the hot tub — how great it will be to be in the hot tub, how cold it is out here, how lonely we are outside the hot tub, etc. ad nauseam. Then we get into the hot tub, and how warm it is! And then the song ends.

Watch your favorite terrible black metal bands and pay attention to how they compose the songs you hear. Are they two-tone, in/out of the hot tub songs, or like early black metal, are they epics that slowly and subtly build to a point where you are ready to make whatever steps are necessary to get in the hot tub?

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RABM = NSBM = UBM = 100% garbage

There’s an old expression, “to put the cart before the horse,” which I think originated on Brokeback Island.

It’s comparable to two others: “the tail wags the dog” and “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Each one describes a type of superstition. Superstition is what happens when you confuse an event — that occurs at the same time as a certain effect — with being the cause of that effect.

For example, we burned some heretic and then the rains came after a long drought. Therefore, we should burn heretics to get rain. QED, muddafugga.

In music, we can confuse having an ideal with repeating the symbols of that ideal.

Really good music is always motivated by an intense conviction. You belief in something, therefore you make music that sings its praises and uses its opposite to illustrate why it is good. I sing a song of food, which is awesome, and doubly awesome after a famine. Makes sense.

At that level, politics and philosophy — and even religion, and personal preference — are part of the same spectrum. That spectrum is the conclusions you’ve reached. These aren’t preferences, like “I like pink.” They’re adaptations. If burning heretics doesn’t make rain come, but everyone around you is still burning heretics to end the drought, you may become an artist motivated by the idea that burning heretics is stupid. Is that politics? Is it philosophy? Common sense? One thing’s for sure: it’s not semi-arbitrary like choosing to get your new laptop in pink and not green. There are consequences to which choice you pick, and because we live in a consistent world, they’re consistent from observation of effect to cause.

But people who preach the symbol blindly have gone about this process backward. Instead of having a viewpoint that drives the music, they’ve gotten superstitious. Having a certain viewpoint is associated with being smart, or making good music, or having an audience, so they adopt it. It’s the same on left and right this way.

For every bad NSBM band out there, and except for a handful (Legion of Doom, Absurd, Burzum, Darkthrone, Veles, Infernum, Graveland) they’re all bad, I can find a bad crustcore, emo or indie band that is just as banal. People don’t see this if they agree with the politics expressed. To them, Infernum is bad and Wolves in the Throne Room is good, and they won’t admit — superstition again — that the only reason is that they agree with one, or feel that being seen to agree makes them look smarter, nicer or sexier. Whatever.

Liking these bands is a social decision, not a political or intellectual one (or even an emotional one). People want to seem smart or extreme for liking this stuff, so they use the band as a symbol of who they are. Nevermind that in the process, the art — which I’ll loosely define as a means of finding appreciation for life through distinguishing what one finds beautiful versus what one doesn’t — loses out to cheerleading for the “correct” side.

But with the rise of this hilarious offshoot of black metal-flavored crustcore, which people are calling “RABM” for “Red and Anarchist Black Metal,” we’re seeing again that the same rules apply on both sides of the spectrum. Wolves in the Throne Room = Drudkh, to pick the best of these political bands. Even more, we’re seeing that “unblack metal” (UBM, or Christian black metal) is just as bad. That makes sense since modern populist Christianity is as liberal as secular humanism, just that it argues that God makes the individual sacred, instead of the individual being sacred for “moral reasons” and progressive dogma.

RABM, NSBM and UBM are many heads of the same hydra, which is a deranged mental state that puts the social and symbolic associations of a band before the music. Instead of finding ideas, and making music about them, they find the appearance of ideas and try to use that to convince you to like their droning mundane music. Like all stupid trends, the sooner this one burns, the closer we get to quality music.

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Immolation – Majesty and Decay

The mind can’t erase what the soul can’t embrace

The most anticipated death metal release of 2010 (along with the upcoming Morbid Angel, of course) Majesty and Decay has everything to please any sophisticated fan of the genre, yet still doesn’t quite meet the impossibly high standards of the group’s past. The 2007’s Shadows in the Light while it seemed to have retained all the ingredients of the New York masters’ brew somehow failed to live up to spoiled listeners’ expectations. The unfortunate flirting with “nu metal” elements as well as almost complete discarding of drumming-based structure poisoned the arrangements and conveyed a bad aftertaste to the whole record. Still head and shoulders above any fellow North American squad Immolation has taken the prolonged break in order to revise their direction and yet again prove themselves the ruling kings of the genre.

The best news Majesty and Decay has to offer is Steve Shalaty’s drumming. The man has been replacing Immolation’s godly Alex Hernandez ever since 2005’s Harnessing Ruin but it is only here that he unlocks his true talent. Steve has surely developed his own musical language since 2007 and the band has finally regained its rhythmic “pillars”. Everything has fallen into place at last: blasting endurance, inventive drum breaks and mid-paced punishment. The “inverted” riffing – although not as all-pervasive as on, say, Close to a World Below, – stresses the drumming very nicely and allows for some smooth gliding down the interwoven landscape of melody. Indeed, what sets the album apart in the vast Immolation discography is the use of melody. While the band is still a riff-fed beast, the heavy metal melody injecting the solos and seeping through the riffs enriches the sound world of the group, introduces “humanity” to the demonic environment of their instrumentation. The songs are shorter compared to the classic 90s era material, more to-the-point composition-wise, and definitely more “human” than we have come to expect from these New Yorkers.

