A Guide to Electronic Music: Volume 2.0

Five thousand years ago, the present author created a guide to the main acts associated with the classic 70s-style electronic sound. The response was generally quite positive in nature (which the present author humbly appreciates), and several individuals requested a sequel focusing on later acts and developments in Electronic music.

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Metal Works: AR-15 Build

A proper Hessian knows his metal music intimately. He understands the moving parts and how they fit together to form a functioning whole. Just as a Hessian understands his music, he will also understand his weapons. What better way to understand our weapons than to build one ourselves? AKs are rather easy to build, but require some more expensive specialized equipment. ARs are also quite easy to build, and because of their ingenious modular design, one can either build a complete AR or one can build half an AR for use with already extant other halves. Because building an AR lower is somewhat more complicated and requires some more expensive equipment, today we will focus on building your own AR upper. You will see from the crappy pictures, taken with my old flip phone, that one needs no specialized facilities to do any of this – I did it in my spare bedroom in about 45 minutes. Recommended listening while building: Immortal’s “Battles in the North.”
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Metal-Archives’ Marxist Mania

Article contributed to Death Metal Underground by Richard Sullivan.

Western civilization is currently gripped in a culture war unlike any that preceded this one. You may ask what makes it so different than the others, considering the West witnessed a similar one of its kind back in the late 1950s with the emergence of the New Left. Arguably, there’s never been a real difference in the left’s rhetoric. For as long as anyone cares to remember, white, heterosexual, “cisgender” men, who maintain the “capitalistic, racialized, cisnormative patriarchy” have always been at the center of their ideological attacks. The only thing that has changed has been their ability to have said rhetoric heard beyond the confines of university lecture halls. It was rare to encounter an enlightened™ human™ bombarding you with vitriol and threats of violence – because you failed to recognize the intersectionality between race™, gender™, and sexuality™ – outside a gender studies class. Of course, these things still occur, but with greater frequency, and to the point where a flash mob of overweight, hipster beta males twerking in tutus in a school’s atrium is viewed as them just “expressing themselves”, but, more boldly, as an act of defiance against conventional norms of masculinity.

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Metalhead pipesmokers unite!

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The old saying goes that those who love to use tobacco smoke cigarettes, and those who love tobacco smoke cigars and pipes. The cigarettes give you a quicker hit because the lungs, with their much vaster absorption area, deliver nicotine to the brain within about three seconds. The cigarette ends within three to seven minutes and the craving subsides momentarily. With pipes and cigars, the nicotine slowly oozes in through the mucus membranes in the mouth, tongue and (sometimes) throat, creating a stronger dose of nicotine but without the sudden “falling off a cliff” sensation. Many metalheads smoke cigarettes, but more are branching out to pipes and cigars for the flavors, more intense dosage and less damage to the body.

Please do not read this as an anti-cigarette rant. They are wonderful, in their own right, and much less work than cigars or pipes. However, burning any leaves and inhaling them directly into your lungs 10-20 times a day would cause some kind of long term health problem as gunk — tar, ash and irritants — builds up on the alveoli. On top of that, our industry and lawmakers have decided to mandate all sorts of processing of the tobacco, so who knows what else is being inhaled. If you would not mind going into a fast food joint, taking home their lettuce, dehydrating it and sitting next to a giant pile of it burning all day, cigarettes might not bother you. And keep in mind that there are brain-boosting benefits to nicotine in addition to resistance to neurodegenerative disorders, an effect which you do not get with the charred salad.

Cigars are beyond the scope of this article, but pipes are its focus. Pipes are essentially little wooden, stone or clay cups for burning tobacco with an inhalation tube attached. The smoker fills the pipe loosely with tobacco, then ignites it with some of the many means available to us ex-hominids, inhaling the smoke into his mouth and savoring it before blowing it outward into the personal space of those around him. While the topic of smoking pipes merits a full book, this article provides an introduction to pipe smoking designed to be as simple and low-cost as possible.

***

To get started, you will need:

  • A pipe. Generally between $35-$65 for a good starter pipe. Look for 0.7inch diameter bowls and filterless stems. This tool may help.
  • Tobacco. This comes in tins and bulk, usually found at Brick and Mortar (B&M) shops, and Over the Counter (OTC) usually found at drugstores and supermarkets.
  • Pipe cleaners. Each time you smoke, you will want to clean your pipe. Pipe cleaners have two ends, so that is two smokes per cleaner. It is not a terrible habit to include a bundle or package of these each time you buy tobacco.
  • A pipe nail. Demystifying this tool: it can be as simple as a key. You use one end to cut up tobacco, allowing it to collapse into an ember, and the other to tamp it after you light it for the first time. Tobacco rises like a demon unleashed when touched with fire, but compressing it allows it to smoulder so you can sip the pipe.
  • Fire. I favor the compressed cardboard matches in matchbooks, but you can use anything. For some, lighters and zippos taste horrible, so they prefer the match. The only trick is to burn off the tip before lighting.

To avoid the usual drama, let us launch into the process of smoking:

You go to some place with little wind, but some air circulation, where you have a comfortable chair. Sitting in it, you take out your tobacco. Holding the pipe over the tobacco container, let the shreds of tobacco fall into the pipe. When it is half-full, gently tamp with a finger. When it reaches the top, pinch from the center to one side and then the other, compressing the tobacco and letting it fall back into place. (Much has been written on this topic, usually under the unfortunate appellation of packing a pipe, when the correct word to use is fill: put tobacco into the pipe so there are no fully empty spaces, but fall short of compacting it so air — necessary for fire and smoke — can flow through. Ignore all other advice.)

Put the pipe in your mouth, holding it gently with teeth and firmly with lips. Light a match, and hold it vertically at a slight angle so the flame climbs the stalk of the match, then when the head has burned off, move the match over the tobacco in slow circles while inhaling. Take the smoke into your mouth and the top part of your throat if you wish, but try to avoid it leaking further down toward the lungs. You can compress it by gently blowing out the air from the front of your mouth, which draws in smoke from the pipe. The best way to inhale that I have found involves flaring the nose and drawing in air slowly but steadily.

My favorite cycle runs in seven second increments. For bigger mouthfuls, draw in your smoke, then keep it in your mouth for three seconds, then exhale and wait another four seconds. For slower sips, take one for about a half-second, then wait at least three seconds before the next. It helps to have a slight background circulation of air to keep the pipe oxygenated and smouldering well.

Many smokers do a “char and light” where they torch the top layer of tobacco, then tamp it lightly because it has risen up as it burned, and then light again to get the resulting compressed tobacco to blaze. At two-thirds through the bowl, it may be helpful to use a poker or the pointy end of your pipe nail to chop up the resulting ember and set it ablaze again. The lighting requirements vary between tobacco types, which will be addressed below.

When no more smoke comes out of the pipe, and you sense that the tobacco has been converted mostly to ash, tap it out into convenient bushes or a metal trash receptacle without a plastic bag. The ash will be hot and melt plastic. To tap out, hold the pipe in your hand and swing it downward to shake the ash out of the bowl. You may have to stir it with poker or nail beforehand.

Then comes the most important part of the ritual. If your pipe lacks a filter, run a pipe cleaner from the mouthpiece into the pipe and leave it there for a few minutes to absorb both direct and ambient moisture. This will keep your pipe fresh-tasting for its next use.

Pipe smokers vary. Some are hard-hitters who blaze through a bowl quickly, where others are sippers who have a pipe going all day for an hour at a time. If you re-light too frequently, or smoke too fast, the pipe may get hot; if this happens enough and to a great enough extreme, it may cause a condition known as “burnout” where the material of the pipe chars and cracks. To help avoid this, smoke on the seven-second method and also, allow some nice thick gunky tar to line the bowl, especially on the bottom. I always smoke some OTC aromatics, which are full of sugary flavoring that bonds together the goo and forms a kind of tar cement, down to the bottom of the bowl to layer it with a nice thick coating of glop. This glop chars over time and becomes a sort of pipe creosote that insulates against extremes.

***

Tobacco originates as leafy plant in the genus Nicotiana, which when cured, dried, pressed and shredded becomes a delicious flammable method of nicotine delivery. The great variations in what are called generically tobaccos occur in the different strains of tobacco plants, and the different methods used to grow, cure, dry, press, and cut the leaves.

That process produces a number of tobacco types, which are then combined in varying amounts into different blends, which you might think of as “tobacco recipes” because they achieve a unique flavor through the ingredients — different types of tobacco — mixed within them. These blends are also distinguished by their cut or how they are sliced, which is related to the flavor and tobacco characteristics in each blend. Many blends are then coated in flavoring known as “aromatic”; if the primary flavor to the smoking blend is the flavoring and not the underlying tobacco, the blend is referred to as an aromatic tobacco.

For the end user, tobacco is then shaped by another force — the consumer market — and placed into the following silos:

  1. Over-the-Counter (OTC). OTC tobaccos are designed for convenience. They are usually either aromatics or a type of shag-cut tobacco that is also used for Roll Your Own (RYO) cigarettes. These burn most easily, cost about $2 an ounce, and are generally mild in both flavor and nicotine level.
  2. Luxury. Like most things in our society, the good stuff only starts when you step off the mainstream and pony up some more cash. You would not buy Budweiser to drink, nor Marlboro to smoke, so you will choose a pipe tobacco made under the brand name of an established firm. A handful of producers make these tobaccos now, but they tend to be stronger and rely more on the flavor of natural tobacco, although many are also aromatics but with a wider variety of flavors than OTC.
  3. Boutique. A cottage industry has sprung up in making this variety of luxury tobacco which aims for unique and intense flavors, sometimes combining aromatic and unflavored tobaccos. These are more expensive than “regular” luxury and are made by a handful of blenders who also own mail-order tobacco shops.
  4. Vintage. In the past, everything was better. People have been saying that for generations, and apparently each were correct: the tobaccos of only 20 years ago were stronger and more flavorful. Luxury tobaccos, once considered regular tobacco, have been stored in sealed tins (if you buy one on eBay, make sure it is also “unopened” as opposed to re-sealed) and are now much sought-after.

I recommend starting with a solid OTC like Carter Hall, Prince Albert, Captain Black, Five Brothers or even Drum. These are the easiest to learn to pipe with, and give you a feeling for what mild levels of nicotine and flavor are like. In addition, they are low-cost so you will not howl and scream if you accidentally ruin a bowl or spill some.

You may find that these are pleasing enough for you and that you are content to smoke them for life. There is nothing wrong with this; many have done so and it provides the least fetishistic and complex smoking experience. Five Brothers stands out from most of these because it does not use aromatic flavoring or propylene glycol (PG), a moisturizing agent added to many OTC tobaccos. If your OTC tobacco comes out of the can or pouch and seems damp, it probably has a good dose of PG. Many aromatics, including those sold at the luxury level, also have this treatment.

From that point, the next stop is an entry-level luxury tobacco. I suggest going with a Dunhill blend because they are widely available, not overly flavored, and tend to be sliced for easy burning. You can generally get a tin of 50g/1.76oz for about $9 online or $15 in the real world, if you are in the United States; this will vary with local tobacco taxes. You may notice that you are paying quite a bit in taxes throughout this whole process, and wonder if that is in fact the impetus for the whole societal jihad against tobacco. Keep wondering. In places like Canada and Europe, they pay multiples of what you pay here. Scary.

At this point, I would stop moving up the ladder. Boutique blends are a variety of luxury blend that costs more and has more unique, ironic, oddball, quirky, and otherwise off-the-beaten path blends. However, it tends to be lower in nicotine content and it is unclear whether these weird little blends are actually that distinct from their archetypes. There are only so many types of tobacco and while many different combinations can be made, most of them resemble a few fundamental types. I have never ventured into Vintage tins and can say that, while undoubtedly these older blends were of a finer quality, that may not have been preserved over the years. Nicotine levels especially degrade. To my mind, the piping experience cannot be separated into “taste” or effect but must include both, and so the fetishism with flavor — even if grounded in science and experience — strikes me as perhaps being a mistake.

Tobacco comes in several cuts which reflect how the leaves are presented:

  • Shag. Cut laterally across the leaf, leaving an interlocked mess like peat moss that loads easily and burns well.
  • Ribbon. “Normal.” Thicker slices that seem to be vertically up and down the leaf.
  • Flake -> Ready Rubbed. Flake occurs when tobacco is pressed in blocks and then sliced; Ready Rubbed is the result of “rubbing out” those slices.
  • Plug. Tobacco is pressed together and allowed to mature that way, then cut into little pucks.
  • Cake. Like a plug, but loosely packed, resulting in a crumbly “coffee cake” style.
  • Cube. Cross-slicing the tobacco produces tiny cubes; sometimes hard to keep lit.
  • Twist -> Slices. Tobacco is twisted in plugs or flake is re-twisted in tubes, then cut into little “coin” shaped bits called slices.

The above simplifies a fairly complex process. You might also enjoy these viewpoints from P&C blender Russ Ouellette and Lane Limited manager Leonard Wortzel.

Multiple types of tobacco dot the landscape. These refer to the strain of tobacco plant and how it was cured and prepared. These are:

  • Burley. Think cigar leaves. This air-cured tobacco has a nutty flavor and higher nicotine and oil than most others. It is used to complement other tobaccos in blends, and is known for its tongue “bite” from high alkalinity.
  • Virginia. High sugar content and sweet natural taste make this type a favorite in many blends. Although this tobacco comes in many colors, its flavor stays within the mild range and makes it the basis of many blends.
  • Cavendish. This term applies to any tobacco that has been aged and cured with a heating process that brings out a fuller taste.
  • Latakia. This is Oriental tobacco which has been cured with smoke from burning oak, pine, juniper and yew wood to give it a bittersweet taste.
  • Oriental/Turkish. Sweet and low in nicotine, this is tobacco grown using the Eastern method of low soil nutrients and plenty of sun, which produces its fragrance and flavor.
  • Perique. Fermentation in its own juices after Burley tobacco is pressed into barrels gives Perique a spicy-sweet flavor. This is generally an additive to other blends to give them some spark
  • Dark Fired. Leaves are cured with smoke under carefully managed heat and humidity, producing a blend both strong in nicotine and flavor. It is used as an additive more than a main ingredient because of its intensity.

For more information, check out Russ Ouellette’s descriptions.

These are used in the following blends:

  • English. Mostly Virginia, with Latakia for body and Oriental tobaccos to provide spice.
  • Scottish. Similar to an English blend, the Scottish blend uses less Latakia and more Virginia, with little or no Orientals.
  • Balkan. Strong in Orientals and Latakia, this tobacco blend uses Virginia to balance those dominant flavors.
  • American. Although there are some similarities to the English, the American blend uses more Virginia with possible Cavendish or Kentucky style tobaccos.
  • Danish. These resemble the English, but with a deeper flavor and less spice, using more Burley and Cavendish but emphasizing stronger, more balanced flavors.

You will probably find yourself shopping by blend, which could be a substitute term for flavor. What type of smoke do you wish to taste tonight? There are several indexes for ranking different blends:

  • Harshness. How much acridity and bite there is. Strong smoke can be hard on the smoker, and “bite” is created by the alkalinity of the tobacco, which raises the pH and increases absorption of nicotine but may also cause a tangy burning sensation on the tongue.
  • Strength. You are smoking a nicotine-bearing plant. How much nicotine is delivered? A tobacco with high nicotine may be worth pounds of low-nic fruity aromatics.
  • Note. This refers to the smell left behind after the tobacco is burned. This influences both your taste of the tobacco, and what your friends, family and coworkers experience.

The de facto standard for tobacco assessments is Tobacco Reviews. Like other crowd-sourced sites such as Wikipedia and Metal-Archives, or reviews on Amazon, it is good for basic factual information and opinions from people whose judgment you have verified and who — as a result — you trust. It is not good for randomly reading reviews because most of them are written by twitchy, bitchy and queeny internet consumers who complain about all the wrong things, like all the irrelevant, and miss the point. Some of the tobaccos rated highly by this site’s users are excellent, but others are simply quirky hipster fodder. Tread carefully, and consider using the various pipe forums out there: Puff, Pipes, Smokers Forum, and Tamp and Puff. The private reviews at this location have endured because they are frequently strikingly accurate. The main point is: find someone whose opinions you respect and tastes who align with yours, even if the exact opposite of yours, and you can figure out what you will like.

***

A word on lighting pipes: some prefer magnifying glasses and sun, others coals from the fire, still others matches and apparently, most like either butane lighters or Zippos. As a diehard match user, I can say that matches fail in the wind, and there is more wind that you might think, but that they seem to create the least influence on taste. Perhaps a laser is appropriate.

The pipe world is full of both facts and lore. Lore refers to anything passed on by groups of humans in social circumstances; the idea is that if it survives a dozen generations, it might be true. In the meantime, you will be wading through mountains of nonsense and worst of all, unnecessary complexity added by people who wish to seem profound or wise. Pipe-smoking is simple: you are lighting dried leaves in a tube and inhaling. The rest is mere adjustment.

