Is Progressive Metal Progressive?

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I got thinking about this while reading through some of the stuff on The Gabriel Construct’s webpage. He said he wants to make progressive metal progressive again. After thinking about this, I realized that this really strikes a chord with me. It is probably one of the reasons I’ve felt so uninspired by the stuff I’ve been listening to.

Let’s take as a case study: HeavyBlog’s top 12 of 2013 so far list (restricting to 2013 will not influence this discussion at all, since the best prog of 2012 falls into the same tropes) and pull the albums that can be labelled as “prog.” I actually like a lot of prog metal. You should remember this, because it is going to sound like a post in which I slam prog metal. Instead, this should be read as a sadness that such a promising genre has hit a stasis.

This is going to get hairy with putting bands into certain boxes, but as I see it the list is Tesseract (should djent actually count as a form of prog?), Persefone (is symphonic metal a form of prog?), Coheed and Cambria, Intronaut, Extol (OK, I haven’t actually listened to this one, but the list says it’s prog), Leprous, and The Ocean.

What do these bands have in common that makes them prog? They tend to have technical playing with technique that derives from classical skills of fast arpeggios and scale patterns than more traditional metal/rock techniques. The chord progressions tend to be less straightforward. This can mean jazz influenced or excessive chromaticism. The time signatures tend to be less straightforward and can even involve alternating time signatures and metric modulations. Lastly, the songs tend to be longer and more thoroughly developed and tied together with a common theme.

So what’s the problem? Well, at one point in time doing these things within metal was a progressive thing to do. They weren’t being done. It was interesting and new. It was moving the genre forward. Now it seems that these things that define the genre have become tropes. You have to have x number of time changes, y number of chromatic patterns, and z number of songs over 8 minutes long. Oh yeah, and we’ll praise you mindlessly if you make these numbers without actually doing anything original.

Instead of being truly progressive and trying to bring in new influences to make interesting and new music, it all ends up sounding similar. Just because you came up with a way to arpeggiate faster, using a “new” pattern, and you do more chromatic steps doesn’t mean you’re “more progressive” or even more interesting. It is more of the same pretending to be different.

Maybe I’m reacting to an over-saturation of prog lately, and I won’t feel this way after a break from it, but sometimes when listening to prog it sounds like a joke. It sounds like the band is stringing together a bunch of tropes in mockery of how derivative it all has become. Scale the Summit is unfortunately going to get my wrath, but I can’t listen that new album. It has such high praise all over the place, but I’m so bored by it. I mean listen to this. It is pretty, and quite impressive technically at parts, but how many times have you heard this?

No offense to Scale the Summit, I could have picked something off literally any of the bands listed above and some of those albums might even make my top 10 of the year. It is just a feature of the current prog scene. It has become static. There are the occasional minor details that are new, but overall, it isn’t progressing.

Progressive metal can become progressive again. To some people it may seem shocking. What more do I want? They are already employing all of the complexity you would find in any fully trained classical composer. I’d reply, well, yes, any trained composer through the 19th century. But this stuff is more than a century old now. You could incorporate tons of modern developments. You don’t have to write atonally, but you can incorporate interesting post-tonal techniques to make something progressive without losing your band’s characteristic sound.

Other than tonality, there have been tons of other innovations from play style (stop with the incessant arpeggios, please), to modern electronic filtering of sound in new ways, to how your band layers together its pieces texturally, to instruments used (thank you Hybrid for showing us clarinet can be used in metal), to more original genre crossover, and on and on. You shouldn’t have to be an Animals as Leaders or Dream Theater clone to be prog. I bet I could write a fugue a la Hindemith that would sound really good by a metal band. How about someone tries that for originality?

I know there are actually lots of bands out there doing this, but they immediately get labelled as avant garde and pushed out of the prog scene. As I pointed out last time, this term should probably be reserved for the really, really out there stuff. Incorporating these techniques subtly into your standard prog sound should still count as prog metal. We should embrace more experimentation to finally get out of this stasis.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HKeuXQg5-Y

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Classical String Quartets for the death metal fan, a first look

circa 1800:  Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827), German composer, generally considered to be one of the greatest composers in the Western tradition.  (Photo by Henry Guttmann/Getty Images)shostakovich01

The purpose of this series is to present the death metal fan (and by extension, the death metal writer/artist/composer) with a look into great classical string quartets that evoke the same violent and stark atmosphere that is typical of death metal.

The metal fan is encouraged to look beyond superficial parallels or differences so that he realizes how these string quartets by master composers developed into a cornucopia of expressions, patterns and details. I wish this would also be an aspiration or at least an inspiration for the artist (or would-be artist) that has the chance of reading it.

