Interview: Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone

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Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone is Associate Professor of Anthropology, and Curator of the McClure Archives and University Museum, at the University of Central Missouri. She specializes in the study of gender and sexuality in music scenes, and also works as in textile curation and preventive conservation.

Dr. Clifford-Napoleone also curates the largest collections of Middle Eastern traditional material culture in America. She is also a lifelong metal fan and one of the founders of the International Society for Metal Music Studies. She lives in rural Missouri with her wife, three dogs, and a very large collection of industrial metal.

We were lucky to get a few words with Dr. Clifford-Napoleone on the topic of metal and its relation to power and her study area of specialty.

You are an anthropologist. What drew you to this discipline?

I got into anthropology as a young child. I used to pretend I was Howard Carter in King Tut’s tomb! I started volunteering at a museum, working for an anthropologist, when I was a freshman in high school. I planned on being an archaeologist, but I didn’t like the excavations as much as the lab work. Then I started working in material culture studies and ethnography, and everything just clicked. I love the way that anthropology teaches us how to be more human, to revel in diversity as our biological imperative, to really see the world for the enormous ball of complexity that it is.

What is the anthropological perspective on heavy metal? Has this been enhanced by your own personal knowledge of and enjoyment of this genre?

Lots of folks might think anthropology and heavy metal is an odd fit, but actually anthropologists have worked on topics in heavy metal for a long time. Jeremy Wallach, one of the founders of metal studies, is a cultural anthropologist working on heavy metal in Indonesia. Sam Dunn, whom I am sure many of your readers know from his films, is an anthropologist from Canada. There are many others. For an anthropologist, all aspects of human life are considered both unique and important. That extends to heavy metal as well, and anthropologists who work on heavy metal topics discuss is cultural, social, artistic and sonic effects in all sorts of ways. As to your second question, the answer is a resounding yes. I tell my own students that they will always be successful if their career engages them in things they are passionate about. I love heavy metal, and my passion for heavy metal is absolutely part of my ability to think, talk and write about metal as an anthropologist.

You’ve got a book coming out in 2014 about queer fans in heavy metal. Can you tell me more about what’s going to be in it?

My book on queer fans (Queerness in Heavy Metal: Metal Bent, to be published by Routledge and released in February 2015) is the result of seven years of work talking to queer fans, and researching the influence of queer performers and lyrics on heavy metal scenes. My book includes a lot of material about the role queerness played, and continues to play, in heavy metal. That includes the information I received from over 500 self-identified queer fans who took my online survey, and dozens that participated in individual interviews with me. I see my work as transdisciplinary- anthropology certainly, but also metal studies, ethnomusicology, cultural studies, gender and sexuality. I’m trying to make the case the metal is inherently a queer institution.

How do you study queer fans of heavy metal? What kind of barriers do you face in trying to contact them, learn about them and so on?

Queer fans of heavy metal are more connected than you might think. There are a handful of active discussion groups, listservs and websites devoted to queer fans of heavy metal, as well as some Facebook groups and blogs. As a queer metal fan myself, I was already a member of a lot of those groups. Once I started posting the link to the survey online, queer fans just sent it out to other lists, groups, and folks that they knew. I’ve also posted it on my blog and website, and always talk about it when I give lectures or papers at conferences. Because my survey is anonymous, queer fans feel pretty comfortable telling me exactly what they think too. I ended up with information from queer fans from six continents and 39 countries.

Rob Halford is generally credited with heavy metal’s imagery of leather clothing, whips, motorcyles and studded leather belts. In one VH1 documentary I watched (yes a very credible source!) one of the pundits credited this imagery to the gay community in London in the 1970s. In your view, is this correct? Has heavy metal appropriated most of its image from the gay community?

In my opinion, there is absolutely no doubt that Halford started that trend, and even less doubt that it came from the gay leather community. This is one of the things I discuss in detail in my book. Did earlier metal acts wear leather jackets? Sure, taken either from post-World War II bomber jacket style, or late 1960s leather belted coats, or even from the post-war motorcycle culture in America and the Rockers in the UK. The problem is, if you take an image of Halford premiering his leather look, and set it side-by-side with Sabbath or Motorhead or even Blue Cheer, you’ll see that Halford’s leather is entirely different. Ozzy wore striped bell bottom jeams and a brown belted coat for many of their early appearances. Even Alice Cooper wore bell bottoms and white clothes on stage until Halford picked up a whip. If you take that same iconic image of Halford’s leather look and set it next to images from gay leather culture, you have an exact match. Rob Halford has, over the years, given some different statements on whether he identified with leather culture or not, but that’s where the look came from. What I find interesting is not only that heavy metal style comes from gay leather culture, but how heavy metal also appropriated the masculinity that came with that and then pretended that didn’t happen. If you really think about it, if we push masculinity to its limits can we get any more masculine than muscular leather men who only have sex with other men? Funny that heavy metal keeps trying to refashion that as straight male masculinity, when it never was.

Other than overlap between members, what do you think are the similarities between the heavy metal experience and the gay experience? Are both outsider groups, thus privy to certain knowledge that the socially accepted cannot perceive, or is it something else?

I can tell you one thing for certain- the queer fans I’ve spoken with see and feel an overlap. One fan called this feeling “outsider togetherness,” this idea that queer metal fans are outsiders in two overlapping worlds. The similarities between these overlapping outsider worlds are the kinds of similarities that anthropologists see in most marginalized groups: a coded language, symbols that mean something specific that people who are not outsiders do not understand, certain styles, and particular ways of using space. For example, let’s consider the dog collar, a popular accessory in heavy metal and punk scenes. I remember in the 1980s, we all did odd jobs around my neighborhood so we could buy studded dog collars at pet stores to look tough. I had a leather studded collar that I actually took off my dog to wear, and I equated it with being tough and being metal. That was the symbol of being a metal chick. Now, many years later, I know that people in BDSM relationships refer to certain submissives as being “collared” or “under the collar.” For BDSM-identified folks, seeing someone in a leather vest and a collar might mean something much more complex than just “I’m a tough metal chick.” The coded ways of existing in marginalized groups is complex insider knowledge, and for queer fans of heavy metal, even more complex because you can see where the codes overlap.

You also have expertise in textiles and their conservation. Are there any parallels you can draw between the conservation of textiles and the conservation of a culture or art form? What about a lifestyle?

Conservation is a big and tricky word. The idea is that you are preventing further damage, keeping something safe for perpetuity. As a museum curator, I work with textiles so that future generations can access them, study them, and perhaps understand something about the people who used them. I think that, in some way, we are always involved in the act of conserving our culture, whether that be lifestyles or arts or anything else. We record our music, we photograph things that signal our interests, we hand down important belongings- even the selfie that we see so often in social media is an example of conserving yourself, your life. How often do you tell a story about yourself, post a pic of your dinner or your beer on Facebook, post your music and art to the web so that others can rip, save or archive it? I think that for me, and speaking as a museum curator, the biggest conservation challenge is a digital one. It will be interesting to see what is actually conserved from an increasingly digital world. After all, how many emails do we actually print to save for some future archive?

