According to the Norwegian daily Aftenposten, the Sweden-based “Christian” black metal band Antestor recently experienced black metal fans engaging in some real life activism.
The band left a successful gig in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to encounter a crowd of about a hundred people who, bearing banners with anti-Christian and anti-Antestor messages, attacked the band, spat on them, beat them and kicked them. According to Antestor, if it had not been for the timely arrival of the Brazilian police, things might have gotten worse.
According to a local black metal blog that reported on the attack, WarMetalBR.com, Christian black metal is a “cultural plagiarism” that needs to be disposed of. Apparently the protestors agree.
Given the history of black metal, it is hard not to see the protestors’ point. Black metal was founded as a rejection of all that Western civilization considers sacred, including humanism, Christianity, acceptance of others, kindness, hope and even “fun.” Like metal itself, black metal is a realist reactionary movement that distrusts society because of its tendency to put human moral emotions before the consequences of our actions in reality itself. Black metal musicians pointed to the church, McDonald’s, pollution, cultural loss and rising stupidity as the result of us prioritizing human emotions before nature and the consequences of our actions.
“Antestor play extreme metal with a Christian message, while those who lay in wait for us are ‘Satanists’ — they lag ten years behind musical developments development in Norway. It is just not something new that some extreme metal fans ‘hate’ the Bible and Christianity. But it is the first time for us that there is such a thing,” said Antestor guitarist Robert Bordevik.
At the Death Metal Underground, we can’t condone randomly assaulting bands (or can we?) but we can’t claim to be surprised. Black metal is music of hatred and of hating humanist ideas including those in religion and its secular counterpoints. It is nice that people are well-intentioned. Black metal, like a predator in the dark Nordic forest in winter, is not. It is based on power and competition in nature and not on good intentions.
Most people go through life in a willful denial of the results of their actions and the consistency of reality that makes it so. People want to be aware of only what they want, and they invent happy stories to justify this. They manipulate others with these happy stories and the vision of equality that makes us all feel like there is no competition or need to exert ourselves.
Like the heavy metal generations before it, black metal crashed down on these fanciful illusions by pointing out that reality is shared between us and is the ultimate arbitrator of what is true. We can deny it, but then it just grows stronger as we bury it under prayers, propaganda, good feelings, alcohol, drugs, television and Big Macs.
For those who believe this, any form of humanist or Christian attempt to make “black metal” will seem like someone spreading the opposite message of the genre within the genre, so it’s not surprising they retaliate. Perhaps this will spur the black metal community to go back to its roots and analyze what it actually stands for.
We are proud to launch the DeathMetal.org podcast series which features the type of music and thinking you expect from your favorite nihilist death metal maniacs.
Covert DJ Rob Jones brings you the esoteric undercurrents of doom metal, death metal and black metal in a show that also exports its philosophical examinations of life, existence and nothingness.
If you miss the days when death metal was a Wild West that kept itself weird, paranoid and uncivilized, you will appreciate this detour outside of acceptable society into the thoughts most people fear in the small hours of the night.
The playlist for this week’s show is:
Derketa – Obscurities of Darkness (In Death We Meet)
Extract from Aubade by Philip Larkin (read by Larkin himself)
Deathless Order – Tentacles of Circumstance (Obeisance)
Goatcraft – Vestibule to the Abyss (All for Naught)
War Master – Into the Abysmal Fire (Pyramid of the Necropolis)
Beithíoch – Arm Na Déithe (Summoning the Past)
Uriel – Azathoth (Arzachel)
Swallowed – Unsavourably (Swallowed)
Chthe’ilist – VeÆcoiitnÆaphnatÆsmaalÓ (Amechth’ntaas’m’rriachth)
A transcript of the dialogue embedded therein:
Death metal is a reflection of our every fear. It thrives upon our sense of our own mortality – the unavoidable feeling of horror that comes from the knowledge that we and everything we cherish and hold dear will eventually all amount to rot.In a world without god there is no respite from this fear; no comfort or deliverance from the terror that wakes us in the night.
To face this darkness unflinchingly is wisdom. To act in spite of the over-arching fear of death is godly.
The very existence of life and consciousness, and all things fleeting and impermanent in this reality are themselves a contradiction and a challenge to the crippling endlessness of death stretching before us and behind us – for if life came from nothing and is only going back to nothing, perhaps here and now is actually something special and sacred?
Death metal like a Lovecraft story presents the world to us in a way that is grotesque and fantastic, contorting and parodying things that at one level should be ordinary and rational but defy explanation – but are also all too familiar and real in their prescient sense of horror at death, despite how obviously mythic and over the top the presentation may be.
Indeed, arguably the surreal outward appearance of death metal is entirely appropriate for discussing death – for death and the cessation of consciousness are to us now as they always have been to man – beyond the normal bounds of our thinking – semi-mythic, inexplicable and more than the mundane sequence of things we grow accustomed to.
The last incomprehensible, more-than-real event our lives will encounter in this secular and rationalist age.