Another good reason to listen to string quartets in general is that they tend to express a more sincere and private facet of the composer while also being a test to his prowess in composition.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Op. 133, Grosse Fuge

Originally written as the last movement of his Op. 130, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, this massive movement was once commented on by Stravinsky saying that it is “an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever.”. Stravinsky was referring to the absolute character of the music and its jarring disparity with temporal conventions.

 

Dmitry Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 10 in A flat, Op. 118

The well-known dark personality of Shostakovich’s compositions comes through in distilled and intensified manner in his string quartets. In here we find a mature Shostakovich channeling visions of a personal hell. We can imagine his will to fight through and see the light at the end of the tunnel despite facing terror and dread.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ven7hHpd_KU

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Carcass is a retro heavy metal act

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Carcass lead guitarist Bill Steer stated in an interview with Loud Magazine that he prefers to keep listening to older music as his taste does not include newer developments in metal.

Here is the relevant quote from the interview:

Q: Do you keep tabs on new developments within heavy music at all?
A: No, not really. I listen to music all the time, but I guess I’m the first to admit that I’m living in the past. When it comes to heavy music I really only listen to the old stuff. Occasionally someone will play me something by a contemporary band, and sometimes it’s something that’s quite impressive, but I don’t think I’ve heard anything lately that I would say makes me want to go out and buy the album, listen to it at home, or be inspired by it for new music. It’s just a personal taste thing, because I know there’s other people out there who are equally passionate about that music, but for them it’s all about what’s happening now, and the next thing. So it’s just down to the way your brain works, and what turns you on musically.

To many of us, this gives an interesting insight into Carcass stylistic changes throughout their discography. Many point their fingers at Michael Amott for the change in Carcass’ music towards their third album. But Bill Steer’s declaration is revealing of what his band is about regardless of Amott’s contributions.

Michael Amott’s previous work with Carnage revealed someone more in touch with the developments of death metal. Of course, the eventual paths each of these artists took with Arch Enemy and Carcass both show a penchant for 1980s heavy metal. But Stigmata still shows a more forward vision than the infamous Swansong.

While staying in touch with your roots, or any roots, for that matter, is important for convincing artistic development to occur, there is no development without looking forward towards a new horizon. By its very nature, music that attempts only to emulate what was is doomed to be an empty husk.

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Death Is Upon Us death metal compilation planned

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The German zine Legacy – The Voice From The Dark Side plans to release a death metal compilation entitled Death Is Upon Us featuring cover artwork by infamous death metal artist Mark Riddick.

The first 14 tracks from this compilation feature bands from Dark Descent Records:

Thevetat
Morpheus Descends
Horrendous
Blood Incantation
Spectral Voice
Grave Ritual
Divine Eve
Father Befouled
House of Atreus
Imprecation
Blaspherian
Weregoat
Ritual Necromancy
Ghoulgotha

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Profile: metal trader Sean Clark

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Sean Clark has been a part of the metal underground trading and selling circle for a long time, hunting down CDs and rare vinyls across the globe. As he gears up to sell some of his excess to finance further purchases of rare Profanatica material, he was able to answer a few questions for a profile:

When did you start selling/trading CDs and why did you get into CD trading? Were you a tape trader as well?

I think that I started seriously trading music back in the mid-’90s when I lived in Australia. Mostly copying tapes and trading with local friends. I started trading CDs on a wider scale around 2000 once I moved to the USA and a friend of mine introduced me to newsgroups, etc…

What appeals to you about underground metal? Does the same thing still appeal to you? Do you listen to other music as well?

EVERYTHING. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about today’s metal scene… so I just mostly keep myself busy with the stuff that I enjoyed in the past (but still do check out new bands nowadays just to make sure that I’m not missing out on something). Today’s scene is too hard to keep up to date with though… too many new releases every month.

Yes, I do listen to other music as well, but underground metal is usually about 80-90% of my music library.

What was your first encounter with the DLA/DMU and how did it ruin your life?

I honestly cannot remember how I found out about DLA/DMU…. but it was after speaking to you… must have been back in ’97? Probably on the newsgroups. I think that you bought some cds from me once though… but I knew you before I started selling/trading. We’ve had contact through various platforms for a long time now.

What current bands make you excited?

I am not so excited about many current bands because they mostly just remind me of better bands in the past. I think that most of the bands that I get excited about now aren’t even metal (Lana Del Ray, for example).

If people like the CDs you have, where do they find a list and buy them?