Conserving a lifestyle or an art form is difficult. As an anthropologist, I think it might even be impossible. You cannot stop change. Human beings change, their environment changes, societies expand and contract. Art objects, recordings or paintings or quilts, we can conserve those. But conserving a lifestyle suggests we can trap humans in time like ancient insects encased in amber. And we can’t. Even if we could, I’m not sure we should. Heavy metal, as a subculture and an assemblage of scenes, has so many artifacts to leave behind: sounds, styles, film, images, on and on. But conserving the actual feeling of standing on a floor with a thousand other metalheads, blast beats shaking your bones, heads banging in rhythm? I don’t think we could conserve that any more than we could conserve our other feelings. Heavy metal has to change too, it is a human movement.

In a blog post, you mention studying the connections between leather and metal communities. What kind of connections are these? How do we observe them?

The connections are long-standing and quite deep. The first gay rights organization chartered in the United States was a leather motorcycle club, The Satyrs. Young metalheads, and later industrial and goth metal fans, found themselves welcomed in leather bars, clubs and parties where their tastes in style were not seen as threatening. After Halford premiered his leather look the ties became even more solid: metal performers donning leather gear, leather organizations using metal imagery and language, even the appearance of metal tracks at leather bars and parties. I think the key to observing them, however, is to know the history of leather-identified people in the western world. Leather-identified folks have been vilified and stereotyped for decades, both people in the queer communities and people form the straight communities. If you really want to understand those connections, you have to engage with leather culture in a new way. A visit to the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago is a great start, I can never thank the staff there enough for everything they do for the leather community and its history. My week there as Visiting Scholar was one of the most important intellectual periods of my career.

You refer to metal as a “transitory space.” What defines a transitory space? What can be done in a transitory space that can’t be done in a regular cultural/artistic space?

Transitory essentially means temporary, almost an ethereal space that will only be there for a blink in time. If we think about metal concerts, for example, I think we see a good example. Imagine a concert experience you’ve had: the sound, the crowd, the music in your ears and the bass thumping in your bones. But when the concert ends, the metal space evaporates. The memory of it sits in your brain and your bones, but the next concert will be nothing like the one before. Transitory spaces provide a place for playing with the rules, because it is all going up in smoke anyway. I went to a Killswitch Engage show last year, and down in the mosh pit was a very tall, extremely muscular guy in a Little Bo Peep outfit. He was moshing with ferocity, with his bonnet on and his lace skirts flapping away. Am I going to see that at every show? Hell no, I’ve been going to shows for 25 years and that’s my first Bo Peep in the moshpit. Did I see that, hear it, feel it the same way as the guy standing next to me? Not even possible, I have no idea what he was thinking about Bo Peep. And when the show was over, Bo Peep was gone. You can’t play like that in a permanent space. If I showed up at the office tomorrow in a Bo Peep outfit, I’d be sent home.

For many years I’ve considered metal to be music dedicated to power, where most other music is dedicated to satiation. Do you see power as important in metal? How do power, sex and attitudes toward gender reveal themselves?

Power is such a slippery concept, isn’t it. Power over what, or who? Empowered or powerful? I agree, I think metal is about power. But I also think metal is about the brutality of life, about survival no matter how bloody the battle. Power in metal is so much about metal as a home for outsiders, a place where those of us who feel like we don’t fit (for whatever reason) find a place where the extremity of the sound matches the extremity of our experiences. It is a power that really refuses to bow to authority, and a bodily refusal at that since metal is so physical. So in metal we’re not really saying “I’m in power, I will tell you what to do,” we’re saying, “I’m a survivor, you can’t tell me what to do.” There’s a fascinating dynamic in there. Sex and gender, especially for people whose bodies, desires and orientations don’t fit what mainstream authority says is acceptable, fits in that conception of power. It’s my body, you can’t tell me what to do with it. I’ve read a lot online recently suggesting that hyperfeminine women in metal were anti-feminist too, and I don’t agree. Third wave feminism is right in line with the thinking about power in metal. There’s very little difference between “you can’t tell me what to do” and “get your laws off my body.” For queer folks, the power in metal also means that your refusal to bow to authority might mean losing family, friends, being isolated, and for intersex and trans folks the very real fight against a world that demands you act your body. Imagine the bodily refusal, the physical power in that individual act. This is sonic power too. You hear a song that empowers you, and it travels with you in your ears, in your memory, in your tissues. You see a show that empowers you, and the sight is branded on your brain.

In addition to your book, you’re fully active in the academic community including supporting metal. What’s ahead for you?

A lot. I’m giving one of the keynote lectures at the Metal and Cultural Impact conference in Ohio this November, and then getting ready for the Metal, Markets and Materials international conference in Helsinki in June 2015. I’m Treasurer for the International Society for Metal Music Studies, and we’re going to have a busy year getting membership systems rolling and the first issue of the journal Metal Music Studies out to the world. I’ve also got some essays in a couple of forthcoming collections, one based on the presentations at the Cologne conference in 2008, and another from the meeting in Puerto Rico last March. I’m lucky, I get to spend part of my day working with the smartest metal intellectuals on Earth, bringing metal studies to the masses. I’ve also got a second book on the way soon, the publication of my doctoral dissertation on sexuality in jazz scene Kansas City before World War II.

Do you think academia’s expanding focus on metal has brought more light to outsider communities? What do you think is responsible for the post-2006 relatively large expansion in metal and academia?

I think outsider communities are always going to be outside in some way. In truth, several of us who identify as metal scholars talk about our concerns in bringing academic attention to metal. But let’s face it, metal has always received a lot of attention, and not always positive. And it survives, maybe better than it ever has before, and still just as outsider as always. If we can survive Tipper Gore and Hot Topic, then metal will be just fine. I do think that the academic work on metal will bring better, more focused attention to metal scenes and fans, instead of the tired old stereotypes. As for the increased attention, that’s the work of a core of brilliant metalhead folks who are teaching, writing, and thinking about heavy metal in academic terms.

Can you tell us about your own history with metal? How did you get involved? Were you a fan first, or a researcher first?

Definitely a fan first. I started listening to metal as a kid growing up in west Texas. In my mixed-race and working class neighborhood you listened to three things: metal, country, and pop music from Mexico. I grew up listening to a tossed salad of Sabbath, Bob Wills and Menudo. First metal record I “owned” (I bootlegged it from the radio) was Black Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots.” Then I got an 8-track of Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida,” it was 1979 and my mom got it for me at a garage sale, I was 5. It was all downhill after that. I was a big-haired 80s glam band girl in the 80s, with posters of Motley Crue on the wall, and I have Tipper Gore to thank for turning me on to Judas Priest. By the mid to late 1990s I was a Rivethead, and I still love industrial and industrial goth metal. I started reading academic work about metal when I was in graduate school in the late 1990s. By the time I was done with my dissertation, I knew I wanted to devote my research to heavy metal.

Metal folks always want to know what you’re into now. I like my metal heavy, weapons grade plutonium heavy. I’m not much for thrash and speed metal. A good sludge album, a heavy shoegaze record, something dark and funereal- that’s what I prefer. I also listen to records by bands with openly queer members, and a ton of classic NWOBHM. Priest is my favorite band of all time. Last show I went to was Killswitch Engage, and my next three shows are Motley Crue’s farewell, Joan Jett and then Judas Priest’s latest tour. And my favorite recording right now? Torche’s Leather Feather.

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Massacra re-issues arrive

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Century Media’s re-issues of classic Massacra works Final Holocaust, Enjoy the Violence and Signs of the Decline have landed. Massacra began innovating its high-speed Slayer-influenced style of death metal in the late 1980s and refined it to a frenetic blur of sound and aggression.

