Immolation, Deicide and Skinless in San Antonio, Texas

Immolation, Deicide and Skinless
June 22, 2005
Sanctuary
San Antonio, Texas

It’s not often that one gets to see one of the few enduring pieces of death metal history, and even rarer than the performance is memorable. By now, most death metal bands have either lost momentum and stopped caring, or have in a misguided attempt to sell records turned themself into the same old thing, at which point no one gives them any respect and they in turn stop caring about their audience. A few remain, and Immolation is one of them: an Immolation show is one of the few to which you can take someone ambivalent about metal, and know they’ll see the genre at its finest and be exposed to the minimum of destructive elements.

Unfortunately, this show was at a little hole of a club called Sanctuary, which has a large amount of physical space but so little class that it feels like watching a show from a polyester-sheathed bathroom. $24 tickets at the door were accepted with avaricious glee by the club owners, who then managed to do so little right that I wondered if $4 would be paying too much. They were basically morons, but no one noticed, since most of the crowd there were clueless little kiddies who wanted to rebel and listen to some evil metal, therefore were busy scurrying around doing anything but paying attention. It was a terrible place for anyone with a brain. Only the credulity of the audience saved this club, as if the audience had been 50% or more savvy people, they would have had a riot on their hands for their terrible sound system, collapsing light display, arrogant low-IQ security people, and of course, usurious policies at the bar, merch stands and door. The Sanctuary is garbage. Never go there.

Skinless

There were several opening bands, but by the time our intrepid reviewer arrived, Skinless was beginning their set. The guys from Skinless are undeniably nice people, quite personable and cordial, but their music is the kind of waste of time that degrades metal to idiot fodder and attracts fools into the genre, creating a kind of negative evolution by which the audience gets dumber and thus, to sell CDs to them, the bands get mega-stupid. The artistic statement that Skinless makes can be summarized as “4”: 4/4 time, first four frets, and about four minutes before your eyes glaze over. They attracted mainly the kind of dysgenic blockhead that I generally experience as taking forever in grocery lines, slowing traffic, or finding landmines with pickaxes. Waves of thudding bassy power chords, a bouncy cadence, and some throbbingly one-dimensional vocals are the appeal of this band; it’s like death metal with all the adventurous parts taken out, leaving a constant breakdown that has more in common musically with hip-hop than the brainy acts in underground metal.

Immolation

The real highlight of the night for anyone who could count to ten backwards without a visual aid was Immolation. Hailing from New York, this band has battered out the tunes since 1988, and while they have “progressed” in a convergent approximation of contemporary “metal” with the recent album, the quality of the music itself is high, and my feeling is that they’ll move on to something with more enduring impact. What makes nu-metal distinctive is its tendency to want to sound like trash, because people devoid of self-confidence, like mice, like to burrow into garbage and hide. Luckily the numu elements on the latest Immolation, “Harnessing Ruin,” are a tiny influence considering the whole of its composition, which is mostly a musically erudite version of their 1990 masterpiece “Dawn of Possession.” A welcome change is that they like using more harmonic playing and phrases sinuously deployed on the partial beat, which shows off the guitar work of Bob Vigna and Bill Taylor.

Taking to the stage with characteristic nonchalance, Immolation played mostly new material, but live it took on a life that is not captured on record, being partially faster and more aggressive, but also deprived of any studio finery and stripped down to what can be done on the fly on some stage in some club. New drummer Steve Shalaty was not only completely on cue but also knew when to restrain himself. This and the collective attitude in the band enables them to work together as one, without members standing out or contributing random elements by error, and the result is a militant wave of coordinated action that hits like an occult ceremony. A few older works filled the set, but the band had tired of playing songs from the first album, and this let them adopt their newer persona in full. For this reviewer, it was a welcome move: the band was staying current where so many others lingered in the past.

Vigna’s guitarwork is always impressive not just for its precision but for the flair with which he manhandles his guitar; some joker from Deicide sprayed him with silly string during the first song, and in some sympathy between accidental symbolism and reality the sticky ropes of plasticine goo joined Viga to his guitar like the organic connective tissue of symbiosis. Ross Dolan, on bass and vocals, threw his entire reserve of energy into the perfomance as always, and created not only deafening bassy growls but a surly, contorted facial expression that altered itself in time with the music: eyebrows moved to the high hat, chin to the bass drums, and snarling smile to the pulse of four-string and snare. It seemed too much for the retrograde elements in the crowd, as the dufus horde retreated to the bar and bathroom to let the most complex band of the night play.

Deicide

To his credit, Glenn Benton seems like a nice guy, but the years have clearly taken a strain on him. Where there was once belief and direction in his life, now there’s duty, and Deicide suffers for it, since he was the glue that held that band together, along with drummer Asheim, and now they’re the only two original members. Some loser who used to play guitar for Tampa Christian metal band Death joined one of the losers from Cannibal Corpse, and together, they filled in for the mercurial Hoffman brothers, but that didn’t matter much as the PA cut out halfway through the first song. Then some idiot woman who was apparently dating the loser ex-Christian metal guitarist started pitching water on the crowd, and all the kiddies – many of whom were literally under five feet tall – started showing the effects of the beer and weed they had oh so rebelliously consumed. Personal drama overwhelmed the show, and Deicide kept playing despite the fact that no one could hear them. When it became clear the sound was not going to get fixed, the few remaining smart people left, abandoing a crowd of groping, sweating, posing, whining teenagers who could not have comprehended Deicide in its prime. The club, having collected $24 from each person there, didn’t have any staff members will to lift a finger to help, so at this point the concert degenerated into a day care center and your intrepid reviewer left. Summary: never go to the Sanctuary in San Antonio. It’s a wasteland.

Summary

Immolation played an excellent set. If one attended with a brain, this was the focus. It’s a shame they weren’t given more time, as apparently the wise and expensive club decided to cut short each band’s set, which was convenient as, this being the last night of the tour, they all had to jet off to different places and were ready to leave. However, it was unsettling to watch Skinless recruit more people so profoundly dumb they’d already failed at life by seventeen, and equally disturbing to witness Deicide – what’s left of it – egging on a crowd so braindead it couldn’t tell the guitars were inaudible. On the whole, I have to say that San Antonio is probably even more mentally defective than Austin, as there were very few people there would could have read a Joseph Conrad book and understood it. This to me shows the parallel decay of metal and American society, and having seen this vapidity in action, I now know why mediocre bands are praised and bands like Immolation are slighted.

However, Immolation never let it show – their performance was impeccable and highly professional, and I got the impression that these gents were so focused on creating their music, and then reproducing it well live, that they were almost oblivious to the fluctuations of the crowd. As Dolan said in an interview,

What’s kept Immolation going all these years? We love what we do, plain and simple. It hasn’t been the easiest road to travel down and for almost 18 years… sometimes I think we certainly must be nuts, but then there is nothing else I would rather be doing. That includes every aspect of what we do, from writing, to recording, to rehearsing, to touring and traveling and meeting people all over the world. I stop and think about how fortunate we are to still be doing this and to still really enjoy it and that’s all that matters in the end.

– Ross Dolan, Immolation interview (source)

This attitude resurrected this show from being a total loss to a performance that showed the power of death metal in its original form. The cryptographic song forms and abrupt technicality of Immolation invoked the same effect that death metal as a whole did when it emerged, as people realized they not only could barely recognize it as music but, being well versed in rock, had no language for even understanding it. For this reason, their shows are devoid of the “evil” posing, sophomoric political stances, and blatant blockhead cultivation that blights most death and black metal today, and it makes it worthy to see this band if they come to your town (as long as it’s not at the Sanctuary club in San Antonio).

Bands:
Immolation
Deicide
Skinless

Promotors:
Sanctuary Club, San Antonio

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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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Permafrost, Gates of Enoch, Vex and Averse Sefira in Austin, Texas

Averse Sefira, Vex, Gates of Enoch and Permafrost
April 9, 2005
Live at the Backroom
Austin, Texas

What is it that makes people become headbangers? After all, it can’t be the material reward. Every person at this show who was identifiably a metal person (for lack of better term) had given up something: jobs that longhairs can’t have, tattoos that scare off landlords, preferences for the loud that keep away friends and potential mates. It can’t be as easy as it seems, even for the high schoolers, who are different from adults mainly in that they don’t have to constantly pacify the system of money and image that drives this sad excuse for a society. They’re probably sick of hearing it from their peers.

Most academics who study metal make a big deal of the concert “ritual,” but this is generally a product of academia itself, which builds upon established ideas and finds it difficult to take new directions, and since academia started its study of rock music with the notion that concerts are a cathartic ritual, they extend it to metal as well. They’re not entirely wrong, but I think they miss most of the metal experience, which begins before the concert. After all, the fans choose which concert they wish to attend, and which bands they pick says a lot about what they’re thinking. This is why metalheads wear tshirts: your taste in bands reflects what you can comprehend, and thus is a good basic guide to the person beneath the shirt.