The following resources may be helpful for those seeking to know more:

Here are some good places to go shopping for pipes and luxury tobacco:

Places to buy OTC tobacco, which online is sold in bulk:

Resources for those who wish to grow or blend their own tobacco:

Tobacco blenders and brands:

If you do not see your favorite blend, it is probably an imprint licensed to and manufactured by a larger group, or a boutique variety manufactured by one of the tobacco shops linked above.

For kicks, here is a list of famous pipe smokers. You can add me on there when I get famous, but be sure to mention I detest wimpy tobacco and think it should leave the hall.

Finally, the best metal for pipe smoking…

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Further thoughts on Obscura

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Many of us are fans of last.fm and other services which keep track of listening statistics. These allow me to link up various devices that I use and see what my actual listening patterns are instead of what I think they are. For example, if you asked me for a list of top death metal releases, I can easily name something like this list of the best in each genre. But that is an analytical opinion related to the art and music themselves, not a personal habit, which reflects more the day-to-day utility I find in different albums. Such is the split with Gorguts Obscura, an album I listened to extensively when it came out in accidental defiance of conventional wisdom, but then have not picked up since. Part of the reason is the unreasonably loud production, which makes it — like Sinister Hate and other albums of the “early ProTools era” — difficult to listen to alongside classic albums, and abrasively loud with lost texture of distortion. Another reason is that having heard it three times a day for five years, I may have simply absorbed it entirely. A third might be that while it is admirable as a piece of art, it may not be applicable to much of my life or thought process at this point.

I read Old Disgruntled Bastard‘s article “The postmodern Gorguts” with great interest not just because I enjoy ODB’s writing, but because he has cut into a vital topic: does Obscura belong to the old school death metal legions, or is it of a newer style that we call “modern metal”? Modern metal — comprised of nu-metal, metalcore, tech-death, post-metal and indie-rock — distinguishes itself from the old because it is composed like rock but with metal riffs mixed in among the jazz and prog affectations. The analysis of it as postmodern seems to make sense if one considers later postmodernism. Early postmodernism distrusted meta-narratives and so attempted to create its own based on the subtext, or invisible reality, as an alternative to the public text or consensual token-based narrative of our reality and civilization.

Later postmodernism simplified that to an idea of showing many different angles or perspectives of a topic, like a Pablo Picasso painting, which created a surface level of complexity of ingredients so intense that it reduced the organizing principle or internal complexity of the work to near nothingness. Compare Don Delillo’s White Noise to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (itself highly derivative of Pynchon, that highly derivative of Nabokov and Burroughs) for an example of this in literature.

The public school safe answer when asked about the origins of postmodernism is that it sprang up with Foucault, but someone who traces the history of ideas — and actually writes postmodern fiction — like myself may see the origins instead in an early writing by Fred “Mad Dog” Nietzsche entitled “On Truth and Lies in a Post-Moral Sense,” in which he points out the nihilism of language: tokens work only when people mean the same thing, but people project their own desires into the meaning through the imprecise device of memory, which means that narratives rapidly become deconstructed into manipulation and the only excuse is to discard the old values and definitions, and rebuild from common sense observation of reality.

There are, after all, very few ideas in history, and much as Plato was a watershed, Nietzsche defined the different perspectives in the modern time, but this analysis is too far-reaching to be made in public, least of all on the government dime. I remember talking with Audrey Ewell (Until the Light Takes Us) over this very split and finding myself dismissed as perhaps not knowing the background material, which is very un-postmodern as it affirms an official narrative in defiance of the introspection that leads to analysis of externality by structure and not appearance, a trait shared between Nietzsche and the Romantics that lives on in postmodernism albeit faintly, and only in the important works, excluding the forgettable Mitchell for example. Postmodernism appears in movies by David Lynch and Lars von Trier, specifically the death metal-friendly Melancholia, and even in the theories we tell ourselves about daily life. Discontent with The NarrativeTM abounds, but very few agree on what that narrative is or what is the truth that it conceals, which shows a difficulty of postmodernism: it deconstructs and points vaguely in a new direction, but never finalizes the task, which relegates it to the academic realm of sipping Merlot and watching the world build up tinder for the final carnage.

Having boiled out all of that context to postmodernism as idea, let us look at William Pilgrim’s excellent article. Death Metal Underground tries to provide multiple perspectives — in the postmodern sense — on any topic, but diverges from the postmodern narrative by affirming that reality itself is truth, and we can approximate that truth, so we must undertake the almost never undertaken second part of the process which is through reasoned debate to then find answers. People love the idea of multiple perspectives, because it means that since nothing is true, they can do whatever they want and that “feels” good to the forlorn or under-confident soul. They are less enthusiastic about boiling down the data found and constructing from it an assessment of truthfulness. The article contains two essential nodal points, the first of which is the definition of postmodernism:

…a school of thought that attempts to reject overarching structural meaning and belief in greater narratives. To the post-modern mind, existence and experience consist of pluralities, splintered into fiercely individualistic cells prone to subjective rule, and inimical to any attempt at establishing a universal system of knowledge. Under this philosophy, adherence to a common-law guidebook serving as a framework for value judgments would amount to giving tacit approval to an authoritarian scheme of things.

This sounds surprisingly like one of my favorite definitions, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy definition of “nihilism”:

Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated…By the late 20th century, “nihilism” had assumed two different castes. In one form, “nihilist” is used to characterize the postmodern person, a dehumanized conformist, alienated, indifferent, and baffled, directing psychological energy into hedonistic narcissism or into a deep ressentiment that often explodes in violence…In contrast to the efforts to overcome nihilism noted above is the uniquely postmodern response associated with the current antifoundationalists….French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard characterizes postmodernism as an “incredulity toward metanarratives,” those all-embracing foundations that we have relied on to make sense of the world. This extreme skepticism has undermined intellectual and moral hierarchies and made “truth” claims, transcendental or transcultural, problematic. Postmodern antifoundationalists, paradoxically grounded in relativism, dismiss knowledge as relational and “truth” as transitory, genuine only until something more palatable replaces it (reminiscent of William James’ notion of “cash value”). The critic Jacques Derrida, for example, asserts that one can never be sure that what one knows corresponds with what is.

Much of interest stands out here starting with caste. Alan Pratt seems to see the two interpretations of nihilism as reflecting degrees of abstraction. On one level, people say that life has no inherent meaning — that is the correct short form translation of what he says above — and translate that into dissipation; on the other, they see this as an opportunity to escape the dead definitions of a dying civilization and re-evaluate all that is known and how it is seen as important; in other words, to go back to Nietzsche and his Romantic-tinged apocalyptic renewal.

This also introduces the fundamental problem of modern philosophy, which it tries to handle through grammars of different fields of study, consisting of the coherence/correspondence split. A sentence can be completely grammatical and parse-able but contain no meaning because it imitates outward form but refers to nothing and resembles nothing found in reality. “A = x; if A > x, then the world ends” is entirely sensible as an expression, yet gives no information and relates to nothing. Like Nietzsche, most postmodern philosophers attack language, but unlike Nietzsche, they seek to find ways around language where Nietzsche’s point was the more flexible idea that language, logic and other forms of communication and truth-assessment are dependent on those who wield them, their intelligence, honest and intent; in other words, as he said, “There are no truths, only interpretations.”

This nihilism — which sounds a lot like postmodernism itself — distrusts not just a narrative, but the idea that there can be a narrative, or in other words one explanation of reality and how to deal with it that applies to all people. This translates to a distrust of the inherent or innate, such as the idea of “writing on the wall” or any other kind of definitive sign that communicates to all people. In other words, reality is out there, and all of our access to it comes through interpretations; these vary in value, and communication between them occurs through reality, so is subject to the same weakness. This means that there is no single symbolic or token communication which can be said to be innately true, and since the world itself issues forth no data in symbolic form, “truth” is a property of human minds and dependent on the quality, discipline and application of those minds, and is not shared among humanity collectively.

This applies less to the idea of a narrative within, say, a death metal album, that to the idea of a narrative describing our world and universal values to address it. However, individual interpretations can more closely approximate an understanding of reality, even if they cannot be communicated because communication depends on symbolic parity between all parties, which in turn depends on the ability to understand those symbols in roughly the same way. In ancient times, that viewpoint was called “esotericism” because it suggested that reality revealed its truths to those who were ready for them, with both a sense of knowledge being cumulative and not open to all people. A genius or highly talented person sees a different truth than others, thus this truth is localized to that person, and cannot be shared by the act of encoding it in symbols and speaking or writing them to others.

Taking this path through postmodern reveals that while postmodernism “flouts conventions”, as the article states, flouting conventions is not the total of postmodernism; it is one attribute, and it occurs not in and of itself but for the sake of undermining the narrative. This brings us to the core of Pilgrim’s analysis of Obscura:

In its abundant jagged outcroppings and in its constant search for the next unorthodox detour, Obscura shortchanges the simple truth that holds up metal and indeed all ‘essential’ music, that of relating an idea through sound.

I will simplify this in a grotesque but accurate way: tail wags dog. Instead of technique being used as a means of expressing an idea, the technique becomes the goal and the idea is filled in afterwards to unite the different technical parts. This common criticism of metal rings true in almost all disorganized works because the band wrote a bunch of riffs, adjusted rhythm like a big paper bag to fit them all together, and then called it a “song” despite having nothing in common between its parts, and thus no emergent atmosphere or communication which makes the whole more than the sum of the parts. This leaves us with the criticism of Obscura as failing to maintain a narrative, and whether this is related to the postmodern distrust of narratives, which itself could constitute a narrative. We could create a thesis of history describing humanity as a successive series of escapes from previously limiting narratives to new ones, but that then portrays postmodernism entirely as a form of deconstruction, which while compatible with the notion of extreme skepticism fails to capture the Nietzschean notion of “re-evaluation of all values” which is the second half of the postmodern process: (1) deconstruct and (2) reconstruct, from reality (correspondence) and not internal grammars (coherence).

The only remaining question is to analyze the music itself and see if its parts in fact associate in some way as to make a meaningful whole, which is the question here; postmodernism has served as a useful filter for introduction but not really a guide to how to do this. We are back to using the same compositional analysis that would apply to any death metal release, or any through-composed music.

Specifically, Pilgrim identifies the lack of a melodic or structural center:

Conventional melody is used not as the driving force behind the songs heard on this album, but as ballast to the band’s almost painful need to expand the template of extreme metal prevalent till then.

At this point my own narrative must switch to the incredibly general in lieu of analyzing each song. My take on this album is that Gorguts wrote an album in the style of The Erosion of Sanity and then, possibly through the work of Steve Hurdle, added strong melodic continuity. Then, they chopped it and re-arranged it so that riffs introduced themselves both in “backward” order of distilling from more texturally complex to most melodically clear, and arranged them so that the melody was introduced in a pattern which broke up its normal flow in order to introduce pieces in a sequence that created another emotional impression, then assembling it from its conclusion for the final part of the song. This seems to me both not the tail wags dog approach, but also a use of technique over composition, but in this case it was effective because the music was already composed and was modified with an additional layer of complexity and perhaps, some anticipatory contrarianism, in order to make its labyrinthine journey of fragmentary melodies into more of a puzzle assembled in the mind of the listener, not unlike how postmodern novels like Naked Lunch separated a story into vignettes and multiple character/setting groups in order to disguise it and force the reader to assemble it in the abstract, before repeating it in a finale in more concrete form.

However, it seems to me that the core of Pilgrim’s essay is his listing of seven attributes of metal, and that perhaps his intent is to use Gorguts and postmodernism as a point to speak about metal as both having postmodern attributes, and opposing postmodernism by asserting a narrative construction of its own. In this, metal may be a nihilistic exception to the norm of postmodernism, in that while it distrusts the contemporary narrative, and negates the idea of inherent truth/knowledge/communication, it asserts that it can portray reality in a fragment in such a way that others can appreciate it. Regarding the charges of amateurism, Pilgrim makes some solid points. The fixation on iconoclasm and paradigm-inversion, which itself strengthens a narrative by the fact that exceptions tend to prove the rule, and deliberately “whacky” permutations of arrangement draw skepticism, and deservedly so. The third possibility offered by this author is that like most works of art, parts of Obscura are sincere and insightful, and other parts are bullshit designed “outward in,” or from appearance to core, meaning that they communicate little or were modified to express something convenient after the fact. If taken as a whole however, the album minimizes these parts by fitting them within other songs that attract less trivial attention. Where Pilgrim seems proven right to me is through recent Gorguts output which emphasizes mysticism of the trivial as a means of enhancing the self-estimation of its listeners, much as Opeth and Meshuggah built a cottage industry around making simple music seem complex to attract low self-esteem fans who want bragging and pretense rights over their friends; where he falls short is that From Wisdom To Hate, while a more rushed and uneven album, further develops the techniques on Obscura.

 

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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 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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Interview with the fan who prefers to buy CDs

physical_cd_collectionIt’s no big news when someone who grew up two decades ago prefers to buy CDs. Back then, the shiny little discs represented a break from the cumbersome technology of the past and instead were a gateway to modernity.

Not so, now. People growing up in the last decade have emerged in a world where “buying music” increasingly means downloading a song from an iTunes or Amazon account. The idea of buying physical CDs is as odd to them as buying a player-piano scroll.

However, there are always those who don’t go with the flow. We found a user named Evisceratorium at large on the internet who is willing to tell us about the decision as a new listener to go back to buying physical music instead of digital.

I understand that you’ve grown up with the digital download generation, but have switched back to buying CDs. What were your reasons for doing this?

I decided that the overall experience of buying physical music was more interesting and fun than simply pulling up a downloading website and clicking a button. It simply started as an alternate way to own music, I guess — I didn’t consider one way of doing things to be superior to any other. If I was at the record store in the mall and I saw an album that I was interested in checking out, I’d buy the CD there instead of getting it off iTunes, if only for immediate gratification and convenience.

Do you think there’s a value in having a tangible product? Do you have your collection on display, or use it as conversation pieces?

I think there’s a lot of value in owning the tangible product, especially for musical formats. It’s not just a sign of devotion to me, it’s a token piece that I get to keep and look at whenever I’d like. I’ll admit that, contrary to most somewhat similar opinions I’ve heard, I don’t buy music to support artists I enjoy. If I enjoy them, that’s fine; but frankly I usually expect to receive some item in return for my money and support, rather than something intangible. I do have my collection on display — Discogs.org says I have 280 items on some format or another as of right now – and yes, I do enjoy talking about it to other people. I like going through other people’s collections and comparing their albums to my own, too, so I appreciate it when other people talk about their finds as well!

But to be entirely fair, I don’t have this same sort of attachment to physical formats of other media like movies or books. I don’t feel like people should be obligated to acquire every single thing they want in physical form, because even I don’t really do that for things that aren’t musical; but if you’re truly passionate about something, you should seriously consider having pieces of your passion there for you to touch and observe, because it really is a great feeling.

Do you know of any others who have made the same decision?

The same general principle, yes, but I don’t personally know anyone who mirrors my personal philosophy verbatim. Most illegally download most or all of their music, or they physically buy most of it but download when the item in question is rare or out-of-print. I’ve never done that: if an album I want is out-of-print then I wait for it to become available for sale, if it’s brutally expensive I save up and then get it, or if it’s not available I don’t acquire it period. It doesn’t mean I want it any less than anybody else, but I don’t see why I can’t wait to own it like everyone else did. I think a lot of the people who download work mostly off the concept of instant gratification, which I think hampers the excitement of music quite a bit.

Besides, anyone reading this is already utilising the giant resource that is the Internet, and with a bit of digging on the buyer’s end, I would argue that (excluding most demos from decades-old bands, I’ll admit that these tend to be unattainable) most “rare” or “out-of-print” albums are a lot easier to find than most people would like to think. Expensive? Well, of course, you’re trying to get a product that came out 15-20 years ago and has been spread throughout the world since, or a product that was limited to 50 or fewer copies and is only now being relinquished by one of the fans who originally acquired one. But if you want it, it’s definitely there. Even Bathory’s infamous “yellow goat” LPs are a couple of clicks away from being yours, according to Discogs. For nearly $1,000, yeah, but if you really want it that bad, it’s there. The whole “downloading old stuff is okay because it’s not there” comes off to me as a side effect of the Internet age: a combination of impatience and a retrospective sense of entitlement. In other words, the Internet is attempting to transcend the limits that were originally set by the record labels in question and I don’t appreciate that. But I’m starting to digress from the point. Basically, no, I don’t know anyone who embraces physical formats as adamantly as I have, though most of my friends buy physical copies of albums to some extent.

Other than the reasons for which you initially started buying physical copies of music, have you discovered any other advantages?

