Madison hessian slay-in for IDoS – report and pics

Thanks to “Jim Necroslaughter” we now have photos and a full report of the hessian slay-in that took place in Madison, Wisconsin, this past June 6th for International Day of Slayer:

Saturday June 6th, 2009, was a rainy, overcast day in Madison, Wisconsin. Appropriate for the Inter-National Day of Slayer, I suppose. While the rain may have deterred some people (flaky Madison liberals) from showing up that day, the proud few stuck out the rain from 10 AM to 4 PM at Library Mall, in the heart of downtown Madison.

Within 15 minutes of setting up, a random, street-urchin type, riding a bike, stopped by and offered me a hit off the glass pipe he had hidden in his hand – “this is the green, right here,” he said. In the right situation I would partake, but I figured this wasn’t the time or the place, so I passed. I found it funny that this was the first time in my life that a complete random offered me weed – in public, no less. The IDoS brings good karma I guess.

After about an hour, a completely unassuming 20-something year old, came up and asked me, “Is it REALLY the National Day of Slayer!?” We talked for 15 minutes about the best Slayer album (I told him South of Heaven), and metal, in general. I gave him a flyer and mentioned anus.com a few times. He was extremely fun to talk to – a balding, “conservatively” dressed young man that actually knew quite a bit about metal. He was really excited about the fact that it was the National Day of Slayer, and it was clear that he wasn’t taking the holiday as a joke or with a sense of irony.

At one point, early on, I remember two University of Wisconsin campus tours being forced to walk by us – haha! These tours are essentially for high-school kids and their parents who are trying to decide on where to go to college next fall. I’m pretty sure Reign in Blood was playing at that point – perfect!

The next person I remember talking to was a very old man. He was looking at our signs and came up to me and in a thick German accent, he said “June 6th is also D-Day.” I told him we knew that, and he told me a great story about how he was 14 and living in Nazi Germany on D-Day (so I guess that would make him 79, today). He asked me, “What is this ‘metal,’ is it the music you listen to?” I confirmed that it was, and I told him I also listen to classical. He asked me, who is your favorite composer? I told him Beethoven. He seemed very pleased with my answer, and said something to the effect of: “Beethoven makes you think that the entire universe was created just so that Beethoven could exist.” The old man was a pleasure to talk to, especially with Hell Awaits blasting in the background!

Let’s see. I remember an older woman (must have been 40) coming up and taking a flyer. I remember an older couple (around 40 or 50) coming up and hanging out for about 10 minutes – the wife seemed to know her Slayer pretty well, all things considered. A group of young African-American men and women stopped by for a few minutes and chatted us up, took a few flyers, and seemed pretty amused about the whole thing. There was a church about 100 yards away and sure enough, there was a wedding that day. A few of the groomsmen walked by at one point and raised a beer. At one point, I remember explaining to a man why Slayer was the perfect spokesband for metal – they are popular, but not total sell-outs, essentially. Nat’l Day of Darkthrone is too obscure, but Nat’l Day of Metallica is too HIV positive.

The best group of people that stopped by was a German family (more Germans!). They all had accents but they essentially spoke perfect English, I gathered that they live in America or visit it a lot. Anyway, the mom and dad stood back and had huge smiles on their face. The two sons and daughter were REALLY excited about our set-up! They said this was the best thing they had seen in months, they loved our signs (the daughter especially liked the “No Hipsters” sign), and took a bunch of pictures. We talked for probably 20 minutes; the one son really knew his black metal – he opened up his wallet and showed me his old I.D. from Deutschland. He said, “this was when I was 15 and had long hair – I used to be a sinner!” Pretty good line, I thought.

All in all I was pretty surprised at how we attracted a pretty diverse crowd – men, women, black, white, German, young, old, long hair, balding, street-urchins, groomsmen. At the end of the day, I realize that some people who stopped by probably thought we were being ironic, and to some extent, I know that we attracted some hipster-types. But I know I made some contact with some authentic people who will hopefully, ultimately, check out anus.com.

Improvements for next year:

– Red dye for the fountain in the middle of Library Mall.

– A goat chained to a tree

– A bigger/louder stereo!

And some pictures of the gathering (click to enlarge):

We at the Hessian Studies Center would like to congratulate the few, but brave ones that took this initiative for activism and showed local people that hessians are a group aware of themselves and that metal is a valid subculture. We also thanks Jim for his detailed report on the gathering and extend our kudos to the old man for his profound saying on Beethoven‘s music.