Before the show, these people decided to become headbangers. The vast majority of metal fans are sluggish minds moving sheeplike toward something that promises what they couldn’t otherwise have, whether it is a spotlight in a local community or a steady pot connection. The few who think tend to be selective about what they hear; it has to have, more than a certain sound, a certain spirit, and these discerning fans eschew that which falls short of their goals. Terms like “sellout” and “trendy” are used as pejoratives to dismiss those that fail. Much as metalheads pay a price for being metalheads, these selective fans pay a price for being choosy within the metal community. But to the concert they come anyway.

It would be hard to give an assessment of metal as a whole, then, but let’s focus on the interesting fans: those who look for something and give a damn. Those are the ones who willingly make sacrifices to their subculture, knowing they will never fit into the mass no matter what they do. They like the bold bands, the ones that step away from repeating the tired cliches and create a world of their own imaginations – a world that possibly looks in some ways enough like this one to be a comment on it. They like the loud, and vigorously assert their intention to deny the foolish and temporary illusions that people drift into. They affirm imagination, but as a basis for it, they also demand reality.

Forget the amateurs posing as “evil.” Look past the posturing people who lack self-confidence and compensate with beer, drugs, or obnoxiousness. In any crowd, there are a few who for reasons inarticulable, know what’s going on. These are the ones you look toward. They show us that there’s a reality to being a Hessian, a reason to stand proud and independent, to cast aside all reality except a few slices of idea expressed in music and to say, this is closest to my ideals. As televisions and politicians alike babble on incoherently, the few who think take their stand, and often do it by picking of the thousands of metal bands the smart ones to support.

This could be seen at tonight’s show, both in positive impression and its inverse. The ones who were there for the music and the spirit were focused on the music, and maybe it approached the ritual described by academes – not a cathartic one, but a ritual of bonding to a certain vision of reality, of affirming it and vowing to live by it. In the photonegative, there were the clueless ones, drifting lost in a haze of beer and awkward, socially retarded actions that are pathetic only to those who know the contrast. When bands took the stage, it was revealing to see toward which audience they played.

Permafrost

In truth, this reviewer did not make it to the venue in time for Permafrost, but can relate secondhand what occurred: this young band were happy for a chance to prove themselves, and showed their passion by working past adversity to get that difficult first big show over with. While the name is terrible, and the music has a ways to go, Permafrost made up for that to some degree with a lack of rockstar attitude and genuine caring about the music. It made the experienced fans glad at least to see that recognition of the reality of metal: adversity is your friend, as in struggling against it, you get better. Those who care about the music value getting better, while others are simply there to look like they’re important. It’s a crucial distinction.

Gates of Enoch

Although this band showed energy and technical poise, there was something missing in the complex puzzle of black metallic art that unites thought and emotion, structure and substance. While clearly they are fine instrumentalists, and can execute complex rhythms and passages with ease, Gates of Enoch linearize the concept of black metal into a rigid and numerical exercise. As a result, their songs have power as parts, but not as a whole, and the sum of the parts is less than the whole as each element leads the whole in a contradictory direction. It makes sense to define art, “objectively,” as a process of communication between artist and listener, and if that is the case, Gates of Enoch communicate disorganization and lack of purpose, without the intent to use that as an artistic statement.

For that reason, the band was able to punch out a competent set that meant nothing to those listening except a few cool riffs. Like most metal music past 1996, the experience was therefore one that was not bad, but was not memorable either, and thus left one feeling an appreciation for the skill of the band but not their vision. Instrumentalism was competent but unsubtle, and this was not demonstrated more effectively than in their choice of covers, a song from later Dissection and “I am the Black Wizards” by Emperor. The Dissection cover, being like Iron Maiden a slightly more informed type of rock music hybridized with metal, went off well and benefitted from their dispassionate regularity in playing; on the other hand, the Emperor cover was a disaster.

Where the point of the original was to have guitars detach themselves in diaphanous fronds of frothy sound from the animalistic battering of drums, and to then develop the song with subtlety, Gates of Enoch slash and bash a rigid and unyieldingly obvious version that while still beautiful misses the gently interwoven emotions of the original delivery. It sounded like a deathgrind band covering Emperor. A similar critique could be applied to their songs: the drummer rode his snare too hard at the end of each phrase, and composition tends to follow a two-step pattern of melodic decoration crashing into percussive anchor riff. Guitarists play like they’re reading tab, but with plenty of energy, which is gratifying. The vocalist clearly listens to a lot of Gorgoroth.

In reality, there are only two types of music reviews: “it’s good” or “needs work,” no matter what permutations we invent to euphemize those extremes. This reviewer is not crafty enough to disguise the truth as I see it and too experienced to lie: Gates of Enoch needs work. I do not say this to discourage them, however; depending on where they are in their development, it is possible they have far better things ahead. My advice to them is to stop studying their black metal favorites as technique, and begin studying them as effects on the listener, working backward to diagnose in that context the function of technique.

Vex

Hybridized from death metal, power metal and black metal, Vex is a band with a great name and plenty of promise, but remains disconnected from producing great art because the focus seems divided between the music and secondary elements. For their age group, these musicians are impressive, having mastered not only playing the notes but a range of techniques to add tension, emphasis and texture to each phrase. However, there’s a lack of artistic consensus, which shows not only in how they perform, but how they compose.

Live, Vex sounds most like a death metal band with black metal elements, although a diverse lineage of metal can be discerned from among their winding riffs. It shows an impressive knowledge of metal, but ties together poorly, being reliant on a duality of elements that unite in chorus and then potentially shift through a series of “unexpected” riff changes to convey to the audience — well, what? Mostly what comes across is the contribution of individuals in the band, or so it seems, as sweet riffs get piled onto one another without regard for the sound as a whole, or any concept of organization to the piece in question.

The vocalist needs to change his sense of rhythm and vocal texture, as currently he sounds like an emo or metalcore vocalist, and the effect is one to offset the already busy rhythmic background with a cadence more appropriate to an Iraq war protest than a metal concert – and for those of you who are thinking about open-mindedness, it also fails to lift or augment the music. Guitar playing is fabulous, as is bass and drums, but their integration is one of mathematical timing and little else. Their stage presence however is energetic and appealing.

Ultimately, Vex is another “needs work.” Rhythmically the band integrates its work fairly well, and thus to most listeners, these disadvantages are not apparent, but over repeated listens, they’ll become apparent. This is not an attempt to discourage, because the impression one gets is that this band is perfectly capable and if they could all agree on what each song they’re writing hopes to express, the raw tools they have at hand are overabundant for the purpose. It reeks like a collision of personalities. This may not come in the form of disagreement, but perhaps too much tolerance for cramming in admittedly excellent pieces, soup style, into what eventually emerges as a formless and indistinct mass of sound.

Averse Sefira

Taking to the stage with customary elan, Averse Sefira stepped out of the blackness and proceded to abrade their audience with slicing aural intensity delivered in a disciplined and natural style. In perhaps one of the fastest black metal sets on record, they performed the entirety of their new work, “Tetragrammatical Astygmata,” followed by an encore of three of their most popular songs from previous albums. Although there were two pauses in the rendering of the new album, and one lengthy break before encore, the songs themselves were ripped out in a martial style at high speed with only a few seconds separating them.

A smooth continuation of previous works, the newest songs from Averse Sefira are, like those on the previous album, “Battle’s Clarion,” a hybrid between the fast melodic work of Immortal and the relentless aggression of maniacal bands like Demoncy, resulting in a type of black metal that uses the foreboding and oppressive speed of death metal in the context of songs which interleave moods through streams of notes changing color like a singing human voice. An addition from the last album is the use of simpler riffs at times, giving the music a primitive and unsettled feel, and the circuitous redirection of song structures to replace repetition with a cycle of gained intensity. It is both highly listenable and challenging in its mystical architecture of symbols, tones, and textures.

Drummer The Carcass has upgraded his technique to use a lighter touch on the drums without dropping precision or helicopter blade cadence, extending his stamina and allowing drums to sound at a volume which integrates more cleanly with guitars. The result is a style less like an execution and more like a battle, allowing the organic ambiguity of rhythmic inflection to smoothly reinforce guitars. Bass playing has reached beyond doubling the riff and now counterpoints it with internal rhythms and explosive underscores, sometimes surging along calmly before degrading into pure noise from which it returns with a mechnical plunge to take up the motif of the riff.

For a band with one guitarist, Averse Sefira create a wall of sound that leaves no doubt as to its allegiance to Apollo and worship of Dionysos, constructed rigidly with plenty of chaos in the naturalistic, erratic rhythms of strumming and the use of Burzum-style sweeps of harmonizing notes, like an underwater arpeggio heard through the resonance of metal and water. Guitarist Sanguine A. Nocturne pauses strategically and then not so much plays but leaps into the guitar, causing it to splinter from silence and rise in dopplerizing melodies which shudder downward like collapsing escarpments. The guitar is both creator of abstraction and death hiding in an open but twilight-shrouded landscape.

