“Only Death is Real” by Tom G. Warrior

The OG (originall G. Warrior) of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost has penned a new tome to complement his last, Are You Morbid?, and this time include 288 pages of reminiscences and several hundred photos from the vault:

“This is a book about the real Hellhammer, the essence of that group, the aura it carried, and the truly unique spirit of revolution of the times in which it existed. It is a book about a group of outcasts—about persistence, dedication, and an utterly personal vision. I have worked very hard to make sure it will do justice to the work of a number of very unique people who shared the same ideas at a very unique point in time.”—Tom Gabriel Fischer

“Only Death is Real,” by Tom G. Warrior

Having thoroughly enjoyed Are You Morbid?, I’m looking forward to this. Fischer skips over the odious hallmarks of the professional writer that turn every adventure into a narrative like a TV show, and instead lets his natural voice ring out, which is good because his desire to seize life by the balls and wreak manic mayhem upon it is evident in every page. This is clearly an intelligent, purposeful person and his art reflects this fact. Looking forward to getting this new book as I’m sure he has only improved since that freshman effort.

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Pages of Pure Fucking Damnation: Zines in the Death Metal Underground

1. Introduction

2. Individual Thought Patterns: Apostles of Death Metal

3. Infestation of Evil: Chroniclers of Black Metal

4. Droid Sector: Information Networks and the Degeneration
 

Written by Devamitra with Alan (Buttface), Brian (Chainsaw Abortions), Niko (Hammer of Damnation), Timo (Fallen Pages) and Pete (Pure Fucking Hell)

Introduction

The violent, obsessive and obscurant phenomenon of death metal arose in the middle of the 1980’s from the minds of alienated and intelligent artists, writers and musicians while the powers of the world were engaged with the nuclear paranoia of the Cold War, while computer technology broke through to everyday life in Western societies, while preachers were fighting against Satanic messages in party-loving hair metal albums and while musicians in the vein of U2 were participating in massive events that attempted to bring world peace and end famine with decades old clichés of British rock music. NWOBHM and British punk were dying out, replaced by the tough street gang aesthetics of hardcore and the satanic postures of early speed and black metal. The public stances of groundbreaking bands were growing to be more and more incompatible with mainstream rock media, which since the demise of the “counterculture” had abhorred ideological consistency as a threat to the marketing forces for which it owed its livelihood.

Real metal fans tended to be smarter than the average mainstream rock fan and naturally gravitated towards more critical sources, written by fans to other fans. The success of bands such as Metallica and Slayer wasn’t founded on big corporations’ agencies of promotion. Active touring, circulation of demo tapes and word of mouth established the reputation of these non-compromising bands, along with independent heavy metal publications such as Metal Forces Magazine in the UK and Kick Ass Monthly in the USA. While these started out as photocopied zines, they soon became professional but continued championing the authentic observations of the editors, distinguished metal writers such as Dave Reynolds and Bob Muldowney (R.I.P.), for relatively small profit and a benefit to metal fans worldwide in search of ever more lethal developments of the basic ideas of heavy metal music.

Individual Thought Patterns: Apostles of Death Metal

Death metal in the 80’s was as avant-garde and extreme as metal went. In keeping with the independent spirit, death metal fans corresponded with each other and compiled newsletters that were at first minimal and crude, spreading the viral infection of an art form which was long abhorred by fans of classic metal and power metal. Thus, the crown jewels of death metal media originated perhaps from lands separate from the Anglo-American centers of youth subculture dissemination, where enthusiasm for the new style existed alongside speed metal and crossover interest: Metalion’s Slayer Magazine (Norway), Laurent Ramadier’s Decibels of Death (France), Desexult’s Blackthorn (Denmark), Headbanger Zine (Peru), Alan Moses’ Buttface (Australia), Streetcleaner (Germany), Isten (Finland) and lots of others with enormous local influence. Contemporary US zines that didn’t lag behind included, for example, Aggressive Metal/Screams from the Gutter, Ripping Headaches and Chainsaw Abortions.

Alan: I am into different extreme styles, so I did not want to limit my zine to one style – there was way too much good stuff across the board back then, and very little crap. It’s the opposite today. At first I just read zines , all of them from overseas, and the thought never came to mind to do one myself until I realized I had a lot of contacts by tape and video trading. There were no metal oriented zines in Australia in those days – and only few punk/HC zines – which really didn’t get distributed well here, and they just were not good. So I decided to combine my love for all the styles, and I had a partner who helped me get interviews etc. too – we combined our resources and became the biggest traders with the biggest and really only zine from here – Buttface. It worked exceptionally well because none of the bands we ever contacted back then had done anything with an Australian zine – so a lot of the time that worked in our favour. Barely anyone in this country ever saw my zine because nobody was really into the music as much yet, it would be years before the underground bands got a big enough following here.

Brian: For me, I think the idea for Chainsaw Abortions just came because I’ve always loved music, hearing new things and spreading the word about things after I discovered them. In those times doing a zine was the best way to do that. My only contacts when I started were the local bands here in Buffalo, then from letter writing and tape trading my connections quickly grew. Of the zines that I bought back then, I really liked Death Vomit from Virginia and Ripping Headaches from Florida, plus of course Buttface from Australia.

Alan: Haha, I noticed that Brian mentioned Buttface! I only saw Brian’s zine in 1990, which was good because it was a bit like BF, in that it had a bunch of different bands (despite the zine’s name implying more of a death metal zine it had variety). Personally my favourite zines were Blackthorn from Denmark (my friend Esben Slot Sorensen’s zine with his fellow Desexult guitarist Henrik Kjaer), Decibels of Death zine (DOD) by Laurent Ramadier who was also a trader of mine, and Ultimate Speedcore Dislocation zine (USD) which had a couple editors, one of them which was a trader of mine called Evil Ludo Lejeune – both those zines are French. In the USA without a doubt for me, Invincible Force (Bryan Daniel) and Ripping Headaches (Bruce Davis) both from Tampa FL, although there were other much older zines like Total Thrash and Uniforce which I loved getting my hands on when I could. I never purchased any zines pretty much except Blackthorn, it usually worked out that I got copies from the editors in trade or they were included in packages of tapes or shirts or records, as extra goodies you know? We always did shit like that, crammed photos or stickers or flyers into the package to make it cooler for whomever you sent it to. We all did that stuff pretty much – shit, a lot of us couldn’t stand to have blank audio tape in a trade, and we’d put filler music to highlight a band we liked to another person, or we’d send messages to each other on the cassettes to fill the space. That was always fun, to hear your trader’s voice, read their letter, check out all the cool music they sent you, then have a photo as well. You really felt special and connected to people, and you had to pay your dues.

With their down to earth, entertaining but always informative reviews and interviews the zines of the era opened for many ignorant small town kids the landscape of the underground, the indivisible fabric of ideals, images, and hard work by their intricate visual and literal presentation of the latest frontier of metal. Often black and white, cut and pasted by hand and then photocopied, the zines were constructed with care and attention to build an aura of mystery and power, laid out symmetrically with blasphemous figures and gory art, encasing the alien appearance of foreign bands in sheets of terror resembling an ancient tome. The DIY method had an invaluable asset in that it was relatively independent from monetary concerns and possible for basically any fan with the required intelligence, attention span and literary abilities. Actually many zines seemed to even manage without these.

Brian: Chainsaw Abortions was just photocopied, so my part time job paid for issue #1. For issue #2 my dad made the copies at his work for me because they had a copy machine that could handle 11 by 17 copies so it ended up not costing me anything to do, except of course postage.

Alan: I was going to college full time and had no job, but I was getting a student allowance from the government here, so 100% of that money went towards all my underground activities. In 1988 I got a very well paying job in a factory – so I busted my ass working 6 days a week, and many times 16 hour days. My parents were cool and didn’t ask for too much money from me, which left me with a lot to spare – I just boycotted Australian record stores though. They never knew what stock to get in and always overcharged (100′s of % overcharge). I went right to the labels (which were all underground mostly) or got the stuff from the bands if the released records themselves, and had things sent sea mail which took a bit longer but was so cheap, saving more money. Time management was easy, because I was a full time student back then, with no wife, no kids, not much responsibility and was well trained in making my time count that I could get the zine done with not much effort time-wise. I never paid to have my zine printed, it was photo copied, at my father’s job on weekends… but Buttface was thick, massively thick, with the best quality back then you could get by photocopying anyways. There’s no way I could have done a printed zine, you have to have a ton of money for that. Ronny Eide from Morbid Mag in Norway worked, plus later he started to distribute porn to pay for his exceptionally high quality zine. We also glued our stamps – there is a special technique to be able to reuse a postage stamp. It’s a federal crime of course, but we did it anyways saving $1000′s of dollars a year. I think I traded records with one of my many Brazilian contacts for 12 months by airmail and only purchased two sets of stamps – that’s a shit load of money saving, hehe!

Typically, when starting out, the editor of the zine was a young fan without widespread indoctrination to the scene in the sense of agendas, friendships and contacts, while of course being impressionable and receptive to new drifts and ideas. One accustomed to the 21st century neurosis which causes every black metal fan to consider himself an expert on religion and politics may note that the reviews in the old zines were sparse, usually a few sentences describing the style with a brief note on its perceived quality, while interviews tended to concern the mundane activity of the band in recording and rehearsal conditions, including aspects of everyday life. Far from boring and trivial, it was the sort of discussion the target audience could best relate to and helped the spawning of new bands, as fans realized that the masters of death metal mostly weren’t trained musicians or professionals of the business, but other fans and maniacs themselves who passed their time between school and work engaging in art, violation and a healthy distaste for conformity.

Alan: Too funny, I do not consider I was a critic, we had stupid funny questions and hell, it was fun but not a piece of journalistic work, heh!

Niko: I used to do tape trading in the late 80′s and more or less related to that I got my hands on some early issues of some Finnish fanzines, for example Isten and Axe. I found them very inspiring. At the time there was no Internet as we know it today and it was very difficult to find information about bands you were interested in, or bands you didn’t know even existed. So it all pretty much started from a personal obsession to find out information about bands and artists I was interested in myself. I didn’t have any contacts in the beginning, apart from a number of tape traders, but the flyer circulation was a very handy and effective way to learn about various activities as well as spread information about your own. It was all somewhat difficult in the beginning as I was young and obviously didn’t know anything about how to edit a magazine and have it printed, but once I managed to get the first issue of Hammer of Damnation out the ball started rolling.

Timo: Of course back then there was no Internet available, so it could take weeks to communicate the simplest things. There was also huge demand for information about bands from the audience and a need from the emerging bands in the scene to get promotion for themselves. So when in 1990, I was very young – and listening feverously to Morbid Visions by Sepultura – I felt a strong urge to be active in the underground scene. I was already friends with Sodomatic Slaughter from Beherit , so I was aware of the scene and as Black Crucifixion was only in its earliest pre-stage in the autumn of 1990, my way to act was to start a zine. I had already enjoyed reading some good quality early Finnish fanzines, my favourite was called Intestinal, so starting Fallen Pages was a natural step. The first issue was in Finnish and in A5 size under the name Damn Zine. The very first number along with bands like Beherit and Samael also featured thrash, speed, death, doom and punk bands. You have to remember that there practically was no “second wave of black metal” yet: Norwegians with the rare exception of Mayhem were mostly playing death metal with often humoristic lyrics, Swedes were all about copying the Sunlight sound, with the exception of the mighty Tiamat and even Beherit labelled their sound as “brutal death metal”.  After the first issue was received very well among the buying public and the “colleagues” in the scene, I decided to do the next issue in English. Holocausto Vengeance from Beherit suggested that I would change the name from Damn Zine to something more suitable for international market. So we came up with the name Fallen Pages of Damnation, which I then shortened to just Fallen Pages. I also got more ambitious with the layout and went for A4 size and very heavy glossy paper. The substance got heavier along with the outlook, as the second issue included mostly black and death metal bands. It was published in the 1991 and I was surprised by its reception as everybody seemed to like it. Maybe it was a bit ahead of time with its outlook and probably my pretty juvenile style of writing added something to the mix. The English language was still pretty much shambles, but by the standards of the time that didn’t matter, as some of my favourite foreign zines could hardly be recognized as being written in any language.