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From the Past Comes the Storms – Metal’s Historic Connections

Metal, through its lyricism and imagery, and some might say, its feeling, tries in a very obvious way to link itself to the past, whether by telling the story of the armies that fought in World War II or by describing things that happened in a far more remote past time, like events so past us that they become almost mythical. Why is that? As previously commented on another post, metal not only is an alternative to modernity as a way to see and understand life, but its opposite. And that was intended from the very beginning…a rebellion towards what metal artists saw as a complacent world filled with domesticated robots disconnected from their environment. As a counterposition towards that mentality, heavy metal offers an inspired vision of how things were in a past when life was a lot more violent and rougher, and yet strangely, healthier for the challenges it offered daily. We can see that connection most obviously in heavy and speed/thrash metal, but the more compositionally advanced forms of extreme metal aren’t divorced from the idea either. In that approach there is a unique message implied, which is: by arriving to a materially advanced state of civilization in which life is safer, we’d actually done a devil’s bargain – we have completely moved away from doing things that may potentially be hurting and unsafe, unlike those times in which life was violent and challenging and yet, despite that, we lived in a state of connection with nature made by the very things that threatened us each day.

Most of the people living now don’t know how to make a fire or wield a sword because they don’t need to: we got gas ovens and professional armies now, which are certainly great things to have in this modern age, no doubt, but the problem lies in that we have skewed challenges altogether expecting that everything be given to us in a silver platter. In other words: we have domesticated ourselves, and in the process we have lost a part of our souls. Suddenly, life no longer has meaning besides getting new things to make ourselves happy and more comfortable. That’s what metal is against, and by rescuing the past it tries to give us lessons, like a grandfather telling a story of his own childhood in order to communicate an experience we young people might find usable. In the same way, metal gives us, red-blooded people with a thirst for life and challenge, an alternative view to the conformism we see everyday around us.

Along the black mountainside scattered
By the campfires awaiting the dawn
Two times a hundred men in battles
Tried by the steel in the arrow axe and the sword

By battle worn hunger torn awaiting
For the sun to break through the cold haze
And for the banners of Ebal to appear
On the hill in the suns first warm rays

The elder among the men looked deep into
The fire and spoke loud with pride
Tomorrow is a fine day to die

A Fine Day To Die, Bathory

Lyrics like the above evoke awful images to most people, but for the hessian, beneath the death, the blood and the fighting, there is a quest for glory and self-improvement and, as modern day warriors, we are able by listening and understanding the music to feel a part of the rush that ancient warriors must have felt. Bands like Manowar, Motörhead, Bolt Thrower, Omen, Dio and, of course, Iron Maiden have brought the past to the table many times for that reason, and many bands have made entire careers out of it. They evoke a time we want to revive in our hearts for daily inspiration. Yet, as romantic our souls may be, we don’t want to repeat the errors of the past as much as we don’t want to screw things up as badly as modern peoples. And this is why metal also takes the idea of evocation further by exploring the mythical world of fantasy. But that’s another topic. In the meantime, let us hessians rescue the past, both through music and books and learn from it so we can be the ancient men of the modern ages. The past lives on us!

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The meaning of black metal

The guitarist/vocalist of Atomizer, Jason Healey, has started writing a book about the meaning and purpose of black metal. As he says on the site:

When I first discovered Black Metal in the early 90’s it was as though some invincible force confronted me. Never had I witnessed a sound so primitive and raw, yet so atmospheric and bombastic. An essence that ran so much deeper than its fiendish visual and caustic tone would alone suggest. A bizarre paradox of ugliness, contempt and barbarism awash in philosophical revelation and profane religious fervor. Life, death, salvation and sacrifice – Black Metal truly is the malignant paradigm.

The Stench of Black Metal will attempt to corral the seemingly divergent positions its legions have granted it and provide what is hoped to be the definitive statement. This is not to suggest that the words of any one individual will bestow this, though readers may find divinity in a single declaration. It is not intended to be a guide or an explanation; rather a gateway to the determination of what dwells at its core. The quest to unveil its quintessence.

He’s soliciting contributions from bands, zines, labels and fans. You can send in your statement at the website, The Stench of Black Metal, if you can address the following questions:

  1. Describe in your own words the quintessence of Black Metal.
  2. Is this point of view representative of a specific time, and if so at what point did this view manifest? (ie: March 1991)
  3. Has the definitive Black Metal statement been made and what is it?
  4. What purpose is Black Metal yet to serve?

For kicks, here’s an outtake from my answer:

Quintessence to my mind means the indefinable abstract as it applies to the context of the universe as a whole. This means that an idea is needed that gets you to the starting point just before the main show. To my mind, this is a conflict between ego and id.

The ego is the agent of our consciousness about ourselves; self-awareness/self-consciousness is what separates us from animals and lets us look at reality and think how we might change it. That’s the essence of our technology, which is how we have evolved out of ape status. At the same time, the ego is limited by having to put into a present tense, single-focus stream a complex reality of many factors. It does this by subtracting out all factors but one, and then focusing on that factor as a means to a single desired result. This really limits logic.

The id is less limited. It is not self-controlling like our ego, and in contrast is a wild west of impulses and emotions and aesthetic notions. When our ego is put into a social situation, it starts treating the world like a personality, which screws up our sense of cause/effect logic. The ego then becomes overactive because it sees humans as the cause of the world, not vice-versa, and so we get caught up in social notions like popularity, democracy, “safety,” social status and abstract moral conceptions.