The result of this battering ensemble of morbidity and passion was not lost on the audience, most of whom appeared to be motivated specifically to see the headlining band. While there was action and violence in the pit, most eyes were on the instruments and the personae who played them. The band rounded out the show with “Ad Infinitum,” “Battle’s Clarion” and “Fallen Beneath the Earth,” at faster speeds than on the albums, and at that point, an exhausted audience was grateful for their abrupt exit and the fading of the lights.

Bands:
Permafrost
Gates of Enoch
Vex
Averse Sefira

Promotors:
Extreme Texas Metal
Morbid Thoughts
The Backroom

The organization of this show was professional; the club did an adequate job. Thanks to the staff at Extreme Texas Metal, Rigor Mortis Records, and Morbid Thoughts for their work.

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Quantity versus Quality in metal

We measure our lives by either quality or quantity. If it was a great steak, we say so and leave it at that; if it was mediocre, we say that sixteen ounces of it for thirty dollars was a “good deal.” The quantitative view is most popular because it is accessible to everyone, since only those who are endowed by nature with the sense to know a good steak from a crappy one can tell you its qualitative value. Since most people are not so fortunate, we talk about what a “great deal” it is that you can get something that legally qualifies as steak in prodigious amounts at a low price per pound. This is the essence of democratic liberal free enterprise society, in that it eschews all things which require a higher kind of person and replace them with the kind of assessments even a moron can follow (and congratulate himself for the “good deal” he’s getting).

But how does the qualitative work in a society? After all, say the “wise” pundits, wouldn’t it be hard to organize a society around qualitative value, since only a few can assess it? This column offers an example in the small. Peer-to-peer file sharing can take many forms, but one of the most common is that of a hub; this is a small community where people exchange files. Normally, to get on a hub, you must have some quantity of files to be shared, and without that, you can be excluded “fairly” because, of course, everyone can see that you need to have a minimum amount of stuff to get on. Like cheap steak, it might be stuff that would only appeal to morons, but it shows you’ve done the effort and therefore deserve to be on the hub – that’s “fair,” sensu liberal democracy.

The hub toward which A.N.U.S. contributes, the neoclassical hub, does not operate this way. There is no minimum share size to get on, and there is no reward for having more stuff; instead of quantity, the hub focuses on quality, because unlike liberal democracies it recognizes that unlimited moronic music is not “equal” to a small amount of quality music, no matter how much the average voter can’t tell the difference. You can get on the hub right now and start participating, but the admins who periodically peruse shares will eventually check out what you have and — Slipknot? Cradle of Filth? Pantera? — those who have moronic music get booted. I frequently get mail from these people, objecting that their ejection was not “fair,” and these mails invariably contain the line, “But I had (amount) of share!” These people are used to a quantitative, passive society, where no matter what the quality, as long as you get enough there to put a number in the blank on the form, you’re considered part of the club.

Not to say that a hub is a club, of course – a hub is a tool for sharing files, and a social space, as well. But what it is more than anything else is a reflection of the values of those who meet there. People who want to listen to crowd-pleasing music go to the bigger hubs and hang out with other people who like Britney, or cool jazz, or light rock, or even indiscriminate metal and grindcore – what the crowd wants is acceptance for mere quantitative participation, such as the number one (1) – if there is an (1) individual, then it should be equal, and admitted to the club, because – look – it exists, after all. This is what the crowd always desires, which is the paradoxical concept of group participation through pseudo-individuality. You can’t tell them their taste in music sucks, because then they’ll wail about how they’ve been wronged and it’s not “fair.”

For those who have made their way out of the biggest slice of groupthink, it’s healthier to find an enclave, or a smaller place where their views are protected from the majority view, which is the quantitative. If you have unending time and nothing better to do, it might appeal to you to listen to all 100,000 death metal, grindcore, black metal and heavy metal bands yet created. More likely, unless you’re a retarded invalid, you’ve got other things to do and so depend on finding the quality stuff through socialization and information resources. Naturally, the crowd will oppose you wherever you try to do this, as they like to believe either (a) that all music is equal or (b) that the most popular music is the best, and therefore you don’t need to actually look – just see what they’re playing on the radio now; “trust us.” The enclave ideal is naturally opposed to that of open to the public group participation.

Any social unit based on this notion of qualitative logic, and eschewing unnecessary quantitative logic, would naturally be a better place to live. Quantitative logic gets you the lowest common denominator, but if you return assessment to that of degree of quality, you instead get only the better efforts. Select the better people to be part of this community; that’s inherent to its nature. Let them pick the better art, learning, science and products, and then you’ve got less garbage (inferior products break frequently, and can rarely be repaired). When they make rules, they don’t have to worry about everyone – oh no, fat people in wheelchairs cannot fit into our new library – but those who actually make a difference. To people concerned about quality, the opinions of the mass are not important, and thus they don’t have to worry about offending people and can actually tell it like they see it – something you cannot do in our liberal democracy, or you’ll be blacklisted and investigated and eventually forced to take a job as a janitor somewhere.

A qualitative society is by nature structured toward building consensus. If you have something of quality, you hold it up as a shining example, and what is agree on is not that we should all have a similar quantity of thing, but that we should all work toward having a similar quality of character, strength, intelligence in ourselves. Since your society only admits people of quality, you don’t have to assume that every other person on the street is a moron, and thus can have compassion for random people in society – and have the option to socialize more, since you don’t have to first apply a filter to screen out the idiots. This is how society used to be, but it was lost in the populist revolt that demanded we all be equal and have an equal right to quantities of money; see what you’ve given up, in order to please the crowd? Well – at least on this hub, there’s a sliver of what once was, and what, if we work toward it, will be again.

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Metal Cult, or Metal Christ?

Way back in grade school, before you hit the age of sexual competition and thus get more rigorously socialized, one of the more exciting things to do is spend the night at a friend’s house. This means you get spoiled by well-meaning parents, can order pizza with all the toppings, and spend the night watching scary movies on the DVD player. At that time of life, it’s pretty cool, although once you’ve moved on to bigger things it seems like a parody of a really bad party. Who’s got the ranch dressing potato chips, indeed.

It’s conventional, among nice families, to keep this charade going until noon or later the following day, mainly because that’s about how long it takes the caffeinated soda pop and sugar foods to wear off, meaning that all parties are tuckered out and need to be taken home and shoved onto a sofa with homework “for your own good.” This is a kindness extended between families to each other, allowing your parents to actually have a night alone while you’re rampaging at some other kid’s house. Of course, if you spend Saturday night with a Christian family, or Friday night with a Jewish one, it means you’re going to some kind of exciting religious service in the morning.

Back in those less preference-enabled times, I’d go along to Church or Temple with my friends and wonder at the death denial of adults. There were great things about church – mainly the music, but I also liked the weird little tasteless wafers at communion – and Temple had its moments, mainly the times when they’d bring out the big old scroll of Hebrew writing and chant in languages I didn’t understand. In general, however, to young Spinoza Ray it seemed like adults getting together to agree on an excuse why we don’t actually die, and to answer at least two questions along these lines before saying something blithe like, “Fluffy is in heaven with God now, and can chase cars every day and is always happy.”

What I remember more than anything else was the expectation going into these religious services. There were the smells of adult clothing, perfumes, foods, alcohol and the flatulence and dyspeptic belches of the usual healthy specimens, mostly older, who cleave to churches like AIDS patients to retrovirals. But more than that, there was a subtle kind of excitement: it was an event, and there was an expectation, whether Jewish or Christian. You were going to a place of higher authority to receive wisdom, and it was to be a cathartic experience.

Recently, in my wandering through the smouldering ruins of the metal community, that being all people who create or appreciate the non-radio metal of our world, I was amused by how popular the term “cult” remains among those who are metal. We’re a pure metal cult! and Only metal is true! and I swear allegiance to metal! and other comedic statements of this sort are common, like a dinner opera about patriotism. These people are apparently oblivious to how disturbingly true their use of this term is.

A cult in my definition is any belief system that posits an Official Dogma and reinforces it, while sequestering all those who do not accept Official Dogma as outsiders. It’s a precursor to bureaucracy, and in the case of Christian cults, at least, it’s about like filling out a triplicate application. Do you believe in the father? (check) Son? (check) Holy Ghost? (check) Heaven and Hell mythos? (check) And are you willing at this time to sign an eternal contract to this effect?

In churches, people surge to the front of a large building while music plays and people in costumes perform ceremony to distract them (note for our alert readers: Judaism is much similar, but Christianity is a more familiar example for most North Americans, and since the two share most beliefs in common). There they take refuge in the comfortingly familiar nature of religion; you have been through this ceremony before, and you know what will happen, and at the end, your own expectation of receiving catharsis carries you through to that conclusion. Basically, it’s a lot like LSD: you find what you expected.

Rock concerts and metal concerts are very similar. You sanction the ceremony by paying money, thus you have reason to believe you are accepted unless you perform heresies, such as fistfights or too much covert marijuana smoking behind the fat guy standing up front. People in uniforms herd you into a place where people in costumes perfom onstage, playing music you have usually heard on CD. Even more, for those who are lost, every song no matter how convoluted at some point returns to the constant drumbeat, usually snare, which builds cadence and interrupts any thoughts you were having between beats, which are the loudest single element of the concert.