Final Holocaust inherits an updated production without excessive compression; it brings more tone and some but not dramatic loudness to the picture, which will be perfect on both vinyl and CD without obliterating the original sound or distorting it. Greater bass presence lets this album compete with other acts from that time whose work was more physically heavy in addition to being musically heavy as Massacra has always excelled at being. In addition, five additional tracks from a 1990 live show somewhere in France and a deluxe booklet with interview, snippets of old zines, and complete song lyrics finish out the package. This live show reveals the most chaotic version of Massacra yet with heavier live guitars and more extreme vocals. The band show their unique ability to play together live with an organic flow that does not necessarily correspond to the types of rhythm one might expect from the more mechanical music to follow.

Enjoy the Violence experiences similar upgraded sound with similar attention given to the need to preserve the classic sound of these now-ancient assaults. Similarly, the lower registers have been brought out with power that complements the otherwise mids-intensive production. A lack of knob-fiddling preserves the period document while a crisper sound gives it a similar intensity to the modern styles without going overboard into compression hell. Five additional tracks follow the album from a rehearsal in 1991, showing songs from the first album at peak proficiency and maximum intensity. These tracks give a feeling for how the band joined past to future without being merely repetitive. Having them on the second album rather than the first creates a powerful contrast as the album ends.

Signs of the Decline shows Massacra adapting to the departure of Fred Death halfway through the album’s creation and simultaneously attempting to evolve in parallel with the death metal it helped create. If someone ever asks for the difference between old school death metal and “regular” death metal, point them to the break between the last album and this one. Gestures at technicality and even crazier more fireworks-laden guitars and more of a speed metal rhythmic sense, using chunky chords in geometric divisions to create an expanding recursion, alongside an impulse toward what would be called “brutality” guide this album. Many parts of it show similarities to Sepultura Arise and Incantation from about the same period. The band is simultaneously racing toward something like Morbid Angel’s Covenant, which seems to have felt some influence from this album, and a percussive polyrythmic speed/death inhabiting the spectrum from Kreator through Deicide. Two additional tracks from a live show in Germany the previous year showcase two tracks from the previous album in grinding loudness and yet fully proficient rhythmic work, but the contrast between the two styles jars the listener. The earlier material integrates more smoothly and demonstrates its own presence. The later material, more hesitant, tries to be in too many places at once without having yet made its conclusions about how each element of style should be used.

Massacra often gets cheated out of the credit it deserves because most people see that the first album was issued in 1990. However, the band had three years of demos before that time which showed an advanced vision of death metal in the old school phrasal style like Morbid Angel, Slayer, Vader, Mortuary and early Incantation. It avoided the bounciness of speed metal and instead created a rhythmic sense that propelled energy through its listeners, rather than stopping with them as it chopped its momentum into ever smaller slices with muted palm strumming. Seeing these classics ride again — especially since German Shark Records who published them the first time had terrible distribution in the USA — shows new generations how to rediscover the ancient but vital past.

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Interview: Jeremy Wallach, co-editor of Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music around the World

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Jeremy Wallach made a name for himself by studying metal before it was cool, and he has expanded upon it by taking his studies worldwide. As co-editor of Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music around the World, he explored the impact of metal on different cultures and the impact of those cultures on metal around the world. In addition, he has written numerous articles on the study of metal from many other perspectives.

As a professor in the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, Wallach investigates many aspects of popular music, which led to his own book Modern Noise, Fluid Genres: Popular Music in Indonesia, 1997-2001. Those who have followed the development of metal academia may remember him from his numerous articles, presentations at metal conferences, and strong ties with others in the community. We were lucky to get a few minutes with him to ask some of the pointed questions that a metalhead might want to know of a metalhead academic…

Were you a metalhead before you became an academic? If so, what drew you to metal at that time?

I’m 43 and grew up outside of Philly. Like almost everybody of my age and background, I spent my teens mostly listening to rock music. My favorite band when I was thirteen was Rush and my favorite song from Moving Pictures was “Witch Hunt,” the heaviest track on the album. From there I branched out into the harder stuff: AC/DC, Priest, Maiden, BÖC, etc. By senior year of high school, I was listening to the likes of Anthrax, Slayer, Cryptic Slaughter, SOD, and Dead Brain Cells. A fairly normal, demented progression, really. As for what drew me to it, I suppose that could end up becoming a very long essay! In a nutshell, I was attracted to the music’s intelligence, complexity, social relevance, and brutality. It was music that for me told the truth about life.

You have a lengthy list of academic publications and credentials. What made you think to combine metal and academia, and research on this specific topic?

By my senior year of college, I was convinced of two things: one, metal was a valuable and compelling cultural form that was completely misunderstood by the adult world, and two, the approaches to music and culture that I had discovered in my ethnomusicology and anthropology classes could be used to explain the importance of metal to outsiders.

Being a part of metal studies has been a learning experience. One thing I’ve learned is that in 2014 metal is more diverse and inclusive than I ever would have thought possible twenty-odd years ago. Metal’s message has more global currency than anyone could have suspected when the genre first coalesced. The consequence of this has been a field of study that has more relevance to the contemporary world than the vast majority of new fields that focus on popular culture phenomena that had their start in the 70s and 80s. One of the most challenging topics in metal studies at this point is social class. Metal’s blue-collar fan base is often difficult to locate in the 21st century flourishing and diversification of the music, especially outside of the UK, New Zealand, and Australia. We should never lose sight of the fact that it was working-class folks, people without much formal education, who set the template for heavy metal’s musical sophistication, aesthetics, and dark vision.

I was attracted to the music’s intelligence, complexity, social relevance, and brutality. It was music that for me told the truth about life.

Some of your research appears to take an “ethnographic” approach, which is a study of culture. Do you consider heavy metal a culture? If so, does it inherit properties from a broader culture, or is it a wholly self-owned entity?

I was trained as a cultural anthropologist and an ethnomusicologist in graduate school. Ethnography is the primary mode of research in these fields as they are currently practiced. “Deep hanging out” is my favorite definition of ethnography, although usually it’s quite a bit more systematic than that. Basically it involves long-term engagement with a finite group of people, gradually learning to see and experience the world the way they do. You have to master local languages and idioms, really be able to listen, and be willing to be changed by what people tell you. It’s difficult and not everyone can do it, as you can’t really maintain any sort of comfort zone. Metal ethnographers spend lots of time at shows, clubs, and recording studios, but also in cars, bars, record stores, and anywhere else metalheads gather. Pierre Hecker’s book on Turkish metal is an excellent example of a book-length ethnographic study of heavy metal.

There is a range of theories regarding how music cultures like metal interface with the “parent cultures” in which they are embedded. It’s more common now to refer to metal collectivities as “scenes” than as “subcultures.” This is mostly because of advances in cultural theory that emphasize how no culture can be a “wholly self-owned entity” of homogeneous values. All cultures have porous boundaries and are composed of contested meanings. Accordingly, metal music scenes encompass contradictory sets of values, from the celebration of virtuosity and freedom of prog to the despair and resignation of doom to the nihilism and misanthropy of black metal (etc.), and within each of these subgenres there are internal tensions as well, as most readers here know. Some of these competing values echo those of dominant culture (male supremacy, individualism), others resist it (anti-religion, anti-war, pro-drunken revelry). Even the values that seem to fit with dominant culture are not passively inherited but instead tend to be actively renegotiated and rearticulated to fit the conditions of the lives of the actual metalheads composing, performing, listening to, and interpreting metal.