The limitation of resources and time applied to everyone working on a fanzine; they had no hope of creating profit from their publications without crossing over to mainstream press, as some of the early 80’s zines such as Metal Forces had done. The sheer amount of competing media also meant it was impossible for anyone to claim the status of “a death metal Bible” and retrospectively, this was valuable to the development and outreach of tangential, even opposing points of view. Xeroxed artifacts as an after school hobby guaranteed freedom of speech to an extent alien to major media prone to be manipulated by management and executives.

Alan: Almost all of the experiences in doing a zine that I had were positive. Perhaps the only negative thing was when customs would sometimes steal from me (money, t-shirts, tapes – really anything that took their fancy) or a band would rip you off and not send you whatever it was you paid for. I mean back then you had this nightmare of waiting for shit, and you had to just trust people and the most you could do to protect your ‘well hidden cash’ to wrap it in carbon paper to avoid detection by x-ray. Jesse Pintado did that to me infact, the shit, heh. I sent him $5 for a demo and never got it, imagine his surprise when I showed up in Tampa in 1990 for the whole damn ‘Harmony Corruption’ recording sessions, haha! It was OK though, on the last day there he said he was sorry, I told him it was OK. If I had stayed in Australia and never got to do all this stuff, then I would have been pissed off of course. My zine policy was that we would only review what we liked. I wasn’t going to waste space writing about what I don’t like about this band that I think sucks. So we stated that anything like that we would pay to return, you know, so the band could send it out to someone who could actually do something with it. A lot of people didn’t grasp the concept and would get mad. I mean, would you rather someone blast your band and lose you fans, or would you like them to shut the hell up and mail it back to you? That’s a damn no-brainer. There were one or two people that I met later down the road, even that I used to write to, years before, and we didn’t get along that well. I won’t name names. Most everything about it all was positive, I didn’t do phone interviews because of the expense calling from Australia then was insane. Now international calls from Australia are cheaper than calling someone on the same street I live on! But it was cool just to bullshit with my traders buddies, or Lori Bravo, Trey, David, Mitch Harris… there were a number of people I would call just to talk to and get news from.

Brian: I’m not trying to sugarcoat the past, but I can’t think of a negative experience that I had. Positive experiences were plentiful… I enjoyed doing phone interviews back then, because the bands were still small, it wasn’t a strictly business call. I interviewed Trevor Peres (Obituary) and after the interview we just kept on chatting about the scenes in Florida and Buffalo and just music in general, same when I interviewed Steve Digiorgio (Sadus) and Sharon Bascovksy (Derketa).

Niko: I guess it’s simply that if you’re enthusiastic enough you’ll find the time and money. Money was always a problem, but somehow I more or less managed to fund the printing from the sales of previous issues. As for time, the zine (Hammer of Damnation) and the band (Thergothon) were my main activities outside school, I had no interest in sports and other such hobbies. The most positive aspect was the opportunity to do everything by yourself from start to finish and finally have the printed zine in your hands. The most negative aspect was probably when something went seriously wrong in the printing process. I used to look into all kinds of mainstream, high-profile magazines, art and culture etc. and tried to use that kind of presentation in the fanzine/underground context and subject matters. Of course I still had to do everything by hand, with some help from a primitive computer, word processor and matrix printer. Luckily I knew someone who could screen the photos for me for free.

Pete: Well, the money was needed only for printing and time wasn`t an issue. There was no computers and such, I wrote the interviews for Pure Fucking Hell with typewriter and band logos & photos I got from the bands if they had any. Then I “designed” the pages, like where the text, possible photos and band logo goes and when all the pages were ready the whole thing went to print. If you knew a good printing place and used a bit of your brains doing the pages you could get a surprisingly good end result with that kind of procedure.

Timo: Time was a resource that most of the scene people back then had loads of. Although a lot of things were going on in the scene that kept growing rapidly, the pace of life was slower because there was no Internet or mobile phones. Most of us did not go around boozing and fucking. At least I did not. Not because we did not want to, but for example I lived in a very small town of Rovaniemi, in the middle of Lapland. There was not so much to do if you were a nerdy long-haired boy living away from town. And it was very cold and dark most of the year. So editing a zine and sending out tons of letters seemed like viable option. The first two issues of Damn Zine/Fallen Pages were actually funded in a surprising way: I managed to convince the city of Rovaniemi to pay for on the grounds of the zine being a cultural project. So the good tax payers of Rovaniemi are to thank. The third and final issue I paid for myself, but luckily the printing house sponsored it as well, even though their management consisted of very strict and devoted Christians! The devil works in mysterious ways…

Infestation of Evil: Chroniclers of Black Metal

The beginning of the 90’s was greeted by an explosion of death metal into mass media attention, MTV airplay and new fans. There were probably more death metal zines than ever, the likes of Balance of Terror (Canada), Biopsy (Finland), Fallen Pages (Finland), The Grimoire of Exalted Deeds (USA), Hammer of Damnation (Finland), Hellspawn (Finland), Putrefaction (Sweden) and The Requiem (USA) catering to the hordes yearning for information from the realms beyond Morbid Angel and Obituary who thrived at the peak of their fame.

Pete: There were a lot of great zines but I think Slayer (Nor) was the best. I don`t remember where the idea for making a zine came from, but there were a lot of people involved making the first issue of Grey Apple zine. We started from zero, put out the first issue and sold all the copies (100 I think) and then it was time to make the second issue and nobody else was interested except me, so I thought I`ll do it myself. I changed the crappy name to Pure Fucking Hell magazine and put out the second issue and it went from there. I don`t really recall any negative experiences, some bands didn`t answer to interviews though. All of the interviews for PFH were done by letter, so I didn`t meet the people in person. You got to remember in the early 1990`s it was all underground and the bands weren`t touring like nowadays. I think the only live interview was with Napalm Death in Lepakko on the Napalm Death/Dismember/Obituary tour in 1992, that was in the first issue.

Timo: There were many zines back then and surprisingly many of them were Finnish: Intestinal, Biopsy, The Untouchables, Hammer of Damnation and of course the mightiest: Isten. Slayer magazine from Norway was superb as well. I enjoyed many foreign zines but in 1990-1993 the Finnish ones were prime of the prime, interesting writing and good English skills combined in a fine way.

Niko: There were a number to zines that, similar to mine, attempted to think outside the box so to speak, trying to find new angles to things and featuring new, unknown, different artists. You know, trying to introduce things that the reader wouldn’t yet know he/she will find interesting! As for people, there were many great, intelligent and interesting people such as Marko (Beherit), Morbid (Necromantia), Euronymous (Mayhem), Roberto (Monumentum) etc. and naturally also a few assholes but I must say I don’t really remember any particular examples. Maybe because I pay more attention to works and ideas than persons, in general.

Timo: It was totally positive for me, I can’t truly name anything shitty about those years. I got to know great people from bands, witnessing new art being born and in my own small way helping to create a scene that will be interesting to research for anthropologists of the future. I could feature the bands I wanted and loved: Rotting Christ, Blasphemy, Beherit, Impaled Nazarene, Necromantia, Carcass, Nocturnus etc. and made great friends with some of those people. Fallen Pages was the second publication in the world to interview My Dying Bride, I thought that their demo had potential in it. I have to say that I could not see the careers that Burzum or Cradle of Filth would have judging by their early promo tapes they sent to me – I actually ignored them.

All the while, dark minds were brewing plots in their suburban chambers as the black metal militia was slowly starting to strengthen its grasp on the souls of puny mortals. The electrified web of contact across regions allowed necromantic, spiritual and evil traits of the emergent possession cover ground at vast speed. The influential Mayhem axis, gathering followers around Scandinavia, sought to spread fear amidst the normalized death metal culture, which had accepted a new generation of funny skateboarders who loved brutal music and extreme sounds. They were not alone in their dark aims, as the blasphemies of witchcraft surrounded Canadian, South American, Finnish and Greek death metal and black metal alike, but the obsessive quality and Euronymous’ media manipulation skills wrestled the attention from the faltering death metal community. Coupled with an era of artistic magnitude for Nordic black metal, the zine culture caught the bright burning fires of the churches, heralding the age of the final artistic statement of underground metal before Internet covered everything in ashes and the smoke of deceit. Fans of mid-90’s black metal often grabbed a copy of Cerberus (Finland), Descent (USA), Desecration of Virgin (Germany), Imhotep (Norway), I Return to Darkness (Finland), Kill Yourself (Finland), Nordic Vision (Norway), Petrified (USA), Pure Fucking Hell (Finland), Tales of the Macabre (Germany), Voices from the Darkside (Germany) or Wheresmyskin (USA) to accompany the nocturnal excursion, candlelit mutilation or a visit to the toilet.

Black metal coverage was also picked up by the mainstream press in the wake of the terror of those Norwegians they called the Black Circle. French bands of the Les Legions Noires community (Vlad Tepes, Belketre) and the Polish Slavic heathens around the Temple of Fullmoon sect (Graveland, Veles) added their own violent, occult and occasionally political statements to the chaotic melting pot of obscurity. Rhetoric was at a completely new level now compared to the death metal years. Defying any kind of reason and common sense, bands declared war on each other and society at large, used their anonymity and obscurity to suggest the presence of dangerous cult fanaticism and deliberately alienated every average death metal fan. While there is no denying the fact that black metal was a serious matter for these groups, and rightly so, the intensification of image eventually led to role play and narcissism.

The harsh attitude of black metal created an irreconcilable gap between death metal, now consisting mostly of the “melodic” offspring of the Gothenburg clique and the “brutal” bands who imitated Cannibal Corpse, and the romantics, nihilists and Satanists who sought things that were hardly descendants of American rock music. The traditional image of the headbanger was rapidly becoming obsolete, with black metal bands opting for a gothic or medievalist appearance, brutal death metal and groove metal assimilating items of hardcore or rap and people difficult to tell apart from the crowd invading in flocks.

Zines as the purveyors of in-depth interviews and archaic scene knowledge became more philosophical, influenced by the creativity and intelligence of black metal, ambient, neo-classicism and other weapons of the Nordic uprising against normative death metal. Issues of the kind were occasionally available at black/death metal oriented record stores and mailorders, but for those without access to them the alternatives were either the moronic mainstream press or the resurgent Internet.

Droid Sector: Information Networks and the Degeneration

A few metal obsessed hackers had spread information, news and reviews through phone lines before, but personal computers became a common household item during the 90’s and most of the mainstream users got their first networking and online discussion experiences in this era through the Internet, which grew radically during the decade, from a mostly college and university utilized serious information channel to a worldwide asylum of Babylonic proportions.

Engineers, housewives and Aspies alike accessed organized discographies, commentaries, discussions and news of old and new metal alike on webzines and portals such as American Nihilist Underground Society, BNR Metal Pages, Chronicles of Chaos webzine, Inferno webzine, Lost Souls Domain, Mega’s Metal Pages and USENET newsgroups. Never before had trading, correspondence and contact with underground metal fans all over the world been so easy. Today, in the era of Encyclopedia Metallum and similar databases it’s hard to imagine the work it had taken to find information and discographies of bands no-one at your local record store knew a thing about.

