Man and Technics

The Hessian guide to the proper care and maintenance of your records and sound equipment.

Part I – Digital

Throughout the years, I have met many hessians that, despite the passion for metal music that is so common among them, haven’t yet learned how to take care of their records and sound equipment of which they depend so much.
Being part of a culture means, among many other things, maintaining the material manifestations of that culture. We get stronger, as individuals and as a culture, by learning good habits and applying our energies towards the preservation of the things that we care the most.

So it is imperative for us at the Hessian Studies Center, in our efforts to improve the well-being of metalheads worldwide, that we provide our readers with a comprehensive guide to the proper care of your music records and reproduction system.


Compact discs are by far the recording medium of preference for hessians of all ages and inclinations, and it is easy to see why: it is small, so it’s easily transportable and manageable, provides great, clean sound, and doesn’t degrade with use since the reproduction of sound doesn’t involve the constant friction of a needle or a cassette tape head. Of course, this medium has its detractors, and much more in the metal culture than other music-oriented human groups, for reasons we’ll explain later on.

Despite its advantages, CDs are very easy to damage if mistreated, so you must take the following cautions:

  • Never touch the readable surface of the CD. Grab the discs by its edges, never by the middle. It could get fingerprints on it, resulting in bad playback.
  • Always keep the CD in a protective jewelcase if you ain’t playing it. Other storing devices, such as wallets and cakeboxes, are not recommended since they could easily scratch the discs. Make sure that you have the inner tray of the CD case as clean as possible, removing all particles of dust, before storing the CD.
  • If the CD gets some dirt or dust on it, clean with a dry cloth, gently so that you barely touch the surface of the CD.
  • Keep your CDs away from humidity or high temperatures. If your CD gets splashed with water, gently dry it with a soft cloth, from center to edge, in a careful fashion so that you don’t scratch it.
  • Never use solvents or liquids of the sort to clean the CD, save for those cleaning kits available in commerce. Better yet, Just try your best to keep your CDs from getting dirt on them and they’ll be fine.
  • If your CD ever gets scratched, and those aren’t too deep into the surface, you can try one of those machines that refinish the readable surface, meaning they remove the scratches by polishing the acrylic plastic that is the transparent layer of the CD. If the scratch is too deep, or in the label side of the disc, it probably damaged the silver layer (where the audio is recorded). In that case you’re screwed. Repair kits aren’t too efective, so I wouldn’t mind with them if I’m you. DVD renting or used CD stores usually keep one of the aforementioned machines handy, and charge a small fee for the repair of a disc or several.

Also, keep in mind that straight scratches from the center to the edge of the CD are much less likely to cause your CD to malfunction when compared to scratches paralel to the circumference of the disc, for obvious reasons – a CD reproduction system can afford to lose one or a few bits without any problems, but not several of them, in which case the information (audio) might be impossible to read by the equipment.


To record a sample from your recordings, compilations and rare albums you know you won’t easily get otherwise, CDRs are very practical. They are also cheaper than they were years ago, but the average in price have lowered in great part because of cheap quality CDRs flooding the market. In choosing your recording medium, pick a good brand of CDR: Sony, Zykon, Kodak, Mitsui. Buying the CDRs in packs of 20, 25 or 50 is cheaper in the long term as well (less value per unit).

Make sure you buy a good brand of CD burner. Favorites among the public are Asus, Sony, Samsung, LG and AOpen.

For recording, use a good software such as Nero Burning Room 9. Always record your CDRs at the lowest speed possible. Preferably, you should never burn the disc faster than 4x of speed.

The bad combination of low quality CDs, cheap CD burner equipment and excessive burning speed may cause your CDRs to fail to reproduce on the short or the long term, so be sure to spend a little more and be a bit more patient. That way your burned CDRs will last for a long time (+5 years, at least, if you pick a good brand).

For storing the CDRs, you can use either a jewelcase or a slim case, the latter tending to be more practical if you have way too many CDRs. In the last case, it is also a good idea to have an Excel sheet of all your recorded CDs so you can find them, since you can’t easily label the side of slim cases.

Care tips for CDs are equally applicable to the recorded sort. Another thing that should be considered, though, is the damage that heat can produce to the special chemical properties particular to a CDR. So, you should never place a CDR in direct sunlight. More info here.

To label your CDRs, use a water-based marker with a non-sharp tip.

Digital formats

Not much to say here. Preferred audio formats for PC playback are mp3 and FLAC. The latter allows one to keep a CD quality, lossless reproduction of the recording, with its downside being a lot heavier in individual file size than mp3. Other formats, such as .ogg, are also preferred by certain digital audio aficionados.

One thing that should be mentioned, though: if you keep a large collection of digitalized music, it is convenient to store them on a separate external hard drive in case your computer crashes or fails, like they do so often these days.

Some links on the subject you may find useful:

  • Foobar 2000 – best damn audio playback software for your computer with lots of different options for amateur and expert audio freaks.
  • FLAC codec home – to download the program/codec that allows your PC to reproduce and burn FLAC files. It includes a coding/decoding software that is light and easy to use.
  • Fraunhofer mp3 audio codec – One of the best mp3 encoders, allows to get a better quality or definition of sound.

Part II – Analog

Members of the metal culture have a natural preference for analog formats, such as tape and vinyl. Other musical subcultures share this inclination with headbangers, whether out of audio resolution considerations (electronica fans seem to be of this camp) or simply out of an indescribable mystic feel that the listener captures out of enjoying or simply owning an album on analog format. I’ve seen that most hessians prefer this for the last consideration, that is, the special aura it invokes.

Not that there aren’t any practical considerations for preferring analog over digital formats. Tapes, for example, are sturdier than CDs, which give them an advantage on physical resistance. Besides, tapes permit multiple recordings as long as its sound quality lasts (which depends on the type of cassette…more about that later).