Vigna (wonderfully supported by Bill Taylor as usual) goes right after Shalaty in this album’s list of heroes. The tight, powerful riffing, the wild soloing echoing with sadness and despair – all of it enhanced by the tasteful and balanced production ensures a satisfying listen. Guitars are put to good use in both the “Intro” and the “Interlude”, which indeed set the atmosphere very well. Ross Dolan’s vocals have become completely decipherable on here without loosing the emotion and recklessness, while his bass is so elegantly put into the mix that it acquires percussive quality at times. All of the above perfectly reflects the lyrical themes of the album: the loneliness of modern man lost in the midst of colossal fight for world domination, the evaporation of values and purposes igniting intrinsic hells and leaving no hope for the spirit.

“Our threatened kingdoms The world is divided Trample ourselves While we claw for the prize”

Still, the album comes with its share of flaws too. The band implements the tension buildup/release approach in some of the songwriting here and not only fails to achieve the desired effect, but sometimes looses momentum completely (most notably “The Purge”, “Divine Code”, “Power and Shame” ). The distribution of Immolation’s volatile energy here often reduces the impact instead of boosting it. This new trick is still very raw/unrefined and cannot fully replace the mathematic complexity of their 90s output. The classic (and eagerly awaited) “last song devastation” is also pretty much wasted here: next to all the best, epic songs scattered across the album “The Comfort of Cowards” feels pretty weak (while certainly not entirely filler) for a killing blow. The cover art is a disgrace. This computer game-like visual representation does justice neither to music nor lyrics. Also, the band probably needs to consider revising their logo after all these years of using a stretched font as one.

All in all, this is a mandatory purchase for anyone with at least a slight interest in today’s metal. It is entirely possible that Immolation’s return will be the finest mainstream death metal album by the end of the year (even with all the mentioned flaws taken into account) as this reviewer doubts Morbid Angel or any other competitor for that matter has the guts to top this material.

-The Eye in the Smoke-

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Swedish Death Metal – Daniel Ekeroth

Swedish Death Metal by Daniel Ekeroth is an easy and enjoyable read that recounts the glory years of Swedish Death Metal told in large part through the mouths of those who actually lived it. Ekeroth presents the history of Swedish death metal, focusing mainly on the release of seminal albums and demos, and the means by which fanzines and tape trading played a role in the development and proliferation of the Swedish death metal genre. This is definitely a worthwhile read if one is looking for a chronology of all of the important bands, namely Bathory, Nihilist/Entombed, Dismember, At the Gates, and Therion, that played an important role in the development and consolidation of Swedish Death Metal. Additionally, the layout of the book is such that it is easily navigable, making use of handy headings, subheadings and band headings, which also make this a great quick-reference text. However compelling, it is a slight draw back that the various snapshots throughout the book interrupt the flow of the read, and are laid out in such a way as to provide a distraction. One may be better off reading the book through and then returning to the snapshots at a later date.

In addition to analyzing the careers of many important Swedish Death Metal bands, Ekeroth indulges the curiosity of the reader and earns additional merit for mentioning important non-Swedish bands such as Master and Deathstrike, and for emphasizing the role of Morbid Angel in the overall development of Death Metal. Interestingly, the author seems at pains to make sure that the reader understands the relationship between Crustcore, Punk, and Metal and adds some welcome depth to his account of Swedish Death Metal by mentioning Discharge, whose strumming style and melody would influence countless metal bands. If you are looking for a chronology of the glory days of Swedish Death Metal, this book proves enlightening. Thankfully, there is little mention of Slaughter of the Soul and second rate Swedish bands such as In Flames and Soilwork that would later hijack, dilute and all but destroy this once living art form.

With that said, readers beware! Ekeroth has a tendency to try and convince his reader that death metal was all about “fun” back in the day and tends to present the extracurricular activities, namely drinking and partying, as the highlights of many bands careers. Although Ekeroth’s goal was to tell the history of important bands, releases and tours, I believe this book could have been improved had Ekeroth attempted to explore the philosophical underpinnings of this genre and refrained from presenting Metal culture as simply an offshoot or replication of self-indulgent rock culture. New frontiers await those willing to explore this aspect of Swedish Death Metal and Ekeroth’s book may in fact prove to be a trailblazer. Time Shall Tell.

-TheWaters-

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The music industry snags a clue

For the last five years, they’ve been sitting around wringing their hands saying, “MP3s are coming, what do we do?” In the meantime, many people buy MP3s but even more do not because they know that if the place they bought them from goes bankrupt, they’ll have DRM problems and will not be able to re-download those MP3s if their hard drive crashes or a virus eats their operating system.

But now, the industry is back in fighting form:

The Universal Music Group could rewrite U.S. music pricing when it tests a new frontline pricing structure, which is designed to get single CDs in stores at $10, or below.

Beginning in the second quarter and continuing through most of the year, the company’s Velocity program will test lower CD prices. Single CDs will have the suggested list prices of $10, $9, $8, $7 and $6.

To accommodate the lower pricing, UMG labels also plan to step up deluxe versions of albums that can sell at higher prices for the more devout music fans and collectors. – Billboard

They used to blow off the internet because it’s for nerds, but that changed, and now everyone uses the intertard. Completely weird. But I digress.

The old days of the record industry were big profits. They got these fat profits by signing foolish people like Elvis Presley, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson and having them produce a slightly more quality version of really dumbed-down music. Then they got millions of people to buy it, and reaped record profits. Now, recording is easier and cheaper; you can do it at home and have it sound like a studio. CD pressing is cheaper. Even advertising is cheaper. But there’s piracy among those who want very simple things. That means mass piracy of Britney Spears that affects her record sales because her album is most valuable when new, but not much of an effect on a band like Deicide, whose album “Legion” is immortal.

The new industry will be more niche sales, cheaper CDs, and more extras. Bands will record to tour and tour to eat. It’s less of the Brave New World of the 1950-2005 record industry, and more of a dose of reality that was there all the time.

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