While webzines didn’t directly compete with printed zines because of their more limited readability and different approach in organizing information, the easy access to metal databases undoubtedly contributed to the contraction of zine culture, along with the reasons outlined earlier. Only entertaining, in-depth and unique zines survived in printed form, often published more infrequently than before. Jobs and families occupy the time of the old school and the new generation has many other options at their disposal beside the laborious DIY printed publication.

Niko: I grew tired of the whole metal scene in the early 90′s, partly because it all turned boring due to thousands of emerging bands sounding all very similar to me, and partly because I was discovering electronic and experimental music that seemed more & more interesting to me. I did go on with the zine for some time, featuring less metal and more other stuff that interested me, but after a while I put an end to it. I think what eventually killed it for me was that I was tired of having this “obligation” to review all the stuff I received, and to try to be analytic about music instead of simply exploring and enjoying it, etc. It was becoming an unpaid job, I didn’t find anything creative or enjoyable about it anymore. Actually I still don’t enjoy writing about music or trying to analyze or describe it, something about that process kills part of the excitement.

Pete: The bands got bigger and stopped doing interviews for smaller zines and the newer bands weren`t interesting. I think the whole zine culture somehow faded in the late 1990`s, I don`t really know why. I also had started buying recording equipment etc. so I didn`t have money to print the zine anymore.

Timo: I got very ambitious about the zine, wanted to make every issue more and more professional and at the same time my musical taste got more ambitious as well. Making just another issue of a metal magazine was not an option for me, so after some time passed other things took its place in my life. The three issues are all as good as I could make them during the time they were made. Soon my band Black Crucifixion would also transform into Promethean and I could express myself even more through music. One day I realised that there would not be a fourth issue. I didn’t have much material for it ready, maybe just one interview of Impiety that Holocausto submitted. So there is no “lost” Fallen Pages #4 waiting in my vaults.

Brian: For me it was a combination of things. I got a full time job so my time was much more limited and I didn’t want to do something that I could only put a half assed effort into. The other part of it was that the scene was changing and becoming trendy and it just got old fast, new bands would pop up and get signed when they really weren’t good enough to be signed and it just watered down the scene.

Alan: It took over a year between Buttface 1 and 2 coming out, it just kept getting bigger and bigger and we thought we’d do something odd and make this monster fat ass zine, heh! My co-editor was meant to keep getting material for it while I went to the USA and Canada for 6 months in 1990, but he didn’t gather any material and I ended up getting offered a job with Morbid Angel while I was in Florida. That killed the zine. If I had come back to Australia as planned and never went back to the US, then BF might have stayed around a few more years – but by ‘93 I might say it would have stopped because the music was overpopulated with garbage bands. And it’s got 1000 times worse by 2009.I did try to keep Buttface alive as Buttface Productions in Tampa, by financing the release of my friend Jan’s band Agathocles’ first flexi disc. But my partner in that turned out to be a cokehead and ripped me and the people who ordered the flexi off badly. Some got out, here and there, but the majority I kept with me all this time, and only sent the leftovers to Jan in 2009! Almost 20 years later!

The underground metal zine is not yet an obsolete form of media. Publications such as Baphometal (Argentina), The Convivial Hermit (USA), Cross of Black Steel (Romania), Crypts of Eternity (Peru), Dauthus (Sweden), Fall to Your Knees Pissing (USA), Funeral Maelstrom of Hate (Italy), Grievantee (Finland), Hellpike (Germany), Horrible Eyes (Germany), Kaleidoscope (Finland), Oaken Throne (USA), Psicoterror (Peru), Qvadrivium (Finland), The Serpent Bearer (Finland), The Sinister Flame (Finland), Strength Through War (France) and Womb (Finland) are equals to their legendary forebears in literacy, style and tomblike appearance. They publish in-depth interviews dealing with topics from philosophy and magic to science besides the actual recording process, whose nowadays sophistication is unmatched by the legends of the past. Even the most obscure of bands are frighteningly conscious about their image and aims. Yet, their statements remain inevitably in the shadow of their colleagues from past decades in terms of influence, not because of any fault on behalf of the writers, but in keeping with the cycle of life and death which, as we have sadly noted, death metal and black metal are not exempt from.

Timo: Fallen Pages gave me direction in life, I would not be sitting on this chair now had I not been able to see things in an international perspective from very early age. And having to handle schedules, layout, printing, writing and monetary issues. Back in 1990 Rovaniemi was very, very far even from Helsinki. And even further away from Europe. Now with Internet it is different for kids living in distant places, but looking at it now, it is weird that the small town produced people and bands like Beherit and Lordi. And Fallen Pages and Black Crucifixion.

Alan: I think the zine culture as you put it pal, it’s all about paying your dues, and showing the scene that you mean business, that you care enough about it to get up off your ass and promote the bands as best you are able. It doesn’t exist really anymore I guess, not on the level it did anyways. Instead of doing the work, today more people are concerned with ‘collecting’ Myspace official band page profile photos on their top friends list. You know? That’s gay to me.

 


 

This piece of death metal research was conducted with the help of the following generous individuals: Alan Moses of Buttface zine, Brian Pattison of Chainsaw Abortions zine, Niko Sirkiä of Hammer of Damnation zine, Timo Iivari of Fallen Pages zine and Pete Ilvespakka of Pure Fucking Hell zine. You can admire scans of some of their issues and many more of the period at the Deathmetal.Org Exhibits page. Alan and Brian have joined their forces recently to publish a recapitulation of the most important years of death metal, 1984-1991, through a collection of photographs and stories narrated by the bands and zine editors of the era. Niko pursues the wizardry of ambient and avant-garde soundscapes. Timo and Pete continue performing pure black metal with Black Crucifixion and Diaboli, respectively. Deathmetal.Org loudly hails all the participants!

What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and; anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Non-moral Sense

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Ascension of Sepulchral Echoes: A Finnish Death Metal Revival

1. Introduction: The Northernmost Death Metal
2. Those Once Loyal: The Last Stand of the Underground
3. Lie In Ruins: Swallowed by the Void
4. Devilry: Rites for the Spring of Supremacy
5. Slugathor: Echoes from Beneath
6. Deathspawned Destroyer: WarBloodMassacre
7. Sepulchral Aura: Demonstrational CD MMVII
8. Ascended: The Temple of Dark Offerings EP
9. Hooded Menace: Fulfill the Curse
10. The Lords of the Shadow Realm: The Future of Finnish Death

Written by Devamitra with Tuomas K. (Lie in Ruins), Ilmari Jalas (Slugathor), Lasse Pyykkö (Hooded Menace), Teemu Haavisto (Deathspawned Destroyer), J. Partanen (Sepulchral Aura), Juuso Lautamäki (Ascended) and Sir Holm (Devilry)

Introduction: The Northernmost Death Metal

 

Shattering the stasis of human evolution
Pioneering man of god-like stature
Erase and improve the temple foundation
Annihilate the meek, empty and inferior

– Devilry, Ouroborous Coiling

 

Some of us remember Finland as it was in my early youth; a humble country, tormented by Russia’s eternal presence, influenced by American dreams, taciturn men stubborn in idealism, tainted by alcohol and madness, working to preserve the ambiguous myths of freedom and independence while searching for truths in a society where the rules of piety and devotion did not apply anymore.

Out of the silence and the cold of wintry nights arose wolven howls, bestial growls and the electric screech of demoniac strings. Clandestine groups scattered across the lake-adorned strip of land which was too vast in area for the people to be in constant touch except by phone and letter, took to the newest musical movement to inherit the throne of the kings of headbanging and thrash: grindcore. Xysma from Turku played Carcass inspired devolved bursts of groovy noise with the mechanical straightforward approach upon which Finnish industrial corporations later built their reputation.

Abhorrence, eventually to be mutated into an exploration of battle and folk attitudes in Amorphis, was among the first Death Metal formations in the real Scandinavian style. Morbid demos from around Finland swarmed like an infestation of maggots. The next few years’ worth of offerings continue to mesmerize and awe fans of old school Death Metal worldwide: Funebre, Sentenced, Disgrace, Phlegethon, Purtenance, Adramelech, Mordicus, Necropsy, Demigod, Vomiturition, Convulse, Depravity, Lubricant, Cartilage, Wings, Demilich and others.

Tuomas K.I think it was a sort of tribute to our favorite bands in our case back when we started playing in 1993. We were heavily into the early 90′s Death Metal bands so it was kind of natural for us to give it a go, since we’ve had started trying to play our instruments only a couple of years earlier.  There were only me and Roni S. playing back then and we never really intended to find another member back in the 90′s. But if we should’ve wanted another member to play, I think it would’ve been pretty hard to find one, because I think we knew only a few guys that were into Death Metal from our neighborhood. Then again, when Lie in Ruins started “for real” in the new millennium it was easier to get a lineup together.

JalasI can agree on that this was the strongest period for the music and most of it died in the mid 1990′s when Black Metal music “took over” the underground. For me it is still a bit hard to analyze all this. I have always listened to what I want and when I want. I’m not saying that I didn’t have Black Metal seasons, but bands like Slayer and Morbid Angel were always there, lurking behind (both in my record player and as recording artists).

Death Metal as an item of fashion soon trailed away and the sonic temples formed by groups of school friends split up or moved on to styles better appreciated by their peers. Drinking alcohol in frozen woods and abandoned cellars while scrawling prayers to darkness and exhaling riffs of death was replaced by jobs, families and military service. Most of the cheap labels went out of business since B grade grindcore and Death Metal where not profitable anymore, dooming many of the aforementioned relics of the scene to obscurity until a partial resurrection through reissues and MP3 hubs.

PyykköFinnish bands got tired of playing Death Metal and wanted to be something that they really couldn´t master very well. It was quite embarrassing shit to watch in some cases.

Those Once Loyal: The Last Stand of the Underground

The chromatic, fiery madness of original Death Metal was too much for the glamour-seeking generation who caught glimpses of extreme metal through the media attention of Black Metal and the TV exposure of “Gothenburg” and gothic metal. Other fans disregarded the old groups for their lack of consistency and humorous appearance, complete with interviews that often read like a discussion of retards in a hangover attempting a foreign language. But as always, true spirit is elusive and the self-importance of the new scene was hardly a better choice in life.

Not many of the original Death Metal fans were enthusiastic about Children of Bodom’s sappy power metal infiltration of Gothenburg techniques or Rotten Sound’s mechanical drum clinic grindcore. Nevertheless, the next generation of longhairs were inspired by these bands who had mastered the latest techniques of production perfect for a violently loud catharsis in car stereo or as a video game soundtrack. It was escapist, but not the Yuggothian dreams of a Demigod. In this case, influenced by groove metal and speed metal, commercial Death Metal sought to act as a youth counselor, harnessing hate and psychotic religion into the individualism of I don’t give a fuck and the various related ethical systems of liberalism.

It is appropriate that while studio musicians’ and record label executives’ fake Death Metal from Helsinki was climbing the charts, the real good stuff started happening in the underground. Black Metal, as always, was an anti-social reaction to commercialization and the turn of the decade saw a resurgence of Finnish devil worshippers returning to the blasphemous sounds of Bathory and Darkthrone. The travesties at large left people wondering if Death Metal was truly dead and unable to bestow any more bloody and sacral offerings to the underground. This is where the morbid cults under our scrutiny enter the field.

