Cloned: The Recreator Chronicles

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Horror films, like heavy metal, have drifted for the past two decades looking for a new path. A few trends have passed: violence porn, hipster zombie movies, and the incomparable Human Centipede series of dementia. But audiences have converged, and people seek horror films that are brainy and metaphorical like the roots of the genre, yet perhaps with a bit of the sci-fi and social paranoia of the newer genre.

Cloned: The Recreator Chronicles launches into this with a story spun from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: if science can make a better human, what happens if it’s a “better” (as envisioned by humans) version of you? For Generation X, this brings great trauma as we all know our parents would have “upgraded” in a moment. It also calls into question our relations with other people, namely would we hit a magic button to make our friends, lovers and coworkers smarter, faster and better?

Per the usual for horror films with aspirations to “atmosphere,” the movie begins slowly with an idyllic scene. Three average people go on vacation. The only glitch is that their chosen destination happens to be on top of an experimental genetics facility. The glitch has a subthread, which is that the facility is still active and samples from its environment for fresh humans to improve. The three fall into its trap and must confront their new doubles who are stronger, smarter and most of all, more confident.

The metaphorical nature of horror movies emerges in full flavor here. While the plot progresses, the questions hang in that dense atmosphere the movie creates. Perhaps if we encounter a better version of ourselves, we should just lay down and die. After all, they fix all that we find tragic and pointless about ourselves. But there are other issues here, much as there were in Frankenstein. Does greater ability alone convey the wisdom and moral character to use that ability well? Perhaps improvements make us more competent, but no more directed toward what we should be doing. Then again, it is hard to argue with a better version of yourself. And from the perspective of your clone, you appear as obsolete as a VHS tape, and if the clone can step into your life and make a better version of it, should it be allowed to happen?

Cloned: The Recreator Chronicles launches viewers down a path of extreme skepticism about humanity through a metaphor which can apply to technology, eugenics or even the cult of self-esteem. While much of the action fits the standard form of personal drama to further a plot, the writers skillfully layer cues to the darker issues beneath which unfold as the movie goes on. Nothing is as it seems. And as this plot races to its nihilistic conclusion, that is as should be.

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Phobocosm – Deprived

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In the 21st century, quality death metal makes itself scarce in a genre that has become disappointingly stagnant since its peak in the mid-1990s. Any gems are shrouded by a haze of technical masturbation bands and equally soulless candied old-school imitators. The musicians no longer understand their art. Some challengers exist, such as Phobocosm, a recent addition to the death metal roster.

Phobocosm are a death metal band rising from Montreal that compose dark and dirge-like death metal in the vein of Incantation and perhaps Evoken, but with their own unique voice. They released a song entitled “Solipsist” from their upcoming full-length Deprived that burns with apocalyptic fervor.

The song begins with a chilling melody that picks up intensity and evolves into the musical representation of souls wandering across a vicious and ominous wasteland. This music exemplifies the spirit, and delivers crushing blows.

Phobocosm have the misfortune of inheriting a genre that peaked, attracted infiltrators and imitators, and now languishes in a mass of technically-competent but empty material. The Canadians try to rectify that with solid songwriting before they get to the technical parts, which makes Phobocosm a band to watch. Their debut album, Deprived, arrives via Dark Descent Records on September 30th.

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Burzum releases “how-to” videos for classic songs

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Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes has released instructional videos showing those out there in black metal fandom land how to play along with a selection of riffs from classic Burzum songs.

The videos, released via Vikernes’ ThuleanPerspective YouTube account, show him playing each riff and explaining its context and purpose in the corresponding song with an ear for atmosphere and emotion.

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Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal Domain

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The best-selling death metal band of all time, Cannibal Corpse maintains its audience by writing rhythmic hooks and cramming a half-dozen riffs into each song in a way that is memorable enough for the average listener. On their 13th album, A Skeletal Domain, Cannibal Corpse sensibly alter just about nothing to their winning formula.

If you can imagine the 1988-1990 period for Slayer and Exodus combined and turned up to 11, the basic idea of Cannibal Corpse will shine through the genre labels such as “death metal.” This music has little in common with early Morbid Angel, Deicide, Asphyx or other founders of the genre. If anything, it resembles 1980s speed metal given the death metal treatment with extremely distorted vocals, absurdist gore lyrics, and a higher dose of intensity in technique and speed.

Songs build themselves around either a chorus or a memorable riff, usually with hints of melody, and the rest of the time create a primitive groove based on an expectation of rhythmic satisfaction interrupted in sub-divided patterns that recombine the same few basic riff ideas. The guitars support vocals which take center stage in a monotone that foreshadows and echoes the dominant rhythms of each piece. Lead guitars sound straight out of the 1970s but played faster and more erratically, and bass while active and precise acts in a support role to guitars. The result delivers a compact sound that displays little internal variation.