Metal music is quite deliberately not very sentimental or excessively introspective about death; but rather by its raging implores us to be actively conscious of death and to endeavor to live life.
For, as death is certain, it is no more meaningful to live in willful ignorance of it than it is to wallow in self-pity about it. Both of these responses are passive, and are little better than being dead before your time. Knowing that, there is perhaps nothing left to do but marvel at the awesomely uncrafted beauty of everything, and to treat life as a constant challenge or adventure – which, paradoxically perhaps, we seem to instinctively know is the most fulfilling way to live.
For by great striving and fortitude life justifies itself, both with each moment and in the reaching towards some future moment or goal – in defiance of the entropic power of decay and death.
Metal stumps many people because there is a values system within it which has been consistent across the years, but from reading metal lyrics it is hard to figure out what that values system is.
From the imagery and topics of songs, we know metal has a spread not unlike that of European Romantic poetry: nature, horror, the occult, ancient ruins, melancholy alienation and war-like power worship are frequently mentioned. It is difficult to translate those ideals into our contemporary individual-based values system.
Arguably the primordial ‘Lucy’ of metal bands, Black Sabbath augmented the aesthetics of heavy blues rock bands like Cream and Led Zeppelin with occult imagery, pagan and mystical overtones.
However, at the same time as they were seemingly ‘up in the clouds’, there was a nuanced and satirical realism present in the band’s aesthetics that prayed on rosy-eyed optimism.
For instance, in the lyrics of ‘Solitude’ we get a stark, if not sentimental, picture of the fragile nature of human life:
My name it means nothing
My fortune is less
My future is shrouded in dark wilderness
Sunshine is far away, clouds linger on
Everything I possessed – Now they are gone
‘Hand of Doom’ is a satirical jab at the escapism of the contemporary hippie drug scene:
First it was the bomb, Vietnam napalm
Disillusioning, you push the needle in
From life you escape, reality’s that way
Colors in your mind, satisfy in timeYour mind is full of pleasure, your body’s looking ill
To you it’s shallow leisure, so drop the acid pill
Don’t stop to think now
To many, this would seem hypocritical given Sabbath’s legendary history of drug use. However, as any user will tell you, there’s a difference between use to escape and use simply because you like getting high.
This seeming paradox extends to other areas. For Sabbath, the means-ends relationship between an action and its intention is important. It may not be bad to use drugs, but to use drugs to escape reality in such a way that you then end up with an ideology of denying reality, could well be bad.
They apply this lens to other areas, such as politics and religion.
More interestingly still, Sabbath were regarded by many as a ‘Satanic’ band owing to the cover art of their first, self-titled album. However, in the song ‘After Forever’ a charge of ‘group-think’ mentality is directed at, ironically, atheists:
Is your mind so small that you have to fall
In with the pack wherever they run
Will you still sneer when death is near
And say they may as well worship the sun?I think it was true it was people like you that crucified Christ
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced
Will you be so sure when your day is near, say you don’t believe?
You had the chance but you turned it down, now you can’t retrieve
The above content makes sense when we consider that one of the things that sets the best metal apart from its heavy rock is its nihilism. Nihilism is a form of extreme realism that rejects the intentions of human individuals when used for the sake of those human individuals, and respects only viewpoints that are oriented toward the larger reality outside the individual.
Metal has always been about blowing overly-optimistic and unrealistic view points out of the water, and worshiping what is ‘heavy’ about existence. Black Sabbath started this trend by calling out many of the convenient lifestyle viewpoints of its contemporaries.
During the second world war, while most of humanity was involved in mass warfare, the writer and thinker Jean Paul Sartre was instead laboring away in the libraries of occupied France. He was solidifying what has become known as the philosophy of ‘existentialism’. One of the main tenants of existentialism is that ‘existence precedes essence’, or in other words, that there is no fixed and immutable basis from which human life proceeds and from which it derives its meaning.
According to an existentialist, an individual human being is borne, becomes conscious, and then creates his or her own meaning from a point of reference of personal choosing, in a subjective act of pure freedom. Indeed according to Sartre, existentialism is a form of humanism, and we can see why. Secular Humanism, or modern humanism, is the normative or ethical ideal that individuals have the right and responsibility to give meaning and purpose to their own lives, free from tradition, scripture or ‘higher’ authority. So ‘existentialism’ and ‘humanism’ are both cut from the same cloth, the former being a complex (and some would argue, intentionally obscure and obfuscate) philosophical justification for the latter.