Social thinking uses negative logic to organize us against what we fear to deny it or banish it. This long chain of events means that we get ruled by fear, through our ego as it interacts with other egos. The id knows no such boundaries. It likes what it likes because it seems cool, or epic, or beautiful, so it’s not always trying to censor itself to avoid threats. It just goes ahead and does what it thinks is a pleasurable mental experience, even if that means horror or cruelty or amoral acts.

Black metal resembles European literary Romanticism — stuff like Blake, Goethe, Wordsworth and Coleridge — because both see the individual destroying the individual as a gateway to the id. Lose yourself in the beauty of contemplating ancient ruins, or in martial arts, or in meditative thought and soon you are beyond good and evil. You are no longer self-aware, but aware of the abstract structure of reality and how its goods and evils interact to produce a constant, renewing reality. That is beauty and it’s the domain of the id, not the ego, which fears beauty that might be deadly.

If you had to try to put the quintessence of black metal into two words, it would be just that “deadly beauty” or “lawless beauty.” Like all metal, it views the world from a historical sense of the epic, in which the individual is a means of seeing truth but not a goal in itself. This anti-human view lets us escape our self-awareness and social thinking to see reality as a series of logical processes.

Nature is a process that ignores the individual. It is a blind, simplistic process that works like a big organic machine. It tries everything, and then kills off the failures. This is why nature seems cruel to us, because we’re thinking from the view of the individual. “What if I were the mouse in the Eagle’s claws?” Yet it’s that cruelty that gets us not only life itself, but higher form of life, because each puzzle in our environment that we beat made us more intelligent, more capable as a species.

All of our social thinking is in denial of this fact. We detest predation, inequality, death, defecation, disease, horror and fear. Metal has since 1969 been reminding us that these things exist, and we cannot just shut them out of our minds, or we blind ourselves to the good and bad in life. Black metal took this furthest by using the emphasis on logical structure that came from death metal, and adding to it a sense of melody and atmosphere.

In doing so, it fulfilled an archetype of European art that has been struggling for a voice for centuries: the primal Romantic outlook. In this view, we must live for what is beautiful, and we must not be afraid to see some things as better than others and — some would say “arbitrarily” to please their friends — select those and praise those highly while letting the others suffer in the dark.

Romantic literature can be summed up in this phrase from Blake: “The cut worm forgives the plough.” Forget morality, because it’s focused on the means, which are individuals. Focus on the ends — what is beauty? How do we create it? If we do that, we find life isn’t a plodding process of obedience but an onward quest for improving ourselves through adversity and a basic reverence for the process of life itself. That’s the meaning of black metal that I see.

I hope this project makes it to print. It has obstacles ahead. But it’s a worthy goal, putting into words what the vague images of music and visual arts made us feel.

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A merry and most headbangable International Day of Slayer to all!

Today, June 6th, is International Day of Slayer. Many dedicated people, among them the fearsome IDoS task force, have worked to make this event the biggest yet.

You may ask, if interested (and damn you if you’re not), what can one do to celebrate and fully enjoy this day? Easy: by incommodating your parents/neighbours/girlfriend/dog all day long, playing your favorite Slayer(s) album(s) at maximum volume.

But I feel that what’s been said is enough, and we shall preach no more. Today, blast yer speakers through the boundaries of hell!

“NO APPARENT MOTIVE, JUST KILL AND KILL AGAIN!”

Links:

mp3 and FLAC bootlegs:

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On Elective Culture and Hessians

You may have noticed in previous posts on this blog the phrase “elective culture” and its application to the definition of hessianism. Basically, our assertion is that hessianism is a culture in which you’re not born into. “Elective” implies here the power of choice, as all of us in some moment in our lives (early teenage years in most cases) chose to become die hard metalheads as we became enraptured by the power metal gives.

But what is the necessity for “elective cultures”? Did we have these in the past, or are these an exclusive phenomenon of our times? To answer these questions, we need to look at the bigger perspective.

Western peoples have for many decades been experiencing a lost of meaning. Being on the lead in expanding the universal ideals of free market, multiculturalism and relentless economic growth first sponsored by the USA, we have been for quite some time forgetting the value of the original cultures which once defined us.

The generations born after the 60s decade (that’s most of us) met with an unusual circumstance not known in previous eras: the lack of a general foundation in which to comprehend life and base one’s purpose in it. This role was previously given by one’s own culture. As the generations pass it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a meaning to life besides consumerism, hedonism and blind obedience to the system.

It’s not unusual, if one understands human nature, that at the lack of something fundamental one looks for a replacement to compensate. In the plethora of different groupings which characterize our modern pluralistic societies (meaning, not defined by a single culture, but by many sharing the same space), the replacement can only come in what is called an “elective culture”. Among them we have examples in certain neo-paganist sects, sports culture incarnated in dedication and fanaticism for a particular club, and hessianism, or metal culture.