As you all most know, the main disadvantage of analog formats is their weariness. Since sound reproduction in their case involves the use of either a head or needle which is mechanically attached to the source of the recording, the latter slowly experiences a wearing of the surface layer where the audio is recorded, resulting all of this in a progressive loss of sound quality.

Yet, as with CDs, there are certain tips that can help increase the lifespan of your tapes and CDs in order for them to provide the maximal amount of listening time and enjoyment.


Tapes were (and still are, for some) tremendously practical for the active listener, in great part due to its portability and endurance. Besides, who didn’t start out on its metal journey without a Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden cassette on one’s walkman? Few, I guess.

  • First of all, keep your tapes from extreme temperature and humidity conditions. The recommended range is within 59 and 77° F and 40% to 60% relative humidity (that is, not wet, but not too dry either).
  • Keep your tapes away from any sort of magnetic field. Those include not only magnets, but also home appliances such as refrigerators, speakers and anything containing an electric motor.
  • Keep your tapes evenly wound, otherwise they get easily stuck on their casing and it may bring problems to sound reproduction, screwing with the tape itself and your deck as well! If your tape has a see-through casing, you should easily see uneven woundings in the rolled tape. If not, then try to roll the tape by hand to check if it presents difficulties or if it gets stuck. Solve the problem by fully rewinding your tape several times until it gets looser. If the tape is stuck in the casing, it would be better to do the process by hand, carefully so that you don’t break it. Also, be sure to rewind tapes completely after each use to maintain high performance.
  • Don’t leave your tapes in the car or other places where they may get direct sunlight or excessive heat. Remember the first tip.
  • It’s recommendable that you make quality copies of an original so that the latter lasts as long as it possibly can.


The LP and EP formats are a favorite for hessians and the one that carries most “mystique”. A lot of it has to do, in great part, with nostalgy: after all, in the classic era of metal the LP was THE format for albums that got released at the time, and most cover art was done specifically to fir into the large sleeves of LPs: if you want examples, you should look into Iron Maiden’s, Morbid Angel, Carnage, Dio and many, many others…the list goes on and on.

However, this particular medium requieres a lot more care to it, as vinyl is a very delicate material and the discs have some significant weaknesses that, with the arrival of the compact disc, were no longer an issue for listeners.

  • First things first: clean your records thoroughly. That is by far the most important detail you should think about. Not only the disc’s lifespan depends on it, but also its sound quality. Playing dirty records can eventually cause permanent damage to the disc, not to mention that the stylus on your record player wears more rapidly. Distilled water is recommended by many sources to be ideal for cleansing of the plastic in the record, it being a non-abrasive liquid, doesn’t leave any residues and the bottle is inexpensive. Besides, it disperses static charges and counteracts the increased conductivity from the pick-up of salt deposits form finger prints. Nonetheless, water isn’t enough. Surfactants are used as additives to enable water to be a grease solvent. Clean with a soft, anti-static cloth. Discs should be cleaned before and after each performance for the best results.
  • Handle your vinyl records as follows: keep finger contact with the edge and the labeled surface of the disc, never with the grooved surface. Remove the record from the jacket with the inner dust sleeve by bowing the jacket open by holding it against the body and applying a slight pressure with a hand. Hold a corner of the inner dust sleeve and pull the record out. Avoid pressing down onto the disc with the fingers as any dust caught between the sleeve and the disc will be pressed into the grooves. Remove the disc from the inner sleeve by bowing the sleeve and letting it slip gradually into an open hand so that the edge falls on the inside of the thumb knuckle. The middle finger should reach for the center label. Never reach into the sleeve.
  • Use inner sleeves made of polyethylene. Do not use record sleeves made of PVC. Paper made sleeves may scratch the surface of records.

Part III – Sound Equipment and Storage

We won’t stop here to review all kind of sound reproduction systems available in the market, for that would take many lines of text. A general rule that can be said about sound equipment shall, instead, be mentioned: that is, when you buy a new piece of equipment, give it a try at the store. Bring one of your CDs and check for the following:

  • Bass and mids response.
  • Speaker response @ full volume, although many stores won’t be so enthusiast about that test.

The ideal would be for you to buy one of those multi-unit hi-fi equipments that can be mounted on top of each other. Those usually are the best, for the reason that you can buy each unit from different sources and assemble your own, personalized system.

Your system needs to be dusted periodically, optimally once a day, to prevent particles of dust to reach any delicate part of the equipment, such as the lens from the CD player or the tape head. I’ve found that keeping a disc inside the CD player and a tape inside the deck while not using the stereo prevents this, in part. Also, be sure to put a piece of cardbox on top of the ventilation holes of the equipment so that dust and others don’t penetrate through them. Just make sure that you take the cardbox out when you’re using the stereo! Those ventilation holes are there for a reason, and if you obstruct them, your system may malfunction out of the heating of the components.

Your CD unit should be cleaned periodically. Electronics stores sell a kind of special CDs with little brushes on them that are made specially for the task of cleaning the lens of the unit. Using those with a once-a-month frequency can greatly augment the lifespan of the CD player.

For the tape deck, regular cleansing of the head with isopropyl alcohol is recommended. Buy a box of cotton buds and use it to apply a small amount of alcohol on the playback and recording heads. If there’s oxide, apply the cotton tip until it is removed. Give it a few seconds to dry out. Also, in the same way clean the tape guides and capstan (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, refer to this diagram). The pinch roller should also be cleaned in the same manner, this time using a mixture of water with a pinch of washing-up liquid. Do not use alcohol for the pinch roller, as it is made of rubber.

Demagnetizing the tape decks is also recommended. With use, the tape heads and guides tend to accumulate a magnetic charge that not only can interfere with the appropiate playback of the cassette, but an also destroy its high frequency content (remember what we learned about the sour relationship between tapes and magnets?). There are cassette-shaped, battery-powered demagnetisers available in commerce. Those should be applied to your decks once a month.

