Way back in the early 1980s, a band in the Chicago area began making the transition from speed metal to a proto-death metal style. It transitioned through punk and oddly retained a lot of elements of 1960s rock, but was part of the formative path toward death metal along with Bathory, Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Sepultura and Sodom before Death or Morbid Angel had ever recorded.
Three decades after that rocky start, two metal journalists are attempting to record the life and times of Paul Speckmann with a documentary entitled Lone Survivor – Paul Speckmann and the story of Master. The filmmakers bill the film as not just a Speckmann history, but “the story of anyone who has chased a dream and endured the victories and defeats that come with the journey.”
Filmmakers Jeff Tandy and Will Wulff are tackling this project from a zero-budget start. Wulff is a UC Irvine film graduate who attracted the attention of Paul Speckmann with a graduate project short film. Tandy is a 20-year music veteran and freelance metal journalist with extensive experience in the death metal field.
International Record Store Day, an attempt at preservation by celebration for the category of independent record stores, kicks off this week on April 19. The general idea is that indie record stores offer up some vinyl and rarities on sale and hope for higher attendance.
Some of the participating stores are offering metal (such as Vinal Edge Records in the Heights, above). If you don’t mind fending off the hipsters with a machete and elbowing aside diehards (nostalgia buffs), you might be able to find some good deals and fight back against the digital encroachment on record collecting at the same time.
Underground metal musicians have always intensely observed ambient, no-classical, and avant-garde genres. Recognizing the same desire to merge the ideals of classical composition with modern technology and popular song structure, some merge these strands in their own metal-based music.
Debut album from Estonian band Thou Shell of Death, Sepulchral Silence drives itself with the keyboard through a duality of background arpeggios, alongside simple single-tone sequences which generate the main melody of each track. Tempi fit between the plodding pace offered by orchestral doom bands and more upbeat neo-medieval black metal, staying within the realm of death/doom metal that preserves the structure of that genre without incorporating melodic variation. Harmonically logical, the band is more learned in its composition than the typical death/doom band, though more in the sense of ambient or pop music than classical music; as guitar chords and vocals follow the same line as established by the keyboard, rendering them mostly as accompaniment devices.
This produces a result that is easy to comprehend and appreciate, but misses the full weight that a more varied and diverse album would have produced. Tracks are difficult to individually distinguish and due to its melodic uniformity, Sepulchral Silence is well suited for background music perhaps while writing a work of fiction, but for listening for its own sake it does not evoke any lasting sensation beyond a mild but indistinct appreciation.
For those who caught our review of the – – – /Dawning split some months ago, the intentional mystery behind – – – may have created some interest. Artists disguising themselves is nothing new; all of black metal disguised themselves under pseudonyms and paint like nocturnal vigilantes. Authors such as Thomas Pynchon are famous for their reclusive refusal to be photographed or interviewed. And in occult and ambient music, the situation gets even more obscure.
– – – create music that sounds like a heavy metal hybrid with the vaguely occult black metal of the style that Deathspell Omega made famous, but with a mix of heavy metal in the balance such as one might find from Paradise Lost or Primordial. The result floats gently through the speakers and is both familiar and highly distant. We were fortunate to gain access to the concealed personality behind – – – for a short interview on the nature of existence, music and possibly why black metal has lost its way.
When did – – – originate, and what can you tell us about the lineup?
I wrote a lot of minimalistic music when I was about 15-16 years old. Back then I didn’t have a guitar, just an old keyboard. All the music I wrote, I wrote down with the help of some MIDI-software. I didn’t think I would do anything with the MIDI-files, I just wanted to write some music. Several years later I found all those MIDI-files (about 50-60 tracks) and thought it would be fun to add drums and some guitars. Thus was the music of – – – born.
The lineup is just me. On some tracks a friend of mine sings.
The music you play has a lot in common with both avantgarde black metal and the type of instrumentally advanced heavy metal that Therion ventured into with its third album. What style do you identify as your own, and what are your biggest influences?