Quite a few, actually. Physical albums are much more likely than digital files to contain vital information about the album which one might be interested in. I’ve seen tons of posts on forums where people asked about the lyrics to certain songs and the answer was right there, plain as day, in the booklets of the albums in question. More subjectively, I think they’re a lot nicer to look at, the variety between stuff like digipaks, cassettes, box sets, and LPs is nice and gives each item a more unique identity, and for me they make me develop a closer relationship to the album than if it were only a bunch of files. (You can see this in terms of interpersonal relationships, too – proximity breeds intimacy amongst people, and I’d argue that the same can be said of people and objects.) They’re something to look at when I’m bored, admire as an aspect of myself when I feel upset, and as I mentioned earlier, they’re fun to talk about.

Another important thing is that I think buying physical items, or paying for music in general, forces people to be a bit more patient with their music, which is always good. I see so many people talking about hyper-downloading all thirteen of a band’s albums, at which point I assume those albums probably either fester on those people’s hard drives or get listened to once and subsequently forgotten. I’ll admit to having terrible self-restraint, so physical albums help me to limit myself and pay a bit more attention to everything. Put a wager of your own money into the game, and you’ll be much more likely to take things slower, appreciate nuances that you might miss on a cursory listen and be able to say more about what you listen to, instead of only being able to say “oh well duh I heard that album once, I think it’s good”. I haven’t heard that much music by quantity (there are still plenty of big-name bands where I either haven’t heard them, or I’ve only heard an album or two of theirs), but I feel like I could say a lot more about what I have heard than most other people could. Life is short, but not short enough to where you should feel the need to rush everything. Art should be given ample time and appreciation for it to sink in properly, lest we run the risk of bypassing things that we’d grow to love with a bit of patience.

This doesn’t really fit into any of the questions you’ve posed, but I’d like to briefly add that I don’t see anything wrong with people “taste-testing” music. I’ve checked out numerous bands and albums via YouTube and I don’t see anything wrong with doing so. And occasionally when I review albums I don’t own, I’ll download them, listen to them for reviewing purposes and then delete them. Free streaming and downloading are unquestionably useful tools. (Though they’re not always my preference…seriously, once you have around $20 or so, go to some underground black metal distro and buy five $4 cassettes by bands you’ve never heard, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds!) It’s when people start abusing these tools to acquire anything and everything at will that I’d say they’re starting to be abused beyond their original purposes. And yes, I’m aware that metalheads are not the most opulent subculture, but I refuse to believe that most people are so hard-pressed for money after the bare necessities of groceries, clothing, education and utilities that they are rendered completely financially unable to buy a $12 CD or a $4 cassette. This may be the naivete of youth speaking, but I get the feeling that most people who don’t have the money to waste on “inessential items” such as CDs are instead just using it on equally inessential things like food that isn’t rice, bread, or ramen noodles. When you boil down to it, music is just the same as any other luxury: you’re not entitled to it whatsoever.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background in metal, what sort of metal you like, and how you balance your metalness with a normal lifestyle?

I just turned 16 a month or so ago, so I guess most people would say I’m pretty young to be talking about something like this. I live in an area of the United States (read: Bible Belt) where metal music is essentially nonexistent, so that in combination with my status as a minor means I can’t really go to metal shows. I’d like to think I give back to the metal scene at least a bit, though: besides my insistence on buying albums, I post on forums a lot, and I have an account on the Metal Archives (as MutantClannfear) where I’ve posted about 130 reviews, mostly of brutal death metal or deathcore albums.

I got into metal via “the ’00s nu-metal kid’s way”. I hear lots of people talking about how they started with Iron Maiden and Metallica and trickled up through power metal and thrash up to extreme metal, but I took a much more direct route. I was aware of Metallica from earlier in my life, but my real impetus for getting into metal was Slipknot. I think I first heard them in 2008 via Guitar Hero III, and that game later led me to Rock Band. The downloadable content of Rock Band led me to Cannibal Corpse, Job for a Cowboy, Lamb of God, and Whitechapel in late 2009, and that was basically where my journey began.

I’d consider myself pretty well-rounded when it comes to metal, though my favourite genres are probably brutal death metal and the more airy, atmospheric sides of black metal. But my list of favourite bands would include stuff like Dark Angel and Black Sabbath, as well, and my favourite band of all time would be Lykathea Aflame. I never really shed my roots as I still listen to nu-metal and deathcore, and even find both styles growing on me a bit the more time passes. I don’t feel like I need to “balance” my metalness out with the rest of my life, per se. I’d consider myself more of a general music fan than a metalhead, and though metal is my favourite genre of the bunch, I feel like I enjoy a bit of everything (though my tastes have primarily been modern pop music lately). Outside of the shirts I wear, I don’t try to be ostentatious about my tastes in music unless people ask. And yes, I give non-metal genres the same attitude towards purchasing physical music: in fact, the last two CDs I bought were by Ellie Goulding and Ke$ha, oops.

Sorry if this rambles a bit, but I’m a bit tired and I feel like I had a lot to say. All in all, I think the physical side of music is a thing that goes greatly overlooked now that people can effectively bypass it, and I’m damn proud to see the metal scene in particular fighting to keep it alive for as long as it has. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this interview!

And there you have it. Start buying CDs, because it’s a great way to experience music. Or vinyl, if your tastes run to that. Thanks Evisceratorium for a great interview!

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Interview: Jon Konrath (writer)

What does it mean for you, to be a writer? Do you consider yourself in this position?

It’s a tough call – I mean, I put the profession of writer on my tax return, and that’s what I do for a living. But I think a lot of people expect a writer to be something different, some kind of Stephen King character, or a celebrity that publishes millions of books and appears on Charlie Rose and stuff. I’m far from that, because I really avoid the classes and readings and events – I’m not interested in the business of publishing or books, and I find most writers to be far too aggressive and egotistical. Most of my coworkers don’t even know that I write books. My parents don’t even know I write books. Writing in this day and age is considered strange, but I see it as a necessary evil.

What has been different about writing your second book than the writing of the first?

Summer Rain, my first book, was very linear. It was based on reality, and it followed an outline that I carefully managed. There were things that completely didn’t happen, but much of it could have occured during your typical summer on campus in 1992.

Rumored to Exist, on the other hand, is completely random. It’s the literary equivalent of Kentucky Fried Movie, a bunch of pieces put together to form feeling, terror and energy rather than emotion. It involves a lot more research, reading stuff to get ideas for bits and pieces. And a lot more stuff comes to me spontaneously, and ends up on scraps of paper and backs of envelopes before it is developed further. It’s not about character development and fleshing out a huge outline like Summer Rain. It’s a lot more the way I like to write, and it’s closer to my voice. But it’s much harder to do. The two are very different.

Both of your books have been print-on-demand, and you’ve been doing web-based writing for over a decade. Do you use these technologies to avoid conventional publishers, or do they have other advantages?

iUniverse and print-on-demand happened at the perfect time, just as I finished a draft of Summer Rain and really wanted to print a few hundred copies for fans and maybe to sell online. I looked at printing companies that could do 500 or 1000 books for several thousand dollars, and didn’t have any way to put that much into a book. And I was certain publishers weren’t going to even answer my mail if I sent them a thousand-page coming-of-age tale set in Indiana. Then I found iUniverse, and within six months, had this first novel sitting on my shelf and sitting on Amazon and other stores ready for purchase.

PoD is really analogous to the web’s model of letting anyone publish. When I first did zines online, I was able to avoid dealing with jerkoffs at Hit Parader or Metal Edge and write my own reviews for anyone to see. Later, I wrote fiction, and did a literary zine called Air in the Paragraph Line without dealing with any of the pretentious people that usually run small literary journals. Print-on-demand let me take the same style of writing and move it to paper without dealing with the logistical problems of storing a bunch of paper copies, going to the post office every day, cashing rubber checks for $3, and so on.

With Rumored, the decision for iUniverse was a tough one, because I really wanted to find a publisher. But I know a lot of former publishers here in New York that are begging for spare change, and nobody’s doing anything adventurous now that the entire economy is collapsing. And I didn’t want to deal with a bunch of agents or publishers that would look down their nose at a book that advocated sex with sheep and spends page after page talking about the Satanic anti-Christian holocaust or whatever. Also, I just wanted it DONE, and in paper. So it’s out now, and I’m sure it will sell less copies, but it’s out and I didn’t have to deal with anybody to print it.

Do you do any graphical or layout design besides what’s on the book? if so, which do you think will be more important as a stressed aspect of any new design, during the next two decades: perspective, color contrast, impact fonts or religious icons?

I do a limited amount of web page work, and I do some layout stuff for my day job, but it’s not my specialty. I’ve also been experimenting with some fake porn stuff lately, putting people’s heads on naked people’s bodies – I think this is one of the most underrated art forms out there.

I think perspective has the most subliminal impact on any layout, at least the ratio of everything in the layout. The golden ratio has always been a strange constant in nature and in classic art, and it’s amazing that you can still see it in most modern movies. I had an old roommate doing a thesis on the films of Stanley Kubrick and the use of the golden number in how he framed his shots and arranged some stuff during editing. I thought it was total bullshit, and then he brought me to The Shining in a big-screen movie theatre, and every fucking shot was perfectly framed that way. I did a lot of reading about film a few years back and I realized that every aspect of film editing has to do with this – make a plane come into a shot one way and it’s beautiful, but the other way is threatening. I think the way people are drawn to a web page, to a subway ad – it’s the biggest aspect of anything.

Color contrast – that’s a fad. In a few years, it will be something else. My mom used to be an interior decorator, and used to go to these big conventions and they would basically say “this will be the next color”. One year, she came home and told us that small appliances and electronics would be coming out in pastel colors, and I thought she was smoking crack. Next Christmas, every store was selling pink jamboxes and baby blue telephones. Much later, we had the iMac and all of the clear plastic, clear color stuff. Who knows what will be next.

It’s weird that you say religious icons, because I don’t see them in ads much, but then think of what icons have replaced religious ones in our culture: Coca-Cola, Microsoft, AOL, Britney Spears, MTV. You see Pepsi billboards more than you’d see large crosses in towns a hundred years ago. The Nike swoosh is probably more recognizable than the crucifix. And there are billboards with just that swoosh. Not a picture of the shoe, not a description of how much it costs or what its value is over other shoes. Just the fucking swoosh, and maybe a slogan that sounds more like a self-help mantra. I’ve never created any layout that has to do with that, but seeing as I spend a lot of time on the subway, I see it constantly.

When you describe the writing of Summer Rain, is this close to the William S Burroughs cutup technique, or that of oral literature? How similar do you suppose this process is to the means by which death metal bands compose technical masterpieces by collecting riffs and shaping them recombinantly into narrative?

It’s funny you should mention that, because I’ve been talking to Ray Miller (creator of Metal Curse zine and the death metal band Adversary) about how he should start writing a book. He worked for years in an indie record store, and every shift there was some strange, weird story. It could be like that book High Fidelity, but much more underground or strange. And in talking to him about how to get started, I mentioned the analogy of a death metal band creating an album. Instead of starting at page one and telling the story, sometimes it’s helpful to write these “riffs” and collect them, and later put them in place, like how you’d write songs. Rumored to Exist happened very much like that. So did Summer Rain, but it’s much less apparent because it’s a linear story. Rumored prospered from this lack of concentration on my part. It also made things much more difficult to edit.

And from what I’ve heard, that’s how Burroughs got Naked Lunch together, as opposed to the Kerouac straight-narrative, typing on rolls of paper approach, which would drive me nuts.

Do you find that being a writer makes you more prone to socialize, or more paranoid?

I wouldn’t say I’m paranoid, but I’m not a social diva, either. I’ve generally kept to myself, partially because I spend a lot of my time chained to the computer, but also because there aren’t many social outlets for writers that aren’t swimming with writers that have severe ego problems. I don’t like classes or workshops because I usually end up getting in fistfights with diva writers who think they are the next Michael Crichton or something. That said, New York is a decent place to be as a writer, especially if you work the corporate office environment. I know a lot of people who are aspiring actors, or long-time musicians, or occasional standup comedians, or wannabe screenwriters, or part-time directors, or something. So there can sometimes be some support from these people, so that’s cool. But most of the time, I socialize and don’t talk about the book, because I don’t want to be like those Amway people, always trying to push their product on everyone.

When you sit down to write, do you have an outline in front of you or in your head? how much of your work is improvisational? how many times do you edit and, what intoxicants are required to begin the editing process?

It depends on the book, of course. My first one, Summer Rain, was very outlined and regimented – I had to plan out with a calendar what would happen and I vaguely followed what really happened to me that year. But Rumored was more like playing with legos, because of the nonlinear format. At first, I simply wrote bits and pieces that gelled into segments. Later, I had a lot of trouble balancing this out – some things were a line long, others were the size of a short story. So I had to do a certain amount of planning on paper to balance things, move things around, and give the whole thing a feeling of continuity.

Most of Rumored was born from ideas I’d get anywhere – while in the shower, while reading a book, a web page, watching a movie. I wrote ideas, phrases, bits of dialog on scraps of paper, notepads, spiral notebooks, and in a slush file in emacs. Bits and pieces got moved around, and improv had a large amount to do with how to place those ideas and actually turn them into readable pieces of text. My best writing was when an idea came to mind and had enough inertia to pull out a very energetic piece without much thought. When I had a good night, it was much more like channeling than actual writing.

Of course, this left a very fucked up and uneven manuscript that required a lot of editing. And edits actually rewrote the entire book several times over. There were seven major versions of the book, with each one comprising of sometimes more than a dozen paper edits. Even with this, I know there are still mistakes in there. But the other problem with a book like this is that it’s hard to say when it’s done. I can’t just say, “the good guy beat the bad guy and got the princess, so I guess it’s done.” It took a lot of work just to put the fucking thing down and concede that it wouldn’t get any better.

As far as substances, the drug for this trip was caffiene, with some ephedrine thrown in for good measure. Anything else would slow me down or change the tone. I still don’t see how Bukowski or Hemingway or whoever could load up on booze and write. And I’m not into any other drugs. I even quit caffeiene during the final editing of the book, and it made the work in the last stretch twice as hard.

Who are your favorite postmodern writers?

I’ve always thought the phrase “postmodern” was too vague and gimmicky in categorizing writers, kindof like how “open standard” in the computer world doesn’t really describe anything. But I guess Mark Leyner would be at the top of the heap, and Raymond Federman. I’ve read a lot of Burroughs, although I like the story of his life more than I like his actual work. Naked Lunch is a landmark book, but I’d rather read interviews with WSB where he’s rambling on about Mayans and Yage and Control and everything else. His theories are incredible, and I wish I could live a life a percent as interesting as his.

Do you believe that postmodernism – the concept of linear rationality being dead and supplanted with the world of subconscious imagery – in literature has place, or is merely a deviation soon to be forgotten by history?

I think it has more of a place than people realize, now that everyone’s using the web, and that’s the biggest mess of nonlinear shit out there. It’s only a matter of time before people write good nonlinear books of pieces of imagery cataloged by link instead of linear pages, and people will be able to parse it perfectly. I don’t think that the human mind thinks in a straghtforward way, and it’s just a limitation of technology that presents literature in a straightforward way. If they ever start injecting works of art into peoples’ brains like a drug, the linear story will be the one that is forgotten by history.

Some people claim to remember stories and ideas visually, like William Gibson’s concept of cyberspace, but others describe a non- linear structural memory. Is this because events, actions, objects have internal mechanisms that describe their function in a unified external reality, or because of our tendency to associate ideas with other ideas for the purposes of contexting?

The original concept of Rumored to Exist was that each section would be a part of a person’s brain or memory, and at that time, I did a lot of reading and research on human memory to see if this was true or if I was just making it up. And human memory isn’t linear, it is organized chronologically or in neat pieces like an MP3 library or something. It’s easy to see when you look at stroke victims, and how they selectively remember things, but because other organic parts of their brain were destroyed, other parts are gone. So after a stroke, you might not remember how to speak, or butter a piece of bread, or operate a microwave oven. And it’s sometimes possible for these people to re-learn these skills using free memory in other parts of the brain. That makes me think the mind is more like a hard drive with a bunch of loose inodes and a file allocation table, and the importance or relevance of different things determines how well that information is kept. That’s why you can’t remember the songs a band played at a show, but you remember the way the beer tasted.

To answer your question, I think this is a feature and limitation of our organic brain. I think the way we group disparate parts and pieces of our external reality into events and stories and nightmares and memories is how the software works for this hardware.