When you listen to this album while distracted, after smoking a bowl, or while typing on the internet, it seems rather impressive. Each individual riff makes sense and the riff after also makes sense. The problem is that songs as a whole do not make sense. They fit together, but no internal tension or communication occurs, which leads to a very “postmodern” style where chaos surrounds an articulated foot-tapping chorus rhythm. The lack of relation and relevance between riffs and the whole of each song makes Cannibal Corpse seem like a stream of spare parts, even if linearly riffs follow in sensible order. You will hear a lot of Slayer in these riffs, which is always welcome.

Metal fans love this band and it is hard to see why they would not. It is catchy, extreme and chaotically hilarious. Its subversively discordant attitude toward all aspects of what most people accept as good and natural life makes it the surly kid who sneaks cigarettes into chapel. The best riffs are often the support riffs, which work in melody and challenging rhythms, and often sound like more intense versions of what second-string speed metal bands like Heathen, Atrophy and Assassin used to do. While I can praise what this album does well, and appreciate the ear candy attributes of it, there is no reason I would purchase this with my limited funds and listen to it on a repeated basis.

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Ferngully: The Last Rainforest

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Although it has little in common with the horror movies and apocalyptic fantasies reviewed here, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest won me over with its themes of humans losing touch with nature and becoming greedy narcissistic dorks who then cause the destruction of rain forests.

Warning: this movie is about 1 hour 15 min long and is children’s animated film, thus can be forgiven its heavy-handed approach since we all know that movies for children are basically propaganda from well-meaning but usually delusional dipsomaniac adults. The soundtrack has traditional Slavic folk music that sounds mystical and yet upbeat like Dead Can Dance, and this redeems much of the loss of atmosphere that occurs once any story transitions to cartoon.

The story involves loggers using a leviathan of a machine to chop down trees in the last rainforest and polluting the land. A human gets accidentally shrunk by the forest spirit (faeries in this case) and sees the reality of the situation and makes attempts to stop this. Meanwhile, the leviathan machine causes the emergence of a physical/metaphysical antagonist who is contra nature/the forest. He was trapped in the trees in a long-past age but the churning of the machine inadvertently releases him and he melds with the machine and takes control of it. His intent is to finish his diabolical plot to destroy all forests and the life within them, possibly branching out Antaeus-style to destroy all life after that.

Naturally, our heroic characters launch on a quest in situ to defeat this monster. The intro mentions the pre-history: the humans also used to know of the existence of the fairies and during the black-demon cataclysm a Satan figure called Hexxus was spawned whose goal is to destroy the forest, and while the humans ran away, the fairies trapped Hexxus inside a tree. As you can imagine, a restoration of the magic in the soul brings back the fairies and possibly saves the last rainforest.

You probably do not want to watch this as an adult unless you are so drunk that you have an irrepressible urge to destroy rainforests and need a simple, step-by-step guide to changing your attitude. I mostly recommend this for adults to show to children, who are never too young to be taught the right propaganda — and I think this is probably better than the other options — to program them for zombie-like life among the office towers, fast food joints, sewage treatment plants and arms dumps of the modern world.

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International Congress on Medieval Studies call for papers

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For those metalheads from black metal or other genres with a medieval leaning, an opportunity arises in the call for papers issued by the International Congress on Medieval Studies. If you write on medieval topics, you may consider submitting a paper:

Imbas is an interdisciplinary postgraduate conference hosted annually by NUI Galway. The conference gives postgraduate students the opportunity to present ongoing work and to discuss their research with peers in an informal, interdisciplinary setting. The 2014 Imbas committee is delighted to announce the call for papers for the 2014 conference. The theme of the conference is ‘East – West and the Middle Ages’, and it will run from the 28th to 30th November at the Moore Institute, NUI Galway.

Imbas accepts papers from all disciplines, with a focus on any topic from Late Antiquity to the end of the medieval period. Interested postgraduates are invited to submit a title and abstract of 250-300 words, for a research paper of 20 minutes, to the Imbas committee at imbasnuig@gmail.com by 15th September, 2014. For more information see http://www.nuigalway.ie/imbas/

Selected proceedings from the conference will be published in our peer-reviewed journal.

Metal academics might find it interesting to submit here and draw some parallels between medieval practices and those of modern black metal. If nothing else, this would be a great place for all the swords and armor pictures that from Manowar onward have graced metal with their presence.

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Happy 63rd birthday, Rob Halford

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The legendary Judas Priest frontman (born 1951) is 63 years old today, August 25, 2014. Introduced to Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill by his sister, Halford became the vocalist for the group and quickly defined his iconic style of singing and found a way to adapt it to the new style.

With Stained Class, Halford adopted what became his trademark visual imagery, which is the leather and studs clothing that spread throughout metal after that time. He later expanded this imagery to include military gear, motorcycles, whips and chains.

Judas Priest defined much of 1970s heavy metal by taking its NWOBHM sound and adding the album-oriented stadium rock feel, giving the music greater accessibility, but simultaneously focusing on strong lead guitar and use of multiple riffs to create a puzzle-piece feel.