When people ask in general what music I play, I usually answer that I play heavy metal. There are so many genres in the metal corpus so just to begin answering what kind of metal one is playing is rather impossible. And if heavy metal doesn’t suffice I’d say I play dragon metal.
For the piano compositions I’ve had the great Flemish composer Wim Mertens as a big influence. Also Michael Nyman, Roberto Cacciapaglia and Ludovico Einaudi. The guitars are just buzzing tremolo melodies to accompany the piano tracks.
Much of your work seems to be based around the notion of secrets; if not outright secrets themselves, the revelation of hidden meaning. Do you think there are hidden meanings in life around us? Are these metaphysical or material?
To answer the first question: Yes, I do think there are meanings in life around us. If this meaning is hidden or not I can’t really tell. To acknowledge that there is meaning around us is in itself a great step toward a life that isn’t nihilistic and/or fatalistic. But then you’ll have to validate whether these meanings are good or bad. I’ve chosen to believe that the meanings I’ve found in life are good ones. I don’t know this by necessity and I can’t persuade anyone that this is the right path. I believe that there is a reality and that I, as a human being, am capable of knowing something about it.
Since I have to relate to a material world to even begin to grasp the metaphysics, I’d have to say “yes” on this question (I interpreted it as an inclusive disjunction). I don’t think any materialistic substance can hold a Principle (of something higher). We interact bodily with the materialistic world and with our mind (soul), through the study of metaphysics, the Principles (how to know the meanings epistemologically).
Why did you choose the name “- – – “?
I used to name my music project files that way. And then the name stuck.
As – – – goes on, do you think you have “matured” or “improved”? Is there a difference?
Maybe lyrically, but not musically. I still use the old MIDI-files I wrote several years ago.
Where will you go next with – – – ? Will there be more recordings, a change in style or a different look at things?
I have no idea. I think I will try to write something new from scratch. It will probably not sound exactly the same.
What personally attracted you about underground metal, and keeps you bonded to it twenty years past its glory days?
Probably the creativity. There are a lot of interesting bands that have a genuine sound or have really talented musicians. There is always something new and fresh that you can find in the great sea of underground bands. You don’t see the same creativity around the big names in metal.
Are your songs based around symbolism from which riffs are created, or do you base them around riffs and layer symbolism on top of those?
If by symbolism you mean the lyrics then: yes. I usually have some tracks ready when I begin writing the lyrics. Then I puzzle them all together.
If by symbolism you mean that I have a clear idea about what the tracks is going to be about, then: no. The lyrics are written separately from the music.
If someone wanted to find out more — but not too much — about – – – , where should they look?
Look toward where the sunrise, and in to the names of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite’s divine. Otherwise you should try google: “- – – “.
Thunderous Dutch death metal assailants Sinister return with a new album entitled The Post-Apocalyptic Servant which is slated for release in May 2014. The album will be released on Massacre Records and includes covers of songs by Morbid Angel, Agent Steel and Paradise Lost.
Sinister have released a sample track, “The Burden of Mayhem” in advance of the album’s entry into the market. The band made its name in the early death metal years with Cross the Styx which combined the percussive and fast tremolo sounds with an underpinning of melody, creating a mood between the aggressive darkness of American death metal and the melancholic emptiness of its European cousins.
Although it was legendary for Cross the Styx, Sinister probably peaked with 1996’s Hate, which combined the best riffology of percussive death metal (Suffocation, Pyrexia) with the type of unsettling melodies previously only found in black metal. The Post-Apocalyptic Servant (which is hopefully about Satan as the cover hints) will contain the following tracks:
After metal spent decades expanding its boundaries farther than may be wise, some individuals decided to adopt the inverse of this mentality. Instead of diluting the genre, go back to its roots – and construct songs within an existing framework, rather than trying to do both simultaneously. It is here that heavy-metal/doom “retrovival” band Pilgrim enters the spotlight.