But it was a particularly unlucky star for the Italian painters of genius in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that, in the narrow sphere to which they were arbitrarily referred for the choice of subjects, they had to resort to miserable wretches of every kind. For the New Testament, as regards its historical part, is almost more unfavourable to painting than is the Old, and the subsequent history of martyrs and doctors of the Church is a very unfortunate subject. Yet we have to distinguish very carefully between those pictures whose subject is the historical or mythological one of Judaism and Christianity, and those in which the real, i.e., the ethical, spirit of Christianity is revealed for perception by the presentation of persons full of this spirit. These presentations are in fact the highest and most admirable achievements of the art of painting, and only the greatest masters of this art succeeded in producing them, in particular Raphael and Correggio, the latter especially in his earlier pictures. Paintings of this kind are really not to be numbered among the historical, for often they do not depict any event or action, but are mere groups of saints with the Saviour himself, often still as a child with his mother, angels, and so on. In their countenances, especially in their eyes, we see the expression, the reflection, of the most perfect knowledge, that knowledge namely which is not directed to particular things, but which has fully grasped the Ideas, and hence the whole inner nature of the world and of life. This knowledge in them, reacting on the will, does not, like that other knowledge, furnish motives for the will, but on the contrary has become a quieter of all willing. From this has resulted perfect resignation, which is the innermost spirit of Christianity as of Indian wisdom, the giving up of all willing, turning back, abolition of the will and with it of the whole inner being of this world, and hence salvation. Therefore, those eternally praiseworthy masters of art expressed the highest wisdom perceptibly in their works. Here is the summit of all art that has followed the will in its adequate objectivity, namely in the Ideas, through all the grades, from the lowest where it is affected, and its nature is unfolded, by causes, then where it is similarly affected by stimuli, and finally by motives. And now art ends by presenting the free self-abolition of the will through the one great quieter that dawns on it from the most perfect keowledge of its own nature.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation

If there is an afterlife, what do you think it would be?

I don’t think there is an afterlife, so I try not to speculate about it. I think the afterlife is the carrot on a stick that leads the religious to do really stupid things and waste their lives. People should stop thinking they are one of the chosen few that will go on to a better place and actually do something with their lives that will make this world a better place.

Are you following the growing penetration of drugs into American society? From where do you think this originates? What is the significance of drugs – altered perception – in the time after perception was considered inherently faulty?

Let me hijack this question and answer it in a different order. First, drugs are omnipresent in American society because any highly industrialized nation doesn’t utilize its population efficiently. Back in the old days, people spent all of their cycles hunting game, planting gardens, making quilts, raising babies, building log cabins, and tending fires because they had to, to survive. There wasn’t much leisure time, and it was used by religion. There was little free will – you either hauled water from the well a mile away, or you died. Humanity doesn’t always have things easy now, but it’s not hard to get an easy job at McDonalds or a factory, pay your rent, never break a sweat, and have 128 of your 168 hours a week free to your own devices.

Now some people use that time in a cool way. They go to school, they create cool web pages, they climb mountains, they work on their car. But many people don’t know what to do with their time. They feel a need to belong, this tribal instinct. They watch sports, they drink beer, they become xenophobic, they develop ulcers, they try to keep up with the Jonses. Most of the ailments of the late 20th century have to do with people who have too much free time on their hands, from corporate corruption to gangs to religion. This isn’t a new theory; even though he is legally considered criminally insane, this is the logic the Unabomber was laying down.

Okay, so you have this straight man’s culture, where you’re expected to buy into the white picket fence thing, and have kids, and buy a sports utility vehicle and play golf. And more and more people think this is a crock of shit. And they get high. They find out that controlled substances make them forget about this void in life. And it might even make then enter a new subculture with other stoners, where these rules don’t exist.

I’m not a drug user, except for the occasional beer with friends, so I don’t know if I really buy either side of it. I’m not the kind of person to hang onto either extreme and consider it right, so I’d rather sit in the middle, or not even participate. I write about drugs a lot, though, because this culture interests me. It’s something that hasn’t been touched in a creative way, something to be explored.

I thought Naked Lunch was pretty creative, but the reams of drug fiction following were mostly social irresponsibility pornography. If you were going to write with drugs as your topic, what might you create?

I think the best way to write about drugs would be to have them an integral part of the story, but not be in the forefront. Drugs are just a chemical; any real story is about humanity, and any compelling story about drugs would have to describe the human condition in a compelling way. Drugs are usually used in a plotline as an evil, or an excuse. Like, a guy robs a bank because he’s on drugs. Occasionally, someone writes about drugs as a catalyst, a conduit to action, like in most crime films where mobsters have a shitload of cocaine and that temporarly reverses things so they are on the heavy side of the law, and there’s no way the cops could win. Think about movies like The French Connection, where these guys with a fuckload of heroin were above the law. That’s about as far as most books and movies really go with it.

I think Hunter S. Thompson did some great work beyond Burroughs in this area, but I also think if he wasn’t taking a drug store full of junk when he was in Las Vegas, he would have written a book just as entertaining as Fear and Loathing. But it’s a book about excesses, and the writing and the search for humanity is what makes it for me.

Do you see writing in this time period as democratic, or elitist?

It’s probably more elitist. Most writing in this country is actually the production of “media” by “media figures” who are pop stars known for their name instead of their craft. It’s nice that technologies like Print on Demand and the Internet are making it easier for anyone with skill to create art, but I don’t see much of a community surrounding this. I’m hoping we’re at a crossroads where the truly intelligent will realize that writing for fame and fortune is futile, and it’s better to write for yourself and put it out there, even if only a dozen people see it on the web or in a zine or whatever. And then those intelligent will congeal and find each others’ work and form an unstoppable movement of real work, rather than the imitation writing that marketers present to us in book stores.

This seems to be the same problem faced by aging death metal bands however. At some point, having a day job to write books or death metal music reviews all night becomes tedious, and one wishes to be supported by the primary labor of life, writing. How does this fit into ideological niche marketing as you describe?

It doesn’t fit, and that’s the catch. You can’t support yourself selling twelve copies of your work a year. And there are other forms of support, like grants or communes, or scholarships, or universities, but they all dilute you into something else just as much as a day job. Like, I went to an art museum once, and there was an exhibit that was a bunch of hay and horse shit on a floor, and a bunch of Macintosh computers showing bitmapped animated pictures of Planet of the Apes. Was that art? I’m not sure. But the grant application that paid for all of that hay and shit was probably incredible art. And if you want to do that all day, and you are good at it, that’s great. But it probably means you aren’t producing art like you originally wanted.

When did you first decide to be a writer? If a role model, what qualified that person as insurmountable by their world?

I’ve always been able to write to a certain extent, but I got more involved with computers as a kid, and during school, so I always thought that was my destiny. I thought I had a book in me, but I was more concerned with learning how to hack and program. I eventually hit a wall in my formal CS training, around the time I also got dumped by this girl I was dating. I was going through a serious “what should I do with my life” phase, and didn’t entirely know what I wanted to do. I’d been working on a few Death Metal zines and I enjoyed the journalism and writing, but didn’t know if I could become a “serious” writer.

So the writers that got me started were guys who were not pretentious, and made it look easy. I liked the spoken word of Henry Rollins, and it got me into writing in a journal every day, and observing things around me. Charles Bukowski made me look at autobiographical fiction and consider it easy. So did Henry Miller, but Bukowski’s work had a certain sense of truth to it, and showed me that it wasn’t what you were writing about as much as how you wrote it. That got me started on short stories, and eventually Summer Rain.

Should writers stay celibate?

Not really, or at least not by choice. Granted, it’s hard to write on a daily basis and maintain any kind of relationship. I can’t write as well when I take off Friday and Saturday to spend time with a girlfriend or cruise around looking for one. Those are the days I write most, so my stretches of not getting any also tend to be when my writing volume increases. But interacting with people is – well, it’s not essential to writing, but it helps.

This seems to me why ancient religions and cultures recommended a studied celibacy for men. It seems that one workaround to this would be a more anti-social culture, where fewer people attempt the emotional interdependency that works well to glue society together like plywood, in which a relationship offered briefer, more passionate encounters with a significant other living in a close but separate location.

Do you see there being any humor in that being hard makes it hard to write?

There are a lot of strange catch-22s in our society like this. For example, most people that teach acting are not good actors, because if they were, they’d be getting parts, not teaching. If you’re teaching any practical field, like business, you can’t be working in that field, unless you are doing a half-ass, part-time consulting job or whatever. Very few people can pull it off, but many don’t, so it makes you wonder how the hell people figure this stuff out.

Writing is the same because writing involves translation of the human element into word. And to be a specialist in the human experience, you’re going to date people and be married, and go to parties, and have a family, and travel all over, and do all of this stuff. But if you did all of this, you wouldn’t be able to write! And I always wonder if my writing would be better or worse if I was hidden away at my ranch in Colorado all year around, where the nearest living person is ten miles away. I also wonder what would happen if I simply went full-tilt wife-hunting and gave up everything to get married and settle down. I wonder if I did that if I would ever write again.

On the other hand, it’s no coincidence that when I’m not in a relationship and I want to be in one, I tend to write more vividly about the situation. Summer Rain was started after a horrible breakup back in college, one that probably wasn’t that horrible at all, but I just couldn’t kick it. That kind of pain gives you motivation to do more, so I can ultimately appreciate the cruel irony of the whole thing.

How do you feel about Christian presence in American politics?

It’s sickening. There’s supposed to be a freedom of religion, and a freedom FROM religion, but look at any piece of American money and tell me that this is nothing except a joke. Christians funnel serious money into American politics, and this won’t change. I wish someone would get in the primaries to have some visibility, and then just get up during a speech and say “If you believe in God, go FUCK yourself.” Until then, we have politicians pandering to these idiots. It’s scary stuff

Do you think psychology as a science is unduly influenced by Judeo-Christian values?

It depends on the brand of psychology. When a lot of people go to a shrink after they get dumped or someone dies or whatever, they usually get this fast-track band-aid treatment that involves spilling out your problems and reassuring you that it will be better, but not actually offering any “reprogramming” or heavy understanding of what possible psycho-somatic issues could be causing your problems. That dovetails nicely with the christian belief that if you have problems, you just pray to Jesus and it will all be better. Both are simply a distraction, and that works for a lot of people, but I’m the kind of guy who wants to know what the hell is really going on. I mean, as a kid, every toy I was given was taken apart as soon as I learned where to dig up a phillips screwdriver. So when I was in high school, college, and I wanted to go to a shrink and really pull apart my head and find what was defective and either comment it out or replace it with a new subroutine, I was always running into these shake-and-bake therapists that just wanted me to tell them what was wrong in sixteen one-hour sessions, maybe give me some pills, and it was better. And it wasn’t!

There’s a smaller, but more focused area of psychology that focuses on finding the basis of problems, realizing that your actions and reactions shape the way you see the world and eventually how well you work with it. This is called NLP, and it’s more analogous to debugging a computer program than praying to Jesus, which is why it’s interested me. It’s also more expensive, harder to find, and takes a much longer time to work through, which is why I’m currently not working on it.

What do you think in the same context as Christian political presence about Muslims? About Jews?

There’s less of a Jewish presence in politics, although you see it here in New York. If anything, it’s refreshing to go from Indiana, which is 107% fundamentalist Christian, to New York City, where there are enough Jews that a fundie probably couldn’t run for office without some flak. I don’t even know much about the Muslim influence, and I’m not up on the Middle East, so I’ll leave it at that.

According to the doctrines of Buddhism, the world came into being as the result of some inexplicable disturbance in the heavenly calm of Nirvana, that blessed state obtained by expiation, which had endured so long a time – the change taking place by a kind of fatality. This explanation must be understood as having at bottom some moral bearing; although it is illustrated by an exactly parallel theory in the domain of physical science, which places the origin of the sun in a primitive streak of mist, formed one knows not how. Subsequently, by a series of moral errors, the world became gradually worse and worse – true of the physical orders as well – until it assumed the dismal aspect it wears today. Excellent! The Greeks looked upon the world and the gods as the work of an inscrutable necessity. A passable explanation: we may be content with it until we can get a better. Again, Ormuzd and Ahriman are rival powers, continually at war. This is not bad. But that a God like Jehovah should have created this world of misery and woe, out of sheer caprice, and because he enjoyed doing it, and should then have clapped his hands in praise of his own work, and declared everything to be very good – this will not do at all! In its explanation of the origin of the world, Judaism is inferior to any other form of religious doctrine professed by a civilized nation; and it is quite in keeping with this that it is the only one which presents no trace whatever of any belief in the immortality of the soul.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Sufferings of the World

It seems to me the only difference between fundamentalist Christians and Jews is that Judaism is a materialistic religion with a racial xenophobia, while Christianity is a pseudo-idealist religion with a xenophobia of abstract orthodoxy. In many ways, that last phrase could describe what happened to European intellectualism, with a few bright exceptions, after Christianity arrived. What are your thoughts on these provocations?

I don’t know. To me, I see the main difference is that Christianity has sought to grow by being a very inclusionary religon. That means if you aren’t Christian, you can always be saved and sign on the dotted line and give us money and all will be well. That’s why if you sat in a bus station in Indianapolis on the average Tuesday, someone is going to try to convert you to Christianity about every twenty minutes. And that’s why Christianity is such a basic, dumbed- down religion, with very little orthodoxy. There aren’t a lot of rules to learn or classes to take (unless you’re Catholic) and you can even get an illustrated kiddie bible to read if the King James is too tough for you. Everyone’s invited, and that’s why their numbers grow.

On the other hand, I see Judaism as a very exclusionary religion. Jewish singles are taught to date only partners who are also Jewish. It’s very hard to convert to Judaism. It’s all protected by a very complicated and orthodox system of language, rules, calendar, holiday, diet, and everything else. But that means it’s kept pure.

I think both methods are inherently wrong, though. Any religion stresses that its members are the chosen one, and that other people are pieces of shit. Otherwise, religion would be universal, and individual churches wouldn’t have a way to make money anymore.

Which would you kick out of bed more quickly, Janet Reno or Keanu Reeves?

I think if you had an amateur porn of yourself fucking Janet Reno, it would be pretty much the ultimate party conversation item. And you know I’d go for the ass, as a little Waco retribution.

Speaking of Waco, what is the function of government?

Good question. I’m far more socialist than liberitarian in that I think the government should provide the functions that a free market economy can’t or won’t provide. In the old model, that’s stuff like roads and healthcare, retirement and men on the moon. There’s also protection and enforcement, from jails to armies. You could argue that any of these things could be done better by private companies, but corporations might not want to do them if there’s no bottom line for them. If a company is paid a billion dollars to build a one billion dollar university, they don’t have any motivation to do it, unless the company is a Christian-run shell corporation that wants to ram religion down the students’ throats, or unless Microsoft wants to build the school and brainwash the kids into using their crap. That’s why in theory a government would get involved – to make sure the alterior motives are decided by the people instead of some marketers.

In my perfect world, peoples’ greed and stupidity wouldn’t come in the way of advancement of society, and government projects like space exploration, computing, scientific research, and healthcare would actually be progressing instead of just being a sick joke. The problem is that people are too greedy, and want to know what’s in it for them. We haven’t found the cure to cancer because the top research scientists are figuring out how to make Sports Utility Vehicles even bigger, because that’s where the money is.

Does this imply that all governmental systems share common functions of both socialist and capitalist behavior? Would it be possible play with words and call socialism “social behavior” governmental theory, and call capitalism simply “competitive behavior” theory? One is implicit centralization; the other abstract. In this view, it might be possible that capitalism is closer to the anti-democratic social ideals I have interpreted from some of your statements above. If competitive rather than capitalism were seen as an American value, how do you think our social outlook might change? Would there be a blurring between the “public fiction” and “private truth” of various economic, social, governmental enterprises?

Socialist socieites also work for a collective goal by the nature of social behavior, but libertarian societies expand social behavior to include as a basic value an indifference to collectivism. Is this true in your view?

It’s true, and I think it’s an inherent flaw of most libertarian systems. For one, I think collectivism is a basic human instinct – one that can be unlearned and avoided – but it’s normal, and something the sheep out there understand. Also, I don’t think everyone can be the center of their universe; I mean, I can’t cook well, I can’t run a nuclear reactor, I don’t want to be the one to clean my septic tank, and I have to rely on doctors, lawyers, grocers, farmers, and many others to survive. A system of collectivism is supposed to provide a method to have those people help each other, while benefitting the most from it. I’m not saying our current system works, but only so many people can vanish from society and hide out in Idaho with their guns and dogs before things fall apart.

Do you believe in conspiracies?

Hell yeah. But I find the myth of conspiracies far more interesting than the conspiracies themselves. I’m writing about them a lot in Rumored, in a very playful and mocking sort of way. I don’t necessarily believe in aliens or whatever, but the Area 51 shit is great. Every society has its own myths and mytholgies, and centuries from now, people are going to be studying the X-Files like we now study Thor and Zeus.

I do seriously believe in a lot of government conspiracy. I seriously think the CIA has its hands in many evil plans, and I know billions of tax dollars go toward creating craft like Aurora, the next-generation hypersonic spy plane. I think a lot of the UFO sightings out there are probably Lockheed test craft operating at night. I know if I would’ve seen a stealth fighter in 1977, I would’ve thought the Martians were coming, too.

Jon Konrath on Death Metal

I know you’ve been a big metal and death metal listener for years. What are you hearing these days?