On vinyl record players, the following tips should be followed:

  • The stylus should be cleaned with a special kind of brush. This should be applied along the cantilever, in the direction pointed by the stylus (see here).
  • As stylus wears out, it eventually needs to be replaced. Have yours checked once a year by a specialist – usually someone who sells record players and related equipment. He will tell you if your stylus needs to be changed.
  • Place your record player on a stable, solid surface.
  • Dust it every once in a while.


This one is simple: keep your vinyl, CDs and tapes in their respective cases, and always store and stack them vertically, that way you avoid the deformation of the cases and the disc itself, in the case of vinyl. Obviously, the environment in which you store your records should have respectable temperature and humidity rates and be as clean as possible.

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Rembrandt – The Anatomy Lesson

Metal isn’t the only artform in history to portray sick imagery. Back in the “good old days” (18th century and below), when people were less afraid of seeing all sides of reality, even the most uncomfortable, genius artists made artworks like our pick of today: Rembrandt van Rijn’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp”.

Fitting as the insert of an Autopsy or a Carcass album, this painting shows the artist’s preference for the contrast between dark and light, with the latter only to draw more attention to the former (like metal does). The image itself portrays the urge to study the morbid in order to bring more health (again, like metal does). Its exquisite aesthetic details are carefully crafted to further draw us onto the imagery, even if we could initially feel repelled by such, and when the contemplation ends we finally see the subject as a normal, natural thing (metal’s best albums tend to do that as well).

Besides, it looks fucking metal, what else could you possibly want from it?

More info.

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Danzig – Archive de la Morte

(Music Video Distributors, 2004, 60 Min, $10)

Few underground bands will achieve a video document of this quality. It consists entirely of MTV-style song videos, professionally filmed and edited, which are either miniature movies in which the band is featured or high quality live recordings. The sound quality is excellent, as is the image quality, but having someone take the time to edit and shape the video experience as one might find in a cinema puts these in a different league. However, this DVD has a weak spot, and it is the choice of material. Where a disc of sloppier and less coherent videos from classic Danzig, namely the first two albums, would be a gigantic hit, there’s only one song from that era on here, and while the material from his later albums is good, it’s also more typical hard rock/heavy metal and thus does not show this band at their most adept and inventive phase. Furthermore, this DVD is literally an archive, and gives us six songs with up to three versions of the video for each, which makes it not only unsuitable for casual viewing but very limited. Couldn’t someone tack on some crappy handheld video of a live set at the end, as, well, that would be more the whole of the Danzig experience than this narrow snapshot? The videos are quite artistic, and feature heavy symbolism and plenty of evil moments. It culminates in “Mother ’93,” which is essentially the album track dubbed over some hammy but expertly edited live video. If you are a Danzig fanatic, this provides you with the videos you saw on MTV and the uncensored versions that you probably wanted desperately at the time. For the more casual fan, this video will probably seem like a hasty and unthinking compilation of material that documents the less triumphant moments of an otherwise influential act.

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Bones – “Mayhem on a Cross”

(Fox, Episode 421, 4-16-09)

Covering metal as a setting presents a problem for television because it’s nearly impossible to reveal much about the genre from a mainstream perspective, especially since it’s not the topic of the show. On Bones, the topic is murder and the setting is an underground of black/death/nu-metal bands who use the corpse of a murder victim as a prop. Having followed Temperance Brennan in Dr. Kathy Reichs’ books for some years, I was glad to see the show clarified her character. In addition, this show obliquely tackles the issues at the core of death and black metal. Brennan represents science and rationalism; her counterpart, Seeley Booth, represents monism and aesthetics. The interplay of their characters reminds me of the interaction between Fitzwilliam Darcy (Bones) and Elizabeth Bennet (Booth) in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Much like people in modern society, they assume Rationalism as a basis of reality but find the details overwhelm them. In the course of the show, they explore a desire in parallel between the show and the metal bands represented — how to express the horror of a modern time in a way that makes you like it, and want to use it as a showdown between good and evil, especially evil disguised as good, and how Rationalism — linear, logical, discrete, symbolic thinking — can get in the way of understanding our task of understanding ourselves. Diehards will not be pleased that the genres get lumped together in the bands shown, but will be interested to see the show’s clinical psychologist analyze the difference between the two. However, since the show is not about metal, but murder with metal as the setting, the airtime given to these underground genres is generous and the depiction accurate albeit distant.

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Asphyx – Live at Party San 2007

Asphyx – Live at Party San 2007
Ibex Moon Records, 60:32, 2009, $11

Asphyx make that which is heavy fun and compelling. This could be one of my favorite recorded metal concerts because it captures not only the professionalism, but also the minimal set-up and adornment, as well as the different frequencies of energy this band emit. They convert dark empty spaces to ones filled with a new kind of like, like twilight or morning, in which the darkness is never pure, having been converted to the inertia of day. All band members are professional and precise, and while Martin van Drunen gets his share of camera time, in my view it is the workmanlike and intensely concentrating Bob “Mister Asphyx” Bagchus who steals the show with his serious and intense facial expressions to accompany his exact drumming. Wannes Gubbels, bassist/vocalist late of Pentacle, injects a ton of exuberance, while guitarist Paul Wayyans shows us death metal the original way — a science and an art that both has to be kept simple and done so that it all makes sense in the end. These 62 minutes of powerful recording span the band’s entire career but focus on the classics from The Rack and Last One on Earth, giving us a set with career diversity but also a powerhouse of the songs that defined this band. Video is professionally shot with multiple camera angles, and while effects like the high contrast black and white flash, the rising fake flames, and occasional slo-mo are used, they are not distracting. van Drunen’s voice is excellent; I don’t know another metal vocalist who can make the guttural sounds of death vocals while keeping a forced scream going at the same time. He is an excellent frontman who both works the crowd, throwing out his ad libs with perfect rhythm to keep motivation high, and a consummate professional who uses his voice as an effective instrument. I think this should be mandatory watching in schools. This review refers to the DVD included with the release of Asphyx Death… The Brutal Way.