Existentialism is a reversal of the traditional metaphysical notion of ‘essentialism’, or the idea that there exists a fixed point from which values and meaning can be derived, by an objective act of intellect or rationality. The most commonly encountered form of essentialism is, in fact, religion. In the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, God is the basis for existence. He forms the immutable point from which values and meaning are derived. The actions of individuals, their lives, even the actions of entire cultures and cultural movements, derive their value (Good or Evil) from their particular relationship to God. A figure representing the extreme end of the essentialist spectrum, in so far as absolutely positioning life in relation to something prior and fixed, might be Osama Bin Laden. For Bin Laden there is one Word, one Truth, one measure of values. Human ‘choice’ is only as valuable insofar as it leads to a life proscribed by the Word of God. You are beheaded with a bread knife, held down on a concrete floor in panic and terror, if, in choosing to give your life ‘its own meaning’, you align yourself against God. Needless to say, Bin Laden and Sartre would not have got along.
In light of the issues discussed above, death metal is a curious art form. Its position on the existentialist <–> essentialist spectrum is unclear. In its aesthetic outlook, it mocks religious sentiment and tears down religious imagery with truculent glee. Its lyrics praise Satan, evil, darkness and anything, it would seem, that runs against the grain of monotheism. Hence it could be swiftly concluded that death metal is anti-essentialist art, par excellence, tearing down that that last barrier to human freedom: religion.
With a shift in perspective, however, death metal could be viewed in a thoroughly different light. It could be viewed a form of essentialist art. If this is true, then what prior structures could death metal be said to worship? Firstly, death metal posits an immutable essence from which individual human existence stems and from which it cannot escape: biology. Death metal abounds in morbid liturgical hymns about dissection, disease, the tearing of flesh, and the wrenching of bone. Secondly, death metal posits an ‘absolute’ point of reference from which all human actions are judged: death. That ‘all life ends’, is embodied in roaring sentiment in the whole show of death metal. Everyone dies, and reality cares not one whit for the individual. So you, buying your coffee table and matching coasters, beware; your time is finite. Death metal might well be an artistic conduit for spiritual readjustment in the face of something inescapable that, whether we like or not, at some point we are going to have to judge our lives in reference to.
Thirdly, in compositional method and production death metal seems to be inspired, if only implicitly, by prior natural forms. Compositionally, a death metal piece evolves via the linking of riffs according to geometrical shape as opposed to the normal way of linking parts in rock music which is harmonic. This is what give death metal its atonal and, at first, unattractive sound to the uninitiated. Production wise, nihilistic individual units of distorted tone depend on their relation to other such units, or the overarching structure of the song, to achieve beauty in death metal, a bit like matter and the physical universe where a piece of matter, taken by itself, is unremarkable and unsexy.
The list of ways in which death metal could be viewed as an acknowledgement of prior and apparently inescapable aspects of reality is a long one. Battle, night, winter, solitude; all are frequent topics of lyrical subject matter and fodder for imagery. Of course, there are all sorts of aspects of reality that are fixed and inescapable yet which death metal ignores: love, growth, joy, etc. But this is because death metal is concerned with those prior structures to human life that we choose to ignore because they are uncomfortable. Hence its ominous and brooding aesthetics. But while death metal is dark music, anyone who cares to pay enough attention can apprehend that the most worthy contributors to the genre are a world away from writing protest music.
Death metal is not ‘rebelling’ against the uncomfortable parts of life that we are doomed to face up to at some point. It is an attempt to give these aspects of life an artistic redemption. In this, and only this sense, can death metal be said to be ‘humanistic’. It is an attempt at representing those aspects of reality that we often ignore, in order to give them some relevance in human affairs so that we might adjust our lives accordingly, in full awareness of the place of human live in the cosmos.
If all this is correct, then death metal may very well be ‘naturalist religious’ music: A ‘yes’ to, and artistic redemption of, life as process, renewal, conflict and reductive energy.
We know what the vast majority of the public have moved on to, which is the hipster/indie/emo hybrid of the -core genres, but it’s hard to blame them since underground metal is underproducing.
Underground metal is in stagnation. For the last 18 years, nothing new has come of it, although there have been standouts in the old style. We’ve been relegated to the “old school” category.
It isn’t that the talented musicians are gone. It’s that they got overwhelmed by untalented imitators interested in fame, money and socially popular topics. The good was marginalized by the mediocre.
Death metal is the ultimate evolution of metal. Black metal added melody to it. The next stages will have to do something substantially distinctive, or do it substantially better, in order to get noticed to the degree that musicians want. Three chords and the truth will not do it.
Perhaps all of metal should go back to Metallica’s “Orion” and try to re-innovate from there.
A collaboration between zine enthusiasts Alan Moses (Buttface zine) and Brian Pattison (Chainsaw Abortions zine), this relic features rare photographs and stories from the bands themselves. There are no outside influences to censor or alter what is displayed.
Reminiscent of Zoyd Wheeler, a California stoner who dives through plate-glass windows in order to keep qualifying for government mental disability benefits in Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, a 47-year-old man in Sweden is on the dole for his addiction to heavy metal.
“I’m still addicted,” said Hässleholm resident Roger Tullgren, according to The Local. His addiction, which is seen as a mental disability, allows him to receive benefits to supplement his income because he listens to too much metal to hold down a full-time job.