I actually listen to more stuff in the “prog-metal” genre these days, like Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Queensryche, Joe Satriani, etc. When I put on an “old” CD, it’s more likely going to be an old-old band like Saxon, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, SOD, or Anthrax. When I do have some 90s-era Death going, it’s usually Dismember, Macabre, Carcass, or Entombed.

Pick five of the most important metal bands in history and give a brief rundown on each one and why it necessarily fits into the history of metal music.

Metallica – Kill Em All: Although the band later became butt-pirates, this album was practically an anthem to millions of metalheads, and acted like a gateway drug for virtually everyone that went out and started a band or got involved with heavier metal.


Motorhead – No Remorse: With their wide appeal and universal mythology, Motorhead became almost a meta-band that everyone respected as the loudest, rawest, and coolest. It’s hard to pick just one of their albums, so I chose their ubiquitous double-album compilation, filled with a little bit of everything from their early career.

 

Queensryche – Operation : Mindcrime: This obscure group of Seattle prog-rockers put their mark on the world with what’s possibly the best concept album ever.

 

 

Entombed – Left Hand Path: This immaculate work filled with unprecedented heaviness but yet an incredible depth and complexity was the high water mark for the early 1990s Swedish Death Metal genre, and in my opinion, was never topped.

 

Slayer – Reign in Blood: Although their earlier work was just as impressive, this album defined how fast metal would be played for years, and also got Slayer kicked off of Sony.

 

Do you consume any mainstream media?

I meet a lot of people in New York who either think they are bohemian or think they are upper-class and say “Oh, I don’t have a TV” or “I don’t watch movies” or whatever. In general, I find that these people are more fake and uninteresting than the people I know who spend their Saturday on the couch with a beer watching NASCAR. I’ve found that a lot of people that purposely don’t watch TV are still living a fantasyland existance, even without the sitcoms and John Hughes films. They’re still told what to do, and they still obey. It’s not a coincidence they all go to the Hamptons or all pierce their eyebrow or all dye their hair the same way. It doesn’t make them any better than me.

I admit, I do watch TV and I do go to movies and I buy DVDs and play video games. I don’t have cable TV, and I have pretty much given up on newspapers and magazines, although I might flip through whatever’s in the doctor’s waiting room. I enjoy it, but I don’t let it run my life. I think there’s a difference between watching TV and believing in it. If you believe in TV, the ads will lower your self esteem, and make you think you’re a loser because you can’t own a new Oldsmobile or land a chick like one in a Revlon ad or beer commercial. And when your esteem is low, you’re hit with the food ads – 50 grams of cheese fat stuffed in a pizza crust, a bunch of sugar and desserts, and high-fat snack chips that will make everyone happy. It’s no wonder America is obese these days. But I don’t think you need to buy into this to enjoy TV, and I think there are movies that are good entertainment, and just that. It’s just important to remember not to compromise your own life because what you see on TV is neat.

How controlled do you believe the US media to be?

Everyone should read Ben Bagdikian or the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) stuff, or at least listen to Jello Biafra rant about it. Pretty much everything we read or hear is controlled by a couple of huge corporations. And many smaller outlets for news and information become available, like the internet, but as the big companies get bigger, it seems like less and less people get involved with underground sources. And most people don’t believe stuff on the internet, because it’s diluted by so much shit. I mean, there are some great web sites out there with conspiracy theories, investigative reporting, and stuff like Slashdot, tech news, but there’s so much spam and make.money.fast and urban legends, that it’s hard to believe anything you read anymore. But to answer the question, yes the US media is controlled. And being controlled by big money is worse than being controlled by the government, like it was in old Communist countries. Because you can overthrow a government or vote out a leader, but you have no recourse against GE or Newscorp. You could stop buying their stuff or watching their shows, but that won’t hurt them much – many more sheep will continue to keep them in business.

But here steps in Satan, the eternal rebel, the first free-thinker and emancipator of worlds. He makes man ashamed of his bestial ignorance and obedience; he emancipates him, stamps upon his brow the seal of liberty and humanity, in urging him to disobey and eat of the fruit of knowledge.

– Mikhail A. Bakunin

It seems to me that evolution is a nihilistic thing, meaning it has no morals or concerns for outcomes. Thus when a society is built that values competitiveness at the expense of social logic, and you get the most fascist possible outcomes disguised as the most empowering, convenient, financially beneficial to the individual. Is this a virus humanity will shake? Is there any way out of the big money media control mess?

I think the real question to ask is, “will this virus kill itself?” Enron and WorldCom both died; this week I heard QWEST said they “accidentally” underreported a bajillion dollars of profits, and Ziff- Davis might file Chapter 11 this week. It’s not good news to our economy that these companies are falling, but it’s a demonstration that even the biggest corporations will eventually fail.

Do you think civilization often hides ugly truths behind social behavior?

I’m not sure what you’re getting at – does civilization hide truths with behavior? I think so, but it also has the ability to modify society so that the lies become the truth. That’s part of religion – a while ago, half of the kids born wouldn’t live to see their first birthday. So the churches told people to fuck like bunnies, so they’d have more customers. Now, almost all kids survive, so the world is overcrowded. And we certainly look away from problems and are drawn to others, but that’s more of a problem with capitalism. Everybody talks about school vouchers and keeping porn off the Internet this election, but nobody really gives a fuck about their kids. They never talk to them and treat them like animals. It’s all very silly.

My question might be phrased thus: does civilization have a public justification for a hidden agenda, although not necessarily an articulated and conspiratorial one, which disguises some “private” and/or unpleasant truths?

Just a stab in the dark on this: the human is the only animal that has an inherent double-standard to its nature. I mean, dogs shit on the ground, they fuck each other whenever the need arises, they dig through garbage, and they don’t think twice. But humans are more sophisticated, so there’s this whole obvious-but-secret life to everyone. Everyone has sex (well, I haven’t lately, but that’s another topic) but there is a strong taboo about sex. The same with bodily functions and death and sin and a bunch of other things. Now, I’m not saying we should all run around naked and shit in the streets. But what I am saying is maybe the human mind has this unconscious desire to have these double standards, these things that keep everything running that nobody talks about. Because if you live in an ultra-rich environment, you don’t clean your toilets. You don’t even talk about them; you pay someone else to do it. That sets up this strange double-standard, and that breeds similar things in business and politics, in the guise that it makes us “more sophisticated.”

What do you think makes us greedy, evolutionary mechanism out of control or social conditioning? Or is it possible that the former would naturally check itself eventually, but the later “justifies” it somehow to our symbolic and rational mind?

There’s a lot of social conditioning in our world that we don’t even see. There may be a primal base of darwinism, but the virus of advertizing and marketing tells us we are not complete unless we own a car with leather seats and 7-speaker CD sound system, and it puts off a huge spiral of related stuff. I also think when you don’t get the big things, you overindulge in the small. So when you see that TV commercial of a happy family and you are alone, and then the next commercial comes on and it’s for the new Pizza Hut Pizza with ten pounds of heart-clogging cheese per slice, you pick up the phone and order the pizza and eat the whole fucking thing. There’s this combination of greed and a desire for more mixed with a despiration to fill your life with something, and it’s injected into you pretty much from birth.

It is one of my theories that Christianity isolates the individual by forcing the individual into moral self-comparison with the holy deity, “God.” This causes people to think strictly in terms of their own prospects, and to lose sense of social hierarchy and collective goals. Where do you see this as converging with your own beliefs?

I would agree, although I don’t know if I would call it self- comparison as much as fear of failure. God is like a parent figure, more than a parent because he’s all-knowing, and people don’t want to disappoint their parent, especially if they will get an ass-beating over it. The strange thing is, in a theoretical sense, that would mean people would do unto others, create communities, and help the needy. But I think when you have the Christianity mixed with the unchecked greed, you get this horrible mutation of Christianity that most people in the USA preach, the kind where they think everyone is going to hell but them, but they are also really shitty to others.

Sometimes it seems as if humanity has justified this expansion using warmed-over Renaissance feeling coupled with a Christian ethos of dominating nature (which is “evil”). Do you think there’s any truth to this?

Oh, sure. Corporate branding is a billion-dollar industry, and they grab onto any emotion then can find. The Christian thing is a popular one, but throw in the “it’s for the children” and “it will make people like you”, and you’ve got a good start.

Most American kids feel neglected in the areas that are most intangible, such as time spent, value in the family unit, and that ephemeral “love,” for the third or fourth generation now. Is this a product of industrial society? Did people once treat their kids with more care, and have a collective interest in childrearing as near the top of their hierarchy of demands from a civilization?

It’s tough to say, especially now that single-parent families have been a regular way of life for over 30 years now. I think our industrial society makes it harder for parents to spend time with their children, but I also think people want immediate results, so they aren’t willing to invest time in childrearing. I mean, everyone *thinks* they do, but so many parents rush their kids into Ritalin or other drugs, and they also think they can buy parenting. I grew up in a somewhat affluent suburb where good parenting meant buying your kids the right clothes and buying them a car in high school. It’s much more than a material thing, and not many people realize that. But, I do know some people that are very good with their kids and they still work long hours at shitty jobs but are able to make it work, so not all hope is lost.

Do supermodels shit?

If they do eat at all, I’m certain they just puke it back up, but maybe some of them are addicted to laxatives. The whole thing scares me – I work in Manhattan and I’m amazed at the overabundance of phenomenally skinny women. I mean, everyone I see is six feet tall and 110 pounds, and I know that going to the gym for 5 hours a day doesn’t do that. Either they are coke fiends, or completely anorexic, or both. I’m not too into that, so it freaks me out more than anything else.

Why does death metal seem politically relevant to the end of the 20th century, to you?

Okay, so you’ve got mainstream music, however you define that. And if you’re not a sheep, and you feel a need to be different, you follow another path. In the past, that might have been punk rock, or hardcore rap, or metal, or electronic music. Well, in the interest of marketing, all of these things have been crossbred and watered down and turned into viable commercial product. So depending on what part of the country you live in, mainstream music is now either “alternative” punk music, or “R&B” rap music, or “Electronica” disco- type dance music.

So the true underground is Death Metal. And every effort to market this has failed, because if you remove the gore and the raw power and the Satanism, you’re left with something remarkably stupid that won’t market to the average record-buying sheep, and won’t have enough balls to interest metalheads. Because Sony and BMG can’t sell it or get MTV to play it, they ignore it, and the essential culture of Death Metal survives. It survives because of tape traders (and now MP3 traders) and small distros selling 20 copies of a CD and zines and fans. It means that only selling 1000 copies of an album is considered wildly successful, but it also means that album is going to be evil and aggressive and memorable and pure energy. It means that bands get to dictate what goes on an album, and gets to write songs that are sick or intelligent or protestful or Satanic or whatever. In a sense, it is a far more pure element of democracy, because it isn’t subverted by money. And it’s a form of socialism, at least in the sense that the community keeps itself afloat. You can’t just go to the average Musicland and buy good Death Metal; it’s your job to seek out this stuff by getting on the web or reading zines or talking to others.

But aside from my rambling, the importance of this politically is that the Death Metal community isn’t supported by a government, and it isn’t run by a corporation. And it doesn’t have a massively widespread impact on society, but it’s an interesting pocket of culture that sustains itself. And those things interest me, because if I could find them outside of music – if I could find a community similar to this that would feed me or clothe me or shelter me in exchange for the work I put in, it would be an interesting political experiment.

If you could say one thing to Jesus Christ, what would that be?

I’d probably tell him I was sorry for what his followers did with his message. I don’t believe in God – I’m an Atheist – but I do believe that a man named Jesus Christ walked the earth 2000 years ago, and I believe his followers wrote a book and started a church. I’m guessing the water-to-wine, rose-from-the-dead-on-the-third-day stuff is probably metaphorical, but I do think he was a charismatic man who had some ideas and told them to many people. And in the most basic of senses, Christianity has some good tenets – don’t fuck with people, don’t lie, be honest, do unto others, and so on. I’m probably far more Christian in that sense than most so-called religious people out there. But unfortunately, all of this was distorted over time, and turned into a profitable business, and a powerful tool of government. And I’m sure that if big J walked the Earth today, he’d be pretty pissed at how his vision was warped into what it is today. I’d also ask him his opinion of The Last Temptation of Christ, since I think it’s a pretty cool film.

When Christianity came into being, the craving for suicide was immense—and Christianity turned it into a lever of its power. It allowed only two kinds of suicide, dressed them up with the highest dignity and the highest hopes, and forbade all others in a terrifying manner. Only martyrdom and the ascetic’s slow destruction of his body were permitted.

What is now decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons.

– F.W. Nietzsche, The Gay Science

I’m certain of the possibility of UFOs, and the probability of their existence, but I fear the “UFO community” because of its continual anonymity, broad claims and paucity of consistent evidence except for the generalized existence of flying metallic objects on planet earth. To me, it seems that any government is going to hide most of its budget to work on secret evil shit to do to other people, in case one’s role suddenly becomes being the recipient of the “unto you.” What sort of stuff do you think’s brewing now? Do you give any credence to conspiracy theories about AIDS or the West Nile virus, or do you think these are simply a consequence of commercial exploitation of deep forest areas (thus bringing previously undiscovered satanic microbes to the public eye)?

I predict that the threats will all be real things, but the reactions by the government is fucked up. Take the West Nile virus here in New York City. It’s a real virus, mosquitos are a real problem, but most of the people that would die from it are old and half-dead anyway. So the best reaction would have been a good public awareness campaign about mosquitos, along with patrols that cleaned out cesspools and whatnot.

Instead, Guiliani sprayed this incredibly evil chemical all over the place. They were not supposed to spray it on food, but videos came out later with them spraying it right on open fruit stands, and I’d bet anything that the food was sold later to unsuspecting people.

A lot of bad shit could happen in the near future, and it’s not a conspiracy theory. Think about Gulf War syndrome, smallpox, or e coli – that Fast Food Nation book told unspeakable horrors about how understaffed and inconsequential the USDA is about meat inspections, and now there’s a beef recall going on in Colorado as we speak. And remember last fall when everyone and their brother was finding Anthrax in the US mails? None of these are conspiracies like saying that the CIA invented AIDS. (Although I think the CIA made crack cocaine popular,) but the government’s piss-poor reaction to these problems are veiled in mystery.

If your options were an eternal existence for human populations or total destruction of earth, including all humans, which would you pick?

I’m going to read a bit too much into this to support an answer. I think, given the rate of human growth, that it would not be possible for an eternal existence on our one small planet, at least given our current technological infrastructure. Many people (Greenpeace et al) think that in order to sidestep this, we need to avoid using the Earth as a natural resource, or at least avoid destroying it. But a minority of people think that the solution is to create a larger infrastructure – hydrogen cars, solar power, fusion power, synthetic nutrients instead of laborious farming and inefficient slaughterhouses. And people themselves have problems that prevent an eternal lifespan – medicine can only do so much, and you’d need genetic engineering orders of magnitude better, to essentially slow or stop aging and repair genetic disorders. And eventually, you’d run out of room – you’d need to move to other planets, other moons, spacestations to support the population. And you’d need to slow down the growth of population, too.

This all sounds great to me, but I think population has lost faith in the idea of space exploration. Even with people living full-time in the ISS, there’s no public interest in taking the next step. A few people on the internet, like the Artemis project, and people who have been reading Kim Stanley Robinson for too long (like me) want to see someone win the X-Prize and put private space travel on the map, but too many people are more interested in the new Britney Spears video. There are also too many serious issues, mostly related to obsolete tenets of religion, that prevent any scientific progress on ideas like cloning, stem cell treatment, genetics, population control, longevity enhancement, or anything else. Of course, as Bill Hicks pointed out and as I found while reading a Gideon’s Bible in a Las Vegas hotel room a few weeks ago (I’m not a fan of the work, except as an interesting fictional treatise, and sometimes to throw back at people to prove a point) but in the bible, Adam and Eve were supposed to live forever. They were supposed to never produce. They were supposed to live a utopian paradise and they fucked it all up. Now, this is just a fairy tale, but I see nothing wrong with pursuing this in the future, in creating our own garden of eden.

Could one construe all of civilization except for its pure pragmatics as a death realization avoidance cult?

It’s more than a death realization avoidance cult; you need to add to that all of the building empire people do, like having kids and buying crap they don’t need in order to have the most, even after they die.

Jon Konrath
www.rumored.com

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 7-23-10

Being a music reviewer is like playing a neighborhood game of softball. Most people just toss the ball at you in an underhand heave, figuring you’re probably too incompetent to hit it most of the time. Every now and then one comes in at a crazy angle, either because it’s the one kid who can pitch even if he’s tossing you a giant rubber ball with the aerodynamics of a bison turd, or they let the retarded kids play. Either way, that crazy pitch is one in a hundred, and I live for those. Either it’s the rare CD that has some intent behind it, and some feeling to it as a result, or it’s some immaculately oblivious basement dweller here to amuse us with failure. The rest fail just by being ordinary, unexceptional and therefore, completely forgettable.