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Black Sheep Bred in Turbulent Times – On Metal, Hardcore Punk and Industrial

At all times, the function of art is to bring its audience as close to reality as possible, whether that reality is circumscribed to a certain group, in which its particular culture connects the group to a larger living frame, or by looking at that frame directly, not as members of race, nation or even as humans, but as conscious beings wishing to be more aware of the structure of the universe.

In healthy times, art is seen as necessary for the purpose described above. In sick, decadent times, on the other hand, the situation is drastically different. In times that are ruled by delusion and deception, true art is seen as dangerous, albeit the craft that could potentially create true works of art still exist. Such craft, however, doesn’t reach such heights in most cases, and generally the result is as empty as the values of the time the works were created.

In other words: false art is universally preferred and recognized over true art.

Three genres of music were, at least on their origins and their respective better days, not only true to the strict definition of what art is, but were created as a reaction to the present situation. Those genres are hardcore punk, industrial and heavy metal. These initially were the vehicles in which discontented youngsters with artistic talent and a sharper consciousness which allowed them to view the world in a more realistic fashion could pour their ideas and frustration in sonic form. Hardcore punk took a public-friendly style crafted by marketing and deconstructed it, making it more violent, minimalistic and less rigidly enclosed into a singular form. In the same way, industrial took mainstream music, mixed it with electronically generated sounds and turn that combination into a harsh and cold environment which reminded the listener of the monotonous sound of the industrial machinery that defines our times.

Metal was born into the industrial settings of England by taking rock music and injecting a strong dose of fatalism into it, influenced no doubt by the bleak and dehumanizing surroundings that the first metal heroes experienced. With time, the genre made gigantic leaps, evolving into a nihilistic, naturalistic and romantic artform which splitted from the mainstream forms (the “craft”) from which it initially developed.

Consequentially, those three genres of music are the most hated and ridiculed by the majority of people in today’s society. The fight against these was not only limited to finger pointing, but as a process of assimilation in which the spineless crowd filling the pockets of the mainstream music industry attempted to streamline the genres to make them more tame and accessible.

So, as much as there is false and true art, there is also false metal, false punk, and false industrial, with the proportion of true and false having a certain ratio to it. The struggle for each hessian, then, is to know the true from the false, and how? Easy: recognize that only a modest percentage of metal is worthy of your time; skew the rest; don’t listen to hipsters and other social manipulators; listen and buy only the music you most closely connect to; stay away from scenes: most are dens of manipulation in which the social takes precedence over the artistic, and you will waste valuable time listening to the drivel those people will shove down your throat, so you can be either as “open minded” or “elite” as them.

Lastly, remember the golden rule: if something (music, ideas) is hated with an irrational passion, give it a chance. It may probably be worth something. Be brave, and go against the grain, and you will reach for the best.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 8-2-09

On May 21, 2008, a man got into a bus in Seattle, Washington. Upon seeing the blind woman sitting up front, he shouted “The sick must die,” and began pounding her at full force. Before being restrained by bystanders, he made a powerful statement that shocked all who saw it. Here at Sadistic Metal Reviews, we apply his logic to bad metal. 99.9% of everything in this world is shit, metal included. Our job is to beat, rape, slash, punch, pummel, gut, pound and rip into the bad metal, and tip our hats to the good metal. Because if you love metal… you want the best to prevail! Help us kill the sick with this week’s update.

The Bakerton Group – El Rojo

This album really nails what Phish wanted to be all those years ago. Instead of going into the easy Grateful Dead retro jams, this band sums up the 1960s and 1970s by making a funkier version of King Crimson and the Doors, without vocals, so the open jams can expand like a jazz album — and in doing so, they’ve created a work of intense but thoughtful semi-improvised music that is what the brainier rock listeners have been seeking all these years. It’s easier jazz fusion with more structure, or instrumental rock with a soul. Songs start with basic riffs that expand as guitar and then organ takes the lead, finally culminating in a fusion of lead and rhythm guitar not like what Satriani was trying to do, but with more of an influence from the rich and yet offbeat sounds of the late 1960s. It’s not quite prog but it takes many of the best elements of prog, like the lacing of King Crimson style aggro riffing that pulls it back from the happy void, and puts them into a format that lures you in before you realize you’ve left the vocals behind and in doing so, gained a more flexible, varied and nuanced style of music. This is my pick of this review batch.

Israthoum – Monument of Brimstone

Although this band is listed as being from the Netherlands, they are Portguese in origin and sound like a cross between Primigenium and Gehenna. The second-wave black metal sound dominates this record, with cleanly picked chords and notes using updated versions of Darkthrone rhythms under vocals that owe their rhythms and pacing to the slicker versions of At the Gates-inspired death metal that came out in the late 1990s. Musically, Monument of Brimstone competes with the best of its generation, building its songs from basic riffs that through variations harmonize and rise to a peak of intensity. Even though there are newer touches on here like clean vocals and precision, the pacing of each song and their indulgence in a lush atmosphere of melody reveals the heritage of this band among the ideals of the past. In keeping with its style, this music is simple sometimes to the point of being simple-minded, but much of that perception lies in the refusal of the band to dress up simple songs in all sorts of tech wiz trickery that goes nowhere (metalcore, I’m looking at you). This disc may never approach the all-seeing personality of a Beherit, but stands neck-to-neck with the new Profanatica.

Goes Cube – Another Day Has Passed

Imagine crossing Corrosion of Conformity’s “Animosity” with Soundgarden and assorted punk bands, and you get this mixture of rock, metal riffs and newer generation punk aesthetics. Most sounds are founded in the sludgy crossover riffs and bounding, energetic choruses of later COC, but clean-voiced punk and alternative style bittersweet verses really accelerate these songs, giving them sweet pop hooks while backing that up with some surging guitar. This band is more musical than most, having a better sense of harmony and order, but that can’t save them from the lack of direction their basic style endorses. Clean/dirty dualism benefits Linkin Park, but Goes Cube clearly have higher ambitions. My advice is just to make a harmonically-interesting version of later COC and ditch the alt-rock pretensions; that crowd isn’t going to like anything with a metal riff, anyway.