The metal cult, like the rock cult, is based in the idea of catharsis. You go to see some band you have heard before, and after having the music affirmed, you go away with some brilliant insight like “They really can play their instruments” or “That vocalist vomiting blood, fire, semen and feces was spectacular!” It’s not rocket science. If you’re a musician, you can feel ever-so-elite by watching the band members play and pulling from it some observation about how well the guitarist frets or drummer hits the middle of the goddamn snare twice every second. No one is left out; if you had $5 in your sweaty little hand when you went in the door, you were given the communion, allowed to join the cult, and ushered on out into the surprisingly cool and unsweaty night.

Baptised in beer, perhaps intoxicated yourself on a range of exciting substances, you even have a chance to double affirm your belief by buying tshirts and CDs, and can even talk to the band members, who periodically deliver such benedictions as, “This is another song about fucking the dead – I want to see you fuckers tear it up in the pit!” Conventional academics like Deena Weinstein periodically set aside the Chardonnay (all academics are drunks, drug addicts or perverts) and to observe what an indoctrination this ceremony is, and how it affirms membership in a group. She might as well say “…membership in a true life-hating metal cult!”

Surprisingly, black metal was a counterinsurgency opposed to this. Initially, bands like Burzum and Immortal eschewed live performance, since as they correctly observed, hordes of idiots would show up expecting everyone to accept them purely on the basis of having (a) found the venue (b) being aware of the band and (c) the benighted $5 in sweaty fist. Burzum’s composer was vehement about it, and to this day you can find credulous teens everywhere buying $20 live bootlegs of a band that never played live (but since it’s $20 and not $25, it’s a “good deal” – you get an extra $5 to go to another stimulating concert).

Much maligned, mocked and parodied, the “No mosh, no core, no fun, no trends” attitude of these early bands was a way of ending the religious service, an inclusive event, and turning instead to an esoteric event. The difference between exoteric religions like Christianity and esoteric religions like, say, Advaita Vedanta or Buddhism, is that in exoteric religions you have to show up and affirm Official Dogma, and then you get sent home with a stamp on your triplicate form, which esoteric religions are best summarized as “the truth reveals itself in varying degrees to those who seek it.”

Christianity and rock concerts are birds of a feather that give you a 100% guarantee that everything’s okay, and then convince you to turn off your mind so you can do something useful like enforce Official Doctrine on other people. They are the ultimate populist religions, and by that nature they must assert that everyone is equal because, lacking an entrance requirement, they’ve already made it fact. If you can make it to church, or find the rock club with your $5 (donations are always welcome at church, too), you’re one of the Chosen and can feel better than other people for your non-achievement.

One of the reasons I separated out Christianity from Judaism as an example, earlier, is that Judaism is controversial because it is simultaneously a religion, a culture, and an ethnicity. Whether Khazar or Ashkenazi, you’re a Jew if you have any of those three attributes (bonus points and free instant coffeemaker for all three). Among the black metal community, there are those who feel Judaism is the great downfall of Indo-Europeans, and they wish nothing of tolerance for it.

I’d like to take time here to praise some aspects of Judaism. Its emphasis on education, for example, is admirable, and far exceeds the Christian dogma that if one believes in God, it’s okay to fail at everything else in life because it doesn’t matter – what matters is the world after this one, which like a credit report, is absolute and binding and more important than whatever goes on here in our misery of animal existence. Its racism and cultural supremacy is beyond questioning, and has kept the Jewish people alive and functional through thousands of years of wandering through other peoples’ countries. In fact, until Christianity sedated Europe, Jews never had a homeland, and at this point are as European as they are Semitic/Mongoloid.

Christianity has selective praiseworthy aspects as well. As Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out, its only significant difference from Judaism is a classic Indo-European trait that can be found among the Aryan sages of ancient India, that being “quietus,” or an inner spiritual calm and contemplation to discover the blessings of this world. If you’re Arthur Schopenhauer, or Meister Eckhardt or Ralph Waldo Emerson, and thus possess not only a genius IQ but an introspective desire for truth and beauty, this will occur to you. The remaining 99.99% of Christians should simply admit they’re following non-ethnic Judaism, and cease feeling superior to Jews for having a martyr who gave his life because we’re dirty little animals who fornicate, murder, embugger and thieve from each other daily.

One reason I can’t ever be a neo-Nazi, besides my ethnic Scottish heritage which includes pre-Jewish Semitic Gaelic blood, is that they didn’t act on this crucial difference, in part because in Germany the Christians had already slaughtered anyone with a desire to resist Christ a thousand years before. In my mind, Jews are an invading culture and I have no problem drawing a sword against them, men women and children alike, to drive them back into the middle east, where they may have to actually stop feeling superior to their Abrahamic brethren and make peace with the Arabs. Not my problem. But, I feel the same way about Christianity: if you’re not Eckhardt, or Schopenhauer or Emerson, I recognize that it’s my duty to draw a sword against you, man or woman or child or dog or AI, and drive you out of Indo-European lands before you destroy what’s left of our culture.

However, I’ve come to realize that “No mosh, no core, no fun, no trends” is also part of this same militant desire which will come to any sane Indo-European who undertakes quietus long enough; rock music and metal are the same cult as Christianity and before it, sickly Judaism and its wheedling, whining culture of the lowest common denominator enshrined as benevolent love. For me, to love a culture is to defend it against its enemies, with emotional detachment and not the “hate” to which modern neo-Nazis masturbate in American History X-inspired fantasies. If you thought “the Holocaust” was bad, wait until you see what will come – and it is inevitable – when the current culture collapses and warlike people like me clear out bad Indo-European DNA, including Christ-worshippers and people whose sole contribution is to be “members of” some rock-music-based “cult.” Man, woman, child, and of course fat record producer scheming over cocaine and harlots in the back room, shall all face the sword – without hate, but without mercy, either.

With this revelation in mind, I have to ask modern metalheads who claim to hate stupidity and Christianity (and, of course, you cuddly stuffed NSBMer teddybears in your genuine NSBM tshirts and Nazi fetishist wear), why are you partaking in the same culture that you abhor? There are people among the rockers who are of noble countenance, and among Christians too, and I’d welcome these people into any future Indo-European society (Jews are ethnically excluded, along will all other non-Europeans; you have your own countries, go there and preach about your ideals and we’ll see how “superior” they indeed are). But for the most part, rock and roll is a failure at escaping Christianity. If anything, it’s a new form of Christianity that is even more accepting and less informative on the esoteric issues of spirituality, philosophy and comportment.

For this reason, both metalheads and neo-Nazis are ignored by their more studied peers. After all, who wants to get dragged into the same quagmire that has afflicted Indo-Europeans for the past millennia, albeit in a new form and with new products to buy? Advice to future rockers, metalheads, and the like: design your music and your career around something other than the glorified church service that is your modern metal “cult” concert.

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Summer Warfare: Bahimiron, Averse Sefira and Masochism in Houston, Texas

Bahimiron, Averse Sefira, and Masochism
August 28, 2004
Cardi’s
Houston, Texas

This city stretches like a dry riverbed across the flat land of South Texas, ending near the mud-brown ocean in which floats medical waste and human shit. Like most modern cities, it is both strikingly ugly and possessing some rare beautiful architecture, but the majority of it is open shopping centers and freeways. Lots of concrete to reflect sunlight and absorb toxic rain which rises in a sticky mist. Its strength is its verdant natural land, but as more people from every country on earth pour into it, this too is consumed.

Naturally, a place like this is perfect for a black metal show.

The show promoters at Extreme Texas Metal put together a type of show that is popular today, called in the vernacular the “shotgun,” since it is formed of a collection of marginally related bands fired out in sequence with the hopes of finding at least one that each member of the audience can like. Consequently, they are schizophrenic in atmosphere, with the decorum of a food court as portions of the audience assemble for each band while others sit back and comment. However, this is how one must make money in a bloated “scene,” and the Extreme Texas Metal staff did a competent and fair job of setting up the show.

Being a dilatory malcontent, our reviewer showed up late and was able to catch the last three bands, who together represented a battering ram of black and death metal.

BAHIMIRON

At this point, Bahimiron were barely taking to the stage. With an original member of Texas evil metal legends Imprecation (think of a more ritualistic, less bassy take on first-album Incantation) on vocals and lead guitar, and the two deviant minds of “Where’s My Skin?” magazine on bass and drums, this band is clearly a powerhouse of minds in the present community. Its adaptation to the current scene both affirms and negates it, making for a rocky adjustment as this band finds and refines its style.

Their style is a hybrid of the grim and necrotic fast and simple black metal of the later changes to the style, merged smoothly with the grand interiors presented by architectural melodic black metal such as Gorgoroth or Impaled Nazarene. Songs generally cycle between riff pairs at different tempos, then reach a stage of presentation in which pace often shifts dramatically, before inverting the process of reaching it and drawing out to a violent and usually abrupt conclusion.