Without Halford, Priest might have accomplished this role but not in such an iconic sense or perhaps with such amazingly flexible vocals. Halford joins Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne and Tom Arya among others in the category of legendary heavy metal vocalists. Happy Birthday!

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Wömit Angel releasing Holy Goatse on October 3, 2014

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In tribute to the original and perhaps most shocking internet meme, Wömit Angel plan to release their second album Holy Goatse on October 3, 2014 via Inverse Records.

The Finnish band, who some compare to Impaled Nazarene and Motörhead, will unleash their mixture of hardcore punk, metal and rock ‘n’ roll with low-tech presentation and high intensity rhythms. Consisting of Vile Anarchy – Drums, J. Violatör – Guitar & Backing Vocals, and W. Horepreacher – Bass & Vocals, Wömit Angel describe their music as “fetus aborting sado-metal” and direct it toward a less serious audience.

Much like other bands in this style, including Driller Killer and Impaled Nazarene, these Finns find spectacle and shock to be as important as the music they write and so have dedicated a career to essentially trolling the metal and rock audiences that they can lure into their insanity.

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At the Gates reveals At War With Reality cover art

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Swedish death metal/metalcore hybrid At the Gates revealed the cover artwork for their upcoming album At War With Reality and issued some details about the concept and purpose of the new work.

The artwork, designed by Costin Chioreanu, reflects the topical direction of the new album toward “magical realism,” a literary genre that emphasizes the fluidity of what we think of as a static and linear reality. Said Tomas Lindberg, vocalist:

The concept of ‘At War with Reality’ is based on the literary genre called ‘Magic Realism’. The main style within this genre is the notion that ‘reality’ is ever-changing, and needs to be constantly re-discovered and re-conquered.

The band also released some of the song titles from the new album, including “Death And The Labyrinth,” “The Circular Ruins,” “The Conspiracy Of The Blind,” “Order From Chaos,” “Eater Of Gods” and “Upon Pillars Of Dust.”

The album was recorded with Fredrik Nordström at Studio Fredman. Jens Bogren, who mastered the new work at Fascination Street Studios, had this to say about the musical experience that it promises:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0vkElvuk-c

At the Gates line-up:
Tomas Lindberg – Vocals
Anders Björler – Guitars
Martin Larsson – Guitars
Jonas Björler – Bass
Adrian Erlandsson – Drums

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Downside of MP3s: no enjoyment of whole album

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Who am I to criticize wide and frequent use of technology? It has brought great benefits and much landfill, as well as seeming to fill our time with activities that are both “work” and “fun” at the same moment. It has made life easier, and made the list of stuff to do longer. I suppose it is a mixed bag.

In general, I am fond of MP3s. “Try before buy” provides a great principle for buying music that in theory would lead to the rejection of the usual stuff and embrace of the distinctive and elevated. This would (again, in theory) give consumers better music and give small bands a chance against big industry bands.

In practice, people simply become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff, which spams their brains, and thus they download a ton and a half of metal and listen to all of it once, which leads to the conclusion that it is all about the same in value. In turn, that causes them to stop worrying about quality and to download anything above “barely acceptable” and put it on their playlist. This favors the big industry, which can use its advertising power to overwhelm those spammed brains and so people go back to the 1980s condition of buying whatever is advertised and ex post facto finding a way to like it.

So, maybe MP3s are not the savior of the music industry. And a relatively recent Abigor interview raises another point: MP3s ruin our appreciation of the album as a whole as if it were a communication from a band to its audience. Instead, we are awash in easily queued and listened music, which by reducing our effort in hearing it reduces our ability to perceive it.

[E]verything should be viewed as one piece of art, not just the sound that’s coming out of a studio in whatsoever form, be it vinyl, CD, a file (originating “from the connection in the wall”, that’s the horizon teenagers have these days.

They don’t care and they’re not as informed as we were – when we liked certain albums back then we knew the lyrics, could draw the logo and knew every dot on the cover or who was in the thanx list. Today it’s about a track in the MP3 playlist only, albums matter less and less). An MP3 player can’t capture, it simply isn’t, such a piece of art. People tear individual tracks out of the album context to an MP3 playlist and the music looses it’s meaning and also it’s value.

How much is such an MP3 worth? Nothing. And therefore people lose respect of the artist’s work as well. They forget that this soundfile actually has a history full of sweat and blood, and quiet some people put in a lot of money before the first cent comes back from sales, all this seems like a long lost echo when I hear people talk about their MP3s. People that talk about their record collection have a different access.

All of this reminds me of the “bad old days” before the internet and underground alike when people heard new stuff on the radio and listened to that without even thinking there might be an option. The same four companies owned every radio station in the major cities, and the same six labels owned everything played by those radio stations. Not much has changed, except that what is driving people to that same old stuff is the vast amount of musical spam coming out in MP3 format designed for people who cannot tell the difference between plausible and mediocre music.

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