That of your work that I could find online seems to emphasize spaces, both real and virtual, in not only the work but the audience. For example, your analysis of a rock club emphasizes spaces by role (shades of Christopher Alexander) and look at social/cultural separation between bands and fans in an insightful way. What are spaces? Can they be psychological or even artistic? Where do you find them in metal?

Metal culture has always been about claiming space. At the beginning of his book Running with the Devil, Robert Walser writes, “Metal energizes the body, transforming space and social relations.” It’s kind of a throwaway line in the first chapter, but like so much of what’s in that book, it hits the nail on the head. Steve Waksman’s research focuses on how metal’s powerful amplification made it the ideal music to fill arenas, while Keith Kahn-Harris’s work brings attention to the other side of the of the phenomenon: the proliferation of precarious spaces around the world for underground metal that becomes understood as a connected global network of unstable scenes. Emma Baulch has written about the importance of “territorializing” and thus localizing the underground metal scene in Bali, Indonesia, of claiming space, as Walser puts it, “in the name of a heavy metal community.” Nelson Varas Díaz has looked at practices of temporary space annexation by Puerto Rico’s proud and longstanding but highly marginalized metal scene. In all these cases “metal space” is anyplace marked by metal iconography, filled with metal sounds, and inhabited by metalheads. Seems obvious, but what’s not is what exactly goes on in metal space, which can only go on if metal space first exists. Lately I’ve become intrigued by the possibility that a type of metal space exists whenever two or more metalheads are interacting, regardless of whether the music or the iconography are in fact present at that moment. Like, I could be wearing a suit jacket at an academic conference and join some similarly-garbed graduate students in an intense conversation about Candlemass and somehow the space is transformed.

You have been a featured speaker at several recent metal conferences. How does it feel to be part of a rising academic movement? What do you think made metal finally accepted into academia?

It’s been great, of course. Metal studies appears to be an idea whose time has come. This is both a good and potentially problematic thing. Why now? An astonishing number of us were born around the time the first Sabbath record came out. We’re the first completely heavy metal generation, and now we’re finally old and established enough to change the conversation about metal in the mainstream press, rock criticism, and in scholarship. The last of these took the longest, due to the long slog of the academic profession, but we’ve made remarkable progress since 2008, thanks in part to the ease of international communication. There aren’t that many metal scholars in the world, and we come from Germany, Brazil, Finland, Turkey, New Zealand, the UK, California, Massachusetts, all over the place, but we keep in touch with each other, and the undeniable vitality and high intellectual caliber of our conferences and publications have won over more than a few formerly skeptical colleagues and administrators at our universities and in the wider academic world.

What do you think is the future of metal in academia, and how do you expect to support this with your own research?

I think metal studies has a bright future. Twenty-two years after completing my undergraduate thesis, it’s nice to see metal getting some respect. The truth is, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Metal matters — a lot — to tens of millions of people around the world and all indications are that it will not only continue to do so but that it will continue to win new converts in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, India, and China, as well as among future generations in places already colonized. That means the study of heavy metal will matter, too, whether one likes it or not, at least for the segment of metal’s audience who cares about intellectual issues.

To answer the second part of your question, in my recent work, I have quite self-consciously tried to produce things that will be useful to scholars just beginning their research. The “Local Metal” piece I wrote with Allie Levine on how to study scenes (reprinted in Controversies and Countercultures) is an example of that.

What, in your view, is the (apparently) enduring appeal of heavy metal, such that it is now more than four decades old and going quite strong?

There are many schools of thought regarding metal’s appeal across the world. Some of the most common explanations, the “teenage need to rebel” and whatnot, are facile and condescending to the music’s audience. I would prefer not to speculate on this question. But I will say this: don’t forget that metal is great art. Metalheads listen to metal because they find it aesthetically compelling. To ignore this obvious explanation is to invalidate, to pathologize, the aesthetics of the fans—which I would never do, because I am a fan.

If metal was just about fulfilling male adolescent power fantasies, its appeal would be mainstream, not subcultural.

Much of your research seems to focus on masculinity in metal. Does metal have its own concept of masculinity? Is this concept stifled by society at large?

I’ve lately come to the conclusion that debates about masculinity and metal suffer from some significant shortcomings. It has become commonplace to maintain that metal somehow compensates men for the power they lack that they feel they should have in a patriarchal society that denies it to them. I have made similar statements myself. But this definitely oversimplifies things. What “men” are we talking about here? Young men? Working-class men, maybe? Men like that do have power — powerful bodies, powerful minds, power to defend themselves and others. There are external forces who want to harness that tremendous power and transform those who possess it into mindless worker bees or killing machines. Metal songs often advise people to beware of those forces; I think the music is also more about using and valuing the power one does have than fantasizing about the power one lacks.

Furthermore, such assertions make metal redundant. We already have video games and blockbuster action movies and in fact practically all mainstream popular culture that isn’t centrally concerned with the myth of romance. If metal was just about fulfilling male adolescent power fantasies, its appeal would be mainstream, not subcultural. Thus to understand metal, we need to dig deeper.

To its fans, metal is a powerful and empowering music; it gives listeners a sense of control over their own lives. That power is not always experienced as masculine, however, or as gendered at all. Metal’s detractors often charge that the music glorifies the dark side of power in its portrayal of war atrocities, serial killers, state oppression, nuclear destruction, etc. But depiction is not endorsement…I’ve gone on long enough already, but I’ll end just by saying that metal’s view of power is ambivalent, alert to both its allure and its perpetual dark side to which no one is ever immune. It addresses its audience as ambivalent empowered agents, never as emasculated victims. Some fans of course simply embrace the dark side, disavowing ambivalence. That’s one possible interpretive strategy, though it’s not the most common.

You are an acknowledged expert in Southeast Asian, specifically Indonesian, metal and culture. What drew you to this area? How is metal from this area similar to that in other areas? Are there differences?

Indonesia has had a vibrant, massive metal scene for three decades, quite possibly the largest in Asia. The scene is connected to those in two adjacent Southeast Asian nations, Malaysia and Singapore, which are similarly quite active and share a (somewhat) mutually intelligible language, Indonesian/Malay. Since, until the quite recent advent of folk metal, English was the only acceptable language for international metal, lots of bands from all three countries sing in that language, too. Since I began studying the Indonesian scene about twenty years ago (visiting there the first time in 1997), I’ve compared it to other metal scenes around the planet. I’ve found that Indonesia really is remarkable for the size, longevity, and dedication of its metal scene, which is older and a great deal larger than the burgeoning metal scenes in most other Asian nations (with the exception of Japan, of course). It’s also perhaps unique in that Joko Widodo, the current front-runner in the July Indonesian presidential election, is a proud, outspoken headbanger. So Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, might be the origin of the first metalhead world leader. Which of course raises the question, why is metal so big there? Still working on that one…

Do you have any personal favorite metal bands? If so, what are they?