Culture simply means any way of life, any way of being, any form of art. So ‘elective cultures’ like metal are just as much cultures as anything else. However, the question of legitimacy you raise seems to imply the question of whether elective cultures like metal are seen as legitimate in pluralistic societies. While the old ‘high-low culture’ distinction still remains in some parts of society, it is much weaker than it used to be. These days, most people who hate metal would still probably concede that it forms a unique cultural space.

International Day of Slayer asks the Experts: is this a good idea?

I shall go further: by sponsoring a world-view based on nature’s law and extreme realism, hessianism not only becomes a viable alternative to modernism, but its opposite. Metal lyrics and themes have quite an obsession with the past, and from the past it draws its values: heroism, warrior spirit, channeled aggression towards a noble end, etc. These are antagonistic to the modern view of life of comfort and materialism.

Now, in some of you may arise the question: are hessians born or made? Are the values of hessianism so different from the norm that you need to have certain innate psychological qualities, like an unusual lust for power? “I was born to play/listen to metal” is an assertion we hear many times from hessians. How “elective” is metal culture really? If the application of the EC label is more ambiguous than we believe, then, can hessian culture become at some point non-elective? We’ll try to touch the subject on another post.

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Unsilent Storms in the Texas Abyss

From the arid deserts infested with scorpions and snakes to the liberal cities and more conservative rural ranches, Texas carries the memory of the American frontier, the spirit of man against overwhelming odds; an age when harmony with nature determined survival. In the 80′s groundbreaking bands such as DRI, HelstarWatchtower, Ripper and Necrovore created both musical and aggressive anti-normal metal that gave foundations for genres such as progressive metal, thrash and death metal. In the 90′s, the sceptre was mostly carried by death metal influenced black metal bands Absu, Averse Sefira and Thornspawn. Just as the Texas scene seemed to have quieted down in keeping with the hipsterization of metal, the last two years have shown many new promising acts to arise: the occult metal of Dagon, the hyperactive metal/punk crossover of Birth A.D. and the demonic and subliminal Blaspherian. While all of these are formally very much crafted according to the rules of subgenres established by the previous degenerations, their no-nonsense attitude and direct, perceptual spirit in the creation of insistent, spontaneous and un-commercial metal artifacts deserves nothing but applause.

Reviews
Birth A.D. –  Stillbirth of a Nation
Blaspherian – Allegiance to the Will of Damnation

Written by Devamitra

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Genetics of Musical Competency and Communication

Shedding more light on our statement that artistic aptitude in metal is a rare trait, a University of HELLsinki study reveals that musicality is more of an inborn characteristic than most think:

In the study high music test scores were significantly associated with creative functions in music (p< .0001), suggesting composing, improvising and arranging music demands musical aptitude. Creativity is a multifactorial genetic trait involving a complex network made up of a number of genes and environment. Here was shown for the first time that the creative functions in music have a strong genetic component (h2 =.84; composing h2 =.40; arranging h2 =.46; improvising h2 = .62) in Finnish multigenerational families. Additionally the heritability estimates of the musical aptitude were remarkable.

To elucidate the neurobiological basis of music in human evolution and communication the researchers demonstrated an association of arginine vasopressin receptor 1A (AVPR1A) gene variants with musical aptitude. In the previous studies the AVPR1A gene and its homologies have been associated with social, emotional and behavioral traits, including pair bonding and parenting. The results suggest that the neurobiology of music perception and production is related to the pathways affecting intrinsic attachment behavior.

“Music is social communication between individuals,” says Liisa Ukkola. “Darwin proposed that singing is used to attract the opposite sex. Furthermore, lullabies are implied to attach infant to a parent and singing or playing music together may add group cohesion. Thus, it is justified to hypothesize that music perception and creativity in music are linked to the same phenotypic spectrum of human cognitive social skills, like human bonding and altruism both associated with AVPR1A. We have shown for the first time in the molecular level that music perception has an attachment creating impact.”

Science Daily, Genetic Basis Of Musical Aptitude: Neurobiology Of Musicality Related To Intrinsic Attachment Behavior

In more layman terms: ability in music, meaning not just technical skill but creativity and general talent at composing and improvising, is determined mostly by the genes. Not just that, it is also claimed that music making is intimately related with the human traits associated with bonding and communication with other human beings: we use music to transmit to each other ideas so complex that we would be unable to convey with speaking or gestures and do so because we care about communicating those ideas to the world.

All of this data makes one thinks twice about supporting each and every band that comes our way. Not everyone can be an artist and create great, transcendental works, so why should we keep encouraging participation in the metal scene when we can be more concerned about quality and not quantity?

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Heavy Metal Record Stores in Texas

heavy_metal_record_store

Metal-friendly record stores are a blast. These wonderful places keep the metal on the shelves so people can browse. If you’re buying metal on the internet, you need to know what you’re looking for. Go to a store and you can see what’s there and try new things. You can get that feeling of finding something you really want on the first day it’s released. You can also get expert opinions from Hessians who work there.