On this night, the band professionally presented the same, with the addition of more confidence in moving and playing onstage and greater technical accuracy and synchronization. A new guitarist has joined the band to their fortune, as his rhythm guitar solidity allows a foundation on which other members can build. Percussion varied from hardcore rally beats to the metals-heavy blasts which allow them to pick up speed, no simple task since most chords are strummed at high speed regardless of tempo.

Vocalist/guitarist Grimlord, formerly of Imprecation, commanded the stage with his voice whipping from guttural to shriek to conventional singing as demanded by the material; his guitar playing is fluid and self-assured, and allows him to enhance his vocal delivery. Bassist Jenocide added a mute aggression and bulletlike low-note commentary to her impassive stage presence, while drummer Blaash was precise and energetic. Tearing through a mixture of old and new material, this longstanding Texas-Arizona front presented well and left no doubt as to their stature.

As many bands have, they suffered under the hands of sound production problems, mainly because Cardi’s was breaking in a journeyman audio engineer that night, and as a result peaking monitors cut out and distortion sometimes became a wash, disrupting the forward motion of the band. To their credit, Bahimiron held out until the problem was mostly corrected and then moved forward without losing atmosphere or becoming bitter, which was as unusual for a current band as it was appreciated by the audience.

If our reviewer had to make irritating suggestions, it would be that they worry not at all about having a “unique” personality and let their music talk. There is no need for a whisky-based endorsement in black metal, nor does this band need any cachet to invoke their (dark) spirit. The music addresses all that they have to say. If they have a weakness, it is on the knife-edge between minimalism and the hopelessly indeterminate riffing of the black hardcore bands; they will be fortunate if their more ancient and eternal influences win out. Regardless of these footnotes, this band is one of the few worth tracking in this age of black metal.

AVERSE SEFIRA

Many in the audience assembled had come to see Averse Sefira, if the sudden proliferation of metalheads at the stage and their equally conspicuous disappearance after the show was any indication, and the veteran metal band did not disappoint. Having apparently decided long ago to focus more on bringing their music to the world than on gratifying the comatose Austin metal market, Averse Sefira showed every bit of their touring experience and nailed out a highly professional set with very few breaks. This reviewer wonders why the club did not let them continue further, as there was time to spare thanks to three-count pauses between songs.

Guitarist and vocalist Sanguine A. Nocturne, astride a gleaming red B.C. Rich monster axe, seared the halls with a hissing and animalistic vocal delivery, backed up with the more on-the-beat enunciations of his cohort Wrath Satariel Diabolus, who roared into life with a black monster of a bass whose undertones drove the music forward with an urgent possession of emotion. This was framed and accentuated by the bullet-precise drumming of The Carcass, whose experience in numerous death and grind bands does not hide his familiarity with the technicality of percussion, mastering both exact timing and the deft transition of texture necessary to impel the music without drowning it in method.

Lucky enough to hear new material, the audience absorbed it in a state of contemplation and shock that would have pleased a Vedic philosopher, watching for details and essence alike. The newer songs can be described as an outpouring of this band reaching a musical and worldview apex, in which their mission has developed past requiring elaboration to the point of being demonstrated in many different forms; with their intent clear, they are confident in approaching even broader range of technique without fear of corrupting what is to be communicated.

As an example, rhythm is far from the rigidity of their first album or the delighted violence of the second, but like a groundswell changes topography to accentuate the expression particular to each part of a song. What was once abrupt is now sublime, and without venturing into jazz-metal territory, they invoke the languid as well as the militant in alternating sequence, creating an aura of insidious infiltration. Guitar technique has branched as well to use quick erratic notes in a wash of distortion as an instrument of harmony, creating a queasy uneasiness that like oil on water blooms into a rainbow when revealed in the contrast of light.

Newer songwriting continues the Averse Sefira tradition of writing epics, confronting the audience with a basic motif and then descending into its explanation, letting dissonance swirl around the audience as unexpected twists and turns converge on an occult mystery unifying the visible and the unseen. Clearly the presentation of older material has been affected, as it shows successive layers of adaptation reflecting both the changes in writing for Battle’s Clarion and the preparatory musical adaptation for the new album. It will be both exciting for the fan and an event for the community when their new work comes out.

Their playing reflected precision and professionalism throughout, with the presence that only an experienced band can have, dominating the stage and, as most cannot, using that supremacy to take a wide range of emotions and channel them into an expression of their work. Without falling into matyrdom at all, they bore out the indignities of periodic sound production problems and humidity without flinching, even honorably dedicating their set to the memory and continuing legacy of Imprecation.

MASOCHISM

It was with a great deal of professional integrity that this band took the stage, the hour having grown late and most of the fans departing after Averse Sefira slashed through their set. This would crush most bands, and is the most difficult circumstance under which to perform, but to their credit Masochism took the stage and wouldn’t let it go until they had sent their sonic disturbance into the universe.

This was fortunate for our reviewer, who remembering the performance of this secretive and rarely-sighted act from an Austin event two years prior, anticipated the set with high expectations. These were not disappointed.

Lead guitarist Juan Torres, who has supported a diversity of metal acts with his practiced and charged playing, forms the majority of the sound and direction of this band, and this night he led with alternately pummeling chords and incredibly fast lead picking which makes this music a study in contrasts. A progression leads into a song and varies through two riffs, then slams home with a conclusive dirge, only to be torn apart in the undulating rise and fall of melodic lead rhythm playing.

Similar in style thus to older Incantation and Sinister, the essential form of this band stretches to include a plurality of influences, ranging from older speed and heavy metal to modern black metal styles, something which is absorbed by a deft understanding of how riffs fit together. Transitions are often breathtaking in their boldness with enough subtlety that they are unexpected, and the procession of textures that compose verse material are both hypnotic and jarring.

Bassist/vocalist Kean Koite held down the set with remarkable free-hand (not picked) stringwork, being a master of both the techniques required to give his playing thunder and enough of bass playing as a science to insert adept fills and accents. One of the highlights of the show were his semi-poetic introductions to each song, in the style of Tom Araya many years ago, where a small vignette concluded in the topic and then name of each song; this may not be to everyone’s taste (and what is?) but it was appreciated by those of us attending as it brought a small intrigue to anticipation.

Percussion was exact and bellicose, matching the tight structure required by this style with an underplayed reliability that eschewed sophistication for effectiveness; few players have the ability to set aside getting more personal attention for the promotion of the aura of the presentation as a whole. Masochism are musically ahead of most local bands as they are in songwriting, but song titles and some stylings seem stuck in the late 1980s-early 1990s death metal movement, which suggests an update.

While Masochism are masters of fitting together surprisingly convoluted riffing with adept translation between radically different textures, their songwriting could benefit from more use of a unifying theme or concept around which to wrap this tapestry of forms. It is not a disadvantage, but this final tiny fraction of the creative process is what awaits to take this band from being overpowered for the style they have chosen, dominating it almost too much with their talent, to matching form and content and creating something of enduring breadth and significance.

As a side note, it was gratifying to see a clear national pride in Mexican origins shared between band and fans, with Mexican flag present on an amplifier; nationalism fits all ethnic groups, and pride in one’s tribe is a trait common to all strong individuals. If anything, this should no longer be downplayed, and in an age when NSBM and covert use of nationalist symbols is common in black metal, perhaps Masochism should visit aztlan.net more frequently and take advantage of that freedom and speak loudly and clearly about their cultural preference.

Impressive in performance, and in professionalism, they were an essential part of this concert presentation, and those who left early missed out. As a symptom of their single-minded determination to perform well, the band did not let it usurp their intent and ploughed right ahead. If you get a chance, witness Masochism when they come to your area; the right-hand guitar technique and interplay between bass and drums from a technical perspective, alone, makes it a worthwhile experience.

CODA

At this point the night was well underway, and even a giant cosmopolitan wasteland charged by the momentary escape of work drudgery afforded by a Saturday night was finding closure, so all departed into the flamboyant heat and uncountable incandescent advertisements of the Texas night. The show was a success because of the strength of the bands and the relative laxity of the promoters in encrusting a successful platform with too many local band-of-the-moments, but if this reviewer had one wish, it would be that next time these three bands and one local band (perhaps the reformed Crimson Massacre, who could not play because of personnel issues) could share the stage and complete the show earlier, giving each of these standouts more time to show us that among the few quality underground metal lives on.

Bands:
Averse Sefira
Bahimiron
Masochism

Promotors:
Cardis
Extreme Texas Metal

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Why I am not a Satanist

Both religions have the same core: me first, reality second

Of all the subcultures to emerge following the dominance of rock over popular music, heavy metal and its associated genres remain unique in that they have maintained a counter-culture that targets not just the visible “establishment,” but also all things that hold the core values of that philosophical system; metal is a naturalistic movement opposed to the utilitarian values of modern society, but it has kept its head up and thus far mostly avoided assimilation by not taking an explicitly political stance, but an artistic and metaphorical one.