Let me preface this by saying that my listening preferences are eclectic and I try to listen to both fashionable and unfashionable subgenres of metal. (For example, I really like Head Phones President, a Japanese group whose sound owes an obvious debt to the most vilified of American nü-metal bands; I also dig some power metal.) I’m also hardly esoteric in my tastes, and if I find out about an amazing obscure band it’s either serendipitous or, more likely, a recommendation from one of my students. All that said, of course! Recent discoveries: I got to hear some great bands in Puerto Rico back in March, including Tavú, Organic, and doom metal scene stalwarts Dantesco. Erico from Dantesco is currently my favorite vocalist, along with Silent Hell’s Kin Lin. Vallendusk’s a great atmospheric black metal band that sounds to me like a sort of a cross between Alcest and Panopticon, and they’re from Indonesia! I should also mention Winterhymn, who I saw on tour with Paganfest—great Viking/folk metal from my home state of Ohio. I don’t know what their story is, but their music is quite impressive and represents a sadly underappreciated subgenre in the States. As for personal favorites, mostly predictable I’m afraid: Chthonic, Fates Warning, Sabbath, Slayer, Maiden, Priest, Amorphis, Anthrax, Sepultura, St. Vitus, and the Indonesian bands Seringai, Puppen, and Slowdeath.

I will say this: don’t forget that metal is great art. Metalheads listen to metal because they find it aesthetically compelling.

Where is the best place for someone to go to read more of your work?

My website has an online CV with links to PDFs of many of my publications. The articles are there with the permission of the individual publishers, so not everything is up, but it’s a good place to start. Once I started putting things on the page, I started finding many more references to my work in the Indonesian news media, not to mention student essays posted online. Unfortunately a lot of what I’ve written is still hard to get a hold of for anyone without access to an academic library, though I know a number of public libraries now carry Metal Rules the Globe. Readers of this interview can always contact me directly, especially if they’ve actually read this far!

What’s next for you? You’ve got a book forthcoming and are rumored to be working on new research. Can you tell us what future directions you’re pursuing?

Esther Clinton and I are working on another edited volume, sort of a follow-up to MRTG. I probably shouldn’t say much about it, since it’s still in the beginning phase. I also think it might upset some people. Additionally, I’m working on various pieces of writing that develop ideas mentioned in this interview involving power, ethics, and sociality in metal culture. There’s other stuff, always more than I can manage.

Thank you for taking the time to do this.

You’re quite welcome. Metal on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CR-IPCY3Dr8

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-24-14

manatees
The Manatee: nature’s most useful animal.

What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? It’s when we decide that good things should happen to good people and bad things should happen to boring music. Most music is either imitating a trend, or totally without purpose or content, and that makes it boring. We can find trends and purposeless noise anywhere, for free. We are cruel to the stupid, and periodically, find something worthwhile to hold up above the river of feces…

adrenaline-mob-_-men-of-honorAdrenaline Mob – Men of Honor

It’s grandad’s heavy metal, kids, but with a rhythmic kick and Alice in Chains vocals. A Pantera influence in the bouncy riffing represents a modern retrospective on glam and heavy metal from the 1970s. Droning diminished scale choruses and a similar riffs stacked in a way that is both not random and not song development fleshes out the mix. Songwriting emphasizes the Big Pop Industry tendencies toward hooky choruses and distracting, somewhat aggressive verses with emphasis on stitching out the chorus rhythm in as many forms as possible, so in case you missed it the previous sixty times it will pop up again to remind you that you’re listening to “music.” People have made heavy metal version of power pop before (like Yes’ 90125) but they aimed for quality; this aims for conformity with someone snapping their fingers and being ironic behind the scenes. Warmed-over 1970s riffs 1990s influences make this a classic record company attempt to make the present generations worship the cast-offs of the past. Despite attempts to be edgy, this is a museum piece from the Hall of Boredom.

disfiguring-the-goddess-depriveDisfiguring the Goddess – Deprive

There’s no death metal to be found on this supposedly “brutal death metal” release, nor any concept of songwriting. Choppy, percussive riffs are thrown next to nu-mu thudding in random sequences that do nothing but “groove.” It comes off as variations of rhythm guitar picking exercises played on an 8-string guitar and stitched together in ProTools. Like most of these rhythms, it’s only a matter of time before the “out there” becomes the predictable, so there’s no promise in these flights of fancy, only a return to something as mundane as the cycling rhythm of a diesel truck engine with a loose belt. Occasionally, an actual riff gets played for almost three seconds before more inconsequential rhythm chugging comes in to pacify the indie/Hot Topic demographic who use this stuff as a surrogate to nurture relationships with other idiots by sharing an interest in “wacky muzak” that makes them “different and unique”, but under the surface, is Korn with tremolo picking.

alehammer-barmageddonAlehammer – Barmageddon

Life is an IQ test. Your choices determine really how smart you are. If you picked this band, you failed. These guys should hang up the electrics, strap on acoustics and do children’s television. This is sing-song music for people without direction in life. Even when I was a clueless 14-year-old buying his first albums with grubby pennies I would not have considered this dung-heap of bad musical stereotypes. It sounds like the kind of stuff that characters at Disneyland would sing, or maybe a bad world music band from the background of a car commercial. It’s catchy vocal rhythms over guitars that basically serve as slaves to pounding out the catchy vocal rhythm, but it’s repetitive catchiness. It’s all hook to the degree that there’s no sweet spot, only cloying repetition. Most bands of this nature are basically bad heavy metal with jingle music at its core. Barmageddon is basically a grindcore take on the kind of simplistic fare that got called “Pirate Metal” recently. I propose a new name: Headshot Metal. If you get caught listening to this, you should be shot through the face with a high-powered rifle. It’s an insult to anyone in the genre who tries to get anything right.

lamb-of-god-_-new-american-gospelLamb of God – New American Gospel

Upon viewing this title, the prospective listener might be intrigued to ask “what is this new gospel?” Answer: the gospel of insincere mediocrity. Half-assed guitar riffs combine the worst elements of a moron’s interpretation of hardcore (autistic caveman rhythms) and speed metal (obvious riff sequences) with a fruity veneer of constipated teenager vocals. Tracks start nowhere and lead nowhere, with nothing connecting one moment to the next; a stream of irrelevance. Expect plenty of repetition which Lamb of God, like all metalcore bands, tries to disguise by being as random as possible. You know who else uses that strategy? Nu-metal bands. This is basically a kissing cousin to nu-metal anyway. It’s music designed for distracted teenagers to distract themselves further until it’s time for a lifetime career in something brainless to match their braindead approach to life. How anybody with above a single-digit IQ could enjoy this escapes me. Sadly for all of us, this title is accurate: the future of America is a populace that considers this a valuable piece of music.

anal_blasphemy-forbidden_eyes-splitAnal Blasphemy / Forbidden Eye – The Perverse Worship of Satanic Sins

Anal blasphemy starts off with three tracks of simple death metal with a strong melodic hook. It is however rather straightforward in structure which leaves creates a sense of uniformity. Riffs are very similar. The final track uses a melodic lead-picked counter-riff which adds some depth but ultimately these songs are one step removed from their beginnings, so despite the compelling rhythm and melodic hooks they might not survive repeated listens. Forbidden Eye produces a more lush approach to melodic metal which is clearly in the droning black metal camp, but avoids the pure sugar-coated repetition common to the Eastern European variant. Its weakness is that there is not much in the way of a unique voice; we’ve heard these tropes before and recognize the song patterns well. If you can imagine a Dawn or Naglfar approach with more intensive drumming that is roughly what you’ll get here, well-executed but undistinctive both melodically and stylistically.