Everything that I have for sale is on my Facebook page : www.facebook.com/CryptsOfTrades

Click on PHOTOS and then ALBUMS… there are several photo albums there with pictures of everything that I am selling.

Good luck, Sean and let me know if you find any killer Profanatica stuff.

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“Don’t let death metal become death by metal”

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Oregon transportation authority Tri-Met is running a series of ads on billboards and posters warning people against the problems of distracted pedestrians, especially those lost deeply in their MP3 players. The campaign includes the above amusing reference to death metal, “Don’t let death metal become death by metal,” although both sound pretty cool to us.

This is not Tri-Met’s first mention of death metal in its public campaigns. It also shows up in writings about riders. If anything, this suggests the Tri-Met people are at least aware enough of death metal to deserve more of it in their lives.

Lady on my bus wearing cute pollyanna dress, white rights, black penny loafers and blasting what sounds like death metal.

If you feel a need to spread some of the death metal awareness, consider contacting Tri-Met by sending a copy of Deicide Legion to this address:

Tri-Met
Attn: DEATH METAL
701 SW 6th Ave
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 238-7433

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Absurd Asgardsrei: possibly the worst re-issue in metal

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In 1998, a few black metal musicians — many of whom faced legal troubles in their home countries — came together to make a recording. The result, Asgardsrei, captured black metal in transition: its epic past, its roots in punk merged with Oi, and its tackling of unpopular subject matter, in this case out-of-the-closet NSBM.

This form of music differed NSBMTM that was to follow which meant exclusively Drudkh-style droning sugar-substitute melodies and battle-related titles with neo-Romantic lyrics:


Alone I wander
Wastelands of the soul
Among the corpses and ash
A single flower rises
Kill the Jews with fire

Absurd back in the day combined a poetic style that might be called “immaturism,” a wide-ranging complaint with the modern world, and yes, some rather violent ideas. It defied categorization. Their debut album, Facta Loquuntur, sounded at times like ultra-simplistic punk with lyrics from a child’s point of view, pointing out not policy failures or physical breakdown in Western society, but its completely backward spirit and denial of all existential importance. Always on the edge of black metal, Absurd both increased the discernible Oi/RAC influence and put together more black metal style riffing, creating a hybrid that kept both voices without allowing the extremes of either to take over.

Fast-forward to 2012. Absurd — now with none of the 1999 members — re-issues Asgardsrei in a new form. As it is arguably the most musically interesting album from Absurd, combining the raw forest metal (this is the band that wrote “Green Heart” after all) with greater proficiency and alertness, it could be a big seller for this band. Unfortunately, they decided to under guise of a re-master actually alter this album. First they turned up the guitars and turned down keyboards, background sounds, etc. They replaced the subtle intro with patriotic bluster and industrial percussion. Then they either modified or added drums to give the album a constant kick-happy Oi beat. Finally, they modified vocals to sound more like the recent Oi/metal hybrid the band has been putting out. The result crushed all subtlety and made this album very much the exact thing this band in its original form would have recoiled at.

Thuringian plain, deep dark forest
Evil dwells on there in the woods
Snowcovered hills, cold winds blowing
Romantic place, is it understood ?!

Evil in the forest in Germany’s Green Heart !

Hateful savages, strong black minds
Out of the forest, kill the human kind
Burn the settlements and grow the woods
Until this romantic place is understood !

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yZuRPWBbe0

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#MetalGate Band Podcast 3

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The MetalGate Band group produces a series of podcasts where informed participants in the movement against censorship in music meet to talk about issues of the day. If your Mom is in the room (for modern metal fans) or your children are (for underground metal stalwarts) you might want to keep the mute button handy because there is frequent, copious and gleeful use of obscenities.

Every episode has its own topic, and some high points which may be related. The peak of this episode seems to be the discussion about the difference between making media solely to make money or be popular, and those who want to be popular as a means of getting their music or movies out there to express an idea.

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The historical background of MetalGate

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From a recent interview with our editor:

You and the other reviewers are notorious for having incredibly harsh reviews. What would you say are your favorite metal albums of all time?

These metal albums have stayed in weekly rotation over the years:

  1. Massacra – Final Holocaust
  2. Slayer – Show No Mercy
  3. Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
  4. Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation
  5. Deicide – Legion
  6. Beherit – Drawing Down the Moon
  7. Cianide – A Descent Into Hell
  8. Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
  9. Demilich – Nespithe
  10. Demoncy – Joined in Darkness

The reason my analysis is different than that of other metal sites is that populist writers prioritize surface novelty and underlying similarity to mainstream rock, where I look at metal as a form of art in its own right. It should be measured by the quality of its internal organization and ability to artistically represent a vision of power. The popular “best of” lists specialize in bands that will be forgotten in a few years because when the novelty is gone, they are the same old stuff you could get anywhere else.