Although many media figures have been howling bloody murder about mp3s, metal has remained relatively untouched. This is because metalheads are obsessive collectors who like to have all of the music from their favorite artists close at hand. Buying a metal CD means getting artwork, lyrics and the experience of striving for something and then getting it, and also lets you place a vote for what bands you think should be more appreciated.

Austin

Austin suffers from too many people getting paid government checks or parental aid, and too many college graduates willing to work for $8/hour at someplace “hip,” so it’s a hard place to keep a record store going. Longtime local color Sound Exchange closed down, as did 33 Degrees, depriving the city of some of its better metal outlets. Luckily, Encore records still exists and is intensifying its metal selection.

Encore Records
1745 W Anderson Lane
Austin, TX 78757-1335
(512) 451-8111
Hours: Mon-Sat 10AM-12AM, Sun 12PM – 11PM
http://www.revolutionnumber9.com/
encoremusic@austin.rr.com

This store starting selling videos, and has branched into music, but since they’ve hired Dangerous Toys frontman Jason McMaster, they now have a lot more metal knowledge. CDs are $16-19 and selection is good, including of underground metal.

San Antonio

Hogwild Records
1824 N Main Ave
San Antonio, TX 78212
(210) 733-5354
http://www.myspace.com/hogwildrecords

This place is Hessian heaven. They have two long aisles of metal CDs, a huge rack of metal LPs, and tshirts hanging like tapestries, not to mention rarities found in glass cases and behind the counter. The staff are mostly Hessians, speak the language and seem to love the music. Also has a good hardcore punk collection.

Houston

Houston is fortunate to have three stores with active and thriving metal sections. Two are in the Montrose area, and the third is out near Spring. However, they’re each worth visiting and good places to get some killer metal.

Sound Exchange
1846 Richmond Ave
Houston Texas 77098
(713) 666-5555
Hours: Mon-Sun, 11:00 to 7:00
http://www.soundexchangehouston.com/
store@soundexchangehouston.com

This store has been around forever, and has always had a brilliant metal section. It used to be on Westheimer right before Dunlavy, where the antiques place is now. Currently, it’s at Woodhead and Richmond in a solid, comfy brick house. I think the owners live upstairs. If you go in the front door and head straight to the back right-hand side of the house, there’s a small room that may once have been a kitchen, and it has two racks of metal. One is for new and used CDs, and the second is for vinyl and DVDs.

Although the rack is only six feet wide, it has a good selection of new metal as well as classics, with an emphasis on death metal and black metal. Two rows are reserved for local bands, which are sold at highly reasonable prices. Prices for new CDs are $14-17. Before you leave, check under the counter by the register — they stock metal rarities and box sets there. At least one staff member loves metal and likes to chat it up with local bands. The staff are very supportive, knowledgeable about metal and content to let you browse.

Directions: Take 59 to Shepherd. Take a right turn on Richmond, and go for about two miles until you reach Hazard. Sound Exchange is on the NE corner. [map]

Look for the sign:

Sound Waves
3509 Montrose
Houston, Tx 77006
(713) 520-9283
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10-9 pm
http://soundwaves.com/

Soundwaves hovers between selling surf gear and music, but it’s worth going for the used CD section. The store is divided with the left two-thirds being music and the right third filled with surfboards, shoes, lycra swimsuits, goggles, etc. Right on the border between these sections are used CDs and DVDs. If you scan through the general rock section, you will almost always find underground metal because whoever buys for them seems to like it.

Going back to the rows of new CDs, you’ll find the third row from the left, facing away from the sportsgear part of the store, is about 25′ of metal CDs. These are generally priced at $15-17, which is a reversal from how Soundwaves used to be — an inexpensive high-volume store. They stock a wide variety of stuff from the more extreme heavy metal through the metalcore/nu-metal stuff, but whoever buys for them tries to keep representative CDs of classic death metal and black metal bands in stock.

When they find a band they like, they stick with it, which is why you can get CDs from each segment of Prong’s 20-year career any day of the week. Although this is the busiest of the stores we mention in this review, it also has the highest-profile metal section which could easily be replaced with more indie, electronica or hip-hop to bring in the bucks. Make sure to check the sale racks fronting each aisle as periodically they throw some more mainstream death metal on sale.

Directions: From Sound Exchange, take a left on Richmond. Go until you reach Montrose. Take a left on Montrose. Soundwaves is on your right about three streets shy of Westheimer. [map]

Look for the sign:

Vinal Edge
239 W 19th St, Houston, TX 77008
(281) 537-2575
Moved from:
13171 Veterans Memorial Drive
Houston, Texas 77014
(281) 537-2575

Hours: Mon-Thurs 10AM-7PM, Fri-Sat 10AM-9PM, Sun 12-6
http://www.vinaledge.com/
retail@vinaledge.com

This store is an old school Hessian shop. The front display is a disaster, and it’s piled high with boxes of records and CDs. You have to step over stuff to navigate through the cramped aisles. It is not a large shop. It is not a clean shop. In fact, it’s a giant pile of stuff that people don’t bother to move much. However, they take their metal seriously, even putting notations in grease pencil on used CDs. I don’t understand the misspelled name either.