JalasIn the beginning of Slugathor our line-up was the same as the one we had before we started to play Death Metal. But soon we dropped one guitar player and only had 4 members in the band for a while. Our original vocalist, an esoteric person, Nebiros, was an important member in the beginning and wrote really
non-typical more philosophical lyrics than was heard in typical Death Metal at the time. Also the universe, our seen nature and all experiences influenced us, besides the spoiled “metal scene” that was in the late 90′s, which was also indeed very influential in a way. Definitely I would describe our approach more
brutal than most of the other bands we heard from Finland. This is one of the reasons to start the band like this, besides ultimate passion and love for the genre.

HaavistoIn fact the birth of Deathspawned Destroyer was a mere accident. We had meant to just play any kind of metal, in order to have some additional instrumental practice considering our other bands and so we decided to play Death Metal or a related style with Kai Lehtinen. Death Metal was a rather obvious choice because of a our mutual interest in the genre and the aim was to sound alike to old Cannibal Corpse, Blood, Autopsy etc. without any ambition to create something unique. However we started to churn out a great amount of songs, one each new rehearsal. Then we decided to make up a name for the band and we found a good one from a Cannibal Corpse album title: Bloodthirst. That’s what we were called at the time we did our first demo “Reign of Terror”. The demo sounds exactly like it was supposed to and the overall sound is like we meant it to be. The vocals were supposed to be brutal enough and the sound had to be muddy. To the surprise of both of us someone wanted to release our album. At this point we noticed that there were a few other Bloodthirsts around so we decided to go for a name that no-one else would have for sure, ending up with Deathspawned Destroyer. Originally it was Deathspawn Destroyer but we are told that it’s grammatically bullshit so we added the “-ed”, which still doesn’t sound as good to me as the wrongly spelled one. But anyway the band was born by accident, me and Lehtinen totally agree on the spirit.

PartanenIn 2004-2006 I had been doing a few ambient releases and when those projects hibernated, I had a fresh vision back into the darkness of Death Metal magic. I don’t know exactly what the inspiration for Sepulchral Aura was. There was a vision which commanded itself to manifest through my fleshly vessel and I’m glad it happened.

LautamäkiBefore we got our singer Ascended played some kind of mixture of thrash and Death Metal. Things started to evolve towards traditional Death Metal when we started to discover Finnish gems like Abhorrence, Amorphis, Demigod, Demilich. The sound of those bands was very immense. It was dark, heavy and still maintaining some very mystical quality to it. The only thing left to do was to create and emulate same atmospheres like those records have and introduce our own vision of Death Metal to the world. The hardest part of completing the lineup was to get a decent singer. When Tommi contacted us and joined in it was clear after few rehearsals that the lineup was perfect.

PyykköThe idea to form Hooded Menace happened more less by an accident during our Candlemass jam sessions. Instead of melodic vocals we used Death Metal grunts. It was fun to play and worked pretty well so we thought why not to make our own band that would would combine the elements of Doom and Death Metal. I have been wanting to do something like this for a long time. So that three-piece jam session group became the lineup for the “Fulfill the Curse” album.

HolmOur guitarist Grave’s urge for self-expression and inexhaustible well of riffs is what ultimately inspired the birth of Devilry. Everything else is inconsequential and not of great importance at all.

The new millennium saw a legion of astute musicians interested in unleashing explosive, severe and gripping metal without taking part in the pretense of the new generation of Black Metal. In many ways, the sacred and primal integrity of old school metal had collapsed because widespread attention had created an unstable communal atmosphere of unclear and mismatched intentions. That is why most of what we hear in mainstream media regarding new metal is irony, jokes about “true metal” and meta-metal bullshit filled with endless self-references. Yet, a strong web of personal contacts, by letter, phone or Internet, fueled the fires of Death Metal, along with a fanatically devoted fan base.

Lie in Ruins: Swallowed by the Void

The veteran Death Metallers from Olari practiced and mastered their Scandinavia influenced art for 15 years before their first release on a label, the impressive “Architecture of the Dead” EP featuring older compositions. While this unique band seemed to receive very little promotion, disciples prayed for the day of reckoning when this constellation could bestow their malevolence in full force upon the wretched scene. The long, exhausting spell “Swallowed by the Void” was to be the definitive answer to these inquiries. Sluggish, conjuring and micro-melodic abyss anthems pay unyielding tribute to the likes of Dismember and Grotesque, aiming for an evil glory that betrays the way death metal lost the innocent meddling in dark arts prevalent in the late 80’s and discovered serious ideologies by the force of contamination and crossbreeding with Black Metal. Especially the progressive moods of the deadly closing track “Bringer of Desolation”, reminiscent of the Lovecraftian horror pathos of the longer tracks by Nile deserves an inclusion in the Death Metal canon of the decade. Serious catacomb dwelling fans of Repugnant and Necros Christos will feel completely at home with Lie in Ruins’ atmospheric, sacral method of composition which eschews fast and classical parts, but returns to the Sabbath-ian roots of primal death doom experience.

Devilry: Rites for the Spring of Supremacy

One of the most anti-social and least compromising commando squads from Finland in any musical genre, Devilry’s series of EP’s cumulated during the decade into an impressive demonstration of technical and lyrical ability that converted hordes of Black Metal listeners into old school Death Metal and vicious thrash. Like a less confused “The Laws of Scourge” era Sarcofago, Devilry abstains from long buildups to frame scenes of street violence and political upheaval in robotically symmetric percussion and inhuman, precise, spouting syllables of learned rhetoric. One of the fastest Finnish metal bands, at least in overall impression, Devilry quotes Slayer for a reductionist but holistic approach to songwriting which means that each song is built from a clearly defined set of riffs arranged to unleash the most powerful experience of intensity on the listener, while Sir Holm’s text praises the law and order of a reich that would be built according to the code of the warrior and rule of the naturally supreme. Essays could be written about Devilry’s interest in beauty, as despite the feral character of the music all songs are geometrical complexes with no loose parts hanging and even the cover picture is a serene, celestial scene incorporating Finnish functionalist architecture. Even the condemnation and hate that hangs as an eternal cloud upon the political rants of Devilry, are mostly posed as arguments of: what is not beautiful, does not deserve to be upheld, not even tolerated.

Tuomas K.It has been fairly easy for us to find contacts in the Death Metal underground so far. I think the communications are now way better compared to 90′s. It is easier to get yourself “heard”. The downside is that you also get a lot of these individuals or groups who want to get themselves heard, so you’ll have to dig a little deeper to find something worthwhile. In the end it’s still the music that speaks for itself, so that has to do a lot in order to get support or even fans of your work.

JalasI also think it was not hard to find contacts for people who are really into Death Metal. Just look at Tomasz (Time Before Time). Despite his young age, he has been long time in the underground and he actually was also one of the first constant contacts I found (I think back in 2001 or so).

PyykköNowadays getting contacts is very easy because of the Internet. It´s damn easy to spread your music over the Internet. Myspace is a very good tool for that. There´s an endless amount of crap but also lots of good stuff. The communication has become easier but then again there´re so many bands around that you have to be pretty damn good to stand out. I have found these times very good for metal. There is still a demand for a “real thing” and people around seem very enthusiastic and passionate. The old days won´t come back. The most exciting era of metal lies in the past but man, I´m having a blast today! Things could be much worse. I´m not a huge follower of the scene but it seems to be doing really fine. Metal is still exciting and fresh in a very rotten way though!

HolmDevilry has been such a solitary entity during the past few years that I do not have a clue about what goes on and where. I really do not even care. There is obviously support for our cause, else we would not exist in the public at all, but I am not interested in such trivial matters as finding fans and contacts.

PartanenFor Sepulchral Aura the response has been surprisingly good. I guess there’s support, fans and contacts out there at least for those who deserve, but I’m not that interested about that. But still it’s good to hear that some people have liked the CD and care to promote it and Sepulchral Aura in their own way. In general, people around me are not interested in Death Metal.

LautamäkiThere has been minor Death Metal scene rising in Finland and it has been interesting to see that we are not the youngest band around devoted to this art. We were also just recently interviewed by Finnish metal magazine Miasma so I would say that there is slight interest growing to this style inside Finland. Also gigs like Slugathor, Lie in Ruins and Stench Of Decay in Helsinki are helping the scene a lot. Many people don’t view Death Metal as an ideological and devoted music style such as Black Metal for example, but there has been so many Death Metal bands who have been loyal to their style and ideology for years and should be honored for showing such a devotion to this form of art. Also new genres like this so called Deathcore spawning from United States are distorting the views of what Death Metal is really about.

Slugathor: Echoes from Beneath

Slugathor is already a veteran of “new” Finnish Death Metal, having debuted in 2000 with the “Delicacies of the Cadaver” EP right when everyone else was concentrating in elitist Black Metal fantasies. The morbid, dirty, ugly and non-theatrical submersion to grinding but dimensional grave exhumations was initially scorned upon but eventually they even signed to one of the premier Black Metal labels of the world, Drakkar Records from France. By the time of the third album “Echoes from Beneath” Slugathor knows exactly how to manipulate intensity and the listening experience of both black and Death Metal listeners, opening cavernous vaults and passages through warped holes in time and space using mostly foreboding rhythm guitar chugging of patterns familiar from since the dawn of Death Metal, ethereal melodic background leads by Tommi Grönqvist and evil vocals by Axu Laakso that borrow technique from both Deicide and Demilich without sounding as extreme as them. Like Bolt Thrower, this band is all about heaviness, ambience and symmetry while all “display” type of elements of technical Death Metal are kept to a minimum. A special mention goes to Ilmari Jalas’ drum technique which borrows heavily from Doom Metal in building up groove to a climax where dynamics emphasize the rhythm riff so that the only possibility is to headbang convulsively.

JalasBolt Thrower influenced Slugathor really strongly in the beginning and always. Some people compare Slugathor also to bands like Asphyx or Obituary, but I would say that these influences are only minor and definitely more inspiration has flown, when we listened to bands such as Demigod, old Amorphis, Grave, Incantation and old Mortician. Definitely Morbid Angel also, but this was not heard so well on our music very much, I think. Also some bands, like Kaamos and Necros Christos at least influenced me in a way, because they had such unique concepts and ultimate feeling of death. Some more obscure names pop up to my mind, such as Bloody Gore (Indonesia), Darklord (Australia), all female band Mythic and so on. You know, it was all these 7″EP and demos we listened at the time besides full-length albums. Even demo-material of Dying Fetus, which could be a shock (?) to some because of their nowadays political message. But that band was brutal as hell when we first heard them. Also they were lyrically more into mutilation, etc. back then. Maybe we got into that because of teenage enthusiasm, but for some reason all this stuff still has very special place in our hearts, because they developed us to become what we are now.

The slow new resurgence of Finnish Death Metal was a joy to behold as the pieces of music were sincere, the young fan base was delighted to get rid of the obnoxious attitudes that had contaminated the feeling of Black Metal and many of the bands and their releases were still very much conceptually constructed with great care and attention. Devilry spoke of a militant order against degeneration, Khert-Neter conjured images of ancient Egyptian paths to enlightenment, Sotajumala and Deathspawned Destroyer delved into the sufferings of the Finnish soldiers and Hooded Menace used horror movies as absurd and illustrative symbols for the infinite darkness that surrounds the apparent order in the sequence of human lives.