Since we all know that jobs are jails, and 75% of what goes on in offices is redundant and could be eliminated, it seems a positive trade. After all, he’s receiving only the equivalent of $150 per month, and spends much of his time with his band. The whole thing might just be a promotional stunt.
But this brings us the broader question: we are Hessians united by a culture and a vision. Our cultural belief includes the attitude that jobs should be done efficiently so people can go on to do more interesting things with their lives. Why are we still sending everyone to kill eight hours a day at jobs? One explanation is that people simply don’t know what to do with themselves otherwise.
Another view is that we could do this, but then people would need to find something compelling to fill that time slot. They’d need to find a purpose, or meaning in life. At least Roger Tullgren has found his, even if many people think he’s committing himself to Satan as a result. And what’s wrong with that?
The year is done. It brought many things: a new wave of hipster metal that blipped and died, an old school revival that’s been percolating for years, drama and sadness with the recent death of Rigor Mortis’ Mike Scaccia. Above all else, however, it brought us some quality music, some of which is heavy metal and some of which is metal in spirit only. Enjoy this survey of the best of 2012.
The Best Metal (and related) of 2012
Abhorrence – Completely Vulgar This legendary band existed before Amorphis and plays a grittier style of the bold, warlike and heavy yet melodic music that graced Amorphis’ first album, The Karelian Isthmus. These Abhorrence tracks show the band that would later write that album as they emerge from early grind/death stylings and gradually work more melody into their work. This is metal’s holy grail: how to be both epic and amoral in the nihilistic sense of worshipping power, darkness and nature, but also use melody and harmony to give the works some staying power. As this collection of re-released demos progresses, the fusion of the two gets more confident and deft, leading us up to the point where the greatness of the first Amorphis album was inevitable.
Angel Witch – As Above, So Below After a lengthy absence, this classic NWOBHM band returns with an album that shows integration of more recent influences, specifically American heavy metal and progressive metal, but still keeps up the power. These songs are not as distinctive or as oddball as the heavily personalitied offerings from their self-titled album, but As Above, So Below is important because it takes disparate influences and places them under the control of one voice and style, which gives others room to build on. The oil-on-water aspect of bands switching between influences is gone and replaced by a smooth enwrapping of these styles into the substrate of Angel Witch’s lauded and learned evil heavy metal.
Beherit – Celebrate the Dead If death metal was modernism, with its emphasis on structure, black metal was postmodernism, or an attempt to show through atmosphere the many facets of an idea in a clarity which could not be confined to a single statement. This was a quest as old as humanity, which is how to communicate in such a way that people who do not understand it do not simply imitate it from the outside-in and make something that looks about like it, fooling most people. Since the late 1990s Beherit have been at work inventing the next wave or movement of metal, one in which multiple statements co-exist in contradictory opposites that reveal the shadow or silhouette of an underlying truth. Two forms are in tension here: the “loop” form of traditional ambient music, in which layers are poured on top of a basic dub to create a simple sonic tapestry, and the pure narrative form which electro-acoustic music (and even some dubstep) touches on, in which a story is told through the change of riffs. This is closer to the original death metal idea of structure, but it is structure created through atmosphere, like old Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno albums, or even classical music. To this end, Beherit has re-released two demo songs from Engram which are ambitious longer (13- and 15-minute) works which show a deepening and changing of atmosphere, using both looping and narrative constructs at the same time. This is a valiant and clear-headed attempt to resurrect black metal, which has fallen into the hands of those who imitate the “external” aspects of the early classics like simple riffs and fast songs, but understand none of the underlying ideas or songwriting methods. While it seems unconventional at first, Celebrate the Dead is a return to the truest form of black metal by expanding its orthodoxy to include the transcendental narrative of those more experienced in both this world, and the realms beyond. Be not fooled — evil pervades this release, so subtly that you will not know until it has seized your soul.
Dead Can Dance – Anastasis For their return after some absence, Dead Can Dance have taken the style on Spiritchaser and refined it even more with the sensibility of modern club music and soundtrack influences. Rhythms and tempo work like you might expect a big label ambient album to work, fitting very much into the slightly picked up chill-out range with gentle backing beats that are still identifiable enough to make it easy to listen to. Consistent with even earlier work, songs use extended structures, but they fit the pattern of an early MTV video or short film more than a musical one. The result is that these are immersive little sonic ventures that are both easy to hear and not surprising, and also, rewarding in their consistency and adept arrangements. Melodies themselves are not as adventurous or period/locale-specific as older Dead Can Dance, and in fact more lifts from earlier influences can be heard (check out the Doors “The end” inspirations on the first track). For a purist, this will not be the best Dead Can Dance album, but for something that has stepped into the Loreena McKennit or Enya range of “accessible,” this is far beyond what most would encounter otherwise and makes for a pleasant listen on its own.