Having moved recently from North Houston to a trendier location in The Heights, this store remains a metal institution because although it stocks many kinds of music, it loves its metal. Right by the front door is the metal section; about 15′ of new CDs in racks, and a flat shelf storing used metal spine-up. This store does the best job of represented every era of metal. There’s a ton of old heavy metal, a dedicated “stoner doom” section, and then as much new black metal as you can shake a stick at.

Death metal is there as well but less prevalent. They seem to love labels like Southern Lord. However, they also carry a wide selection of death metal and black metal classics on vinyls, have a 7″ section dedicated to metal, and the best metal used CDs selection seen at a Houston store. Staff were friendly, liked metal and played it in the store, and were obvious metalheads. It’s a friendly place to shop for metal.

Directions: from Sound Exchange, take Montrose northward to Washington. Take a left on Washington, and take a right on Yale. From Yale, go Northward into the Heights. Take a left on W. 19th street and Vinal Edge will be on your right. Good luck finding parking. [map]

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The death of post-metal

Heavy metal came from horror movie soundtracks, loud rock, and progressive music mixed into a single package. This style differentiated itself by singing about epic, historical views of humanity and the dark subjects such thinking brings up, in opposition to the self-centered ramblings of rock musicians. It also brought in a new style of playing, where lead rhythm phrases were made of moveable chords into “riffs” which allowed greater complexity in songs, even if it reduced harmonic depth. With such a momentous birth, it took metal a couple generations to catch up with itself.

After its birth, it almost got assimilated by heavy rock and glam bands, but then bounced back by mixing aggressive punk hardcore into the mix. This new style evolved through thrash, which was crossover music for skateboarders, and speed metal, which was more traditional heavy metal, before exploding into form with death metal and black metal.

These styles fulfilled what Black Sabbath had started: creation of an entirely alien, post-human, horror-infused lifeform. Death metal introduced structuralism, or a way of linking together riffs that made the structure of the song the guiding force in lieu of harmony, and black metal pioneered using melody and atmosphere within the death metal framework to make a complete new style.

This new style most clearly resembled early Baroque or ancient Greek music in its atonal framing in which modal patterns are used to build melody, and inherited the tradition of bands from classical to Tangerine Dream of making spacious, lengthy compositions that eschew the verse-chorus tradition of pop music. Metal had transcended rock music.

Once that new wave of music, emboldened by the new easy (mid-1980s vintage) of printing and selling CDs, exploded from its indie roots to popularity, it lost direction. Too much of its impetus had been based on being tiny and alienated; now it was big. Now the crowd wanted to come to it, but they also wanted to change it to be more like the rock music and punk with which they were familiar.

Around 1994, the old guard started to pull back in confusion and pursue other things. In rushed the newcomers. They created two new styles which were basically the same thing: rock done in metal technique. The first, metalcore, mixed punk songs with metal riffs, but never “got” the death metal way of linking successive riffs in context. The second, nu-metal, added hip-hop bounce and alternative choruses to metal, but was basically metal riffs on top of rock songs.

Most death metal from the period 1994-2009 began to resemble metalcore. The riffs were no longer linked, but were variations on riff/chorus structures, and the swing and offbeat emphasis of rock music, and the desire of punk music to provide randomness, replaced the moody explorations of death metal. Black metal in turn got assimilated by underground punk, a cross between crustcore and shoegaze, which eschewed the ragged melodies for more predictable minor key pop songs.

For a long time, it seemed like the newcomers triumphed. Metal was bigger than ever before, in the numbers of fans and CDs sold. But a problem kept cropping up: it had produced no great works, only lots of “good” CDs. People bought “good” CDs and forgot them a few months later because they were not particularly distinctive in content, even if they were distinctive in form. Nothing quite made it to the epic stage of being timeless.

Starting in 2006, and slowly accelerating, this trend — which is as old as the hills, since the first thing that happens to every new genre is that they hybridize it with rock music — began to fade as labels found they couldn’t pump out the new music fast enough because within weeks its novelty wore off and it was forgotten. Profits turned to losses, and then in 2008, a recession hit, driving many labels and zines out of business.

This lucky break helped traditional metal come back into the spotlight. Over the last two years, band reunions and the formation of new bands by old school personnel have become commonplace. Many of the results at first were bad as old school metallers tried to compete with the new sound; however, over the last six months, the balance has shifted and now old school bands are making old school music.