descend-witherDescend – Wither

The rock ‘n’ roll industry is a successful industry that attracts players who are highly professional. They know what the product is, and how to do do the minimum to achieve it; this practice, otherwise known as shaving margins, is based on the idea that the other guy will cut his costs to the minimum too in order to both lower price to make the product more competitive and maximize his own profit. If two guys make a widget, and one does it for five bucks less, that’s pure profit. In the same way, rock ‘n’ roll is based on fast turnover and following current trends so you can catch the media wave. I hear death metal is big now, like trendy. This album attempts a facial similarity to death metal with the whispery vocals of Unique Leader bands and lots of runaway blast beats followed by metalcore riffs, but after a while, they drop this and out come to the jazzy riffs based on a scale bent to a series of offbeats of offbeats in a complex pattern, and the soft-strummed ballad chord progressions and melodic hooks. The problem is that the guitar rhythms, like those of the vocals in hip-hop, are based on subdividing a rhythm and thus rapidly become highly repetitive, both internally and between songs. The result is that it all all fades into the background, as should this rather unambitious and directionless release.

reciprocal-new-order-of-the-agesReciprocal – New Order of the Ages

A “thinking man” band name written in a sterile font and a “politically informed” album cover. Is this more metalcore in death metal clothing? You bet. While this band is claiming influence from Deeds of Flesh and other Unique Leader bands for legitimacy, this has more in common with Necrophagist or The Black Dahlia Murder. Mechanical groove riffs are “spiced up” with sweep arpeggios and generic Slaughter of the Soul riffs appear over blast beats for the “brutality”. This is boring music with nothing to offer. Perhaps musicians this good need a better concept to work with than shouting out Alex Jones podcasts over Guitar World lessons from metalcore guitarists played at 220 bpm. I couldn’t tell the difference between this album and any other modern tek-deaf release. If these guys were to spend less time on conspiracy websites and more time thinking about why people still turn to their old Morbid Angel and Immolation albums instead of these tek-deaf bands (or how to structure their music to not be a series of discontinuous parts), maybe they could create something useful. Otherwise, this is Origin with propaganda attached looking to steal some time from metal fans while keeping Xanax addled brofist D&B homeys (Rings of Saturn fans) satisfied with more inconsequential ADHD music which will be forgotten a week later.

caliban-ghost-empireCaliban – Ghost Empire

Occasionally I’m amazed that something actually got signed because it’s so terrible and then later I see it on the bestseller list. The taste of the herd will never fail to shock and amaze, mainly because what they like is simple: (1) the same old stuff but (2) in some radical new format that’s easy to see through so they can appreciate the sameness of it. Modern society is about anonymity and personal convenience, so why not music that you can project yourself upon, that requires you to know or feel absolutely nothing except the most transient of emotions? Caliban have it for. Ranty Pantera verses over djent-inspired harmonically-immobile riffs lead to sung alt-rock style choruses with lots of hook and lengthy vocalizations, but essentially no melodic development. As a result this is super-repetitive in that its song structure is circular to the point of linearity and the songs at their core consist of two-note clusters in riffs stacked up against four-note chorus vocal lines. Every now and then they get tricky and play rhythm games with riffs that were well-known before Metallica formed. The main factor that kills me is the repetition. It’s as if the whole album is a conspiracy of details designed to hide the fact that it’s basically the words of a drunk, repeating himself unsteadily and then doubling his volume and saying the same thing. This might be good music to listen while doing laundry or some other task that numbs the brain because the effect of this music is to validate tedium, repetition and simplistic pounding. Unless your brain fell out long ago, avoid this reeking turd.

blutkult-die-letzen-wahren-deutschen-ritterBlutkult – Die letzten deutschen Ritter

I always wondered what would happen to the formal nationalists in metal. We knew that founding bands like Bathory, Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem, Immortal, et al were nationalistic in the sense of national pride and perhaps more. But it’s a leap from that to connect with the organized far-right parties and mentality, and for a long time, NSBM seemed like it would remain in that world. Then hipsters started like Arghoslent and Burzum and so now being a Nazi is a “lifestyle choice” like being vegan or buying a Prius… the hardcore nationalist music has changed too, as this album from Blutkult shows us. It’s a three-way split between the old Skrewdriver-styled sentimental punk music, Renaissance Faire styled Celtic-y noodly melodic music, and the droning of punk-influenced black metal such as Absurd. As someone of profoundly anti-racist and egalitarian character, I find this to be alarmingly catchy and emotional. Die letzten deutschen Ritter brings out feelings of hope in me, and I don’t like it. It’s like a surge of elegance and an old world emerging from the ruins of this one. But that makes me uneasy, as do the Wehrmacht soldiers on the cover, the black suns and the vocal samples that sound like the man with the funny moustache himself. Regardless, this is where Graveland and Absurd have been trying to go for years. If they got rid of the stupid spoken intros and just focused on letting the music rip, this might be a really compelling release.

amoral-wound-creationsAmoral – Wound Creations

While their current output is being lambasted for being radio friendly rock/metal, this “technical death metal” debut album is given unwarranted praise for being some kind of masterwork. Too bad this is just metalcore. Chugging groove riffs played in mechanical stop-start sequences make room for AOR “extreme” stadium metal melodies like Soilwork, and little else. While the playing is adept, the music is annoying and makes their latest album sound favorable by comparison for being honest commercial radio muzak that’s not congested with unnecessary ornamentation and fake aggression. If Nevermore made a mash up between Soilwork at it’s most commercial and Meshuggah at it’s most mechanical while Chimaira make MTV edits out of the recordings, you might end up with an album like this: sub-par music, but at least they know how to play. Too bad they sound like any other generic metalcore band signed to Century Media circa the 2000s with growl vocals (done in the metalcore faux-aggressive style). A terrible excuse for metal that without a doubt brings great shame to Finland.

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Glorious Times team produces Jill Funerus benefit show on October 17, 2013

jill_funerus_mcenteeAs you may have read on this site, recently Jill Funerus (bassist/vocalist for FUNERUS) who is also the wife of John McEntee from Incantation ran into a spate of health problems. In addition to battling neuropathy and diabetes, she suffered a heart attack and related kidney dysfunction, but has pulled through.

We congratulate her on having survived such an intense health challenge. However, neither she nor her husband have health insurance and thus, they’re facing some intense bills for the surgery, medicine and several days she spent at the hospital.

The metal community is banding together to help them. Through the hands of Brian Pattison, one-half of the Glorious Times team, a benefit show has been established with 100% of the profits going to Jill Funerus’ medical bills.

Jill Funerus Benefit
Thursday, October 17 at 7:00pm EDT
The Forvm in Buffalo, New York
4224 Maple Rd Buffalo, NY 14226
(716) 831-3271

If you can’t make the show, like many of us who are thousands of miles away, you can send money via paypal to info@funerus.com. If you are from a metal band or have something else you can donate for sale/raffle at the benefit, please message the Glorious Times team via glorioustimesdeathbook@gmail.com. See also the Facebook event listing.