Deathspawned Destroyer: WarBloodMassacre

Primitive but astoundingly direct, Deathspawned Destroyer from Huittinen (home of Vordven) has with their two full lengths established Finnish parallels to grindcore influenced bands such as Blood and even Blasphemy but remained widely unnoticed because of a lack of pretension and promotion. While “The First Bestial Butchery” album indulged in gore fantasies of Finnish rural winter madness, “WarBloodMassacre” logically continues to explore real world horrors that happened within the same fields and woods we inhabit here. The shades and violent ghosts of Finnish war history 1939-1945 are not haunted, prophetic or wise in the nearly brainless, stomach churning vision of Deathspawned Destroyer. This is music and lyric of the gut, the trenches and the perpetual dirt. It is Bolt Thrower if it was created by boozing Finnish woodsmen instead of punk influenced British soccer fans. The riffs would probably tell their story as well to men who lived 10,000 years ago, provided they were fighters with hate for the scourge of slavery and love for their home woodlands. The slower parts approximate the atmospheres of Amebix brand of ethereal hardcore. The band gets a chance to try its hand at epic length composition with the more than 10 minute “Doom Before Death” and why the simplicity of structure may make progressive listeners cringe, there is hardly a criticism to be made about the way the parts are elaborated by the cruel lyrics that detail the sufferings of a prisoner of war under torture. The relentless forward driving rhythm and ghoulish voice of the band might be borrowed from the old school, but the vicious, nearly cartoonish black-and-white history flashback is something that needs to be heard to be believed.

HaavistoOur lyrics were far from philosophy and deep meanings. The lyrics of “Reign of Terror” were almost completely taken from “The Diary of Jack the Ripper”, but edited enough to not be a clear plagiarism. On “The First Bestial Butchery” we built new lyrics almost by putting one harsh word after another and looking at the result. We did pay enough attention to lyrics to get one more sensible piece written by someone outside the band: “Autopsy Romance”. The cover art of the album was an idea we had in mind for a long time but had no suitable use before. The second full-length “WarBloodMassacre” was something completely different as the lyrics were entirely done by a person not in the band, with greater care and attention and with the war thematic. I think one can clearly see the main influence at the time being Bolt Thrower. I think the cover art was arranged for by someone at Bestial Burst and very fine they were, thanks for them. A special mention must go to the cover artist of the Bloodhammer/Deathspawned Destroyer split, as one couldn’t make a better representation of the old school spirit. The finest cover art ever.

JalasLike I said, Slugathor’s old vocalist Nebiros had quite philosophical lyrical themes. Some lyrics are easy to read, but not that easy to understand right away. They make you think. Well, after he went out of space and started to sing to birds instead of making brutal death noise, we had Axu in the band and he would be the right person to answer about the concept. I’m sure he had his own vision of what is a pure Death Metal lyric.

PyykköThe lyrical and graphic concept of Hooded Menace mostly comes from the 70’s Spanish horror film series “The Blind Dead”. That defines our name, the logo and the basic atmosphere of the band. All that slow motion and creepy, menacing mood of those movies are there in Hooded Menace. If you have seen the movies you know what I mean. “The Blind Dead” is the bottom line but there´s more to Hooded Menace than that. We have songs based on other horror films too and some lyrics come from the writer´s own imagination. That sleazy imagination is always strongly influenced by horror movies though! There´s no deeper philosophy to it. We are all about horror! That´s why I sometimes call us as a horror death/doom band. No horror, no Hooded Menace.

Tuomas K.Lie in Ruins is conceptually 100% dealing with death, darkness and all things related. After all, this is Death Metal, so the lyrics and the imagery definitely should reflect that.

PartanenThe nucleus of Sepulchral Aura could be the juxtapositioning of chaos and cosmos, life and death and their intertwined yet paradoxical counter-natures. If one knows the Gnostic text “Thunder Perfect Mind” it could be easier to grasp the drift here. The rest is basically visions and of course experiences transmuted into sound and words. No particular philosophy, but reflections of the path toward self-knowledge by illuminating the shadowed aspects within, self-discipline through warrior and mystic ideals and becoming a higher being.

HolmFor Devilry, National Socialism as an all-encompassing Weltanschauung is the foundation on which everything is built.

LautamäkiTo keep things simple I just say that we are influenced and inspired by a very universal subject called death. Western world has a very sick and unnatural attitude towards such natural thing as death. It is totally ignored or people pretend that it doesn’t even exist while media has demonized it to the point that there are people who really don’t understand that death is something one has to face sooner or later. Not only concerning individuals and families, but one should understand that every civilization and culture will face death as it is seen through history. Only death is real!

Sepulchral Aura: Demonstrational CD MMVII

Sepulchral Aura is not the first time that mastermind J. Partanen (Second Sun, Aeoga etc.) has picked up the guitar and the drums but it’s the first time he produced a minor classic for the underground to remember from this era of harsh and esoteric Finnish metal. Cryptic, obscurant and violent atonality bursts from Partanen’s figurative composing pen much like Ligeti had developed a passion for speed metal and Death Metal, far from the technical pretensions of the Cynics and Pestilences of the world. Whoever upheld the common misconception that Death Metal is not mysteries and occult metaphor, whoever thought we needed the Black Metal “kvlt” to make us interested in life’s hidden forces and spiritual darkness, had not heard the very dimensional experience Sepulchral Aura engages us in. Lead guitars are non-musical but clear and comprehensible like alien messages sent straight into the brain cortex, vocals are guttural and rasped voices somewhere between animalism and insanity, drums sound like a tribute to old Carcass except for some very idiosyncratic ways to use rhythm and nuance to underline the chaos god that devises the riffs. It is impossible to consider a discussion of this demo that doesn’t mention the legacy of Australian Death Metal and War Metal all the way from Sadistik Exekution to the furthest reaches of Portal and Stargazer. It is very much the resurrection of the sincere belief and primal energy that fueled Bestial Warlust, but in this case consecrated by the wasteland of the North instead of the haunted chasms in Down under.

PartanenIntent and improvisation played a major part in how the music itself turned out to be, so I cannot talk about conscious efforts of tributes to particular bands etc.

New Finnish Death Metal is not characterized by particular attributes in sound or can be fitted into one of the trends at large in popular Death Metal, such as fusion Death Metal, “melodic extreme metal” or hyperspeed brutal metal. Most of the bands perform intricate but non-pretentious variations on the classic Scandinavian styling (with lots of Boss Heavy Metal pedals around!), with an emphasis on accuracy and consistency of imagery and lyrics that has been newly found in the Black Metal wave of total art. Trey Azagthoth’s description of Death Metal as a feeling like serpents crawling in the amplifier is very apt in most cases. However, the Death Metal acts mostly wish to keep away from the personality cults and idol worship prevalent in other extreme metal and just keep the music fresh and intuitive.

HaavistoThat’s it. Death Metal is a feeling and when you find the right feel, your material starts to take form and develop and if it sounds a bit familiar already, who cares? It will be new because of the different sound and the feeling transmitted by the end result. It doesn’t need to be that new and special. “The First Bestial Butchery” had the most intense feeling because exactly the one I had about the resulting album was shared by many who listened to it.

HolmCreating something fresh, Death Metal or not, is utterly unimportant to me. I am more interested in just crafting good songs. Otherwise it should be difficult to relay anything through it successfully.

JalasWithout listening to any modern or happy shit, I think the variation becomes from small things, changing tempos, repeating riffs but adding a lead guitar. To be honest with these methods it is hard to invent something new, but there are still some ways to invoke the Draco.

Tuomas K.Actually that description from Mr. Azagthoth is pretty good one! Haven’t heard that one before. As for creating fresh tunes of death, I think it has to do with inspiration first. Sometimes you could have an inspirational rush and just write a whole song from one go. The second option usually is that you dig into your “database” and pick ingredients from here and there and combine those parts to a new song. One thing that is obligatory to play or write Death Metal is a very low tuning on the stringed instruments, at least in my opinion. As for distortion goes, we opt for the Boss HM pedal too, only we don’t use it exactly to get the legendary Sunlight-sound. Add some doomier parts and twisted melodies, and there you go.

LautamäkiOf those main ingredients listed above we only have the Boss heavy metal pedal which our bassist uses as distortion, so that’s the tiny bit of Swedish sound we have! We always try to deliver crushing and heavy songs which still aim to attach the mystical and ethereal feeling through dissonant melodies and solos inspired by mysteries of death and decay.

Ascended: The Temple of Dark Offerings EP

It seems sometimes like a wonder that so many Death Metal classics have been created by youngsters working on their first demo, EP or album but clearly it is a basis for less calculated and more intense statements of the primal truths these eyes have witnessed on their journey so far on earth. While the least experienced musicians on the list, Ascended from Pori prove not one bit worse in channeling the breath of exhumed grave into the nostrils of the expectant Death Metal fan. Simple but glorious, Ascended likes to keep it slow and groove onwards through melodies that recall old Tiamat, Slayer and even a bit of Black Metal. Much like Mystifier or Necros Christos, vocals intone an animated ritual chant to the dead in an almost numbingly rhythmic and non-varied manner. Sound is sparse and clear, with a surprising gap in the lower register lending the proceedings an airy, ethereal vibe of darkness. The foreboding calm of tracks such as “Wedlock of Lust” or the multi-part “Mesmerizing Stench” should be obligatory lessons for most of this generation’s Black Metal bands in what they have missed in pacing and atmospheres of evil. Technical ability and pages of morbid theology do not substitute for the realm of visions and subdued melodies that remind mortals of that which shall be over all too soon – the summer of life, clouded by the storms of the unknown, while the reaper grins to you in the horizon.

Hooded Menace: Fulfill the Curse

Perhaps no other themes in metal have suffered such an ugly abuse as those of gothic horror and its symbolic exploration of the unconscious, sexual and paranoid impulse within man. As plastic, theatrical and money-hungry hedonists swarmed like a pack of rats to invade Death Metal and Black Metal record labels, they left behind a legacy of fear which caused later audiences to abhor the careful and elegant treatment of the macabre that was the original intention of bands like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, before the same bands’ later development infused it with a homosexual taint. While Hooded Menace has not yet produced a work to outweigh the elders, it’s done more than its share in reviving hope in a form with plenty of potential. If there is one thing that has been sadly lacking in the last decade of Death Metal, it’s beautiful and clever melodies. Led by veterans from Joensuu’s progressive Death Metal cult Phlegethon, Hooded Menace pounds, thrashes and makes dramatic gestures of sweeping funereal melodies perfect for a Candlemass album while the lyrics are growled by Lasse Pyykkö (“Leper Messiah”) as absurdist anecdotes straight from 50’s B-grade horror movies.

The apparent cheapness of “Grasp of the Beastwoman” or “Theme from Manhattan Baby” is offset by the care and calculation which proves that Hooded Menace has a profound affection for its infantile source material. This trait establishes a profound link with the old school of Death Metal, the musical manifestation of the gore and trash movie obsessions of kids whose awareness of the relevance of death and morbidity to philosophical discourse was only intuitive and spontaneous.

PyykköWe owe a lot to bands like Candlemass, Cathedral and Winter. It´s not about paying tribute, it´s about making as good slow Death Metal as we can. It´s not a tribute for tribute´s sake, you know. This band is very natural thing actually. When I write metal songs I don´t try to be old school. I am “old” and schooled during the golden days of Death Metal so old school is pretty much what comes out whether I wanted or not. One reason why we decided to form this band was because we thought there weren´t enough decent Death/Doom bands around. We use the elements that we think will make the greatest slow Death Metal. This is our vision of how this type of music should sound at its best. Basically what we do is, I´m going really black and white now, recycle all those Candlemass and Cathedral riffs, throw in some creepy Death Metal vocals and spice it up with some horror soundtrack influences. We just know what elements there has to be in our songs… or at least we know what elements we definitely don´t want to include! It´s not hard actually. It all comes out very naturally. I bet you could tell if we sounded forced. The result is something that in some putrid way sounds fresh… at least to our ears it does, and that´s pretty much enough to keep us going.