I keep a copy of Sepultura Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation in every room in the house. I dislike being too far from one at any given time.

What contemporary bands should we be paying attention to?

In music as in all things, I am an elitist. This means that I want the best music available because time is short and there is no point wasting it on the trivial. Keep an eye on Demoncy, Sammath, Blaspherian, Kjeld, Desecresy, Kaeck, Blood Urn, and Kever.

Some accuse your site of manufacturing a controversy with MetalGate but the SJW infiltration of political correctness in metal has technically been going on since the late 90s. Do you think metal can actually be tamed by leftists and what is your perspective on the attempts to make metal safe?

SJWs are incapable of understanding the aesthetics of metal, which is why all leftist music tends to be metal-flavored riffing wrapped around rock or punk. Metal music sounds the way it does because its outward form represents what its composers wish to communicate. Ignoring lyrics and imagery, which are entirely secondary to composition much as production is, the music itself conveys an abstract and distant sound that makes beauty out of ugliness through a respect for power. In metal, what is powerful creates excellence, and from within that comes the elegance of form and portrayal of reality that makes great art.

Rock takes the opposite view. It is basically intense repetition with an ironic twist at the end, which means that it differentiates itself through “message.” People love catchy lyrics that embody some idea they find appealing at the time, but these are always experiences based in the individual, which is why almost all of rock music is love songs or “protest music” that wails about how inconvenient it is that some complex idea stands between the individual and a good time. You cannot both be pro-nationalist and listen to rock music.

Metal came about when Black Sabbath wanted to interrupt the hippies — what they called SJWs back when they opposed The Establishment — with some “heavy” (hippie slang for intense, epic and terrifying) realism. The West was falling apart, and the popular movements insisted that if we just focused on peace, love and happiness, all our problems would magically vanish. This focus on reality makes metal appear right-wing to leftists. It embraces consequentialism, worship of the ancient, distrust of the narcissism in the individual, and the idea of conflict itself, so that those who are strongest win. This inherently clashes with the individualist groupthink of the left, which seeks to avoid conflict and manage people indirectly through guilt.

When SJWs make metal, it ends up sounding like punk rock or rock because those forms of “protest music” reflect the individualist and yet group-oriented mentality of the SJW. Like the Christians with their “white metal” in the 1980s and the many times commercial record labels have tried to launch rock bands disguised as metal to capture the metal audience, social justice workers (SJWs) are trying to force entry by liberal ideas into metal so they can take over the space of culture that it dominates, and its audience, and indoctrinate them in leftism. Both media and labels support this because it is cheaper to make rock bands than metal bands.

Metalgate rose to resist this conspiracy and call it what it is, which is an attempt to control our minds through propaganda in music, as well as a gambit to replace what we know of as metal with a “safe” version based in indie rock. Most people do not know it, but metal generates a lot of income because metal fans are loyal to the genre over the course of their lives. Record labels could make a lot of money if they could sell the same old pap with metal flavoring. Luckily metalheads are resisting as they have resisted every attempt to assimilate their genre into rock ‘n roll, break its spirit and make it repeat the same dogma that exists in every other genre of music.

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Should metal be a hobby or a career?

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A recent article on Gene Simmons observed the following:

Rock star Gene Simmons says that when it comes to making money he is like a great white shark.

And that despite being worth more than $300m (£200m), he will never stop wanting to make more.

…”I’ll never stop hunting more money, I’ll never have enough.”

On the other hand, many excellent metal bands are probably clearing $300/month in royalties or less. At that point, we tend to call the making of metal a hobby and talk about their day jobs. The advantage to that approach is that the metal can remain un-tainted by commerce and with consumerism, the need to appeal to an audience by jumping on trend bandwagons or otherwise showing them what they already know they like, sort of like how baby food is ground-up vegetables.

Looking at the other side, it must be nice to be worth $300m and to have the power to do great things with that. Maybe Mr. Simmons has done so. But one might think that at some point, the money becomes more important than the music, which turns metal away from its mission of brutal realism and makes it a friendly, happy, warm and fuzzy product like your average American beer or hamburger.

Perhaps a middle ground exists, where fewer metal bands make $300m but also fewer worthy metal bands subsist on $300. Most metal musicians would be very happy with $60-80,000 a year. They tend not to be materialistic, except for collecting vinyl and guitars, but in the grand scheme of things those aren’t very expensive.

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