Kayo Dot – Coyote: This King Crimson tribute project likes to use diminished melodies, atonality, and chaotic combinations of instruments, but at its heart it is pop music with a simple variation on a common theme — instead of using pairs of riffs, the band assemble their phrases in groups of three so that you can shift between them and feel a sense of motion without unnecessarily complexity intervening. Many songs rely on long passages of “building up” harmonic energy through texture, which are like fun jams that then dissolve into structured song again. Songs vary enough to keep interest but are aesthetically unfulfilling as they aim for an aesthetic of randomness and barely remaining organized, which flattens the emotional dynamic possible because every moment is a cliffhanger. In addition, the vocals are like a really bad version of Sigur Ros and will annoy most people who like aesthetically coherent experiences. The most common mistake in making progressive music is to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the pot and hope it sticks, but the best bands always worked from a very simple plan and then spun layers of detail off of that. The horns dominate and guitars are relegated to rhythm and noise. Individual instrumental performances are excellent however so if you are a basement guitarist hit this like a cuffed protester.

Aggression – Forgotten Skeleton: If you crossed Nuclear Assault with Dissection, and gave it punkish choruses borrowed from Cryptic Slaughter, you’d get Aggression. Lots of classic speed metal riffing that will delight anyone who really loves the period after Metallica but before the Dark Angel/Kreator/Destruction/Sodom influenced morphed into death metal, and linear riffing that’s reminiscent of Powermad. On the whole, it’s somewhat random like Destruction and the chanted choruses over the offbeat kickhappy drums sometimes makes me want to make origami out of an IQ test, but this is a credible effort. I just don’t want to hear it again.

Daughters – Daughters: If you crossed Mindless Self Indulgence and Talking Heads with the Beastie Boys, you might get this whacky indie band that uses drums like an industrial band and keeps a theatrical, almost vaudeville level of hysterical intensity with lots of background noise. The vocalist half-talks half-sings and the guitars follow a song structure of extended versions textured in found sounds and different guitar riffs but essentially like all good dub following the same rhythm. Unfortunately, it’s also abrasively annoying because it is essentially simple with many distracting sounds packed into its core. “Daughters” has a spacious sonic profile and weaves some catchy riffs cloaked in noise throughout it, delighting those who thought post-rock should be weirder than slowed-down shoegaze/emo mashups.

Battalion – Winter Campaign: I keep a clay pigeon launcher next to my reviewing station, and when a disc irritates me beyond all reason, I send it flying out over an oblivious world. This is bounce metal, this Battlion stuff, which means it’s like Exhorder crossed with something jaunty and stupidly hard rock like Motley Crue. Although they use a lot of death metal riffs, the majority of playing time goes to riffs which are straight out of the most cliche days of speed metal: chuggachugga chuggachugga chug chuggachugga chuggachugga chug, chug . It is so obvious you have to hold your head up to avoid slumping into a stupor. Not sleep — who can sleep with all of this noise? — but a stupor as if you had someone present to you a 19-hour lecture on how to pick your nose. Mundane is the word. Throw this out as fast as you can find it.

Grave Miasma – Exalted Emanation: There’s a recent spate of these “simplified Incantation/Demoncy” bands. The only one I like so far is Cruciamentum; they vary just enough to be a solid B level death metal band. Teitanblood and Grave Miasma are so obvious it’s just painful to listen. Grave Miasma in particular seems to draw inspiration from Grave, who would use basic chromatic progressions in the most obvious way in rhythmically very basic ways, such that the boldness of it made you want to like it, as with early Napalm Death. But then you’d reflect on it and realize there wasn’t much there unless you really enjoyed the guitar tone. So it is with Grave Miasma: standard song forms, plodding progressions, little harmonic or melodic development, and not particularly compelling rhythm — unlike Demoncy and Incantation, who used minimalism creatively, this is just minimal. I’d like to love this, or I’d love to like it, but I don’t want to listen to it again.

Zs – New Slaves: Tribal drumbeats with metallic noises for harmony, deconstructed sound and effects, and a wailing saxophone make up this experimental band that uses the dub structure of layered sound. The beat established early in a song almost never changes, although it may cease at strategic moments, as in a primal ritual; within the spaces between beats, additional percussion instruments lend their timbre as an electric guitar and/or saxophone make repetitive oddball sounds with minor textural variations, giving the sensation of the album slowly surrounding you like chocolate icing. While most will not have the stomach for the abrasive wall-of-noise technique, the ritual rhythms and ceremonial pacing to each song make it an enigmatic sonic wallpaper for the background, reminiscent of the K.K. Null/Merzbow project “Absolute Null Punkt” if hybridized with The Electric Company.

Diamondsnake – Diamondsnake: This band cracks me up. Well-known ambient dude Moby created it with some of his friends from non-succeeding metal bands. It sounds like middle period Motley Crue done by pop punk brats Blink 182, with lots of extra cheese and sleaze, more with tongue-in-cheek irony than attempting to really provoke a parent or legal guardian. For hard rock listeners, this album is about as clear as anything else in the genre, and has some retro appeal with its very “Quiet Riot 1985 turned up to 11” sensibility. One oddity is that the production is so thin and designed to resemble a pop band, because the reedy hum of guitars cannot compete with today’s louder and thicker sound. However, it captures vocals, which with infectious four-note melodies are what really drive this band, since the riffs are if not generic at least cut from historical archetypes. Like most popular music, it’s children’s songs — really basic 3-4 note patterns repeated as “melodies” — but it’s catchy, fun, and not half as bad as most of the trve kvlt releases we get here.

Catapult the Smoke – Unearthed: Stoner metal is about half Black Sabbath, with the other half being filled by the rock heritage that comes into metal through bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly. This CD contains competent stoner metal with unsteady wailing for vocals, but its essence is rock ‘n’ roll wrapped up in a bunch of metal riffs. In fact, it could well be a case of regression to the mean; this band is not substantially musically different from the Night Ranger clones of the 1980s, but they used lower tuning and have a greater vocabulary of metal riffs, namely Candlemass and Cathedral. Song structures are very much radio rock and these songs suffer greatly because there’s no emotional dynamism in them, where we feel a sudden change in difficult emotions that has the effect of stepping onto a three-story water slide and riding out of control. Instead, these songs claim a space and fill it, but there’s not much internal change or feeling of any emotional conflict, so they end up being more like leaving a fan on at night for comforting white noise.

Vuohivasara – The Sigil: Sounds a lot like Niden Div 187, namely fast melodic violence with lots of chromatic fills and a basic riff/chorus construction. Not bad, not as good as Mythos.

Trauma – Daimonion: Metalcore-influenced modern death metal, reminds me of a cross between Pestilence and Eisenvater, but it does the thing every bad metal band does which is repeat a basic rhythm through everything. Vocals/guitars synch and chant. Riffs are very similar too.

Master – Slaves to Society: Paul Speckmann is a genius of metal who sometimes leaves things half-finished as he does with this album. Riffs are similar, and guitar wankery fills in the gaps. In addition, his chorus-chant heavy metal just makes for repetition. There are some awesome moments but it’s not Master’s best.

Beherit – Unholy Blessings: Compilation of demos. The early demos sound like the first album, the second album demos sound like the second album played hastily, and the live set is chaotic and brilliant but not really something you need recorded. Blasphemy cover is a nice touch. I love this band but don’t see the point to this bootleg.

Skeletonbreath – Eagle’s Nest, Devil’s Cave: I like this because it reminds me of what Carbonized attempted to do on their second and third albums, which is leave rock music and jazz behind by giving songs a pattern of development more like that of a movie soundtrack. Using drums, adroit bass, and a violin, Skeletonbreath create carnival-esque longer songs that resemble soundtracks for the greatest movies you’ve never seen. These songs have clear theme and develop through a series of melodies that comment on one another, creating a real sense of atmosphere and through change, emotion. One of the more interesting CDs I’ve heard recently and musically, head and shoulders above the rest.

Xasthur – Demo 2005: Xasthur is easy to like, at first listen, because it’s actually musical in the formation of its riffs and use of vocals. The problem with Xasthur is that songs don’t go anywhere; this is the same problem every “Burzum-influenced” band has, which is that it’s much harder to string together riffs into an atmosphere than maintain it with one riff and a few breaks. This demo represents the furthest evolution of Xasthur in that songs vary between several moods, like how in your average house, you end up in one of three rooms most of the time. It’s very pretty but doesn’t stand up to repeated listenings.

Wiht – Wiht: First track sounds like a cross between Capricornus and Celtic Folk; it’s very bouncy and very intense on repetition with layers of simple technique on it. Sounds a lot like early Abigor mixed with Samain and early Hades. Not bad, but needs more direction.

The Austerity Program – Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn: Melodic punk music interrupted by extended periods of bass/drums while some dude sings a faux Jim Morrison/David Bowie melodic ramble which is not so much directed as responding to itself. The chaotic result is really abrasive for the most part but has its moments of beauty. I’d like to like this CD but it forgets about the listener and has made a theoretical object instead. Most people will as a result find it annoying.

Antediluvian – Under Wing of Asael: This is like a death metal version of war metal. Take some of those two-chord rhythm riffs that Blasphemy made big, add a musically unrelated fill, and make it a song… then repeat. It’s not bad, it’s not great, it’s on the low side of good but too repetitive to listen to again.

Pyramids with Nadja – Pyramids with Nadja: Often when reviewing failed black metal projects, my thought is that the musicians involved are simply in the wrong genre. Our personalities determine our ideologies, and from that what we find good and what we find bad, and if those don’t match up with the genre, we’re out of place. Nadja the shoegaze emo black metal band is insipid crap; here, however, with personnel from Pyramids as well, the Nadja people are in their element and a great album results. This most reminds me of Mick Harris’ Lull fused with post-Godflesh project Final, if supervised by My Bloody Valentine, because it is layers of organic sound like distorted guitar usually not even playing notes so much as skimming strings and using vibrato directly; they use bass as percussion much like Final does, and layer their distorted waves like My Bloody Valentine, but the sense of songs arising out of silence through chaos into pleasing drones is pure lull. Piano serves here as a guiding voice that brings the surging noise back onto something resembling a melody; voices can be heard, like a Greek chorus in distant space represented by reverb, filtering through. The result is pure texture like noise music, but it’s a texture that takes harmonically related notes and builds from them a fullness that is gentle and intricate enough to hold the attention. This is where these musicians belong; burn your Nadja CDs, because they are nothing in comparison to this.

Aosoth – Ashes of Angels: This is very similar to Anael, in that they use a couple of additional power chord shapes to fake a sonic tapestry. Dissonant chord, consonant chord. Always a binary, like a nu-metal band: here is soft and sensitive, and now it collides with rough and tumble. This technique is as old as 1987, which is when I first heard it and these chord voicings used by emo bands. This release doesn’t understand the spirit of old school death metal, or how it’s composed, and the result is a boring, lukewarm, soulless and repetitive listen.

Cleric – Regressions: Metalcore mixes hardcore, emo and metal into music with the compositional style, pacing and chord shapes of hardcore, but often throws in metal riffs, textures and vocals. The result is like a bag of kittens, each one scrambling to be nearer to the top, and the result is pure chaos. Cleric throw in some droning guitar feedback that’s quite pretty, some odd pauses and lots of prolonged open chord strumming, but musically this is no different from 100,000 other bands since 1987.

Apostasy – Sunset of the End: This album inherits the worst of speed metal, which is lots of strumming in the background while drums race to keep up and some dude “white guy raps” over the top. They’re good at their instruments, and know that intersection of riffing between Artillery and Destruction that is so fertile, but it doesn’t hold together. My head hurts.

Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta II Dialogue with the Stars: When an album like this comes out, Mossad should be dispatched to the homes of the perpetrators to find the “Black Metal Paint by Numbers” kit they used to make this. Even the worst band made by 15-year-olds is preferable because in its randomness, it is not predictable. This is entirely linear and pulls every trick to sound black metally. There is no direction; it’s a school assignment, “write a black metal album.” And it takes forever to end.

Angel Eyes – Midwestern: Alternating between droning higher-end sound that resembles a siren Doppler test through a smoky sky, and a very basic hybrid between sludge metal (Eyehategod) and stoner doom (Sleep), Angel Eyes create a post-rock opus that almost escapes its roots in indie, emo and modern hardcore. Songs unfold like a rambling house with rooms of different sizes built onto one another in a gradual process of accretion. There’s a room for spacy electronics and heavily reverbed guitar throbbing across a mostly empty sonic platform, and there’s a room for metalcore riffing with about 50% more indie rock taming it from incoherent raging into sensible sound. There’s even the room — shows up frequently, like a storage room linking two wings — for a lack of distortion while simple sweeps echo radiant through the ears. Much of this material succumbs to the linearity of non-linearity, where it both tries to be out there and because it needs to be listenable, shapes its deviance around a very simple core. However, many songs develop in interesting and poetic ways. The weak spot in this band are the predictable elements it inherited: the metalcore riffs are predictable and don’t add much to the song, and the vocals are really pointless. Dropping those would let these guys do what they’re good at, which is designing sound like a playground, with interesting nooks and slides and tunnels and bridges to explore even though you know you’ll end up back at the sandbox eventually. If you want an example of post-rock you can believe in, this would be it.

Cenotaph – Saga Belica: Bands commit suicide after albums like this. The interesting facet is that it’s a cross between later speed metal, like Destruction, with symphonic metal like Emperor or Therion. That means lots of Testament-style riffing that bounces around a chord while vocals rage all over the place, then the verse/chorus slurry runs straight into a pause and keyboard fill, then accompanying guitar/keyboard melodic run. It’s as ludicrous as it sounds, and this album is as directionless as you might imagine. Sad as this was a once-epic band.

Harvey Milk – A small turn of human kindness: This music is really obvious. It’s really stylized, but really obvious. I don’t think anything else matters. If you fall for this, you like listening to first-turn-off-the-main-road variations on metal riffs from the 1970s which, because they’re in a dramatic format full of lots of high school drama student Pauses, are assumed to constitute songs. But songs don’t happen here. Loops of riffs do, and then there’s a bunch of noise and something that sounds like a Walrus on PCP howling, and then the song “peaks” by being super-chaotic then smooths out into normalcy, which is the usual boredom. If you were fooled by Boris and Opeth, you might like this, but otherwise it’s just a treacle of boredom tugging at your heels.

Cerebral Effusion – Impulsive Psychopathic Acts: This is straight off-the-shelf deathgrind of the Y2K+ variety. Breakdowns, pauses, lots of long battery runs with blastbeats. Not incompetently composed but the style is so painfully blockheaded that it’s hard to want to hear.

Dark Half – Reborn: Standard punk music played with metal flavoring, namely a minor key and some metally riffs. For the sense of tempo alone this band should be shot over an open pit, but the completely shrinkwrapped standard black metal riffs dumb this down even further. For bonus points, it’s half speed metal so you get the same hackneyed fifteenth-rate ripoff riffs that have been around for thirty years. Songs go nowhere, but you guessed that by now. If this band were an individual, it would be on the police blotter for stealing empty safes. People waste their lives trying to make themselves like crap like this.

Desexult – Demo II: For your convenience, we have compiled all of the blockhead riffs from the first month’s practice of every metal band ever created. It’s like Hellhammer, but without the insightful incompetence; it’s just sort of part of the ride. I can’t imagine why anyone would keep this around.

Disaffected – Vast: Painfully predictable technical speed metal/death metal. Obviously, these guys listened to a ton of Testimony of the Ancients, but never got their act together to find a style or direction. Lots of speed metal riffs and “wait for it” off-time paused-based riffing, like Pantera on a Dream Theater kick. Plenty of shredding but little going on. Save yourselves before it’s too late.

Disgorge – Consume the Forsaken: Standard totally incomprehensible deathgrind of the Y2K+ variety. Breakdowns, chug-a-lot, blast beats, gurgling vocals and very similar riffs. In fact, this band seems to specialize in the non-riff, or the linear chord progression played with different rhythmic emphasis. It’s a real brain drill, this CD, as you try to remember what you were thinking before the incessant chug-gurgle-blast invaded your mind. What was I saying?

Eradication – The Great Cleaning: Much as I stand behind the idea of killing off the stupid, this band missed at least one, which is this album. Predictable melodic black metal with dramatic pauses and blasts. The result is insipid because it recycles the past without a direction, so you feel surrounded in make-work interpretations of other, better bands.

Ereshkigal – Ten Years of Blasphemy: God is safe from these blasphemers. Really, really safe. This really lukewarm black metal merges the truding mid-paced sound with the goofy, placeless keyboards that Master’s Hammer could use to effect but Ereshkigal manage to use like some bizarre punctuation that intrudes wherever, somewhere, a retard shits himself. It’s not even interesting enough to be random. How did they not fall asleep when writing, or recording this stuff? Oh well just send it to the pressing plant, someone will like it. Anyone… anyone…?