The Lords of the Shadow Realm: The Future of Finnish Death

While most media continues to highlight the hyped up Heavy, Black and Doom bands from the Land of the Thousand Lakes, we at Deathmetal.Org wish to raise a mighty salute to the legions of blasphemy and resistance who are spreading evil Death Metal amidst the wastelands of the frozen North. Unique, demanding and powerful, these bands are not in the way to become the next big thing in Death Metal, but I have the sincere hope that each reader will find something in this diverse assortment that speaks to him in the voice of transcendental communication which is the reason we have been interested in this art for all these years. These hordes will either dominate the world or rule in shadows.

PyykköWell, you never know about the future. I´d be happy with ruling in shadows, haha! Hooded Menace will never be hugely popular anyway. My ambition has always been to beat myself. To keep on making decent music as long as it´s fun, passionate and exciting. You possibly have noticed there have been some changes to the lineup after the “Fulfill the Curse” album. The other guys left the city of Joensuu because of work and studies so now Hooded Menace is a duo with me on vocals, guitars and bass and Pekka on drums. Pekka was an easy and pretty obvious choice since I already play with him in Vacant Coffin. As long as we don´t want to play live we can work as a duo like forever but sure a bass player would be nice for the rehearsals. It can get a bit boring to rehearse the songs as a twosome. Our next move in “spreading evil” is of course to release our 2nd album. That should be out sometime in the first half of 2010 on Profound Lore!

HaavistoOnce Lehtinen quit playing after the second Deathspawned Destroyer album, it meant an almost complete stop to our activity. We did two promising tracks with our new member Tuomas Murtojärvi, but we didn’t really get it properly going so the band and the Death Metal spirit has drifted away. People tend to have so much other things to do and the most important band related people have moved so far from us that when we have the occasional practice we play something totally different from Deathspawned Destroyer. The modern day Death Metal people seem anyway to be in a different world and there doesn’t seem to be a demand for old school ruckus. At least not among the “metalheads” seen in the streets around here. I haven’t followed either the recent developments in Death Metal, because the new bands don’t interest me one bit and the old ones have been devoured through and through many times. Deathspawned Destroyer rests in the shadows and maybe one day will be back and do something worth listening to… maybe. We need a guitarist who has a regular commitment to the project and who cares more about the attitude than playing right. It’s certain that things won’t work out again with the original Deathspawned Destroyer duo, but there’s no strife related to it. Hails to Lehtinen and everyone else who supported Deathspawned Destroyer and were a part of our activity in one way or another!

Tuomas K.I think our ambition with Lie in Ruins is to create and release Death Metal which we find satisfying for ourselves. If there comes a time that I or we shouldn’t be satisfied with our work, I guess we should call it a day or at least take a timeout. If there should be any ambitions to create other kind of music, I think it should done under a different moniker, which I think that some of those old bands should’ve done as well.

HolmThere is no ambition in ruling in shadows. We already are. Supreme in the league of our own. That is where Devilry will stay too. Anything else would be doomed to fail.

JalasWe never even thought about making some commercial music with Slugathor. I’m now proud to end this band without wimping out or changing style of music. I think we had our share of influence in the younger generation of Death Metal. It is unbelievable to notice that some new bands have started to sound
exactly like Death Metal is supposed to sound (1989-1991 era), even though they were hardly even born when those old bands recorded their classic demos or debut albums. Slugathor’s last offering of darkness will be a mini-album, in totalitarian Slugathor style, no compromise here either. We have played our last concert in Semifinal, Helsinki with Stench of Decay and Lie in Ruins. The band will be put on it’s already open grave, after a decade. Actually now when Slugathor’s time is over, me and Antti have decided to work on some very obscure and dark Death Metal. We just can’t stop this. Also the rest of Slugathor memebers are going to work on with their own musical projects. Which suits me the best “to dominate the world”, or “to rule in shadows”? I would choose the latter option.

LautamäkiAscended’s next big move is going to be a full-length. The process is delayed because of military service, but in Autumn 2010 we should be able to rehearse again with full lineup and maybe record the material by the end of the year. There’s plenty of material already written up, but there is just no time to rehearse it. One thing I can still promise is that the album is going to be nothing else than honest Death Metal. The only negative thing I can think of is that it is very hard to organize rehearsals since we have 5 members in the lineup.

PartanenAlso playing alone creates some practical obstacles, but they can be surpassed. I would prefer a real line-up, but due to certain aspects of the nature of SA, it is better to continue this way, at least for now. It is to become one with the shadows. Next release will be in 7″, 10″, or full-length format, but do not ask me when. The worthy music is visions, dreams, thoughts, discipline, magic, feeling and intent. The rest is a physical act. If you can smell the stench of transcendental death while playing, at least something is right. If you can see death, even better. If you die, best!

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Hipster metal has officially jumped the shark

HIPSTER METAL
Hype Cycle: 2004–2007
Key Artists: Boris, Wolfmother, Dead Meadow

What It Was: Dave Grohl’s unexceptional Probot vanity project brought attention to avant-metal label Southern Lord, making it cool for the ironic-ringer-T-shirt set to share warm PeeBeRs with the denim-jacket-back-patch set. Soon, bands like the Sword, Priestess, and Saviours brought all the energy and aggression of metal without zitty geekazoid tropes like “chops.”

Creative Peak: Mastodon, Leviathan [2004]

Typically Effusive Praise at the Time: “If Sunn 0))) is the ZZ Top of experimental metal, with matching beards and Gibson Les Paul guitars, Boris might be the Kraftwerk, or the Ramones, or even the Jimi Hendrix Experience, depending on the album.” —The New York Times Magazine, 2006

What Happened?: For most people, standing through two hours of Sunn O)))’s fog machine and drone turned out to be “not really my thing.” Indie rockers started their own terrible metal bands (David Pajo’s Dead Child, Rob Crow’s Goblin Cock), and the burnouts nerds laughed at in high school resumed shaking their heads at us all. – The Village Voice

When even the Village Voice says hipster metal has jumped the shark, you know it’s official: both that “hipster metal” exists, which hipsters deny, and that it’s a dead played out trend, which is good news for people who like real metal.

Indie hipster music and metal cannot coexist. They’re coming at the world from opposite angles. Metal is about power, but indie hipster music is about sounding cool and ironic to pacify your friends. Power is war, pandering is pacifism. No pacifism in metal — only war — IF YOU ARE A FALSE…

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Goreaphobia – Mortal Repulsion

Goreaphobia_cover

Goreaphobia is one of the great names from the old-school of American Death Metal that were unable to solidify their reputation with a full-length release, but they weren’t left totally obscured due to the infamous personnel of Death Metal warriors – largely of Incantation stock – who have contributed to this band’s line-up over the years. With Mortal Repulsion, Goreaphobia have finally crossed the Styx and, with the wisdom of old seers, address the nightmares that such a thanatopsical journey brings to life. Those familiar with these veteran’s earlier recordings, such as the barbaric ‘Morbidious Pathology’ demo, will notice that this album shows an highly controlled approach to Goreaphobia’s morbid style of art. This is a fair compromise for the lack of youthful energy, as the sound is an accumulation of a lot of technique that has been refined over the years by American Death and Black Metal bands, and guided by the same intelligence, also shows disdain for the cheap tricks employed by bands who should be performing nu-emo-metalcore in a circus somewhere.

The guitars have a noticeably sludgy quality not unlike Incantation, which lends itself well to the diversity of guitarwork on exhibition, while kept well anchored by the drumming, equally multi-dimensional in its awareness of primitivism within a fairly demanding instrumental framework. The sense of space conjured is often remarkable, such as the ambiential ‘Negative Screams’, which is like an inversion of Pestilence’s ‘Proliferous Souls’. Haunting melodies interact with rhythmical progressions in a manner not dissimilar to the older demos, but the flavour here is more like Immolation and their own inaugural breath of hellfire that was Dawn of Possession, and the subtle layering of secondary guitars and bass even recalls the likes of Demoncy. The vocal work of Gamble has a strange aura of older, more primal Black Metal such as N.M.E. or Hellhammer (whose presence is also felt during the down-tempo moments of the album that are laden with a Doomy sense of desolation) at times. Mortal Repulsion is a great amalgamation of this unholy lineage of pure and nihilistic underground Metal, bringing to attention the fear of life inherent in the fear of death, and the dominion that can be held over such neuroses which fade within the depths of the abyss.

-ObscuraHessian-

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Best metal of the decade 1999-2009

The twee indie hipster ironists at A.V. Club put out their list of the 100 metal albums of the decade, forgetting of course that what we, the listeners, need is”quality over quantity.” We don’t have endless time, money, or even bandwidth to explore all the goofy stuff that seems nuanced and interesting to a reviewer who will listen to it twice in his lifetime, once to write the review and once before he shuffles that promo CD on to Half Price.

This list is not going to make me friends at big labels who want you to pick up the latest dreck by some indie rock band that started playing metal ironically. It won’t win you scene points with the kvlt and trve. It will surely not impress your friends with how open-minded, cool and different you are. What it will do is re-awaken your interest in some of the best metal made during this decade, even if it was so good there was no need to make drama about it, and so it slipped under our radar as the years went by.

Demoncy – Joined in Darkness (1999, Baphomet)

When black metal had just discovered keyboards and carnival music, this lo-fi roar straight out of hell cut through the fat and pared our ears to the bone. Sounding like Incantation and Havohej, its primitive riffs in archly elegant songs retain their power a decade later.

Profanatica – Profanatitas de Domonatia (2007, Hell’s Headbangers)

For a return later in their career, Profanatica took the primal riffing of their earlier albums and worked it into longer melodies like a Swedish death metal band, creating an enduring mood of occult darkness.

Antaeus – Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan (2000, Baphomet)

This album sounds like battle, with clipped rhythms and clashing riffs, but out of that emerges a sublime sense of melody in one of the last albums to really uphold the old school of early 1990s black metal.

At War With Self – Torn Between Dimensions (2005, Free Electric Sound)

Most technical metal is an oil-and-water separation, but At War With Self find a voice that smoothly wraps a progressive/jazz jam session around metal riffs and emotions.

Immolation – Unholy Cult (2002, Olympic)

Immolation achieve a rarity: technical death metal that doesn’t aim for highbrow technique, but a solid slamming songwriting technique that never leaves you in confusion, and on this album, the guitar fireworks match the fire of the stories told by these vivid, evocative songs.

Beherit – Engram (2009, Spinefarm)

As if attempting to sum up the past twenty years of black metal, Beherit makes an album in the style of early Bathory but updates it with quirk and insight, etching a complex sigil that requires repeated listening to decode.

Skepticism – Alloy (2008, Red Stream)

Funeral doom hangs drooping waves of distorted noise upon mortuary keyboards, dragging us through a dirge of misery, but Skepticism make it sound like an interesting mindset we could explore and even enjoy.

Ildjarn-Nidhogg – Ildjarn-Nidhogg (2003, Northern Heritage)

Ildjarn, with its minimalistic riffs and incessant high-speed drumming, is a band that people either love or hate based on how it sounds, but hidden in all that noise are transcendent short compositions that stroke the inner brain.

Gorguts – From Wisdom To Hate (Olympic, 2001)

Gorguts takes their subtly melodic brutal death metal and pulls it inside out to make mechanistic, complex song constructions that followed classical patterns and used multiple themes.