As the Maryland Death Fest illustrates, the crowds are turning out for the old bands and old style bands, even the youngest audience members. They’re looking for a substantial musical experience and are tired of buying an underground version of the same thing they get on the radio.

The linked article illustrates the revolution that is happening in metal: younger people, newer fans and older fans alike are wanting the genre to uphold the styles and tradition of quality it once had. They’re tired of disposable garbage and endless hype that just leads back into the same blender of all quality that is commercial rock music. Bring back the metal, they say, and people are listening.

ANUS predicted this trend in the middle 1990s, and made comparisons to hardcore and past generations of metal, and now we’re being proven right. We knew that there would be a surge of newcomers, and then their lack of ideas would catch up with them, and people would abandon their contentless music for something more substantive. It just took a dozen years to manifest itself.

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Status in metal

Part of being a metalhead is observing other metalheads. At concerts, in record stores, or in public. I was first attracted to the idea of “status,” or social rank within a community, above and beyond normal status when I observed how brazenly metalheads wore their tshirts, and how much they selected as a group by what was on each shirt.

Some guy dodging through a crowd at a metal show is going to look for a tshirt that appeals to his “type” of metalhead, and he may scorn the guy wearing the Cannibal Corpse shirt as an idiot while wanting to know the dude wearing a Demilich shirt. Your shirt signifies your taste, which signifies where you’re going in life.

Metalheads don’t like to talk about this, but each group has its goods and evils. Power metal people fear the kvlt black metal tshirt; death metallers scorn the power metal people; in black metal, your tshirt marks your political identity as well as whether you like mainstream black metal or kvlty underground stuff.

Even in social groups, metalheads tend to prefer people who share their taste in music or at least approximate it. Social networks like last.fm capitalize on this tendency among music fans in general, but among metalheads, the competition is even fiercer. If you like power metal, you may scorn black metal for its low technique. If you like black metal, you may scorn power metal for being crowd-friendly.

The first person to really bring status into the public eye was the author Tom Wolfe, who explained in social terms what sociologists tried to explain in academic prose. These definitions resonated with me as I immediately thought of metalhead status:

I was by no means the first person to get excited over Weber’s “status.” The concept was well known within the field of sociology, although it was more often expressed in such terms as “social class,” “social stratification,” “prestige systems,” and “mobility.” Six years later Weber’s terms “status-seeking” and “status symbols” began showing up in the press. Soon they were part of everyday language.

The great American sociologists of the 1950s, W. Lloyd Warner, the Lynns, August B. Hollingshead, E. Digby Baltzell, C. Wright Mills, David Riesman, were turning out studies of how Americans rated others and themselves, often unconsciously, according to race, ethnic group, address, occupation, vocabulary, shopping habits, bill-paying habits (personal checks in lump sums as opposed to installment payments in cash), bureaucratic status symbols (corner offices, fine wooden desks as opposed to metal ones, water carafes, sofas as well as chairs, speaker phones, etageres of brass and glass), education (the great divide existing between those who had bachelor’s degrees from a respectable four-year college as opposed to those who didn’t), even sexual practices. The upper orders made love with the lights on and no bed covers. The lower orders–in the 1950s–found this perverted.

Sociologists never rejected Karl Marx’s brilliant breakdown of society into classes. But his idea of an upper class–the owners of “the means of production”–and their satellites, the bourgeoisie, in a struggle with the masses, the working class, was too rigid to describe competition among human beast in the 20th century. Weber’s entirely novel concept of “status groups” proved to be both more flexible and more penetrating psychologically.

Status groups, Weber contended, are the creators of all new styles of life. In his heyday, the turn of the 19th century, the most stylish new status sphere, no more than 30 years old, was known as la vie boheme, the bohemian life. The bohemians were artists plus the intellectuals and layabouts in their orbit. They did their best to stand bourgeois propriety on its head through rakish dishabille, louder music, more wine, great gouts of it, ostentatious cohabitation, and by flaunting their poverty as a virtue. And why? Because they all came from the bourgeoisie themselves originally and wanted nothing more desperately than to distinguish themselves from it.

Tom Wolfe, The Human Beast, 2006 Jefferson Lecture

In many ways, metal itself was a status-driven offshoot of rock. While rock musicians worshipped simple blues songs and had a hippie ideology of hedonism and universal tolerance, metal was dark and embraced the “historical” view, in which universal tolerance was a failed idea and individuals were flotsam in a sea of larger forces, ideas and ideologies.

I’ve identified three general ways that metalheads use memes, or ideas conveyed through language or image, to manipulate each other through status:

(a) Convince people their lives as they are constitute the best option for them;
(b) Convince people that by picking a “higher” form, they are raising their status;
(c) Convince people that they can raise their status by construing another group as stupid or destructive.

Included in this is “anti-status,” where one trades rising in social ranks for a desire to dive to the bottom of them in the idea that being more Satanic, more impoverished, more intoxicated, or more violent makes one more authentic or “real.” Like Bohemians, they are trying to escape the direction everyone else is going, which is heading upward to bourgeois contentment and wealth in the suburbs, so that they can be “real.”