Execration – Syndicate of Lethargy: Guys, you didn’t forget anything. You didn’t leave anything out. This brutal blasting death metal incorporates melody, Gorguts-style odd timings and melodic fills, and New York style harmonics and stop/start riffing. The problem is that it’s disorganized, so you get a ton of unrelated crap that has to streamline into the linear to complete itself. And then it’s boring.

Exmortem – Nihilistic Contentment: For a metal band, it’s easy to confuse “frenetic” with “has content.” This very busy — “chaotic” — thrashing madness has constant clanging bass, battering drums and whirring guitars. What it doesn’t have is any particularly unique or insightful view of the world, or an aesthetic experience that rewards consciousness with an expanded view of life. Instead, it’s like cramming your head into a tiny box and then beating on the sides with your tiny impotent fists.

Fatalist – The Depths of Inhumanity: Oh fucking awesome, it’s just like the early 1990s when the Swedish death metal gods ruled the world. Except that somewhere along the way, Fatalist lost its soul. They’ve aped the sound of the guitars, and play derivative riffs at the same pace, but the songwriting is a mess. Sure, all these riffs are in the same key, but they don’t relate to each other that well and aren’t that interesting. To compensate the guy doing the vocals rants in a really predictable cadence. The result is mind-numbing and lacks all of the interesting song structures, melodies and atmosphere of the original Swedish death metal, or any music more competent than jingles in commercials for cleaning products. If you wanted to know what it’s like to be a retarded child, listen to this extensively.

An Albatross – The An Albatross Family Album: This CD tries to capture the experience of taking bong hits while you flip through a random selection of cable TV channels, with a metal CD going in the background and something really intense on your mind. They patch their songs together from metal, punk and indie riffs broken up with sound samples, keyboards, and radically sonically different interludes and transitions that resemble the intensely emotional conclusions of nature channel documentaries. Much of this music plays with being on the edge of deliberately super-annoying, and so will fail the “do I want to listen to this again?” test, but as an exploration of pushing the limits of style, it raises some interesting issues that someone else could develop in a more coherent and expressive way.

Faust – From Glory to Infinity: Very linear music, embellished with technical metal frills, but this cannot disguise the basic blockhead approach and lack of aesthetic opening that defines this music. Reminiscent of a faster and harder version of later Rotting Christ, this is melodic metal trapped in the middle of absolutely predictable overractive rhythms. It’s a mishmash of speed metal, Meshuggah, and death metal riffing that ends up just wearing you down with its insistence. This band really needs to just step back and figure out what they’re expressing. This is a highly competent mess.

Faustcoven – The Halo of Burning Wings: This is hiking music, meaning that it keeps building on a single two-step throbbing rhythm and hopes you follow along. I’m sure there are tasty granola bars, and maybe topless female hikers at the next rest stop, but this is boring as hell. Trudge, chant sing-song verse, then chorus and dick around with some riffs before you end the song. I’m trapped in that two-dimensional mirror thing they used to store bad guys in the Superman movies. LET ME OUT

Child Abuse – Cut and Run: The postmodern music of the late 1990s onward has confused cause and effect. When music is unique, the cause is a unique view of life and a burning desire to express it (put it into symbols and sound). When music is not unique, you cannot make it unique by dressing it up in everything “different” without making a mess that’s both chaotic and annoying. Child Abuse sounds like what would happen if a nu-metal band decided to make grindcore with math-metal and metalcore influences. Lots of odd noises, weirdly bent guitar riffs, and then standard grind/punk riffing while vocals shriek and feedback imitates the stall warnings of a 747. This really is not a path to success.

Faustrecht – Demoniak: Now that every metal band has an intro, let’s be sure to include one. Make it especially wandering and pointless. Then speaking of wandering and pointless, let’s put together high-speed Venom-style riffs and Donald Duck quack over the top. Even better, let’s keep it as verse/chorus as possible. Minimalism is like being closer to Satan. Then a really catchy chorus, but don’t make it too distinctive, or it might offend our advertisers (lobotomy wound care products, no doubt). So it ends up insipid, but that’s convenient, because so is the rest of this disaster of an album. I’m sending it to the Large Hadron Collider people because “Demoniak” is so bad it will make time itself slow down. Hope you’re not feeling your mortality while you waste irreplaceable seconds on this turd.

Fear Factory – Mechanize: Staying true to the title, I think they outsourced this album to a Perl script. It does that annoying white boy rap thing for the verses, and then choruses are the dude howling three syllables over and over again. It’s like the worst parts of Godflesh and NIN, but they added VNV Nation style techno touches. But we’ll be DIFFERENT and throw in some singing to make you know hey, it’s not like the other brick-stupid obvious stuff out there; there’s SINGING! Did we mention the SINGING? Still it’s so driving yet invariant and depthless that it’s good for nothing more than driving your parents, if you’re deaf and so immune to this wreck. I think they clearly designed this for people new to music who don’t mind really obvious and prosaic music so long as they get the message. And with this degree of high volume repetition, there’s no way to miss it.

Fractal Gates – Altered States of Consciousness: This sounds a lot like early Nuclear Assault to me, but with death metal vocals and uptempo. Good melodic hooks, riffs are obvious but not out of place, and there are some pleasant melodic diversions. Very Gothic in its use of melody, like a short bus version of Gehenna or later Rotting Christ. I wouldn’t call it profound, and as a result, wouldn’t listen to it again, but it’s far more “together” than most of the shit in this review pile.

Funeral Moth – Funeral Moth: The good thing about a gimmick is that you don’t have to work on the content of what you do. Let the gimmick sell it. You’re a Japanese doom metal band; what else do you need? Never mind that Winter, Thergothon and Skepticism all did the very slow riffs thing better and they did it by developing those riffs. Just get totally linear. No one is going to be listening anyway, because they’re too busy talking about how you’re a JAPANESE DOOM METAL BAND. Exotic, dude. Pass the PBR, and continue half-listening to this insipid hipster nightmare.

Gammacide – Victims of Science: You wanted some chaotic speed metal? Good, because this is pure chaos. Fast riffs flow into faster riffs and then they get into the staple of 1980s speed metal, the trudging riff that’s basically a lot of fast strumming of a recursive but rather slow progression. Chanty vocals with jaunty rhythms are par for the course too. But there’s a reason this band never really took on the world. This stuff has personality, but you wouldn’t say it really nails it, or expresses anything interesting about life. It’s there and it’s metal.

Gorgoroth – Quantos Possunt Ad Satanitatem Trahunt: Droning misery. Constant drumming. Harsh background screams with predictable rhythms. If this is Satan’s music, I’m getting a Bible. Interestingly, other than the fast strumming, this music is identical to the mediocre crap that came out of the late speed metal era, including the riffs that are based on Slayer patterns but, to distinguish them, random notes get tossed in. When you think it can’t get any worse, they do a “dramatic” pause and then start up, or throw in melodic black metal riffs that are about as new as erosion. If you are busy doing something really difficult, you won’t notice this background noise is pointless and boring. But listen to it? It has the soporific effect of a televangelist’s sermon.

Grabnebelfursten – Schwarz Gegen Weiss: It must be that Reader’s Digest is offering a series of helpful articles on handy home repairs and making symphonic black metal. These riffs sound like the guitarist is feeling them out and just trying semi-random stuff as he goes, and the composition modus operandi of this band is to find something they like and pound it into the ground, then toss in something totally different so you don’t get bored. The result is circus music that’s comedic in how little it relates to itself, or anything else. Vocals are also of that ptomaine poisoning hurl that sounds like the vocalist is straining to keep up with the random clatter beneath. I think they should refer to this as “suicidal black metal” because unless you have the option to turn it off, death may be your only deliverance.

Gravferd – Demonized: Hi everyone, I’d like you to meet my Down’s syndrome child, Gravferd. He sits in his room and practices stuff he knows other bands have done, and then vomits it back in a random order so that there’s enough for an album. Any time he gets confused and starts to cry, we just double the tempo and then he starts barfing out incomprehensible lyrics recycled from a giant pile of cliches we keep in the diaper room. You might recognize intense moments from the last twenty years of black metal, stripped of all context and power, rendered incompetently. But he’s my tard, so I’m going to put a gold star on this fucking thing and publish it. File under G for “glazed over.”

Greymachine – Disconnected: People love ambient music because you can turn on the drum machine, start jamming over a simple progression, and by dumping layers of noise, found sounds, keyboards, vocals and guacamole on it you can gradually shape it into a song. Then you turn off the tape machine and mail the thing to your record label, who start talking about it like it’s the esoteric holy grail of lost musical genius. Let’s dial it back to reality: this is very stoned people dicking around in the studio, and it shows none of the genius that occured on Streetcleaner all those years ago.

Holocausto – Campo de Exterminio: You have to get this, it’s a classic! Undiscovered cult metal from the early 1980s… and there’s a reason it was undiscovered. Do you remember those record players they made in the 1970s for playing Disney records? They were all plastic and had cartoon characters molded into them. This album belongs on one, because it’s kiddie music. It’s super-basic, not in a profoundly disturbing way like Discharge or Sarcofago, but more like a cross between old Sepultura and Anthrax. Like Anthrax, it’s simple-minded. Like old Sepultura, it’s fast and blasphemous with incomprehensible vocals that sound like tearing Kleenex. Like much of 1980s speed metal influenced material, it has the uncanny ability to kill time by hanging out on a very linear, obvious series of variations on a rhythm. I really wish this was buried treasure, but it’s not.

I – Between Two Worlds: Predictable hard rock, meet black metal vocals. Yes, it sounds like a toad on meth, and the riffs that came out of the 1970s but now come at you twice as fast just make the ludicrous more painful. Even worse, the increased tempo means that there’s no breathing room, just constant cliche at top volume. Then when you think you’ve heard enough, the shitty guitar solo comes in to make you long for peaceful silence. Unless you’re a moron. Then this must seem like it was made just for you.

Homicide – Dale of Lost Souls: Here come the police — where can we hide this collection of stolen ideas from the FAIL file of bad 1980s speed metal? Oh look, we can stuff them into this blackened death metal band and no one will notice. Mainly because no one is listening because this sucks. It’s all over the place and to hide the fact they have no idea to develop a song, the musicians here rely on repetition to remind you which song you’re listening to. It’s the one with that borrowed, dumbed-down Exodus riff. Oh wait. That didn’t help. It’s the one that’s a microwave TV dinner version of Devastation… that won’t help either. Throw this out.

Ignivomous – Death Transmutation: I wonder how these musicians memorize these songs. Since the riffs fit together in tempo and key only, and make no sense as a metal tune, and the only transitions possible are dramatic pauses, it’s likely they have a mnemonic to this. Probably something like GDHJJKFLX because the whole album is incoherent. Good guitar tone, zero on the content, and like all shitty metal bands they have to shout it at top volume to try to distract you from the suck. The best course of action is to go do something more stimulating, like mow a lawn or punch out gargoyles.

Impurity – Lucifer Vomiting Blasphemies Over Christ’s Head: No, it’s Impurity vomiting inconsequential noise over your head, and over your wallet, if you bought this. This noisy foray into basic death metal sounds like war metal, which is to say that it’s near constant tempo incoherent riffing with a drunk guy gurgling while the drummer does basically whatever he wants because no one is paying attention. You can do better than this, probably with a pair of castanets and a broken fan to howl in the background. This album is the comical disaster that your parents would imagine upon hearing the title. Well, at least it presents itself accurately.

Infected – Crawlspace: Sometimes, when you get infected, you get a bad headache and you lose 20 IQ points. That’s what happened to this band. This is stop-start “wait — I’ve got to crap — look — some open ground” style semi-skeltonic brain-absent chanting over recycled riffs from failed Exhorder clones who perished in prison where they got sent for ripping the warning tags off of mattresses. The total failure of imagination, or connection to what makes music good, gets us this headache which has zero flow and zero appeal.

Inflabatan – Wanderer of Grief: Every melodic black metal album, boiled for 12 hours to ensure no flavor remains, served with peas steamed in dishwater and a tasty glass of fortified wine gone to vinegar. It’s not bad, it’s far from good, it’s just there. Kind of like when you have a late assignment so you write I ATE MY OWN ASS AND LIKED IT on a sheet of paper and hand it in so you at least don’t get a zero. It’s not a zero, but maybe like a 36.

Inquisidor – Inquisidor: You know, disco had its moments. It had melody. The songs often were distinctive, and sometimes, reminded you of a moment in life where you felt clarity and got excited about what was to come. Inquisidor is “generic” in the oldest meaning, which is that it fits into its genre dead in the middle and is exactly what you’d expect. Fast Kreator riffs, in songs structured like those of Sodom, with urgent blasphemous vocals. If it were the first of this type I heard, I might like it but find it a little boring. Now I just flee.

Inquisition – Magnificent Glorification of Lucifer: I can see why people like this — it’s competent. The rhythms fit together, and riffs work together. The problem is that it’s composed in an idiotic style, and is as a result limited. This is the fusion of war metal and Judas Iscariot-style slow ambient black metal, so you get (a) more repetition than you know what to do with (b) simple riffs on a bouncy rhythm and (d) detached, disconnected vocals. It’s about two riffs per song, often variations on the same theme. While they all fit together, and the result is pleasant to listen to because these guys are five times as competent as the average black metal band, it’s still boring. Nothing happens: what is going on when the song starts is what happens when it ends. That result doesn’t feel evil, or challenging, but kind of dance-y like later Napalm Death.

Wreck of the Hesperus – The Sunken Threshold: Imagine an indie-metal/doom metal hybrid. What you’re imagining even with half a brain is what you get with this release. Slow limbs of chord progressions rise and crash while drums keep a busy, jazz-inspired distraction going. Songs move slowly, verse/chorus, then conclude in a trailing out to insignificance. If Winter, Thergothon and Skepticism did it too well for you, here’s a generic version.

Vektor – Black Future: Hipster music. I say that because it’s dressed up (ironically) like Voivod worship on the outside, but it’s pure aesthetics; there is no understanding of the composition or content that made Voivod great. Instead it’s standard war metal, slowed down by 1/4, played with some of the chord voicings Piggy used. Songs are standard format, very busy with lots of chaotic drums and messy riffing, but no concepts that tickle the brain or even amuse the gut. On the surface, it’s Voivody. Beneath, it’s the standard punk/metal/rock that hipsters like, dressed up in a unique way. Watch this band disappear quickly.

The Shadow Order – Untold: This is probably the best Burzum clone I’ve ever heard. If you can imagine Burzum writing songs that transition from state “A” to state “B” directly, you’ve got roughly what’s going on here. It’s simpler, similar in spirit, and slightly more ear candyish (e.g. confines itself to conventional consonant voicings) but on the whole is pleasant to listen to. It’s unlikely to stand up to repeated listens well, but will occupy a position like the first Infernum album of being a reasonable alternative.

Inveracity – Extermination of Millions: This is a good solid release in the Deeds of Flesh/Suffocation percussive death metal style. It’s more linear than Doug Cerrito’s inspired riffing, but has a good sense of putting together a basic song and stacking up parts that contrast each other, so doesn’t fall into the monotonous camp of most material in this genre. While it is good, it falls short of exceptional and thus radically distinctive, so it’s always going to lurk in Suffocation’s shadow until it develops more of its own voice.

Insect Warfare – World Extermination: If you crossed Terrorizer, Assuck and Nasum you’d get something a lot like Insect Warfare. This is grindcore that sounds like some very energetic people dropped whatever they were doing, rushed to their instruments, and bashed out short but furious songs. These songs are well-composed; however, they’re also extremely basic and rely on riffcraft that alludes to much of extant grindcore. As a result, it’s kind of a neat album if someone hands it to you, but hard to want to reach for it when much more personalitied and diverse offerings like the early Terrorizer material exist.

Kaamos – Lucifer Rising: Pure speed, awesome Swedish(tm) production, and intriguingly blasphemous sound titles cannot compensate for having depth to your music. Kaamos is, like almost everything but the original wave of Swedish death metal, screamingly obvious. These riffs are almost entirely linear and capture no melodic or harmony; not only that, they aren’t shaped into interesting phrases rhythmically. The result is a CD that instantly descends to background noise. It’s pleasant-sounding but empty.

Liturgy – Renihilation: Get the hipsters out of metal. If you like emo-style melodies played really fast over chaotic drums, or the former hybridized with riffs from old Metallica clones but played in a kvlt black metal style, you may like this. I find it really obvious, although clearly musically more erudite than the trve kvlt types. The problem is that despite all of these interesting elements, the songs express nothing, and chord/note progressions are very similar from track to track. The frenetic drumming and vocals only accentuate, not conceal, this deficiency.