List of bands supporting the Jill Funerus benefit:

  • Abnormality
  • Abolishment of flesh
  • Abysme
  • Autopsy
  • Barzakh
  • Bernd Backhaus
  • Black Bear Printing
  • Blood Coven
  • Brutality
  • Buried
  • Butchered Records
  • Cannibal Corpse
  • Cardiac Arrest
  • Capathian Funeral
  • Chuck “Patchmaster General” Parsons
  • Cianide
  • Circle of Dead Children
  • Dark Descent Records
  • Darkapathy
  • Deathcrawl
  • Deceased
  • Deformity
  • Demented Dream States
  • Dismemberment (OH)
  • Druid Lord
  • Embalmer
  • Emblazoned
  • Fleshbound Productions
  • Full Blown A.I.D.S.
  • Glorious Times
  • Grave Descent
  • Gravehill
  • Gutter Christ
  • HPGD
  • Horrormerch.com
  • HRA
  • Immolation
  • Impetigo
  • Insanity
  • Jaymz Delisle
  • Jeff Standish
  • Legacy of Death Productions
  • Liquified Guts
  • Low Road Revival
  • Lucertola
  • Malevolent Creation
  • Malignancy
  • Manticore
  • Master
  • Mat Romero
  • Mausoleum
  • Mike Browning (Incubus)
  • Misery Index
  • Music Matters
  • New Order Records
  • Nokturnel
  • Nokturnel Eclipse
  • Pathos Productions
  • Prime Evil
  • Radiation Sickness
  • Randy Kastner
  • Repulsion
  • Rottrevore
  • Sacrific
  • Sam Biles
  • Sathanas
  • Seplophile
  • Signature Riff
  • Soulless
  • Splatterreah
  • Stevo (Impetigo, Tombstones)
  • Tainted Entertainment
  • Vile Records
  • Visions of the Night
  • Wehrmacht

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Interview with Matt Harvey of Exhumed

matt_harvey-exhumedNorthern California’s Exhumed made themselves a name back in the late 1990s by fusing Carcass-style grindcore with energetic and melodic death metal of the Swedish style, injecting a lot of punk along the way.

Although this created more of a popular form of death metal than the original underground style, it introduced many new fans to the genre and created a framework for an integration of punk into the style. Its enduring popularity has provided Exhumed with a legion of fans.

We were fortunate to be able to talk to Matt Harvey, who has been “the voice of Exhumed” for almost two decades now. Most of our questions focused on Exhumed’s latest album, Necrocracy, and what the band’s been up to since.

I realize genre names aren’t all that popular, but what genre is Exhumed these days? Are you grindcore, or death metal, or did you invent something new?

I think we are what we’ve always been: Gore Fucking Metal. I don’t know that it’s something completely new, but it’s a combination of all the stuff we’ve always been influenced by, Death Metal, Grindcore, Thrash, NWOBHM, Powerviolence… All the good stuff, haha!

What is the ideal environment in which to enjoy an Exhumed album?

As long as there’s beer and lots of volume, then it’s good. I think that’s up to the individual. For me, I’d say you’d want a 12-pack of beer, some expendable furniture to smash, and a few friends would be the best accoutrements to a listening session.

Necrocracy is quite provocative. It seems to suggest that the world is not as peachy as my television tells me it is. Can you tell me more about the concept of this album?

Yeah, I’d say the world is not that peachy keen. The lyrics still revolve around death and gore, but they use those concepts as a metaphor to discuss a lot of the things going on in the current US political and socio-economic climate. The songs usually revolve around stuff like the destructive influence of corporate greed (Ravening), the gross inequalities inherent in the taxation / medical system (Coins Upon The Eyes), the meaningless pandering of the electoral system (Necrocracy), and the distorted perception that Americans have of their way of life and country’s role in the world (Dysmorphic).

You’re back after a hiatus. What made you personally and all of Exhumed decide to return?

It was one of those thing where it just made sense to do a new record. I had had enough of the break, and was just getting back into writing these kinds of riffs and songs and stuff. And it was one of those things that just kind of came together and took on a life of its own which was pretty awesome.

What are you most looking forward to on tour?

Free beer and seeing friends in different cities and states. Same as always! Plus I get a lot of reading done on tour, haha!

Do you think metal’s in bad shape? A lot of people seem to think it has become redundant. What do you think about modern metal, metalcore, etc?

I actually think metal is really healthy. There’s all kinds of niches and sub-genres all over the place, and every form of metal, from 70s proto-metal to the most modern math-rock stuff has an audience. If you think about it, the first Sabbath record came out over 40 years ago, and in order for the genre to move forward and stay viable, creatively and commercially, it has to change and evolve. Me personally, I’m really only into 70s / 80s / early 90s metal, but I’m in my late thirties. By the time my Dad was my age, I was thirteen, and it seems silly to think that a thirteen or fifteen year old kid is going to be into the same music as a guy that’s 37 years old. It’s easy to be nostalgic or think that one specific generation has “nailed it” and everything else is false – people into Blue Oyster Cult and Thin Lizzy thought “Kill ’em All” was just noise when it came out, people into Exodus and Slayer thought “Scum” was crap when it came out too. Things move forward. You don’t have to like it all, but you have to accept that it’s the way things work. While a lot of the modern stuff isn’t my personal cup of tea, it’s good that things keep moving forward and the genre stays viable.

How do you think Exhumed has grown and dare I say…… “progressed” ….over the years?

We’e always had the same kind of riffs and stuff, based our shit around the Repulsion / Terrorizer / Carcass / Napalm Death / Death / Autopsy template, but we’ve definitely gotten better at structuring songs, incorporating melody, using tasteful guitar solos and shit like that. It’s all been a very slow and gradual, so sometimes it seems to me like we haven’t progressed at all, but then I listen to some of our old stuff and I realize that we have come a bit of a ways through the years, which again, is a positive thing.

Are you planning to continue for another album or more, after Necrocracy?

We don’t have any plans of stopping, if that’s what you mean, haha! I have an idea for the next album title already, but we’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it, haha!

What do you think made death metal and grindcore what they were? Did it take a state of mind to make music like that? Can it return?

I don’t think it can ever “return” or be the way that it was, which is as it should be. At the same time, the same spirit of wanting to play more intense music, pushing the boundaries, it’s still alive, it just manifests itself differently because of the context of the times. There are still tons of great grind bands out there, Nails is awesome, Teething is great, and those bands are about as traditional grind as it gets. Same with Death Metal, there’s a resurgence of bands playing in the older style that’s awesome to see. There’s at least a nostalgia and a place for that kind of music that isn’t going away and that’s awesome and gratifying to see.

The song “Coins Upon The Eyes” is super-catchy and yet really abrasive. How do you write material like that? Do you just think up a riff, or sit down and design it?

We actually have a bunch of multi-colored balls that represent different riffs, then we throw the balls into a pool full of seals, and whatever order the seals flip the balls back to us is the order that we play the riffs in. It’s basically a foolproof hit factory!

Honestly we just think of things in terms of songs, not in terms of “brutality” or something ephemeral or subjective. With “Coins,” it’s almost like what we did with Waxwork, where you have one main riff (the chorus) and most of the other riffs build from the note choices and movement within the main theme. From there, the pre-chorus and the guitar solo parts serve as the contrast points, being in different keys with different rhythmic structures to build tension.