Their latest release, II: Void Worship, features a version of heavy metal which retains the melodic qualities of that genre, along with the rawer rhythmic structures of proto-doom and doom metal. Likely deriving inspiration from bands such as Mercyful Fate, Pentagram, Candlemass, and Cathedral, songs consist of the prototypical verse-chorus structure characteristic of music partly derived from rock. The songs never reach the nihilistic emptiness of death-metal derived doom, but still are heavier than the standard retroactive 80s fare. Indeed, the band occasionally incorporates minor chord strumming which brings to the foreground the confluence of influences present upon more melodic black metal bands. It’s in moments such as these in which the return to the past falters a bit, and the reasoning for doing so isn’t made clear. With the vocals providing a prominent grounding for the melodies, when it is utilized songs drive forward with appropriate vigor.
Nothing on here is novel, or has yet been unheard, and one should expect this before diving inwards towards this release, or the modern branch of the movement it arises from. However, those who are in search of quality metal that upholds a sense of internal quality control will find some songs to appreciate on this release. As this band is still in its early stages, it will be worth waiting to see if they can preserve their link to their influences while making their individuality more distinct.
Burzum, the sometimes black metal and sometimes ambient project of Norwegian-descended French national Varg Vikernes, announced the release of new album The Ways of Yore on Byelobog Productions/Plastic Head for June 2, 2014. No further information is given about whether the album will continue with the post-modern black metal style of Umskiptar or the folkish dark ambient style of Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, which was one of our “Best of 2013”.
Emerging from the same locus of intensity in Norway that produced Immortal, Mayhem, Emperor and Ildjarn, Burzum began in the early 1990s as a complex riff-narrative style of black metal with unnerving vocals that combines a feral animality with emotional sensitivity. Early works attempted to integrate elements of ambient music and create a sense of ritual designed to “stimulate the fantasy of mortals.” This era ended with Filosofem and composer Varg Vikernes being jailed for the murder of Euronymous of Mayhem.
During the incarceration years, Burzum shifted direction to full ambient with Dauði Baldrs and Hliðskjálf. These albums allowed Vikernes to escape the monolithic sound of guitar/bass/drums and work with multiple instruments, culminating in the lush creative density of Hliðskjálf (which was revisited somewhat in Sôl austan, Mâni vestan).
After prison, Burzum entered a period of post-modern black metal influenced by droning indie-pop variants of NSBM such as Drudkh and other Eastern European bands. This music reflected pop song structures, a shoegaze-style approach to melody but with the longer phrasing — albeit recursive — of black metal like early Ancient, and extensive use of North mythology. It is unclear whether this period continues now with folkish dark ambient album Sôl austan, Mâni vestan in 2013 being a temporary detour, or whether Vikernes will launch Burzum into a fourth period with the more complex instrumentation and hence compositional density of that album and Hliðskjálf.
When Black Sabbath shifted from trying to be a hard rock band to trying to make a horror movie sound appear in guitar music, they opened a new world. It was not a world that would resist opening for long anyway, since if you mix Iggy and the Stooges with the prog rock of the same era like Jethro Tull and King Crimson, you get something a lot like Black Sabbath.
But guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and drummer Bill Ward did it first, and during the first decade of their career fought through the enduring questions of the genre in prototype form. While Black Sabbath gets classed by most as “proto-metal,” or not quite yet metal, it is also clearly not quite still rock ‘n’ roll. In this perpetual liminal state Black Sabbath, like metal itself would a generation removed, rediscovers itself again and again as a way of outracing the calcification and corruption of message that is common in modern life.
In Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi writes his memoirs for a book that is both everything and Black Sabbath fan could want, and not enough. He writes about everything important and brings out some moments of great clarity, but then at some point the book expands like a drunken conversation and spills too much ink on the less important later Black Sabbath works. Iommi also has an offhand and conversational way of explaining things from his point of view that does not flesh out the details and background enough to let people know what was really going on. However, the juicy stories of rock ‘n’ roll excess, and most of the potent decision points in the Black Sabbath career, are not missed.