Here’s a short list of status trends in metal:

Category A:

  • Pantera – Want to feel like your hard-working blue collar life, and hard-partying weekend lifestyle are the best it gets? Pantera affirms this through its projected masculinity, defiance and disrespect for social order. At its heart, Pantera is a revolutionary band: screw the people in charge, we’re doing fine right here, because this is our identity.
  • Venom – Venom makes people feel good about treating life like a joke. Its humorous Satanism and poppy songs convey a basic message that the world is a farce, and it’s fun to oppose it, but nothing’s really going to change so let’s hang out and praise Satan ironically. It is no surprise this band is the favorite of hipsters.

Category B:

  • Cynic and Opeth – With a single CD purchase, you can feel like a guitarist on the rise. People love Cynic and Opeth because the purchase of a few CDs gives them an excuse to feel more musically literate than others. They believe they are raising their status by going “higher” in musical complexity. At the same time, at the core of their compositions, both of these bands are very poppy and often discontinuous. This technique is valuable because it is baffling, and that allows the Opeth or Cynic fan to tell people, “You just don’t understand it” and feel smug as a result.
  • Kvlty black metal – Ever wonder why someone is listening to incomprehensible, chaotic, droning dreck that sounds like ten thousand other bands? They’re competing for anti-status by trying to pick the most obscure, violent, primitive and dirty metal they can. They frequently one-up each other in contests for naming the most obscure band, and have created a cottage industry out of recording engine noises and selling them on eBay in 7″ format.

Category C:

  • Political bands – Some band like Rage Against the Machine or Arghoslent wears their political ideology on their sleeves. The point is to find an absolute political “truth,” and to construe themselves as higher in status than those who oppose it or are ignorant of it. The main objective is to make others feel politically illiterate and thus inferior to these altruistic, seemingly wise bands. While we deliberately mention a rightist band, this phenomenon is far more prevalent among leftist bands because they are inherently altruistic.
  • Manowar – “True metal it is or no metal at all, wimps and poseurs leave the hall” says it all. Listen to Manowar, because it’s the true and authentic experience, and by definition, others are poseurs and wimps who may need beating down. Either way, you raise your status by finding the true authentic experience while others flog on in ignorance. (Note: this doesn’t mean that there aren’t wimps and poseurs out there, just that the division may not be as simple as envisioned in Manowar lyrics).

Does this make these bands any less artistic? Possibly; it varies from case to case. What it is, however, is smart marketing. You want someone to buy your product again and again, even if it’s unsatisfying? Convince them it makes them smarter than others. Most television ads work by this principle: one housewife muddles through with her broom, while another has a super-vacuum that cleans it all. Same principle.

Does this negate the truth of say, a political band? Not necessarily. However, it’s a great way to market your political ideology. Just vote for this guy, and you’re automatically smarter than others, and therefore have raised your status. Other people think they know the truth? You’ve got a higher truth, or in rare cases a lower truth (libertarian Social Darwinism zealots, raise your hands!). Either way, you’re smarter and have higher status as a result.

Status-raising products are popular because they’re easy. There’s no initiation or lengthy learning process. Instead, you find a place that has the CD, and they’re never more than two steps away from the neighborhood record store, and buy it. Some erect barriers like demanding cash only, using obscure formats like CD and tape, or even screaming fascist rhetoric at you, but still: the stuff’s for sale and they need to sell it. Ka-ching! Thanks, you’re now elite.

Socioeconomic status is not the same as status, as Wolfe points out. If “all you do is” earn a bunch of money, many people are going to view you as another ignorant bourgeois fool, unaware of the authenticity of true kvlt black metal as well as the legitimacy of popular revolt in crustcore. You may also earn very little money, but claim you’re “keeping it real” by living in violent primeval poverty with your true kvlt black metal or crustcore.

Status can also compensate for other factors. You’re starting out on guitar, and the kids who know more really shake you up. Go get an Opeth CD and ram it down their throats. They may have years on you in playing, but you figured out the game ahead of them because you’re a smarter monkey. They like Pink Floyd? Opeth and Cynic to the rescue: they’re more syncopated, technical, harmonized, or something, and that kicks your status above theirs. Take that!

By the very nature of this compensation for both socioeconomic status and ability, status is addictive. Once you buy one status-raising product, it’s not enough. Time passes; it’s not new: you need to buy another. So you do, and you keep doing it, because your identity is now wrapped up in the status-raising properties of these products. Some call it cognitive dissonance, or using status to “compensate” for real-world disappointments.

When you walk into a crowd of metalheads, and see them assessing each others tshirts and knowledge, you’re seeing a battle as old as nature: a quest for dominance. In the case of most teen metalheads, they’re just trying to grow up and emulate the adult world. But in others, especially career metalheads, you’re seeing a gambit for social power that will define their relationship to this music for life.

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