Carpticon – Master Morality

Of all the attributes required to have a killer album, this CD exhibits 95% of them but doesn’t make it on the final 5%. That final bit is the most important: the science of writing melody and putting together melodies to make a song that resembles an attitude toward reality. Everything else is perfect: production, appropriation from Marduk and Antaeus of their strengths in riffing and rhythm, guitar sound, vocals. This album is like a finely made Swiss watch, with perfect appearance and beautiful shiny gears, but it’s always five minutes off. We want to like it but when it turns off we forget it was on, and never somehow manage to reach for it again. Oof.

Asphyx – Death… The Brutal Way

Metal bands coming back from the dead (the old school, swallowed up by the demand of metalcore fans for digestible products) either try to re-state the past, as our Editor kontinual is fond of saying, or they try to pick up where they left off, either trying to “modernize” their sound or develop their old sound. Asphyx go right down the middle. This is a poppier, more bombastic, simpler verse/chorus version of the sound on their self-titled album, and makes nods to some of the song constructions (epic breaks, staggered processionals) from their earlier works. It’s halfway to the Hail of Bullets sound without the metalcore-styled insistence on constant high intensity and chaotic style, and halfway to older Asphyx, but although it is simplified it is nonetheless powerful. If you can imagine The Rack, Asphyx and On the Wings of Infero hybridized with Hail of Bullets or the new Seance, you have the basic idea. Interestingly, at these mid-tempo speeds and simpler arrangements, the punk roots of Asphyx show through, but their punk is also old school, specifically old school hardcore. They break out enough doom metal riffs and slamming death metal riffs to be satisfying, but the ethereal cloudless sky traveling tremolo speed riffs are gone, as are the more involved theatrical constructions that mimicked the topics of song and actually sounded like a march to an altar of doom, or an unhonoured funeral. As a result, I can wholeheartedly recommend this album with the caveat that it’s an A+ take on Asphyx “lite” and as such, a B+ version of older Asphyx that loses some of the great subtlety and grandeur the old school had.

Virus – The Black Flux

It’s really easy to fool metal fans. Just tell them something is unique, and point out what it does that “most metal” doesn’t, and they’ll buy it like labradors eyeing a hot dog. This is goofy, pseudo-gothic rock with semi-technical playing, but shows no distinction in melody or rhythm; in short, it’d be thrown out if it tried to compete in its genre. But you get a bunch of underconfident metalheads looking for mainstream affirmation, and apparently, they buy it, although they will only enjoy it for two weeks of telling other people they “just don’t get it” due (the implication goes) to their inferior mentation. How tiresome. It’s like Opeth but even less distinguished from normal rock music. Fail.

United Nations – United Nations

When nu-metal died, it went straight into alternative rock and picked up that post-Descendents clean-voice punk sound. United Nations start with really gentle punk songs and then put in raging, distorted-vocals choruses, and pick up the pace with adept jazz/metal drumming. The ensuing lack of direction means the band sounds like a punk band that runs into hard times and confusion every thirty seconds, and as a result, the band fails to strengthen either their punk side or their more rock ‘n’ roll side, leaving us the listeners stranded in a middle ground that is quite honestly really simply annoying on an aesthetic level. While musicianship is at a higher level than average, it is also not particularly directed, and so ends up being just very competent guitar playing. I’ll take the punk with spirit and incompetence instead.

Fatal – Retrospective from Hell

Like that kid in the back of your sophomore year English class, Fatal create a true retrospective from Hell by throwing too much into their music all at once. I can appreciate bits of it but I hope I never have to listen to it again (it’s how al-Qaeda will torture me, no doubt). These songs rush at you with vocals and guitar rhythm synchronized, or restate their themes too apparently and too repetitively, hoping the speed will rocket you past the repetition. Lead guitar is surprisingly versatile, sounding like a cross between Thanatopsis and Gorefest. Often times this band sounds like a young Brutal Truth, and indeed one of its more interesting factors is how much it gets away from the heavy metal queso that blights most early death metal attempts, and there’s a clearly interesting convergence of cultural influences from the different metal subgenres here but it’s unclear whether any direction it produces can communicate something eternal, or even something I’d like to hear again. Essentially, this band is a heavy metal band that has disguised itself in death metal camouflage. If you’re one of those fucking idiots who think death metal only got good when it started resembling the rock music it painfully broke away from, you might think this is “progress,” but to the rest of us, it’s a staggering cliche sliding out from a husk of real metal.

Don the Reader – Humanesque

This is off the shelf metalcore. Percussion section is better than average, and there’s a slight Pantera influence that leads to some Southern fried sound bends added to otherwise rigidly square-cut material. The problem this band faces is that it is flamingly obvious. You can pretty much guess not only where every song is going to go, but also, the riffs are just extremely obvious variations on known patterns. If these guys know what’s good for them, they’ll just become a doom metal version of Pantera. We all know metalcore has entered its twilight days, so why not buck the trend and jump the curve?

Creepmime – Chiaroscuro

Every artist has “go to” albums when they run out of ideas, and many of them are obscure works that were full of ideas but for some reason never found an audience. For technical metal, Chiaroscuro must be a go-to for many others, because this band wrote the book on this style far before it became popular. Creepmime on this CD inevitably compare to later Obliveon, Cynic, Voivod, Supuration and Samael: this is technical music using jazzy drumming, indie rock minor-key progressions, death metal lead rhythm riffing and periodically, technical heavy metal flair. It is far better than the second Cynic album because each song here is centered around exploring and expressing an idea, so they remain distinct in our minds. Like Voivod, an infectious rhythm guides us between open chords or sweep-picked fills, with dissonant and inverted chording guiding us through a bouncy but linearly-directed rhythm. Tempi shift not abruptly but sensibly, like undertow tucked into a wave. While each song uses varied basslines, techniques, and multiple riffs, they hold together because Creepmime know how to keep the focus on content. While this early experiment in “modern metal” never caught on, it kept the faith of older metal in the newer style better than anyone save perhaps Demigod, and if re-released today would find its audience finally grew into it.