Demoncy – Enthroned is the Night Along with Beherit, this shares the top spot as album of the year. In 2012, a wave of bands like Cruciamentum and Heresiarch rediscovered the sound of classic Incantation from the Onward to Golgotha area. Having come from the same school, joined to Incantation by Ixithra’s former band Havohej’s primary composer, Paul Ledney, having been an original member of Incantation, Demoncy launched into the same by creating a faithful followup to 1996’s Joined in Darkness. In this case, Demoncy add a bit of melody and atmosphere, channeling from first album Unleashed and other Swedish death metal classics, thus combining the two most intense areas of death metal into what is really a death metal album with a black metal sense of atmosphere. The result is a descent into a dark and primal place in which occult spiritual warfare transpires through the battling of motifs in this complex album made of simple parts. Like Joined in Darkness, it is otherworldly and foreboding, but a bit less purely alienated; instead, this album creates a sense of symbolic significance emerging like melody from the clouded obscure. Very little black metal of this intensity has been made since the mid-1990s which makes this both faithful to the spirit and pushing the boundaries of the genre, a simultaneous advancement that eludes most musicians and fans alike.
Derkéta – In Death We Meet Arising from the ashes of Mythic, the all-female doom-death band from the early 1990s, Derkéta follows in a more purely doom metal path including some of the juicy 1970s heavy metal style doom metal that audiences enjoy with bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General. 24 years later, this album is the first for this promising band, and holds back nothing. Like Mythic, the music is formed of giant bolsters of tunneling power chords colliding slowly over a changing melodic landscape. Atmosphere emerges from within. The simplicity of it removes the glitz and contentless enhancement of current doom metal bands, and takes the listeners back to the essence of the genre, which is an unsettling sense of pervasive dread. A prominent Candlemass Ancient Dreams influence seems to be present in these compact and droning songs.
Desecresy – The Doom Skeptron Desecresy approach Finnish death metal the way others might approach doom metal, using melody and abstract song structures to convey an experience not unlike watching the helmet camera of a pilot flying through a vast and ancient underground cave in which demons seem to lurk behind every stalagtite. Comparable to a hybrid between Amorphis and Skepticism, this album nonetheless keeps up the umptempo riffing and lets its melodies emerge to construct an emanating atmosphere. The result is both aggressive and enjoyable from a purely death metal perspective, but where appropriate, it uses the moods of doom metal to complete that raging insanity to produce an experience that is like a journey. There are doubts, fears, joys, rage and sadness, but pervading all of it is a sonorous melancholy which indicates a change in viewing life from orientation toward what is safe, to prizing what is adventurous and as such being alone on a planet of people concerned with safety labels and microwave cooking.
Drawn and Quartered – Feeding Hell’s Furnace Imagine a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Num Skull. These songs are extremely basic, like the melodies of horror movies, but are put together with interlocking rhythms that propel them forward and give them atmosphere. As a result, their themes feel intuitive like paths through a forest remembered from a childhood story. There will not be surprise at the ways these tunes twist and bend, but appreciation for a well-done interpretation on a necessary idea. In the same way you might appreciate an excellent sword or well-executed painting of a familiar subject, these songs will be appreciated for how well they do what they love. Just as most musicians make their best work when they design it to be enjoyed repeatedly by people with their own tastes, this faithful and yet creative interpretation of the old school death metal genre will be shared among those who can appreciate it, for taking the past and making it live on by keeping it current to itself and through inventiveness, an enjoyable listen.
Faustcoven – Hellfire and Funeral Bells This release is not particularly metal, or at least underground metal, even though it aspires to the aesthetics of it. Rather, this is like Marilyn Manson interpreting classic heavy metal in a gothic doom metal context as informed by death metal aesthetics but not technique. It’s basically blues rock with short phrase power chord riffs and highly compelling rhythm, underneath leads that are reminiscent of a friendlier version of St. Vitus. Good use of theme allows this release to be a faithful listen and also have some staying power for those who like this style. Like most doom metal, it is designed to build a repetitive atmosphere that is part curl of enjoyment, and part linear path of a melancholic mood. The death metal vocals would normally be out of place here but with the heavy reverb they take a backseat and let the guitars talk, which is the point of this band. It will probably not delight those who like underground metal, but if you’re looking for someplace to go for your next Cathedral or Sleep fix, this furry doom band holds the ticket.
Grave – Endless Procession of SoulsGrave return to the Swedish style which they helped make famous. Like later Fleshcrawl, this music is simplified from the original riff-salad which was reverse-assembled to make a journey into darkness emerge from thin air, but although it uses plenty of verse-chorus segments, they are not the entirety of each song. There are enough labyrinthine twists and turns to be fun, a good motivational rhythm, and an atmosphere of darkness and aggressive that is also (oddly) comforting and natural. Although musically this is fairly basic, like early Grave, it shows more use of melody and harmony, which adds an appreciable dimension of compactness and centering without falling into standard rock music. The result is easy to listen to and yet brings out its power in moments of sudden clarity which, as in life, make the listener think there might be more afoot than the obvious.