Of course, it’s not quite so scientific when you’re coming up with the riffs, there’s a fair amount of playing from the gut that kind of pulls you in the direction that the song wants to go. After you have something that works, you can analyze it, and that analysis will help you know what works next time around. I’m a big adherent to the pop songwriting philosophy and we try to always include some hooky choruses and catchy stuff in every song.

That’s really the ultimate goal, now that we know how to be heavy and brutal and all that stuff – whatever that means, haha!

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Disincarnate – Dreams of the Carrion Kind

disincarnate-dreams_of_the_carrion_kindThe brainchild of James Murphy, a guitar virtuoso who released two instrumental “shred” albums through Shrapnel Records, Disincarnate is in theory an underground metal dream made reality. The band released its one and only album in 1993 on Roadrunner Records. Murphy’s legendary lead guitar work on Obituary’s Cause of Death created the promise of a killer album was in the making, only it was never delivered.

Disincarnate is part of the first wave of post-Human era Death/Cynic bands who were making death metal explicitly play nice with the Headbanger’s Ball and Guitar World audiences under the guise of Floridian rhythmic death metal. This watered-down death metal was designed to appeal to the casual Pantera and Chaos A.D. metal fans of the time. On Dreams of the Carrion Kind, song structures are simple and pop-oriented, reminiscent of an 80s speed metal act like Exodus, which is a riff salad without themes developing within it.

“Monarch of the Sleeping Marshes,” the best composition on the album, fails to capture its surprisingly elaborate lyrical concept, impeding upon the momentum of its inspired introductory riffcraft with an awkward pause after the chorus to make way for an incongruous bridge of generic Benediction mosh fare. Other tracks like “Soul Erosion” and “Deadspawn” sound like Brutality playing along to bouncy Fear Factory/Pantera chugging fare with death metal vocals and lyrics adapted around that framework, no doubt in a vain attempt to bridge two trends from the era. At best, it could be compared to a lowbrow version of the first half of Resurrection’s Embalmed Existence.

James Murphy’s dextrous playing and the early Roadrunner Records connection would make this seem innocent, but don’t be fooled. This release is cleverly disguised as something profound but is no more advanced than Benediction’s Transcend the Rubicon. It isn’t awful to the point where you would rather swan dive into a wood chipper, but the overly bluesy doom riffs and the grooved out relaxed tempos of tremolo riffs in cyclical song structures that break for a “guitar hero” solo suggests this band as having the confused character of something that wants to be morbid and sinister, but also pander to the Dimebag Darrell worshipers of that era.

While some of the wiser among us would simply dismiss this as not up to par with other releases in its genre, on closer inspection, this album alongside Malevolent Creation’s Retribution and Obituary’s The End Complete in addition to Roadrunner Records vast distribution network assisted in streamlining death metal into a more rock centric style that allowed the Gutted/Kataklysm mosh fare with flashy distraction breaks to become an Ozzfest/Hot Topic mainstay in the 2000s.

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Autopsy sticks to form on new material

autopsy-the_headless_ritualAutopsy played a new song named “Arch Cadaver” during their set opening for Bolt Thrower at the Oakland Metro in Oakland CA on May 26,2013. Contrary to record company/band hype, no new ground is retread and laurels are rested on to some extent, namely the formula adopted on Acts of the Unspeakable, albeit this new song has much less grindcore/Nuclear Death influence.

In other words, Autopsy is treading into Exhumed territory with simple songs that use somewhat predictable structures but focus on writing killer riffs and having intensely catchy, gory choruses. The result is like a fusion of early German speed metal with gore-drenched grindcore in the Carcass and Repulsion style, making a high-energy form of music that is pure pop at the same time it is pure pus-ridden disease-laden metal for the sake of sounding extreme and creating that old school feel of being totally alienated from the sociable world.

Following a dooming intro reminiscent of “Meat” from Acts of the Unspeakable, the band go into the dark 2-beat hardcore/death metal previously explored on songs like “Dark Crusade.” It’s doubtful the band intended to reinvent the wheel with this release, and if this song is any indication, The Headless Ritual will be the “crowd pleasing” Mental Funeral and Acts of the Unspeakable admixture fans were hoping for.

Drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert opined in a recent interview, “Expect nothing less than the monstrous brutality that Autopsy has been known to offer. Laurels will not be rested upon, trends will not be followed and mercy will not be shown. Mark your calendars for June and pick out a coffin to lie down and die in. Darkness and death await…”

Autopsy have begun selling the album and related merchandise through their label, Peaceville. Click below for the live song on YouTube video, or the stream of the studio version of the same song.

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Autopsy “The Headless Ritual” coming this July, Cover art and track list revealed

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThis July 2, Autopsy returns with their sixth studio album of horror and gore inspired death metal, The Headless Ritual.

Featuring the returning quartet of Chris Reifert, Eric Cutler, Danny Coralles, and Joe Trevisano, The Headless Ritual explores the all-out sonic assault of and varied tempos that made Autopsy famous as a death metal band with variation. The album was recorded and mixed April 2013 at Fantasy Studios, San Francisco, Calif. with Adam Munoz, and features cover artwork by renowned artist Joe Petagno (Motörhead, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin) and will be released on Peaceville Records.

Drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert said, “Expect nothing less than the monstrous brutality that Autopsy has been known to offer. Laurels will not be rested upon, trends will not be followed and mercy will not be shown. Mark your calendars for June and pick out a coffin to lie down and die in. Darkness and death await…”

Autopsy formed in 1987 in the San Francisco Bay Area and released four albums on Peaceville Records, beginning with Severed Survival (1989) and peaking with Mental Funeral (1992), which many acknowledge as their best work. After disbanding in 1995, Autopsy returned in 2010 with the EP The Tomb Within, followed by the release of the band’s fifth studio album Macabre Eternal the following year.

1. Slaughter at Beast House
2. Mangled Far Below
3. She is a Funeral
4. Coffin Crawlers
5. When Hammer Meets Bone
6. Thorns and Ashes
7. Arch Cadaver
8. Flesh Turns to Dust
9. Running From the Goathead
10. The Headless Ritual

For more information, see the official Autopsy website or the mini-site on Peaceville Records.

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Autopsy to release “The Headless Ritual” in June

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According to a post on their Facebook page, California gore-metal morticians Autopsy are entering the studio in early April to record their next full-length. Described as “monstrous brutality” independent of all trends, this album indicate what insiders suggest could be a return to Autopsy’s roots in complex, esoteric death metal.

During the early days of death metal, Autopsy were distinct because of their ability to use multiple tempi per song, to employ harmony and theme, and to use seemingly sloppy, grotesque, overflowing riffs to convey themes of death, suffering and disease. Their career arguably peaked with 1991’s Mental Funeral, an album of many varied songs of different lengths and song structures, presenting a strange landscape for the listener to navigate.

Last year’s Macabre Eternal showed Autopsy returning to the sound of old school death metal and the abrasive aesthetics that came with it, but not quite entering the realm of the weird where obscure song structures and riffs contribute to mood as much as they did on older Autopsy releases. Although that album showed promise, its somewhat consistent approach created a uniform intensity which resulted in much of the content getting lost on some ears.

The Headless Ritual will be recorded at Fantasy Studios under the care of Adam Munoz, with cover art by the widely-acclaimed Joe Petagno. Slated to be released on Peaceville Records sometime in June, the album is the latest chapter in the continuing odyssey of Autopsy and promises a brutal dose of gore, rancidity and internal decay.

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