Mictlantecuhtli – Warriors of the Black Sun

This melodic death metal band writes from the perspective of ancient Amerindian warriors, and while using a modern style, convey that spirit through high-intensity music that makes good use of the template bands like Unanimated, Dissection and Intestine Baalism created to immerse us in a mood of thoughtful, aggressive, and serious engagement with the world. Not without personality, Mictlatecuhtli carefully weave the punchy motivational riffing of later Sepultura into this format, giving it a compelling forward direction. While there’s nothing here that will surprise a metal fan, this release stays closer to the heart of the motivation behind this type of metal music than any recent release. At the very least, there’s no excuse for your Dark Tranquility, In Flames, and Amon Amarth CDs when the real deal comes to you from Mictlantecuhtli.

Solstafir – Köld

Remember when it was really hip and trendy to use the word “shambolic” a year or so ago? Metal has its trends to as people look for some direction that’s proven to “work,” or get them on the bestseller list. Solstafir stumble in with last year’s trend, which is to mix a whole lot of shoegaze into your metal. However, the band make one salient and brilliant decision, which is to keep the pace fast and thus not aggressive as much as energetic and seemingly important. Yet chord progressions and general sensibility tell another tale, as do the production and “why, God, why” vocals. The problem is that metal is so distinctive and clear in its motivations, like a headstrong style, that mixing it with just about anything results in that anything “with a few metal riffs.” That’s about what it sounds like here. Unfortunately, they do so without any real grace, using well-known chord progressions and rhythmic changes in atmospheric songs that hold together mainly because of the rote pounding of that atmosphere. This will not satisfy metal fans, but people accustomed to shoegaze might find it an interesting deviation of aesthetic.

Divine Heresy – Bringer of Plagues

Modern death metal is a lot like the modern time: throw everything into a bowl, pour dressing over it, and call the resulting salad “distinct” even though it has made itself as generic as possible. With too many different tastes, you end up with a background hum of all the same intensity. This CD is no exception, with metalcore composition and generally melodic technical death metal riffing, but vocal chanting like a combination between Pantera and Biohazard; then, each song must break into clean vocals that are a combination between the cheesiest moments of (new) Metallica and something like Coldplay. It tries to be emotional, but since there’s no direction and every different ingredient in its salad is turned up to 11, you end up with a wash of different stuff that never forms into a shape or takes a stand. You could compare it to a sitcom: the story (songwriting) is the background, but you need a different scene or distraction every two minutes so the audience can keep laughing even though they’re only watching with one eye. I think this CD like so many modern metal ones is designed to be heard with half an ear, with the TV and GAIM going in the background, maybe while eating something really sticky. Flee.

Negura Bunget – Maiastru Sfetnic

When people talk about how black metal has been “band of the month” since 1994, this album comes to mind because it was massively feted, and then fell off the radar. In it we can see why most second-wave black metal failed, which is that these bands try to mix so many different styles into one they end up with an ambiguous voice, in addition to by emulating the past having nothing to do but recombine older elements, which further dilutes any idea for a song they might have had. Songs should be like poetry; based on a feeling, or about an experience, they are there to convey the change in mood that made that experience memorable. This album conveys the experience of flipping through a catalog of metal CDs, and hearing samples of random parts of each, which are then tied together into a dramatic black metal style that has so little contrast it’s like going through Disney’s “The Haunted Mansion” at 60 mph, repeatedly. Dangerous because it’s so close to good, at least if you listen to a minute at a time, this album goes nowhere ultimately and so leaves us feeling like we’ve just eaten 3,000 calories of junk food — like a steak, but less satisfying. There’s a good reason this was popular: they can play their instruments, and the production is good if primitive. But there’s an equally good reason we so quickly forgot it.

Ajattara – Noitumaa

This all-acoustic album resembles the attempts of other black metal bands to rediscover a folk-ish sound, like Wardruna and Lord Wind, by leaving behind the rock instrumentation and focusing on writing melodies like those in the indigenous cultural songs of their youths. Interestingly, their refusal to ditch the black metal vocals makes them stand out further as harsh and unyielding, and slices a vicious element deep into this music, which is about as far from the blues-folk of radio indie that you can get. These are simple songs with savage rhythms and complex emotions. While song structures are cyclic and so wear down the listener after some time, and many of the riffs here sound like they were originally composed for distorted guitar, the acoustic guitar offers dynamics unavailable to black metal and this enables this band to immerse themselves in a musical subtlety that gives these songs depth. By far better than this band’s black metal releases, this album of occult, pagan, primitive campfire songs is worth hearing.

Weapon – Drakonian Paradigm

The first track, “Weapon,” uses an introductory riff/solo pair that resembles the first track on Unanimated’s In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead album, a minor-key bluesy sound; the rest of the album does not improve on this: Weapon are trying to merge heavy metal and war metal and as a result have made a kind of pop music that might be interesting if it’s your first metal album. This album is musically well-executed, but that’s only a means of tying together its parts, not make them express anything. And express nothing they do, except that sense of “you’re listening to some kind of metal” that comes with simple beats, solos so fast they sound like eunuchs on speed mumbling, and raspy vocals. Every single song here uses well-known patterns with no new interpretation. It panders to the audience by delivering what they expect, in sloppy underground fashion aping a version of the same mainstream heavy metal most of us hide from if given a chance. The problem is that it’s boring. It’s basically 1970s heavy metal, kind of sloppy like Venom, with bouncy rhythms. If I wanted to listen to pop music disguised as the avantgarde, I’d just hook up with some DEERHOOF and tight jeans. This is everything I hate about heavy metal: an insular culture that rewards repetitive pointless music so they can have an identity, clustered in products like jean jackets and CDs, that has nothing to do with experiencing life — but rather, hiding from it.