Those first songs are often described as scary. I liked horror films and so did Geezer. We used to go to the cinema across the street from our rehearsal place to see them, so maybe it was something that subconsciously directed us to that sort of thing. I know there is a Boris Karloff movie called Black Sabbath, but we never saw it at that time. Geezer came up with the name Black Sabbath and it just sounded like a good one to use. (54)
The narrative starts out fairly crisply and over time slouches into many unresolved threads the way most retrospectives do. The early days were clarity, but after that chaos reigns. Sensibly, Iommi does not spend too long on the days before Black Sabbath, but does set enough of the scene to get the narrative rolling. After that, very little detail is given, and the conversational takes over. Iommi will say that they went to a house or studio somewhere and mention no other detail, but he does spend a lot of time on human relationships. He describes people and their patterns. He also talks a good deal about relationships in the bands and the states of mind of the various players as albums were released.
It may be that a Black Sabbath fanbase wants to hear more about the mechanics behind the later Black Sabbath albums, solos and side projects, but to this writer much of this material was redundant. Not that it was mentioned at all, but that it was internally duplicative and went through similar patterns without identifying them. Like a night at the bar, the description of events begins with a clear context, direction and development of events, but devolves into a description of personalities and factual data that seems to focus on complexities.
I hope it is not insulting to say this, but people are not as interested in the later Black Sabbath works as they are the earlier ones. We would have preferred the same crispness, detail and narrative integration of the first three chapters be applied to the middle three, with the later ones giving less detail and more of a linear narrative. The reason for this is that the formation of those early albums and the Black Sabbath sound is what defined this band for eternity and will make it forever important. The later stuff shows us four guys out of their depth reacting to the changes in their lives.
We used one of Ronnie’s ideas in its entirety, which was ‘Atom and Evil’, the first track on the album. And we used bits of each other idea. Some of Geezer’s riffs would come halfway through, or some of mine. We just swapped them around, building songs. It was a great way of working. INstead of having to come up with everything myself, everybody was completely involved in it from day one, and that helped me immensely. We wrote about six songs this way. (352)
Details such as the above provide meaning to the listener because we are curious about such things. What made some albums more listenable or more interesting than others? In the compositional process, and the formation of decisions, we can see how they are distinct. Sometimes too much focus on personality and politics not only obscures the narrative, but is a substitute for discussing how decisions were made. Buried throughout are nuggets of clarity such as the above. These make the book not only memorable but poignant, as you can see why so much attachment occurs between these musicians, and how their knowledge of each other was more than practical, but a deep appreciation.
Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath will stay on the shelves because of its subject’s importance to rock music and heavy metal. It will also provide much fodder for others to discuss, as it touches on everything once. While some of us might prefer a two-volume set, with Volume I for the Black Sabbath albums from 1970-1976 and all of the depth of narrative that makes the creative decisions made during that time relevant still, as a quick read and overlook of the Black Sabbath experience Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath succeeds and also gives us rare if erratic insights into the story behind the band.
Technical death metal band Ayasoltec, formed by ex-Masochism shredder Juan Torres, plays a free show tonight at the Lucky Lounge in Austin, Texas. Ayasoltec builds on the heritage of death metal with a strong jazz-fusion (YellowJackets, Al DiMeola) basis with a Latin American influence on the rhythm section, mixing shredder metal riffs with extensive solo-like passages building the mood in each song.
Lyrically, the band uses primarily Mayan and Aztec mythologies of life and death as a canvas for its explorations, employing a bi-ingual approach in which the English and Spanish languages are used to match the underlying music. The result takes the sound we expect from “technical death metal” (really, jazz/metal/punk fusion) and gives it more breadth musically while expanding the role metal can serve in delivering recognizable songs.
Torres’ previous band Masochism gained fame in Texas and beyond for its tight compositions and complex, aggressive guitar solos. Since 2006, he has played exclusively in Ayasoltec, which by combining ancient imagery with modern fusion hybrids creates an atmosphere unmatched by most bands attempting the post-death-metal styles. They are accompanied tonight by Immerse and Knights of Darkness.