Imprecation – Jehovah Denied This four-song EP shows the resurrected Imprecation: more consistent in its songwriting, slightly less manic, and more inclined to create a pervasive atmosphere of darkness. The occult death metal founders from Houston originally shone in the early 1990s, when their demos and later CD were released, but returned after inaction and the lending of band members to other acts. Their earlier material had more of a Morbid Angel influence and presented itself as clear occultism, where the newer material goes back more toward where Possessed and early old school death metal (Morpheus Descends, Massacre) were headed back in their day. Mood-enhancing use of background keyboards gives an aura of the mysterious to these dark melodies and the organic rhythms which suffuse them. Influences on this music span from pre-death metal, through the walking and stalking rhythms of speed metal, to the later black metal works in song structure and atmosphere. This EP presages a killer full-length but stands on its own as quality music with a voice particular to its worldview.
Incantation – Vanquish in Vengeance With new personnel and possibly the strongest sense of unity in a long time, Incantation very sensibly took influences deliberately from their own two greatest successes: Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest. The result is an album that self-consciously borrows from those albums in style but tries to create new songs to wrap in that style, and with the aid of new guitarist Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia) shapes its works around melodic shapes but does not adorn them in melodic riffing, creating a sense of an inner region of hidden energy within the exterior of rugged chromatic shapes. The result is one of Incantation’s most conventional albums but also a festival of the methods that made early Incantation so distinctive and powerful, which combined makes for a good later death metal listen.
Legion of Doom – The Summoning of Shadows This oddity of an album begins with some form of sung prayer and launches into songs that are both adorned in the harmonic glaze of melodic playing and also possessed of the manic simplicity of early black metal. Like the primitive era of black metal, these songs are specific structures fitting the content of each song, with droning riffs that interact and build to a culmination before dissipating. On this album, Legion of Doom use more death metal and speed metal technique in with their Burzum-inspired black metal, ending in a result that sounds more like an ornate and elegant version of Gorgoroth’s Destroyer. Like all Legion of Doom releases, The Summoning of Shadows features songs that accelerate thematic intensity in layers and produce an immerse, ambient experience that suspends reality through the sheer dominating power of its riffs. This album is more efficient than the last couple of releases of this band, and by embracing a listenable style, makes the type of outsider album that Marduk or Watain wish they could.
Lord Wind – Ales Stenar If you want to immerse yourself in ancient sensation, Graveland axeman Rob Darken’s ambient/neofolk/soundtrack project Lord Wind is a good place to start. Unlike previous Lord Wind efforts, Ales Stenar mixes real vocals and violin with electronic music that is roughly inspired by the Conan and Red Sonja soundtracks. The goal however is less like the rock-ish folk songs of neofolk, or the grand accompaniment for cinema provided by soundtracks; this is music like Burzum or Graveland that is designed for the listener to lose themselves in its repetitive hypnotic surges, like a catechism or mantra. Its soaring melodies and plunging dynamics give it a familiarity like the rush of blood through veins in the ears, and the result feels natural and yet inspired to rise above the mundane at the same time. Like entering a forest, the songs open up to repeated listens and soon each part is distinct, but our natural way is to hear it all at once and derive a sentimental feeling, perhaps warlike, from it. This is the most proficient and perhaps most profound of the Lord Wind albums, proffering a complete escape from reality to a world that is both fantasy and more real than the stuporous dream of modernity.
Master – The New Elite Over the past few albums, punk/heavy metal hybrid Master has steadily been migrating toward late-1990s death metal. This new album presents a more technical view than the verse-chorus-exposition songs that Master (and related Speckmann projects) evolved from. Much like On the Seventh Day God Created…Master, riffs are strummed with precision at high speed and tend to lead away from stable grouping by adding riffs to the existing loop. These riffs use longer progressions and more chromatic fills, giving the music a mechanical terror that makes it sound like technocracy taking over. Speckmann’s vocals are tighter than in the past and urge the music along, but somewhere in this musical process of evolution, his overall tone has started sounding less like protest music and more like a cheering of the coming conflagration. Seeing that Master keep improving over time provides a great incentive to follow this band as they evolve further.
Profanatica – Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Masters Sessions Sometimes, in order to reach your next aspiration, it is necessary to part with the past. Profanatica have done this in grand style by accumulating old tracks and re-working them in parallel, with one disc containing newer versions done in the early 1990s style, and the other containing older session takes on the same songs, interspersed with acoustic landscapes by Aragorn Amori, the band’s much-admired deceased former guitarist. Through its long history, the entity known as Profanatica/Havohej (or: Paul Ledney and friends) has consistently released material showcasing a truly artistic brilliance. Usually, between moments of brilliance there are experiments and less intense offerings that make it easy to forget that when they are in full swing, these musicians are unstoppable forces creating a unique type of black metal that is closer to ambient death metal but unlike most black metal at this time, possessed of a full mythos and unique view of the world. Like the best of Profanatica/Havohej, these two discs are ripping sonic terror that transcend daily life and divulge the essence of the feral spirit of pre-civilized humanity. In that vision of evil, Profanatica offer us something both inspiring and instructive, and do so through some of the best music of their career.