Monstrosity – Spiritual Apocalypse

Take the faster parts from earlier Cannibal Corpse, put bluesy solos on half of them, and have them rush into foreboding riffs like Immolation makes, complete with the pinch harmonics and harmonizing that gives that band its dark sound. Toss in a few bouncy heavy metal riffs. The real problem with this CD is that songs don’t fit into songs. They are cyclic riff pairs joined by the aforementioned dark rushing riffs. The intensity of percussion and speed confuses the direction of songs as well by compressing their dynamics and limiting their vocabulary of tempos, so riffs sound similar by the sheer basis of rushing by so quickly. Some of the riff writing and melodic work on this is fantastic, reminiscent of early Brutality, but the “modern death metal” tendency to shift randomly between riffs and styles creates a headache in the making, which is why old schoolers are probably going to avoid this thing. The album is catchy and hookish but the sensation is dulled as it pounds its way into your head. The individual riffs, rhythms and transitions are of quality, but they are assembled without subtlety, making this hard to listen to for long.

Satyricon – Now, Diabolical

This CD reminds me of Coroner’s “Grin” meeting later Samael. The beats are groovy, with a strong disco influence that extends to song structure, and riffs are pleasantly arranged around harmonic structures of a basic nature, making it really easy to listen to, but hard to really immerse yourself in, because it’s basically no different than alternative metal like later Prong or Filter. Unlike early Satyricon, which tried long melodies it couldn’t quite pull off, this album rushes headfirst into rock and, like early Danzig albums, delivers a pleasant listening experience, even if not one memorable enough to reach for time after time.

Massacre – The Second Coming

Huge for a moment in the 1990s because they inherited Death’s rhythm section and lead rhythm guitarist, Massacre somehow dropped off the radar with The Promise, a CD so bad it defies description. Now they’ve released this tribute to their early years with a demo of an album from before their post-death lineup. It’s in a different style that can be best described as a fusion of technical speed metal (Dark Angel) and old school death metal like Master or Nunslaughter, which results in a periodically very musical work that nonetheless plods ahead with heavy repetition and little harmony. The sense of this music being unformed, like most death metal from the 1980s, is palpable; there are bits of heavy metal, speed metal, punk and nascent death metal in a kind of salad that makes no sense, like a journey through radically different terrain. Interestingly, it sounds a lot like the Mantas demos from the early 1980s, which also had Kam Lee on them. Which way did the influence flow? We will probably never know. It is also worth mentioning that after they recorded this, they stored it underwater near a radio transmitter, so the sound quality is slightly worse than the average demo. Songwriting shows promise but is not mature. In contrast, the live recording of “From Beyond” seems otherwordly good. If I could send a wish into the universe, it’s that Kam Lee re-records/re-constructs this album with musicians more versed in early 1990s death metal.

Vorum – Grim Death Awaits

Mix old Seance with the Funeral Mist style of forward-grinding death metal, and you get Vorum: almost a tribute to Grave-cum-Florida-DM, but rapidly degenerating into heavy metal cliches. The problem with bands of this level is that they don’t understand that turning everything up to 11 sounds really cool but gets completely uniform after awhile, as does the inability to make a melody longer than three notes, because it condemns them to repeating known riff patterns at top speed. All of this is thoroughly competent, mind you, but it’s what Michael Crichton called “thin intelligence”: a large amount of ability, but thinking limited to that ability, and so no ability to get the bigger picture and make art of it. Spare me.

Mgla – Presence

Black metal “standards” since 1994 have plummeted like a rock, which is why year to year, people mention different favorite bands. It’s as if memory has been erased in information overload. Mgla have studied the canon of black metal carefully, and then, have made the same boring rock music you can find in a million other forms — but it’s dressed up as black metal. For starters, they have no conception of how black metal melodies are written, but they know how to use different chord shapes for that “black metal effect”! Next, there’s zero ability to comprehend black metal dynamics. This CD is like a cage of monkeys constantly shouting for attention. There is no lead-up, no building, no suspense and no contrast — just constant shrieking and Burzum technique wrapped around melodies and happy offbeat riffs that would be apt for a Coldplay album. Burn this farce.

Kroda – Towards the Firmaments Verge of Life

These guys produce their vocals like Summoning, and their guitar distortion like the band down the street. Who convinced them this cheap, hollow digital sound would go anywhere? Their songwriting is great except for two factors: (1) a dependency on verse chorus and every third iteration, an interruption with an interlude or non-harmonic bridge; (2) the melodies they write are both happy and simple, like pop with ancient overtones. It’s not bad but it’s somewhat irritating and not a resonant keeper, although it’s fair to mention this band is more interesting than 98% of what comes over my desk. I hope they fix the production, write in varying modes, and fit song structure to the form of its content, and then they’ll be rocking.

Abaroth – The Mountain Gate

So many people grasp so much of black metal but not the ability to use it expressively. This excessively rhythmically chant-aligned album shows a good working knowledge of the black metal aesthetic — and songs that go nowhere. They start, enter us into a cycle of two riffs, interrupt the cycle and return and then end, seemingly abruptly, without much having changed. They are like summer electrical storms from a distance in that there’s a bunch of flickering and frenetic activity, and then everything is just as it was. It’s hard to summon the courage to down releases like this, and there are many, because there’s nothing “wrong” with them — but there’s also nothing so right you’d want to pull it off the shelf and listen to it, and the core of that “tl;dr” impulse is that they don’t express anything unique. They’re variations on the known, and even if they’re more competent there’s nothing to make you want to return to them.