Summoning – Oath Bound (2006, Napalm)

To bring the sound of ancient Hobbit-infused landscapes into black metal, Summoning slowed it down but played at higher registers and faster than doom bands, interweaving keyboards and longer guitar riffs to create an ambient metal sound.

Blaspherian – Allegiance To The Will Of Damnation (2007, Blood Harvest)

Blaspherian prove underground old school death metal is not dead with this music in the style of 1991, but with the wisdom of years of atmospheric metal channeled into these riffs that resemble a subconscious thought with their eerily familiar rhythms and shapes.

Celtic Frost – Monotheist (2006, Century Media)

Returning from a recent history of false starts, Celtic Frost get back to their 1987 sensibility and modernize it, mixing industrial, gothic, speed metal and morbid death metal into an energetic but necrotic album.

Graveland – Memory and Destiny (2002, No Colours)

To be epic, black metal needs to transport us from The Now to the vast and lawless past, a frontier that Graveland opens wide with their martial, Conan-influenced black metal.

Cosmic Atrophy – Codex Incubo (2008, Metalbolic)

Just as metal gets codified, Cosmic Atrophy return to put the weird back into metal with a unique voice inspired by Demilich, Timeghoul, Voivod and all other metal bands from the other side.

Avzhia – The Key of Throne (2004, Old War)

Melding flowing black metal with militant fast drums, Avzhia take over where Emperor left off and throw in the new world sense of urgency and gritty, nihilistic, feral and crafty battle.

Legion Of Doom – The Horned Made Flesh (2008, Zyklon-B)

Like the roar of a hunting lion, this album makes destructive sound into a signal to attack, joining raw black metal riffs and melodic keyboards for a dreamlike listening experience.

Slayer – World Painted Blood (2009, American)

After long years of not having an artistic voice, and trying everyone else’s vision by their own, Slayer drop most of the “modern metal” influences and pick up where 1992 left off, in simpler songs that use rock-style pocket rhythm but keep the classic acerbic Slayer riffs.

Sammath – Triumph in Hatred (2009, Folter)

You might think black metal died and got so mixed with other styles it had no voice, but Sammath have mixed death metal technique carefully into their black metal songs, making a testimony toward aggression that sounds like Zyklon-B merged with Angelcorpse.

Motorhead – Inferno (2004, Sanctuary)

Motorhead have made a career of not changing their basic approach, and “Inferno” is no exception, fitting on the shelf next to the others but also being tighter, faster and darker than most of them.

Asphyx – Death… The Brutal Way (2009, Ibex Throne)

Performing the rare trick of coming back 20 years later with an album as good and un-diluted as their first, Asphyx bring you heavy basic riffs and lots of repetition, but song structures that emphasize the profundity of contrast and give these songs spacious atmosphere.

See a more detailed version of this list:

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Becoming a classical listener

For kicks I decided to listen to nothing but classical music for a month. Having bounced around looking for the next genre to capture the power of old school metal, I realized that none were coming close, so skipped the drama and went right for the heavyweight — classical. In specific, I’d found the following frustrations:

  1. Jazz fans tend to praise music for its external traits, like how wild the sounds are, not the composition. This is because jazz composition is either based on pop music from the 1930s, or totally random. Most of the soloing is 80% random or memorized licks used to kill time while the musician tries to think up something good. Jazz fans don’t want to hear this because they listen to jazz to seem profound to their friends, and like talking about how it’s superior to every other form of music, especially country, metal and classical (“those people can’t improvise,” they say of the people who invented and still practice structured improvisation).
  2. I like the idea of noise music and many of the people involved with it. The music itself is fucking boring. It’s a texture study with some dynamic manipulation for effect, which gives them only a few semi-linear song structures they can develop. The result is a focus on the trivial, so that anyone who mikes his colon and samples a tractor engine through it then finds a way to distort it using atmospheric noise and biofuels becomes the Latest Genius, even though the end result sounds about like everything else.
  3. Similarly, I like the idea of industrial music, but it has been swallowed up by dance music and the beat-addicted nature reminds me of all I don’t like about our modern time: spoon-fed, concentration-interrupting, doofus-friendly society. Even stuff like VNV Nation, which is pretty brainy, gets old after a listen or two for this reason.
  4. I like the idea of country, and can enjoy bluegrass and pre-hippie folk, but not all the time. Much of it sounds very similar to my ears which may have to do with its reliance on similar techniques.
  5. I would never listen to metal for metal’s sake. That’s how you make something weak, by being an unquestioning audience. For this reason, other than a handful of releases, I skip out on post-1996 metal. The exceptions are great however.
  6. The “youth culture” aspects of popular music — how it’s a high-ticket item sold on certain assumptions, how millions of people use it as a cause/life/goal substitute, how it’s generally not profound thus people contort to give it extra gravitas — are what doomed metal and doom these other genres. I want to avoid the kiddie marketing and in-group/out-group social club aspects that get in the way of the music.
  7. This “youthiness” to the music means that you are expected to be willing to spend absurd sums of money, waste hours of time poking around magazines and web sites and youth chatter boards, all while becoming a target for the “youth market” of large corporations who realize that you can pander to people while condescending to them. They treat anything “youth” like it’s for morons and still people eat it up. They’re not going to do anything but insult your intelligence and cryptically hide information so someone can be the smartest monkey in the group for having found it.
  8. Popular music is, under the hood, very similar in melody, harmony and rhythm. As a result, dressing it up becomes the most important task. If you take a standard pop song and add a screaming female vocalist, a tuba player and a disco beat, it’s now “edgy.” Take that same pop song, drop the drums and add a chorus of gay penguins, and it’s “innovative.” Or just indulge in camp and mixed-up styles from the past and you’re “ironic.” Does anyone actually fall for this? Well, they know nothing of music theory, have little experience of life, and… here’s the secret: they have low self-esteem, are ordinary, but are trying to socialize by having something in common with others that they can trade around in a transactional basis. So they have rock music and they don’t care as much about the music as the cool.

Because of this, I chucked aside the notion of listening to popular music — at all. Even if it’s underground or indie, if it’s in the popular music format, that’s how it will be perceived and treated, which in turn affects how I’ll have to interact with it and get ahold of it. Specifically, I noted how the greatest artists were straining to escape the kiddie music ghetto, like Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Fripp and Eno. Why keep pushing the dead agenda?

Instead I hauled out an already moderate classical collection and went on a shopping spree at Amazon and Joel’s Classical Music, a local shop. My idea was to go the opposite direction for a month and see where it led me. I didn’t do any research because I wanted to emulate the experience of the normal, curious listener who has a job and family and so discovers things by serendipity while the music is playing in the background, over the screaming kids, chattering coworkers, and blaring TV.

What made the transition hardest was the difference in dynamics. Rock music is meant to be a constant pulse; classical music is like a ocean wave, sometimes loud and sometimes inaudible, usually somewhere in the middle. With rock music, you hear the first thirty seconds and set your sound level; with classical, you really have to find the loudest part of the piece because the bulk of it may be softer.

Even more, there’s a textural difference. Where rock is guitars and bass and drums and vocals, classical musicians have a choice of more than a dozen instruments. They use them unevenly because what’s a good effect for one emotion, or part of an emotional journey, doesn’t fit in another. You can be awash in violins one moment, and caught up in bass and brass the next.

Finally, there’s a time difference. Rock music is three-minute songs, with a few exceptions. Classical music has some three-minute songs, but more commonly, longer pieces are composed of several movements. Themes are shared across these movements, like a conversation with question, answer, debate, modification and restatement. You can’t hum a melody knowing that in thirty seconds, after the chorus, it’ll be back.

But I did it: I spent a month listening to nothing but classical, except the unavoidable retro swing-rockabilly at the ‘Bucks and the clinky ringtones of my fellow subway riders. Having fought it through, I have a few recommendations for those wanting to get into classical music.

  1. Stick with the standards. Learn to listen to the music by sticking with the most time-tested successes, namely Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Schubert, and Wagner. You can branch into baroque later, and modern classical later, as these are reaches. Learn first how to listen to the music.
  2. Don’t find the most obscure, dark and stormy or avant-garde classical you can. Every cretinous idiot who wants to show you how profound he is will come out of the woodwork and recommend you listen to Buttzurski’s Ten Meditations For a Dying, Fly-Covered Child in Marshall McLuhan’s Singularity, but the modern stuff doesn’t meet the challenge of the older and is in fact kind of trivial. Equally idiots will try to get you to listen only to “dark” classical or classical for rock fans. This is always a path to stupidity. Learn to understand the big names and anything else will be easy.
  3. Pick conductor carefully but worry less about orchestra and year. Conductors are like film directors; they interpret the piece and can either ruin it or make it shine. However, the difference between great conductors is minimal, while the difference between a great conductor and a bad one is infinite. Pick some established names, like von Karajan or Harnoncourt.
  4. Don’t shy away from Naxos. Naxos has a simple business model: find inexpensive orchestras in out of the way places to record classical pieces in interpretations based on the greats. It’s part-clone, part-practicality. We can’t all afford the big name conductor box set, but we can afford a $8 Naxos CD that uses a similar approach and unknown, rising musicians.
  5. Support your local classical store. Among other things, the people that work there took that job because they love the music — they’re not getting paid much. They are probably susceptible to polite conversation, almost always open to questions, and if encouraged, will give you a viewpoint you can use to plot your own course through classical music. If you find someone who hates everything you love and loves everything you hate, the value is not lessened — apply the “Rule of 180” and go nuts.
  6. Don’t tell your friends until you are listening to classical music regularly. People are going to try to talk you out of it because they fear that you’re going to see The True Musical Truth of Truthy Truthness, and turn around and treat them like they’d treat you, by saying that their music is the random mutterings of droning peon brains. Even if that’s true — and in my view, it is for most rock and jazz — you don’t want to get into that fight. Don’t act like the jazz fans. Instead, do your thing and when someone asks, tell them the composer name but don’t mention it’s classical. “I’ve been listening to a lot of this Italian guy, Arcangelo Corelli.” If you’re a total deviant like me, you can describe the music as atmospheric narrative instrumental music, and no one is going to think it’s anything other than Autechre with a voice-over.

I found it rewarding to throw out the rules and plunge into the abyss, and leave behind all the safety blankets I had come to know. I still love metal, but I’ve found that classical music listening has sharpened my ear and made it easy for me to throw out the crap metal and keep the best, which means that the metal in my life is stronger in quality not quantity and so it is able to compete well with any other genre. In addition, I’ve found a new musical passion that doesn’t require me to ever hear the term “ironic” again.

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Update: Timeghoul, At the Gates, Bolt Thrower

A quick news update:

  • Timeghoul interview probes the origins of this unique, quirky, but deliberate progressive death metal band.
  • At the Gates reviews cover the entire discography of this amazing band who never got the credit they deserved, in part because their later albums tapered so badly.
  • Bolt Thrower reviews describe the entirety of this innovative melodic grindcore band’s career from messy post-crust to polished thematic work.

Check ’em out, and then whine up a storm in our forums.

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Interview: Gordon Blodgett (Timeghoul)

TIMEGHOUL are one of those death metal rarities: a band with only demo-level output that often outshines that of their more well known peers. Their brand of American-styled death metal was complex, eclectic and, most importantly, constructed on a foundation of solid songwriting and and intriguing concept. Guitarist Gordon Blodgett was kind enough to speak to us about their obscure legacy.

Taken and adapted from Heidenlarm ‘zine, Issue #8.

I promised no generic questions, but since TIMEGHOUL still ranks among the obscure, a brief history would be helpful here.