This outlook has increasing driven it out of the mainstream consciousness, which has allowed it to keep its independence in part by mostly separating itself from the crowd of hopeless people looking for an identity and an easy, one-size-fits-all solution to they subliminal angst they feel about living in a fatalistic and submissive era. Of course, it has not managed this exclusively; some of the biggest sheep, and most profound losers, of our time have been metalheads, even some who have been very influential in the genre. In this way, within the metal genre the drama of the larger society is acted out in microcosm: the few who understand pulling away from the mass which wants what they have, and would emulate it to the point of drowning out legitimate voices in the genre.

What makes the mass destructive is the nature of a crowd, by definition: it is people who come together on the basest pretense and, out of fear for their individual selves, enacts a mass-will upon society at large to remove anything that threatens the herd. When you see a crowd, you are not seeing uniform people, but vastly different people who are disorganized and thus can only accept the lowest common denominator motivation, which is usually as follows: do not criticize me for anything that I do, insofar as I do not violate this basic tenet of crowd-belief toward others; give to me everything that our best people have, as I am participating in the crowd and thus “contributing.” As with all utilitarian systems, this mentality punishes the more capable in order to keep the broader masses from feeling inferior, or that they’re missing out.

Heavy metal music, by its very nature and alienation, recognizes that society operates on two levels: a public level, which comprises the kind of things you’d tell a crowd to make them feel you have their best interests at heart, and a private level, at which actual motivations are acted upon using the tokens of the public level in such a way that their function does not match their definition. It is a lot like hacking, actually; you overload some kind of input buffer with data that appears to be harmless, but contains concealed instructions that the machine, unaware that something labeled “data” might be “code,” executes and hands control to the intruder. William S. Burroughs famously declared, “Language is a virus,” and thus explained the same concept as applies to modern mass-media psychology.

What happens in a computer is that it confuses appearance with reality; the code is reality, but the idea that it is harmless data is the appearance. Similarly in our society we are divided between appearance, which generally consists of happy nonsense to keep you distracted, and reality, which is the relentless pursuit of wealth and a spiritual emptiness that justifies it. (As mentioned here before, this takes us back to a split that the Greeks noticed, between things as they are and their abstractions, which are often mentioned as that which casts a shadow, with the shadow we see being what we know of “reality.”)

Since any tokens manipulated on the public level have dual meaning, and are thus meaningless, heavy metal targetted something more sublime: emotions and self-image. The Gothic, Romanticist, naturalistic and elitist-individualist imagery of even Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin did this, but it flowered from there into a proliferation of forms, each of which took the basic concept and developed it further, all without explicitly knowing why or what was being done. This ignorance of an articulation of what is being done allowed it to be passed, from mind to mind, through the subconscious channel of appealing imagery and concept in personal life, much as it was done in Romanticist literature, art and music: those who found greatness in the past, specifically medieval and ancient civilizations, and could process a melancholy acceptance of death and desire for personal greatness in heroic accomplishment, would naturally find the music appealing.

This is in part because, in addition to imagery, metal music literally sounds like the description of Romantic ideals above. It doesn’t embrace the centralized harmonic structures of rock music, which is Indo-European folk music simplified to the degree of fixing a harmonic center and manipulating major/minor changes for mood, over a syncopated beat so that even the dumbest person can follow it, and it doesn’t embrace the pleasing sounds and casual human vocal noises of pop. Where pop attempts to define beauty and approximate it as a medium, metal attempts to find what is beautiful in that which is, on the level of things that explicitly defined, ugly. If society exists on a level where public discourse is manipulated by private reality, metal is an inversion of that, such that the meaning of public discourse is found within private reality.

Metaphorically, metal almost exactly mirrors Romanticist literature, even down to its fascination with nature and the occult. Loneliness and alienation create independence; obsession with the forces of nature and the power of warfare creates a post-moralistic sense of seeing how life works rather than judging it; wandering into the embrace of Satan affirms the pagan belief that there can be no public level of “good” separated from “bad,” but that good and bad are forces which together create a meta-good, mainly the ongoing process of life itself. These are the values of metal, and they are almost never explicitly spelled out because to do so, in the music, would be to expose the inner workings of the subculture to manipulation by those who have not discovered this meaning on their own; emulation and cheapening would follow.

For this reason, it is important to remember that Satanism in metal is metaphor. Many of the largest proponents of Satanic imagery in metal were Deists and some were Christians, but used Satan in a way similar to that of John Milton or William Blake to describe the individual Will or Ego; when Black Sabbath wrote “War Pigs,” and described how modern society sends its workers off to die in foreign fields for abstract and mostly irrelevant political objectives masking a private reality of profit and power, they concluded it with “Satan laughing spreads his wings” not to praise Satan but to describe, in theological metaphor, what had occurred: humans had confused public reality with absolute truth, and thus been manipulated, and from that, an inner resentment and fatalism expressed itself in the confusion that followed. Satan laughing spreads his wings: a statement of the futility of our time, and in later bands, of the uselessness of religions that conflate Absolute truth with the public level of reality.

In doing this, metal attacked the fundamental Platonic split between the world of appearance and the world of structure; appearance was seen to be aesthetic, and not necessarily related to structure, which was defined by context, something which theological and occult imagery, by the nature of its cosmological outlook, expresses succinctly. While hardcore punk musicians attempted to rearrange the symbols of the public imagery into a meaningful private discourse, metal brushed past and declared the public reality defunct, urging its listeners to look instead toward their inner motivations and animal feelings. However, as with all things, the surging crowd – those who by definition did not and thus could not do it the first time around – sees something it likes and apes it furiously, producing a parody of it by only understanding the level of appearance and taking that appearance as truth, something which belongs to the domain of structure alone.

For this reason, although I have never been a Satanist, I have often employed Satanic and occult imagery in my writing, much as the smarter metal bands have done. In a world ruled by a Christian or secularized Christian (liberal) concept of absolute truth as public reality, one strikes back by upholding all that cannot be ruled by such a petty device, in the process pointing out that such dualistic thought patterns are in fact a simple rhetorical device misinterpreted by the crowd and thus used for its own purposes. In contrast, the crowd embraces Satanism as a truth in itself, and tries through silly literal rituals and laughable posing to be “truer” Satanists that the others, or more “extreme,” or some variation of attempting to find a devotional truth in life. It cannot be done, and therefore these bands and individuals tend to ring hollow to the thinker, and their works — well, let us say that in the years following 1996, there have perhaps been three black metal bands of the caliber of those who occurred 1990-1996, and it is similar in their own times with other subgenres of metal.

I can extend this concept further. National Socialism is popular in some black metal circles, but that is mainly because it’s easier to label oneself a National Socialist and start collecting gear and posing than it is to understand the core concept of National Socialism, which is a feudalistic ethnocultural post-moral revival of classical Indo-European culture. That relatively complex thought gets distilled down to, as Faulkner said, “a hatred of black skins” alone, and thus parodies itself. What kind of idiot believes that African genocide will solve humanity’s problems? Black Sabbath were more advanced in thought with “Satan laughing spreads his wings” than all the goose-stepping fools, or those from the opposite end who make the same mistake, the leftist: they assume that by labelling themselves as egalitarian and tolerant that humanity’s problems will resolve themselves on the level of public discourse. All of them are misguided, and represent waste by the roadside of a path to knowledge.

Death metal and grindcore had its own version of this comedy. Bands like Carcass and Morpheus used intricate descriptions of death and decay as a way of reminding their audience that public reality is a dream designed to deny death, and that when we realize our own mortality, we can comprehend that meaning is not found in public discourse or in liberal/conservative platitudes, but in addressing reality – yes, actual reality, including that good and bad are needed to produce meta-good – we liberate ourselves from illusion and can begin work on the real task. They were followed by unnamed and now thankfully forgotten bands who found an identity in glorifying death, bloodshed, violence, disease, perversity and disgust, all in full ignorance of the original concept. It is not surprising the music of these bands was also of a lesser nature, as their thinking was clearer on a more basic, linear level.

In my view, there is truth to be found in all of these viewpoints, if interpreted correctly. National Socialism and liberalism are not that far apart when we look at their basic motivation; both want to establish healthy cultures where people are not left to the predatory whim of speculative capital. Satan and gore both wish to affirm natural belief over that of the thing-as-named public reality. Even Christians and pagans have the same essential goal, which is to find a larger reason to have values outside the material and thus find meaning in existence. However, our time is confused, as somewhere along the path to this “great” industrial society we have lost the systems of thought that give a whole meaning to the entire process of life, instead of selecting some aspect with which to label oneself and hold up as a shield of “meaning” against death. In a confused time, only a few actually seek truth, while everyone else looks for it as they might a product on a shelf or the best fruit among the ripening burden of branches.

This article is not an attempt to discredit or assault bands who use Satan as metaphor; much like Blake, or Dante, or Eliot, or any number of artists, their quest is legitimate. It should serve, however, as an introduction to the theory of metal as an art form, and an explanation of why there are so many mediocre imitators, of “Satanist” or leftist or NSBM variety alike, and only a few leaders, and thus, a mandate for future thinkers in this genre to start with the leaders and not the followers. Metal remains under assault by both public culture and public “counter-culture” (an anti-establishment affirmation of public cultural beliefs, in trendier form) alike, and thus must keep an intellectual and artistic lead or it will be assimilated and left with Slipknot, Korn and Creed as its tombstone.