Militia – The Sybling

Someone mentioned this as a classic of great rarity. It may be rare — but it should be rarer. Did you want 1980s style power metal, with disconnected vocals floating above some standard riffs spewed from downtuned guitars? Yeah, it’s about like that. The result is dischordant and not particularly memorable, although I’m certain it’s rare. Hopefully they’ll box up the remaining copies and exile them to Skull Island so no one has to hear this. It’s NWOBHM with speed metal riffs and none of the grace.

Isis – Wavering Radiant

The hardest part about modern society is keeping a straight face. Someone will hand you something misbegotten, tell you it’s good and that many people really dig it. Your job is then to keep from laughing or crying until you’re out of the room. Isis sounds to me like Jawbreaker’s Bivouac — lots of different stuff going on, but none of it develops on the other stuff; it’s all just a sampler plate, and it relishes the “differentness” of its parts as proof that it has great breadth and thus universal wisdom — as done by an indie rock band or shoegaze allstar. I guess that’s what floors me most: how little “different” is going on here, and how much of well-camouflaged “same” is present. There are periodic indie metal riffs, meaning they’re not twisty phrases of interest like death metal but a lot of strumming with sudden breaks. But it’s different, you see, because it’s all mixed together, and even though everything else is made of mixed-together stuff, this mix is different. The clean singing reminds me of Christian rock bands. The melodies are jazzy pop but stay localized in different parts of each song, making the whole thing an incoherent salad of bits that try so hard to be like a style that they end up being stylish but having no distinct voice of their own. This album is truly the triumph in metal of insincere people — call them poseurs, scenesters, hipsters or consumers if you’d like — who can only see surface appearance because they fear what lurks beneath, so they specialize in making the same old stuff but accessorizing it as something cosmic and groundbreaking. Apparently this is popular and I should not laugh at it.

Mayhem – Ordo ad Chao

For some reason this reminds me of Portal or Molested: a lush texture of harmony, in which variances drop out some sounds and augment others, like a pure harmonic tuner of mood. This de-emphasizes rhythm, although there’s plenty of rhythm work present, but usually to work the song up to that state of harmonic wall of noise. I think it’s a response to Burzum’s rhythmic sweep-picking technique. Either way, it is a really interesting sound that approximates some of the odd chord shapes and thus non-standard harmony to semi-standard progressions that defined Thorns; it gives this music a depth and mystery that no previous Mayhem album has had. In fact, this is the best thing they’ve done since De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, although artistically it’s probably only about a quarter as powerful as that album. Its Achilles heel is that repetition of technique and similar rhythms makes the songs indistinguishable from each other and ruins the dramatic effect of contrast. Like many black metal releases post-1994, I don’t mind this but feel no reason to take it off the shelf and listen to it.

Impiety – Terroreign

The trends come and go. One year it’s Velvet Caccoon, the next Cemetary, and then everyone wants to get back to their roots so the trend is the anti-trend. Impiety tuned in to the anti-trend by going back to Grave, Repulsion and other really simple versions of the death metal paradigm. They do OK at this because they are able to write really compelling rhythms. Unfortunately, no melody or sense of structure emerges from that, so these are very box-cut songs with rather predictable progressions. The band themselves seem to know this, and kill as much time as possible with guitar squeals, noise, and stop/start rhythmic passages designed to make us think something exciting is going to happen. It doesn’t.

There you have it — another set of reviews that accurately reflects like: 90% of it sucks, 9% is OK, and 1% is what you really live for. It’s the same with metal. Unlike other review sites, we can’t be bought and won’t write a lie in a review, so you get the pure skinny on what sucks and the occasional floater that rises above the dense, shadowy turds that lurk in the murky shallow pool of metal. If you go out there and buy only the best, the weak will starve and metal will be stronger, which is why we write sadistic metal reviews.

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Defining metal

People don’t understand that inaction is a form of action. They like to act against anyone who changes their default expectation. They’ll call that person a fascist or a control freak, blind to how they are trying to control as well — just passively.

And if there’s one thing that’s un-metal, it’s passivity.

Here’s a conversation I had recently:


Wolves In the Throne Room isn’t black metal per se. It’s like indie shoegaze with a black metal influence.

Other Dude:

Who are you to say what is or isn’t black metal?


So you’re saying Wolves in the Throne Room is black metal?

Other Dude:



So in other words, you’re telling me what is black metal?

Other Dude:



And by extension, you’re also going to tell me what is not black metal, if it’s not on the list of what you say is black metal?

Other Dude:

Well yeah but


So you’re doing the exact same thing you accuse me of.

Other Dude:

I think most people would say Wolves in the Throne Room is black metal.


But in addition to that, you’re telling me what is and is not black metal? Yes or no please.
Source: /r/metal

I’ve had this discussion more times that I can safely recall without vomiting. The crowd assumes that if they’re not the one making the assertion, they’re not telling you what to do — when, whether they’re hiding behind the skirts of “what everyone thinks” or not, they’re doing exactly that.

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The poetry of metal

Writing good lyrics is part of having a complete song. In my view, a bad song with good lyrics is still bad, but a good song with bad lyrics is going to get listened to less because people want to avoid hearing the verbal stupidity. Metal has some amazing lyricists among its ranks.

Here’s one of my favorites:

Far away from civilization
A secret farm full of obscure persons
And full of weak cattle exists
Every morning the farmfather
Satisfied himself with the cattle
Fatigo – it’s an everflowing plague
No escape from the penis of dead
No hope for all the dead chicks
Crucio – the same procedure everyday
The same thing the whole night
Sometimes, when travellers enter the farm
They won’t return from those pervert people
Get strangulated by the evil farmers
Get buried somewhere in the desert around

I wish someone would translate it to English, but it says it all. The metaphor is so rich, thick with nuance, and the language in protean contortions mimics the world it describes. If you’re a fan of 13th century Sicilian poetry, you’ll notice the sequential repetition of concept, which was considered desirable in that art form. Blending old and new, in a nod to our great living poets, its use of language in flux defines this as a top-notch work of poetry.

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