Terrorizer – Hordes of Zombies People love change if it is constant and hate it if not. Terrorizer misstepped with their first post-World Downfall album, but came back with a strong contender on Hordes of Zombies. It does not attempt to be World Downfall II which is intelligent since outward-in emulation of the past usually produces hollow shells, and a good many classic bands have gone to their graves in disgrace by doing the same thing. Instead, this aims more at the territory scoped by Napalm Death with Fear, Emptiness, Despair: a modern form of grindcore that is musical and listenable without being commercial, and aims less at creating an atmosphere of terror and misery than creating motivational, energetic and yet literalist/realist music. These songs convey a desire to look at a dangerous situation with hopeless odds, then jump in and fight it out. It’s war music, but music of a normalized war, like going out into a declining civilization and fighting for mundane survival. Hordes of Zombies does this through a somewhat overused metal metaphor, that of the zombie takeover of society, but as a movie/musical trope this theme has remained consistent since the 1960s because it so aptly describes egalitarian society. Consumerism, mass trends, fads, panics, elections, Black Friday sales, save-the-children; it’s all in there. Terrorizer may be brilliant satirists for transforming all of that mass neurosis into a simple symbol and then making these engaging songs about it. Each piece uses a combination of rhythmic and slight melodic hook to lure us in, then pits grinding riffs against one another while fitting them into bounding rhythms that unleash an inner fury in their conflict between the fear and the mundane. The result is a stream of ferocious riffs in songs that hold together as songs in the Terrorizer tradition, creating an experience of immersion in conflict that is both justified and everyday. For a genre such as grindcore, this more stable form is preferable to re-living the past or trying to “innovate” by including outside elements. As a result, Hordes of Zombies is not only a great listening experience but an archetype others will follow.
Thevetat – Disease to Divide One of the more interesting entries comes from ex-Ceremonium musician Thomas Pioli who has assembled a new team to make music that sounds like early NYDM mixed with the melodic undertones of heavy but intriguing bands like Montrosity, Malevolent Creation and Gorguts. The result hits hard with a rushing wall of chords and then drops into socketed rhythms that invoke a change in riffs, causing a twisted inner torment to emerge in Protean form. This gives old school death metal a new life without giving it a new form, since the form is the result of the content, which is essentially unchanged but slightly updated since 1992. No concessions to “modernization” (a/k/a mixing death metal with rock, jazz, metalcore, disco, punk, etc.) occur here, which allows this music to be in touch with its own spirit and flow freely from the source of its own inspiration. It is thunderous and yet perceptive, bringing with it the spirit of doom metal and its introspective melancholy. Although a three-song EP, this release beats out most albums released this year for pure death metal intensity.
Timeghoul – 1992-1994 Metal developed its own sense of “progressive” and “technical” music long before it imported jazz-fusion in order to help it. In fact, part of metal’s birth was from the original progressive rock in the 1970s and the soundtracks of horror movies, which gave it a predilection for this direction. “Progressive” itself is a misnomer since nothing new gets discovered in music, but probably more accurately means “complex”: music with unconventional song structures, extensive use of harmony, melody and key; possibly linked to some kind of story outside the music itself and the usual topics (love, sex, drama) of pop songs. These songs craft winding riffs and intricate structures, using embedded melody to transition between more chromatic riffs, and culminate in odd twists of fate that translate them into seemingly the reverse of their initial outlook. Culminating in the epic 10-minute “Occurrence on Mimas,” this collection of early works by this band showcase the enjoyably weird variety of death metal in its early days.
War Master – Pyramid of the Necropolis This modern band attempts to revive the death metal style, starting with the deathgrind of its namesake Bolt Thrower and incorporating influences from many of the bands of the era, and succeeds by staying true to its own enjoyment. As a result, it’s working in a style, and not from a template; the band want to create old school death metal, but aren’t doing it by imitating songs or styles, but by writing in that style based on similar inspirations. As a result, this band has its own voice despite being very familiar in technique, and has chosen its own path for subject matter and thus the arrangement of many of these songs and the types of riffs used. Its aesthetic mixes the grinding mid-tempo riffs and repetitive choruses of grindcore with the circuitous riffing of death metal and its tendency to unveil changes in layers of rhythm, guitar and vocals. While the style shows the influences of later death metal, its sensibility is firmly grounded in the early years, which makes this a great old-school death metal experience. However, its most salient factor is that it’s also interesting music. Songs are formed around their topic, with riffs and structure contorting to resemble the object, and riffcraft shows learning from the past but creation of its own new forms. Guttural vocals which maintain an ascetic detachment from the emotional content of the music help to give Pyramid of the Necropolis the ultimate death metal point of view, which is as a dispassionate observer amongs the ruins detailing the conflict that created this mess, and must endure after its collapse.