Malign – Divine-Facing Fireborn: You and I would really love to like this. It has all the promise of older black metal: a cross between Sarcofago and Merciless, interpreted through the filter of later Mayhem (lush chording, odd slow tempo changes, murky sounds) with the viciousness and yet very pop sense of melodic hook that all the Swedish black metal bands wield. Yet, that’s it. The surface traits are all; what’s underneath is unmotivational. So you end up with black metal wallpaper and an empty soul, but also, a bored one.

Maim – From the Womb to the Tomb: These guys have an interesting approach, aesthetically, in that they try to be Autopsy but mix in the speed and pacing of older Entombed. Sonically, it’s a great approach but not much changes in the song between the beginning and the end. It’s less like a big loop than a spin cycle: you start looking at something, then rotate around it and hey, there it is again. In addition, riffs are really basic variants on forms we’ve seen before from Kreator, Destruction, Atrophy and numerous death metal bands. They are very basic, very interchangeable, and lack the feeling of having been designed to fit together into something distinct with a meaning of its own. That depthless nature to these songs makes this album an endurance contest.

Perished – Seid: Strip away the death vocals and fast drumming, and this is plain boring hard rock like you might find on a Motley Crue record. Aesthetically, it sounds like Immortal, but without the greatness of personality that made At the Heart of Winter a great album, or the spark of insight that made earlier Immortal even superior.

Pathology – Incisions of Perverse Debauchery: Cross Deeds of Flesh with Dead Infection, and you get this gurgling deathgrind which is relentless and not bad, but also not exceptional enough to merit a re-listen. In particular, songs are streams of thudding riffs and relatively similar textural shifts, which makes it difficult to distinguish between them, although the radically varying production helps. I respect this more than most bands because it has a simple goal and fulfills it, although it’s hard to want to go through the experience when there are more interesting listens out there.

Pantheist – Amartia: If Paradise Lost and Skepticism had a baby, it would be this ponderous doom metal band. Songs are glacial with melodic underpinnings and a bit on the pop side, although they love their sonic dynamism and intense distortion. It’s competent but not particularly compelling in form or content, and the vermicular pace does not help us get over that.

Overthrow – Within Suffering: It’s a hybrid of Beneath the Remains era Sepultura and early Sadus, and it’s well-executed but not a standout in that these songs follow fairly cookie-cutter speed metal patterns. Riffs: you’ve heard their archetypes before. Vocals: they do that thing where they chant on the beat as the kickhappy drums crazy go nuts next to some chugging guitars — fucking annoying. On the plus side, they change riffs like Dark Angel so that there’s always tempo, harmonic or phrasal motion (or when disordered: commotion) going on. And lots of solos that sound like later Nuclear Assault going hog wild on the pentatonics. Ultimately, I find this really annoying but if you would let Sadus mount you from the rear, you’ll love it.

Pensees Nocturnes – Grotesque: This promising band confuses aesthetics and content. They’re good songwriters, with an apt grasp of the technical side of the music, but because they have never found an aesthetic “voice,” end up piling random types of stuff on top of one another hoping that summing up parts magically makes the whole bigger. This sonic collage features crashing slow metal riffs which give way to fast melodic riffs reminiscent of Enslaved’s Frost, and are periodically interrupted by transition material with piano and string instruments. On top of this, some guy is bellowing like he is getting raped by an elephant. While in general I’m all for overlooking aesthetic dislike to get to the core of a band, in this case the lack of aesthetic ties an arm behind this band’s back as far as songwriting is concerned — too much is lost as they try to conform to this bizarre format. In addition, they’ve picked up some of the chord progressions and bad habits of post-rock bands, with huge parts of this album resembling the lost Maudlin of the Well “Dave’s got the purple shrooms” sessions. When they are able to put together an aesthetically coherent part of a song, it flows well, but then drops back into their bad habits and crutches. My advice to Pensees Nocturnes is simple: standardize your vocals, become a doom band, and use other instrumentation at strategic points in each song instead of as a general technique — look at the first At the Gates album. Less is more, if that less is more organized than the more. But use more oboe.

Prevalent Resistance – Dynamics of Creation: I’d like to like this because it’s easy to listen to, is pleasant and comforting. Patterned after Dimmu Borgir’s Stormblast (the first version, with the video game music) and a smidgen of early Dissection, this album is candy for the ears. But that’s the problem. There is no tension, no moral conflict, no desire even for pointless destruction. It’s trying to make friends. Like a warm puppy nose on the leg. In fact, it resembles the indie rock of the last decade: slick, studied, and very good at writing a melodic hook into the end of a three-step phrase so that it gets that Hallmark(tm) “uplifting” feeling. I think if I wanted smoke up my ass, I’d just listen to indie rock. Musically this is adept, artistically it gives blowjobs for $10 at streetcorners.

Diabolicum – The Grandeur of Hell: I have tried to like this 1999 album for literally 11 years. It has all the right elements, and it starts well, but becomes shapeless in the middle. I don’t think this has anything to do with how industrial it is. I think it ran out of steam in terms of songs and what they are about. Typical of Swedish bands, Diabolicum write great melodic riffs and then have no idea how to develop them, so end up in circular song structures that leave you unsure of why a song ended; it just ended, when it did, semi-arbitrarily. The result is that there’s no reason to keep these songs in your head other than as a pleasant distraction.

Oxbow – Fuckfest: This music is both spectacularly annoying, and good but fairly standard. If you took a Motorhead/Black Sabbath crossover, made it more rock ‘n’ roll early friendly, then chopped it up with fast rhythms and dissonant syncopated riffing, you’d get this. The vocalist howls like he’s in the Bad Brains but with little of the musicality. I think they believe this is revolutionary. Musically, it’s not terrible but aesthetically it’s like a screeching siren in your head, making you wish the world would end.

Die Apokalyptischen Reiter – Licht: Most people are going to identify this band as a heavier version of Rammstein, but that’s only half the story: this ostensibly industrial band is a three way hybrid between pop punk, melodic death metal and very danceable industrial. They write their songs like At the Gates, with several riffs cycling during the verses after the first introduction, and they shift between these like rally racers taking shortcuts through the old neighborhood. Vocals are very pop punk, with a rhythm similar to Bohse Onkelz or other brainier punk, and riffs are often power chords staggered in the death metal style with an emphasis on the stop/start rhythms that industrial, speed metal and rock favor. However, this is in a very literate musical framework where subtleties emerge from what are initially very basic melodies, and songs develop around this melodic core and end up being quite beautiful and infectious. After about ten minutes, you no longer hear the heavy riffs, and you feel like you’re listening to a more touch-and-go version of Wolfsheim on guitars. This isn’t my type of music, but I respect it — which is more than I can say for most versions of most genres.

Droids Attack – Must Destroy: We were chilling on the porch trying to figure out what to call this new style, not yet quite a genre, where they put bands like Red Fang and Droids Attack. It’s like fast, bombastic, hard attack versions of stoner doom songs; this CD, “Must Destroy,” sounds a lot like the first couple Sleep releases: bluesy, hard without being aggressive, bounding party rock. It’s like they took the Detroit underground rock/punk sound from the 1980s (before The White Stripes) and merged it with Motorhead and the MC5, and got out of it this entirely rockin’ style that isn’t metal but borrows a lot from it, and isn’t punk but attacks with the same sheer verve, but then sticks into the heavy bounce of guitar rock like Grand Funk Railroad or Iron Butterfly. It’s easy to listen to but more motivational than techno, even, so makes great music for partying or cleaning the house. On this CD, the style is expertly implemented with lots of space between bounding riffs for introspective parts, like the calming parts of the ritual of a rave, so that you can listen without getting washed out by pure bombast. I see a great future for this style and this band as people get sick of the twee effete hiding-in-basement styles that have been popular for the last decade.

Nun Slaughter – Goat: When most people talk about old school metal, they’re thinking of bands like this that combine the barebones essentials of heavy metal (Venom), death metal (Master) and speed metal (Nuclear Assault) into one high-energy package. What propels this CD is its ability to keep momentum. Riffs follow each other logically and transfer energy like a locomotive hitting a truck full of bowling balls. This energy conservation is harder to do than one might think, because if a band just plays really fast, it doesn’t happen. It takes an awareness of the music and a love for the metal craft of putting riffs together so that they talk to one another and keep kinetic inertia. Clearly this band know their metal, as the riff forms — the basic phrase and arrangement upon which these riffs are based — descend from all generations of metal, but have been adapted to fit the song and NunSlaughter’s trademark crude but adept songwriting. Most songs are verse/chorus riff cycles with discursive bridges that lead back to triumphal restatements of theme, but given the rawness of the music, nothing else would really fit without making this a modern animal. If you like bands like Onslaught, Sodom, and Merciless, this band stays within the same range but is immediately distinctive. Like fellow midwesterners Cianide, they hide their subtlety and distinctiveness underneath a desire to make a riff language out of metal’s heritage and use it to sing of their specific experience, which seems to be a conglomeration of Satan, rape, blasphemy, violence and sodomy. Given this framework, however, it’s clear this band is a thoroughly enjoyable ripping ride through the dark recesses of human visceral emotion, and no matter how much people wail about it being derivative or lowbrow, it’s great stuff.

Morser – Two Hours to Doom: We should christen this band the German version of Human Remains. They play in the modern metal, or proto-metalcore, style innovated by those founders, meaning that they put metal riffs in punk-style songs. The result is an emphasis on individualism through deconstruction shown through the juxtaposition of random images, which if you think about it is the origin of all modern art. Instead of continuity and order, they show you many individual perspectives which don’t agree, further isolating you in yourself. 1980s crossover thrash on the other hand tried to make radically different riffs fit together like a storyline. While this style provides unbalanced listening as a result, it exceeds the competence of its genremates by making these songs fast and to the point, even if that point is a binary song with a fairly random third option introduced in the last third of it. Later on, bands took this style and threw technical death metal done in one dimension into the mix, but for now it’s honest punk borrowing from every style under the sun in a fast and precise but not show-offy fashion. You’ll hear the blues riffs, funk bass, prog trills, and even quotations from soundtracks and ethnic music, all done at high speed in blisteringly distorted guitar. It’s no wonder this release has, for a flavor of the day genre like modern metal, stayed in demand over the years.

Black Funeral – Vampyr: If you put a simplified Emperor/Ancient hybrid to Darkthrone percussion, it might sound like “Vampyr” — an unknown quantity of death metal rhythm, and ambient black metal made with the flourish of symphonic metal, but in the simplified and abraded sound that also qualified early American bands like Havohej and Demoncy. This is a very American thing, both North and Sound hemispheres, to simplify song structures to a standard form like in hardcore, where much of what made early Nordic black metal beautiful was that song structure was defined by content — in the way that early American phrasal death metal like Incantation was. While this album makes for more recognizable listening, and is clearly the musical peak of this band, for artistic reasons a discerning listener may prefer other works.

Chthonic – Seediq Bale: This symphonic metal band from China sounds like Dream Theatre melded with Cradle of Filth, as played by later Therion. More focused than any of those acts, it takes advantage of compiled conventions from the various constituents of this genre, and makes a distinctive version of them. If they more seamlessly integrate this with the indigenous music of China, it could be a powerhouse; for now, it’s a better option for Dimmu Borgir fans.

Blazemth – Fatherland: This short release charms the listener with its beauty, brave pasted-together emulation of black metal heroes and honesty in expressing something of significance even if at times the methods are crude. In essence, this band is a hybrid between early Emperor and Graveland, hoping for sweeping melodies interwoven with keyboards and spoken/acoustic dirges, creating an atmosphere that it then delights in breaking with riffs sounding like they come from the melodic heavy-metal-influenced black metal of Rotting Christ and Hades. This band specializes in contrasting textures of riffs: a mostly open simple riff will abrade when a flowing tremolo melody follows it, and chromatic death metal shredding offsets windswept sweep picking. While the individual parts are less graceful than their archetypes, they are nonetheless beautiful in the same way early punk was: individuals captured in their striving for an ideal that they may not achieve, while enjoying the struggle.

Blazemth – For Centuries Left Behind: Template driven from the early works of black metal, this band achieves an ambient black metal sound by attempting a simplified version of Emperor and other early black metal bands. Riffs are simple, production distorted enough to background guitars into a roughly harmonized blast of noise, and keyboards unite the rest into a smooth flow of sound. Emblematic of this album is the spoken introduction with which it begins; this is a guileless take on black metal that is not afraid to be ridiculous, but because it is earnest, never irks like the commercial cluelessness that followed. Its strength is an immersion in mood, but its weakness is that individual parts ape classics like Emperor and Burzum, just in an interpretation specific to this band. Although this will not blow anyone away with its breaking of ground, it remains more convincing than most post-1996 black metal because it has a clear ideal in mind and pursues it making creative use of what techniques and elements are within reach. Their followup, “Fatherland,” reflects more development; on this short CD are themes you have heard before, done uniquely in the homebrew style by this straightforward and committed band.

Jodis – Secret House: You have to have a high tolerance for slowness with this album. A chord plays, rings out, the distortion crumbling as the sound loses its solidity; then, two notes jangle with the seeming discordination of a snapping clothesline or the slow decay of metal in abandoned factories. Someone bellows. More noises, feedback zoning in and out like lawnmower noise across the street as you try to nap your way through a summer day. More bellowing. The songs are like hailstones, formed of layer after layer deposited upon the last. If you unfold the surface it forms a great linearity, like a giant strip of paper covered in words that blur together. Time goes by unheeded. You get up and change the CD.

Nihill – Grond: Standard uptempo Darkthrone black metal clone with really emphatic, dramatic, emo-style vocals still done in the guttural end of black metal sound, Nihill is technically competent but makes binary songs, meaning that they alternate between two moods until the vocals are done ranting and the song can end. When Darkthrone did this, it was to great effect because their songs centered around a contrast that conveyed a greater sense of mystery or discovery. Nihill is just cyclic and offers no hope, only a sense of inevitability. I could see this appealing to fans of Judas Iscariot.

Eradication – The Great Cleansing: An attempt to merge “Following the Voice of Blood” era Graveland with “Ugra-Karma” era Impaled Nazarene, for the most part this album works. The randomness of its melodies and the drone-strum technique from the Graveland side gently obscure some of the rough edges and more obvious riffs, which feed nicely into the full-speed-ahead woodchipper riffs from the Impaled Nazarene side. It’s a solid B+ for content, maybe a A+ for technique for being both original and nuanced enough to give this band its own voice.

Vile – Depopulate: If the Deeds of Flesh style second-wave percussive death metal bands simplified things a bit to the level of the first Deicide album, and chose very basic bouncy riffs with melodic accents like Brutality, you could well end up with Vile. It is both good and bad; it is good insofar as it develops, but it is bad because that’s often two steps of thinking away from a double-strum on an E5 chord. Chortling vocals battle it out with gurgling rasps over pleated sheets of power chords where the offtime notes are played in a muted strum, giving this a pirate shanty bounce which is then torn apart by drums like a multi-legged battle robot scrabbling through the ruins of a city. There are messy leads, and often ludicrous “my attention shifted suddenly when I noticed the shotgun” song structure deviations. While they do what they do well, this style of death metal limits itself too much for repeated listening.

Gifts from Enola – Gifts from Enola: Someone crossed Kyuss with uptempo indie heavy metal and threw in the developments in the last ten years of stoner doom metal, creating a jazzy and fluidly composed album that moves about at the pace of early Black Sabbath. With very little intervention from vocals, the band jam in this style with droit, jazzy changes and variation in riff types from psychedelic lead-picked atmospheric to droning power chords to harmonizations on par with what Iron Maiden did. These songs are relatively linear, with breaks and resumptions, but form a kind of sonic texture that is easy to absorb, comfortingly varied, and most of all — unlike most post-rock — pleasant to listen to because it contains an internal balance and musicality. If you’re familiar with the jazz fusion of the late 1970s, nothing here will be a surprise musically, but it’s in a new form with more force behind it and the crossing over of the loud and abrasive with the subtle and beautiful gives it an elegance jazz fusion could never hope to have.

Urna – Iter Ad Lucem: Cross Ras Algethi with a post-rock band and you have this mess. The chord progressions are typical of that emo, shoegaze and indie rock fusion that is “post-metal,” which in most cases but not all has nothing to do with metal except that thanks to black metal’s extremity, it’s what the angry activist life-did-me-wrong failures are listening to these days. The worst sin here is that nothing really goes on in these songs. A few notes go up; a few go down. This is repeated with layers of vocals, a la Teitanblood but more artsy, and drums that keep busy outside the main event like those in a doom band, but ultimately songs don’t evolve and only gain structure through linear variation on known themes. In addition, if you step back and listen to this, it’s ludicrous. Like Krallice, it’s soft rock trying to be evil and as with all paradoxical and half-witted goals, has instead made a squirting fecal mess of it.

So there you have it — like a cheap buffet lunch, mostly FAIL with some tasty nuggets stuck in there, only half of which will come out whole in your stool. If I had to design a record-shopping trip from this, I’d pick up the Nunslaughter and Gifts from Enola and call it a day.

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