The band was originally formed in 1987 by Jeff Hayden and Mike Stevens. It was originaly called Doom’s Lyre, and was changed not too long after. They recruited Chad and Tony around 1990 and cut the demo Tumultuous Travelings in April 1992. Jeff wanted to go to a three-guitar attack so that he could incorporate three-guitar harmonies. At this time Mike had decided to drop out and form a Christian metal band. I grew up on the same street as T.J. and we had been playing and writing music on our guitars in his garage, but we couldn’t find anybody in 1993 that wanted to play technical thrash/death. I saw a flyer posted at the record store about Timeghoul tryouts. I followed up, tried out, made the band, and got T.J. in the band as well. Somewhere in there Chad bowed out but we continued on. We then recorded Panaramic Twilight.

Getting the second generic question out of the way: although TIMEGHOUL can be described as death metal, the eclecticism points to a greater array of musical influences. Can you describe what some of those were? What about non-musical ones?

Jeff was the main visionary here. His favorite was Atrocity’s Longing For Death, Suffocation, Immolation, Gorguts, Morgoth, Nocturnus, Malevolent Creation, stuff like that. That pretty much went for everybody in the band back then. Jeff also liked alot of experimental dark classical music from the 20th century too, as well as medieval music.

Only six tracks were officially released, but I have seen listings for live bootlegs showing more than six tracks being performed, though I have not seen the videos themselves. Is there unreleased material floating around, and is it recorded anywhere if so?

Nothing of good sound quality. There was an instrumental version of a song called “Last Laugh” that was scrapped for parts to other songs. We were also rehearsing “To Sing With Ghosts” and “Joust Of The Souls” before we disbanded, but there are only 4-track versions of the various riffs.

What comprises a “riff” in a TIMEGHOUL song? How are these presented cohesively within a song, i.e. is there a current of an idea defining each track, are the riffs composed randomly but placed in logical sequence, or is it totally random? Something else?

For Timeghoul a riff was more or less a sequence of smaller phrases that added up to a much bigger overall part of the song. Not to lose you with musician talk but Jeff was thinking like a classical composer and the riffs had the longest phrases to them — they just went on and on, and he didn’t like to come back to parts either that much, just like in classical music. As far as the format of the songs goes, I think Jeff just wrote the riffs chronologically (w/ an exception of a riff or two) as they appear in the structure.

“No man is an island.” Much as we may feel and act as Individuals, our race is a single organism, always growing and branching, which must be pruned regularly to be healthy.

This necessity need not be argued; anyone with eyes can see that any organism which grows without limit always dies in its own poisons.

– Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love (1973)

Was TIMEGHOUL tuned to A? Some of the riffs completely bottom out.

Actually we were not really downtuned at all. We tuned to E flat because nobody else was doing it. We used active pickups and played 4th chords to beef up the sound. Back then 7-strings were barely around. I think Morbid Angel, Korn, and Dream Theater were the only ones using them. We used alot of heavy EQing. Jeff actually used super-thin strings because he said it helped him speed-pick better. And T.J. and I were on the other end of the spectrum playing are jazz-gauge strings.

I think the approach to death metal taken by TIMEGHOUL can safely be called “American” for the most part. Does this mean anything to you? What makes American music in general specifically American in your opinion?

Well, I know we didn’t sound a black metal band from Sweden. We were in talks w/ Holy Records from France and they wanted to see what we came up with next before they would sign us. When the label heard the recording of the two songs from ’94 they said we sound like an American death metal band similar to Immolation with too much grinding. It wasn’t avant-garde enough for their label. I guess so. It sounded pretty unique to me. As far as an American sound goes, I would say that maybe there’s more of a focus on groove with catchy hooks or something, like Obituary I suppose. But again we weren’t writing catchy hooks or grooving. We were musically in the world created by Jeff’s lyrics.

TIMEGHOUL’s music is quite complex, but clearly not in a contrived sense. Did TIMEGHOUL strive to make complex music, or did complex music better fit the thematic ideas behind the band?

I think Jeff developed his own style of writing melodies in a midieval way, and the rest in a frantic way that begged for strange and technical patterns. He developed the Timeghoul “Vocabulary” as we used to say.

I have seen the TIMEGHOUL lyrics described as “fantasy,” which seems true. Like all good fantasy though, some seem to be truth buried under complex metaphor. They are also very well composed. Was there any kind of meta-concept, or were they written as seperate short stories that happened to play out well as lyrics?

Jeff wrote the lyrics after the song was written. He may have had an idea or working title to the songs before the vocals were done, but that came last. Phenomenal lyric guy. I know “The Siege” has a backdrop of a castle being overtaken by the opposing army-which is metaphorical for someone going insane. I think “Rainwound” is loosely based on Greek/Norse mythology, and “Gutspawn” was based on a creature from D & D called the “Gut.” “Occurance on Mimas” was fascinating in that Mimas is an actual moon of Saturn, but it’s missing a chunk of itself. The theory was that there were evil, warring tribes on that part of the moon and an asteroid came through and knocked that part of Mimas to Earth where it all crashed into what is known today as the Himalayan Mountains. The creatures awaken from underneath and rise to the surface where they destroy the planet, before going back underground. Maybe that was metaphorical for the “underground” scene in music rising up at some point.

The “clean” vocals provide a wonderfully ethereal effect and are included with good taste. I have an old interview where Jeff Hayden mentions medieval polyphonic music as an influence on them. Was their inclusion seen as a bold move for a full-on death metal band at that point in time?

Definitely. I think Fear Factory was about the only band doing that back then. Jeff was a composer first and foremost, and he wanted harmonies everywhere, especially sandwiched between the heaviest of riffs. The songs are really progressive if you think about it. And they’re always shifting in different directions to keep it interesting.

In your experience, what works better for songwriting: democratic participation, or a more singular vision? Is there a compromise between the two? How did TIMEGHOUL typically operate?

In the band I play in now (Gate 7; what a shameless plug), we have found through trial and error that it’s best to compromise. We write everything live in the practice room, and if somebody doesn’t like it we don’t play it. As far as getting the most artistically out of a song you should probably just let an individual write the whole thing based on his/her specific vision, and then maybe the rest of the band can add their thing over the top, or make a suggestion here or there. I know when I solely write for my projects, nine times out of ten I accomplish exactly what I was going for. I can see both sides of the coin on this one.

Band members, when asked about what they were aiming to achieve, often give an answer to the effect of “Nothing — we were just four dudes playing what we loved and having fun.” This is a believable (and understandable) scenario, but not a wholly satisfying one, particularly for bands that showed greater insight. What answer would you give to this question with regard to projects with which you have been involved?

I was 18 when I joined Timeghoul in January ’94 so I was thrilled to be in a band that heavy and that original. I learned a ton from Jeff and Tony. When I write music now the songs end up being long, and I don’t like to repeat parts too many times either. It was a great learning experience to go into the studio as well. My first taste of playing live was during this time too. I think we were proud of the songs we played and envisioned sticking around alot longer than we did.

Is music art? Is modern music art? Is there a continuum?

What is art? I look at it like that about half the time. I listen to King Crimson and stuff like that, and that music makes you think the whole time you listen to it. Then I’ll put on something on from back-in- the-day and just start jamming out and having fun. Ultimately I would say I like an approach of a band like Opeth who can give you the “art” and the “heavy” at all times.

Everything that depends on the action of nature is by nature as good as it can be, and similarly everything that depends on art or any rational cause, and especially if it depends on the best of all causes. To entrust to chance what is greatest and most noble would be a very defective arrangement.

– Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics (c. 325 BC)

What qualities do you seek in music?

Originality and Creativity. It seems that it’s harder and harder to find original bands anymore. Everybody sounds like “this” meets “that” and it’s pretty uninspiring. I watch the new Headbanger’s Ball and for every one video that’s good there are six that either suck, or sound like something that was done ten years ago. I try my best personally to write things that are unique and don’t sound like any one band, especially over the course of an album.

Why are some people more discerning when it comes to music (or any other complex choice) than others? Is there a more-or-less inverse linear relationship between quality/quantity?

It could be a left-brained or right-brained thing. I know people with IQs through the roof, and they seem genuinely entertained by nothing but the simplest pop music of the day. Maybe their enjoyment is that they don’t have to think about it. I get my enjoyment by listening to the structures of songs, and seeing where they go, what effects the band is using, and generally how fresh the material is at the time in which it was written. I guess I do view music as art. Others may view it as entertainment, and some may listen for the message. To each their own.

Why did TIMEGHOUL fail to achieve greater success? Do you think the band was possibly too cerebral? Too different? Or was it the just result of an oversaturated underground?

The problem back then was that nobody had any money, and the technology wasn’t there to record at home on the computer, so without some support we could never record any songs. And the labels weren’t calling us because we just weren’t out there enough for them to know who we were. Plus, we could never keep a full lineup in tact. We virtually had no bass player for the final three years. Eventually Jeff and Tony had kids, T.J. moved to Florida, and I joined another band.

Has anybody shown interest in re-issuing the TIMEGHOUL material?

I will eventually post all six songs on my website (http://www.aegea-synergy.com) on the Timeghoul page (w/ kind permission from Mr. Hayden of course). I still talk to Tony and Jeff here and there. You never know — Tony lives in a home/studio with his band, and Jeff talks about writing something more ferocious and complex than ever. If we can ever find the time I would love to record some more of Jeff’s compositions. “Stay Tuned!”

Have you met with any success with AEGEA and SYNERGY?

I haven’t really marketed the music other than posting a website. It’s mainly just a hobby for me while I play in a band and live the married life. Besides, it’s hard to find a market for heavy-progressive- instrumental music (Aegea), and the other project (Synergy) is like Frank Zappa metal or something.

Was TIMEGHOUL highly revered locally? What was the response like in other parts of the US/world?

Back in the early-to-mid-90s there were hardly any any thrash and death metal bands in St. Louis. The whole grunge thing was going on and everybody thought they were born-again hippies or something. Timeghoul was always playing gigs with the same bands, like Psychopath and Immortal Corpse, but that was about it. We also opened for a show that featured headliners Obituary with Agnostic Front, Cannibal Corpse, and Malevolent Creation.

Enlightened to the point of bewilderment
Deaf to the song of creation
Blind to the light of the afterworld
What has always been shall always be

– Jeff Hayden (TIMEGHOUL), “Infinity Coda,” Tumultu
ous Travelings
(demo 1992)

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Amebix – Arise!

amebix ariseComing from the anarcho-punk school of musical and ideological tradition, and finally releasing this, their debut full length in 1985, Amebix had already released a series of excellent EP’s in the early half of the decade. The unique character of their music was a sound that fused the violent hardcore punk of Discharge with the circulative, repetitious song structures that were a staple of post-punk acts such as Killing Joke and Public Image Ltd. Escaping the social-activist themes that were a staple of hardcore, and transcending the melancholia and fatalism that was a common theme of post-punk, Amebix took on board the musical apparatus of both substyles and turned towards a contemplative, naturalistic direction that subverted the generalisation of how we associate themes with forms. Inspiration comes additionally from the NWOBHM of early Motorhead and Judas Priest in the crunching, percussive guitar playing that made itself a staple of speed metal and subsequently death metal. Drums batter clearly as if to stadium anthems, and boom with an echo one would clearly associate with said decade. Droning riffs make an appearance and have a harmonic depth to them that evoke the archaic and the dystopian much like Burzum and Godflesh simultaneously would do in their most prominent work. Whereas the metal subgenres of the 1980′s slowly influenced one anothers musical language, Amebix single handedly introduced new themes and formats that would become the structural basis of future acts to come, and alongside their compilation album No Sanctuary, this important work deserves it’s applause.

-Pearson-

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