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The importance of genre in metal

Genre and subgenre identify the differing factions within metal music, which mate analytical technique to worldview and to the sound they desire. For this reason, a death metal band is not only aesthetically and musically different from a speed metal band, but is different in ideology and artistic outlook, representing together a philosophy of life.

Definitions:

  • Entertainment – a medium of expression that distracts from life’s negatives
  • Culture – organized intergenerational values for turning life’s negatives into positives
  • Music – organized sound
  • Art – a medium of expression that communicates culture
  • Genre – the broadest level of aesthetic, philosophical and musical similarity among artistic outputs that still distinguishes them from other groupings
  • Subgenre – within a genre, specialization of thought that results in specialized technique, philosophy and aesthetics for expressing an interpretation within the ideology of the genre but evolved further in a unique direction

Genre and subgenre, terms denoting groups related by ideology, methodology and appearance in art or culture, suggest more than a division of classification: a hierarchical system of musical evolution. These terms and their usages (in the oft-cited examples of ludicrousness with death metal, dark metal, black metal, ambient metal, doom metal, viking metal, forest metal, thrash, speed metal, grindcore, and such combination terms as brutal new york style swedish death metal and trolling dark forest folk metal) convey an extraordinary tendency of the genre to expand toward complexity and with it create from similar philosophical bases radically different diverse intellectual constructs.

For many people, genres convey the same ambience that products do: if the thing can be categorized it is one of several things that perform as it does, therefore it’s just a different face on the same essential material. Some people even extend this theory to the differences between rock and metal. This is categorical thinking and it does not reflect the usage of genre/subgenre terminology.

Heavy metal begat speed metal and thrash, which begat in crossover death metal and grindcore, which crossed over once again to make of a flowering of metal styles in the most diverse genre yet: black metal (ranging from slow percussive material to lightning fast melodic to folk-ish rhythms and acoustic guitars). It has all of the characteristics of the previous metals in some form although it ostensibly tends toward the nontechnical. It also drops some of the traditions and patternings of the older material, and through its composition suggests a chaos theory of musical composition.

Yet heavy metal bands, some speed metal bands (but not many), death metal bands, and grindcore bands continue to survive simultaneously. Genre are belief clusters apart from other forms of expression – they have their own self-defined language and topic structure – but subgenre are diversified elements of that original idea, prospering in their own tension as much as similarity to the rest of the family.

For even more kicks, the concept of genre demonstrates a philosophical difference between categorical thinking and nihilistic thinking. In the former system, each thing has a property which defines its boundaries and isolates it from the chaotic, the unknown. In the latter chaos is a natural formation of complexity in our environments which creates life, throughout the perceived boundaries of objects and in a hierarchy of systems which derive their position from placement in a position of energy exchange within the overall system. Here follow a few tips:

In metal, genre means ideas. What is the basic approach of different bands? Heavy metal: hippie-style breakdown and apocalyptic recognition; Speed metal: apocalyptic paranoia and realizations of insanity behind social oppression; Death metal: deconstruction of humanity through insanity and fear of mortality, evolution of mind toward complexity of focus; Black metal: twilight of humanity postmodern joyful mourning; Thrash: frenetic rejection and belief in core concepts; Doom metal: misery is inherent so appreciate pain as masochism of self-matyrdom in creation. Central ideology, called “metal” although there is perhaps no type of music which falls into that pure category: joy and awareness through nihilism and the separation of humanity from doubt and evil as concepts. It folds forth as music theory, structure of songs and language, lyrics, and aesthetic.

  • Theory – Reflects an approach to the science of information and communication through art, with approaches leaving the more linear and favoring the dynamic and synergistic. The language in which the band chooses to write their work expresses a faith in a certain view of appreciation and understanding of existence.
  • Structure – The types of data structures bands use reflect their opinions, conscious or not, of the method of thinking behind metaphysical and scientific theory. What type of logic and logical systems have been observed, or could be produced? Structure mirrors these intellectual developments.
  • Lyrics – It shouldn’t take a web page to remind you that bands often sing about issues they feel strongly about. Where this is poorly done, it degenerates into the self-pitying politics of the frustrated, but where it has meaning is in the translation of core ideas into the subconscious imagery of “real” art.
  • Aesthetics – How the music is encoded in a finished sound expresses much of the artist’s approach the place aesthetics itself serves in society. For example, speed metal bands aspired to a rigid and defined sound where death metal and even more so, black metal, have offered a distorted and fluid aesthetic.

With these concepts in mind, you can see how metalheads often refer to the world of light illuminating a silhouette (shadow outline) as society, where the world of light shining from within the darkness that describes the function of objects in terms of abstract workings in systemic hierarchies, or connected levels of ideas, remains a preferred method for interpreting reality. Through ideas encoded in the most seemingly unlikely package, metal expresses a new reality within what most of us have overlooked as existence.

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“Suicidal Metal” should just kill itself

Writers review individual bands to strengthen a genre by promoting the better acts, but when writers turn to address the metal genre as a whole, the “state of the metal” reports that result are an assessment of the collective mentality of the community which produces and appreciates that form of music. Currently, this writer looks wryly at the metal community and proclaims, “It is afflicted with pity.”

To put us all on the same page, we’ll synchronize our definition of pity starting with this gem from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “PITY implies tender or sometimes slightly contemptuous sorrow for one in misery”1. In other words, feeling sorry for someone from a position of being more fortunate. As F.W. Nietzsche brilliantly revealed, this is a subtle and passive way of placing oneself higher than the person being pitied; “it must suck to be him” is a relative measurement which requires that the speaker know what doesn’t suck.

Pity also plays into the “good guy” sense of self when one takes action according to pity. A burned out, feces-encrusted, proto-Simian intelligence who shuffles out of the city sewer system to ask for handouts can be pitied and handed a trivia of pocket change, making the giver feel important as the groveling lice habitat demeans himself in the presence of his benefactor. Even someone who is basically impoverished can feel richer by giving someone less fortunate a nickel; some say this explains sympathy sex from ex-girlfriends. Pity is the basis of all Abrahamic religions, including the ubiquitous and demented Christianity.

Since reality is not literally symbolic, except in certain Hollywood fairytales, pity in metal doesn’t pop up and scream its own name at the top of its lungs. However, it is clearly visible in the actions of metal as a community following the conclusion of the formative period of black metal in 1996 or so: increasingly, the goal in metal has been less to produce amazing music that a few understand, and the new goal has been to produce music that more people understand. An astute observer will note that dumbing something down for someone else is, similarly to the pity equation, a way of claiming to be smarter than that person; “here, I’ll translate it into shuffling, groveling, lice-infested prolespeak for you” is an equivalent statement of purpose. (And you wondered why the ANUS refuses to write reviews in the tongue of the common man.)

Originally, black metal was a byproduct of the genesis of death metal, something aesthetically inspired by Venom but really a derivative of melodic hardcore like Discharge, spawned in acts like Celtic Frost, Sodom, and Bathory in the early 1980s. It lay dormant until the next decade, when the Norwegians singlehandedly revived the genre by brushing aside much of the stridently-voiced social criticism (read: “complaining”) of speed and death metal and bringing out something with heroic ambitions, in which the greatest value wasn’t communicating to everyone but communicating to the part within everyone that wishes to rise above the mundane world and achieve great things; to have this spirit, you must believe that change can occur and is in the power of the individual. In this it was grand Wagnerian tragedy, the entire genre, as its practicioners knew they were hopelessly outnumbered and would be outvoted by the masses, who prefer tamer fare and resent anything that forces them off the couch.

Regardless of this adversity and sheer defeat, the Norwegian forces – we’re talking about Burzum, Emperor, Immortal, Darkthrone and Mayhem – mobilized themselves and went on the warpath to speak their piece no matter how unpopular it was. At first, although no one remembers this now, black metal was considered the retarded younger brother of death metal. Only a handful of people listened to it, and even then most of those didn’t understand it, or claimed they were doing it for the laughs. Only a few people caught on to its concept, and thus both its artistic method and ideological content. And before the old tired “music doesn’t have ideology” whining begins, we should realize that black metal was designed to sound like Gothic doom descending for a reason, and for one to believe that art should sound like that at this period in history, one must have a certain ideological bent – one that disagrees with the mainstream and foresees doom in its populist undertakings.

It was heroic, Romantic, passionate and yes, elitist; black metal was not music for the masses. Those who say at the current time that the values of the original black metal bands don’t matter, and who suggest we “progress” to other values (values that suspiciously resemble those of every other genre in its twilight years, namely values that make it more accessible to wide ranges of people because they approximate the liberal beliefs of a democratic social order), should ask themselves what over the past eight years of metal has had the impact of the original handful of bands, or attained that level of quality. The answer is: very little, if anything. The Norwegians remain absolute in their dominance of this artform, although nothing from Norway has approached that type of intensity since about 1997. We can see in the history of black metal’s descent into popularity the proof of the original concept as elitist and withdrawn from the masses.

After all, populism – or dumbing something down so that everyone in the herd can appreciate it – is a form of pity and negativity. It doesn’t have a heroic “do what must be done and damn the crowd” outlook, but cares about its status in the eyes of others and in not offending them by producing music that’s too complicated for their addled capacity. This populism is pity for the idiots who must have music tailor-made to their retarded consciousnesses, as well as being pity for the musicians themselves: the art of expression and finding reasons to believe in one’s own existence have been supplanted by keeping other people happy through being bland. Interesting how bland well describes recent black metal in the eyes of anyone but a fanatic who, thankful for some social scene that will accept him, embraces the genre like a lost parent.

Way back in the 1980s, when speed metal was first disintegrating, people talked about “selling out,” or dumbing down your music so that more people would buy it. By the time of black metal, it’s no longer “selling out” that’s the problem, but “becoming populist,” or taking a genre of archly unique neoclassical metal and turning it into the same three-chord, constant-rhythm morass into which death metal, speed metal and hardcore music before them all degenerated. This occurs in two forms, of course, the purist (“tr00 black metal”) and the avantgarde, the former trying to ape the format of the original works and the latter trying to turn them into something combined of odd parts of other genres. Neither succeeds because the focus is no longer on the music, but on the crowd.

Of course, to adopt the attitudes, values, and musical methods of every other genre out there returns metal to the level of generic music; it is assimilated by rock music, which was formed only through a desire to appeal to as many people as possible, and loses its uniqueness except in terms of the poses its fans strike and the antics and novelties its bands bring to the stage. It has lost heroism, both in music and in action, and thus has become another voice clamoring loudly of its uniqueness when that uniqueness died long ago. To persist in making such sold out and generic music, one must be negativistic to the degree that one believes no stirring music is any longer possible, thus “you might as well just make something people like.” Not only is this pity for the audience, but – as the virus of pity is wont to spread – it is pity for the self. No belief in ability to change the world makes one an emulator and, conscious of this status, one becomes miserable.

Interestingly, metal isn’t alone in this. Punk music went down this path in the late 1980s and became the totally soundalike, rubber-stamp similarity we hear today. Today’s black metal bands espouse “being the most extreme ever” and therefore like to sing about killing everybody on earth, destroying everything, killing themselves and other forms of self-pitying trash. Lacking self-confidence, these shadows of past glory have all of the “extremity” of a six-year-old’s tantrum, but none of the honesty: they’re simply out of ideas, but since they can’t socialize otherwise, are afraid to admit it and move on to something else. Like the doom metal bands who sing about the meaninglessness of life, or the punk bands who complain for forty minutes about society and then finally spit out the truth in a “love song” about being lonely and virtually stalking some unsuspecting female, these people have run to the end of the line and have nothing to offer to us but their pity and, of course, a chance to pity them – after all, they need us the crowd in order to have a meaning to exist.

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Art and ideology: inseparable

In the deconstructive age in which we live, it is considered normal to disassociate necessary parts of a mental or physical process where these parts might threaten our image of the individual as supreme decision-maker in each life. Our religions espouse the concept of a soul becoming immortal when it went to a place of perfection where (it was implied) every wish that could not be fulfilled on earth was indeed made real, by connotation escaping the interconnectedness of life and thus the inherent need to regulate resources such as time, money, energy and affection.

In a perfect world, the logic went, the interleaved order of nature was overthrown in favor of an absolute time and space where the gap between mental concept and reality was far reduced. In the same way that in the views of these religions the soul is entirely disconnected from physical presence, requiring that it either be created “before” the physical human or on another plane of existence (dualism), in the views of people in our modern time there is the concept that art is independent from the ideas and desires of its creators.

This excessively moralistic view exists most prominently in popular culture, where people fear inequity for the stigma belief in it evokes, and thus preach a constant easy solution: “It’s just music! There is no value conveyed by music other than your personal enjoyment, which is a choice made in a void or a dualistic environment in which purely abstract choices have no effect on reality.”

We can see the fallacy of this outlook immediately as it requires supernatural overtones to be made coherent at all: it assumes a plan to life outside of physical, biological, realistic existence, and therefore assumes that art like spiritualism takes place entirely outside of the realm in which we must survive — and survive by its rules and not those of the spiritualists.

Thus we come to music, and a form of music that hovers between popular music and being a legitimate artform (that which expresses ideas, instead of that which provides pleasing background noises emphasizing as its conclusions the assumptions of the crowd) in its own right, and see how damaging this view will be. If no music can convey a value system or an idea, a forcibly leveled playing field is created, and the only thing taht will distinguish one band from another is novelty or marketing, since there is no content — concept, message, belief, learning or experience — communicated to the listener.

Every sound is equal, and equally arbitrary; they are not symbols which strung together conduct a meaning between humans. There are no choices to be made, only a stream of bands to be purchased continuously. Naturally business and mediocre artists (who make up the bulk of any artistic population) love this democratic adoption, as it enables them to keep pumping out recombinant re-arrangements with clever surfacing, keeping a large flow of lackluster purchasing.

This murders genres; while the easy sales pitch will go quite far, at some point someone else somewhere introduces something more competitive, and the genre which has equalized itself to such populist mediocrity is then bypassed as it can, indeed, be stereotyped as mediocre – it has made itself so, and offers nothing another halfwit genre with a newer aesthetic does not. It has traded away quality for quantity in order to please those who wish to be part of it; each of them wants a part of it, and can have that, but only at the expense of the overall level of quality declining, because among humans only one in ten thousand will make music of any appreciable importance.

For contrast, one can for a moment imagine that one’s physical body is the seat of the “soul” and that one is created by physical circumstance more than by some mystical equality of soul defined by a religion made 2,000 years ago on another continent. Within this vision, humans are what they make themselves to be, but their impulse to make themselves into something better depends on their inherent inclination to recognize the possibility of something better existing; as many have noted, the truly stupid cannot conceive of anything different from the accepted format, and therefore cannot tell the difference between good art and garbage, as what makes art great is not some external factor — having a flute, more breakdown beats, or pipe organ solos — but an internal factor, such as how it is composed, its melodies and the ratios of cadences, and its structure formed from the sequence of musical parts that compose its whole.

Further, truly stupid parents never produce children of vastly greater intelligence, but advance incrementally only if several successive generations push themselves to greater heights and advance those among them who via fortunate accident exceed the previous standard of intelligence. Thus we can tell that body and mind are linked, much as artistic product and artists are linked. Do stupid artists make great art? Only in simplistic genres, one might think.

Returning to the question of whether or not an ideology produces art, we have only to think a moment about the process of artistic creation: an artist has some idea from which he or she produces an artistic work; there is concept, and then rendering of that concept into a sensual medium. In other words, there is a content outside the medium; great art is not achieved by randomness, or stupid people would do it. What makes art powerful is its ability to communicate, and what it transfers is the original idea of the artist as tempered through their past knowledge which like all philosophy or science is cumulative.

Based on the content to be communicated, the artist chooses style, medium and methods for conveying it, giving the work of art an enduring “meaning” for perusers to grasp. Much as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest uses an insane asylum as a metaphor for society, and White Noise makes a metaphysical statement from society’s confused internal dialogue, movies use the language of gangland to portray the workings of a modern city (Chinatown) and music lets a voice drop onto the discontent of a generation, channeling it into a symbol or feeling which unites disparate thoughts around a common central point (“Smells Like Teen Spirit” works as well here as “My Journey to the Stars”).

While not every artistic view is explictly political, any view can be interpreted politically: for example, “I just want to have my own space and have no one bother me” is a political view, if interpreted in the mechanism for achieving such a state in a world of other people; clearly this is an appeal to the liberal-democratic axis in politics, where the highest value is individual whim, wealth and comfort and social collectivism (or a holistic ideology such as Traditionalism) is not considered a viable option.

Similarly “We should stop pollution and not drive large cars” in a political sense appeals to the collectivist/fascist axis of human socio-political systems because its inherent political necessity is a decrease of personal liberty in exchange for a collective program that reduces pollution otherwise generated by many individuals in parallel caring only about the democratic-liberal aspects of politics. Even something like the faux angst whining of Kurt Cobain has its inherent liberal politics; he senses himself as oppressed by society, which is too uniform and too pointless, but that opinion is a counter-political action to that of society and thus does not differ in substance but application.

The concept that art is purely aesthetic, and thus conveys no ideas from the artist, is a means of nullifying it and reducing any differences it has from other forms of art to purely aesthetic disagreements; one band uses melody and carefully structured arrangements where another band is cyclic and uses rhythm more than tone, and this in the view of the nullifiers is no more significant than choosing to paint the sky blue in one painting and electric pink in another. This nullification is moral and democratic by its very nature, and it is only through careful sleight of hand that we are trained not to notice is condemnation of certain “political” art as what it is — a subtle but aggressive means of excluding other political views from discourse.

Originally published in “Anti-Art Manifesto #3,” 2004.

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