Disappointments of 2012
Abigor – Quintessence
Apparently this is new and old material. The shift between the new and old is like jumping out of a sauna into the snow. The newer material shapes itself to an expectation, much like the newer Swedishy bands in the style of Watain, that combines melodic punk with raw and random riffing in catchy rhythms. The result is like a painting made of painted dog turds, in that from a distance it is appealing, but as you get closer its mundane nature is revealed. Abigor have always suffered from being too quick-thinking and inventive for their own good, because they can always throw together a bunch of quality riffs and make most people think a song happened, but here that model breaks down. The songs feel more like slide-shows than organic wholes. The older material is good however.
Absurd – Asgardsrei
This remaster of the 1998 album was in theory supposed to improve sound quality. Had they simply done that, this would have been a shining victory. Instead, it has been standardized. The drums have been pumped up to emphasize rhythm, and the guitars doubled and bass-maximized, with vocals shrouded in reverb. Alone that removes much of the distinctive sound, but attempts have also been made to lower the volume on elements that are not orthodox black metal-cum-oi that Absurd makes now. The result is a loss of detail and an emphasis on the simpler parts of each riff, not the interesting interplay of riffs. They’ve made this album sound more like their remakes of earlier material and by pandering to one audience, lost a lot of what made Absurd interesting.
Acephalix – Deathless Master
A highly-praised release, this album purports to combine Swedish death metal and crustcore. What it ends up with is neither, but a mishmash of riffs around a rollicking beat, changing entirely at random. You hear a little bit of old Entombed, some Dismember, and a lot of filler riffing that really goes nowhere. For about three songs, it’s pleasant listening because you can tap your toes to it and it reminds you of Left Hand Path. Then you realize the songs never went anywhere. They’re like wallpaper. And to the horror of any crust fan, this is built on the bouncy beats and song structures of pop-punk. It’s closer to Blink 182 than Entombed or Amebix.
Aura Noir – Out to Die
Once upon a time, I referred to Aura Noir as a black metal Britney Spears because their music is pop dressed up as black metal. However, it’s normally fun pop with high energy and catchy riffs, even if in verse-chorus structures so repetitive that you have to background it. But with this album, they go into the boring zone. This is almost like a drone with a horse galloping in the background to keep up energy. And yet, like the lady that doth protest too much, the more “energy” you need to inject, the less the music is actually compelling. And on that level, this album is basically the same speed metal/Motorhead style riffs that bands were rehashing back in the 1980s, but now revived in an even more exhausted form.
Coffin Texts – The Tomb of Infinite Ritual
The people behind this band are good, and their intentions are good. The result of their efforts however is bog-standard death metal, not so because it imitates anything else, but because it is unreflective of any purpose outside being death metal. It’s predictable in the sense that nothing is surprising, and yet, it doesn’t really gesture at anything more than being death metal itself. I hope these guys stop trying to be whatever they think they should be, and find whatever they actually enjoy instead. Best yardstick for your music: what you enjoy and would listen to on your own, even if you knew no one in the band.
Graf Spee – Reincarnation
Some things should stay in the 1980s. This is prescient in that it emphasizes the kind of bouncy riffing that fits on the spectrum from Anthrax to Meshuggah and onward to metalcore, but it’s disorganized, inconsistent with the vocals, and feels more like a pile of spare parts than a smoothly running engine.
Hellevetron – Death Scroll of Seven Hells and Its Infernal Majesty
2012 was the year everyone rediscovered Onward to Golgotha. I agree, it’s a killer album. There’s nothing wrong with Hellvetron, who seem like competent musicians, but this album attempts to imitate the outward form of Onward to Golgotha without grasping the underlying tension in the music that makes it work. As a result, Hellvetron impose current song structures (loops) and standards onto the aesthetic of the past, which makes for a decent listen until it becomes apparent that it’s not really about anything except itself.
Impiety – Ravage and Conquer
It’s hard not to enjoy this album, which is like a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Mortem with a squidge more melody. However, it is highly repetitive because it doesn’t go much beyond that concept. Like Krisiun before it, the concept is full speed ahead skull-crushing aesthetic, and this is so powerful it squeezes out most artistic content. This leaves you with some creative riffs, some talented use of tempo, but nothing that holds together long enough to listen to for a decade.
Inverloch – Dusk | Subside
These ex-Disembowelment musicians have a bit of a cult formed around themselves. Part of the reason is that unlike almost every other band before black metal, they knew how to write melodic music, which they do here as well, in something that resembles a cross between death-doom like Asphyx and melodic doom like Candlemass or Paradise Lost. Crashing riffs coexist with gentle melodic fills and overlays that create a dense atmosphere of nocturnal wonder. However, beyond that, the direction seems confused, which is appropriate for a re-entry EP but excludes it from this year’s best of.
Mantas – Death by Metal
Before the first Death album, Chuck Schuldiner tried out his riffcraft in Mantas, named in tribute (by educated guess) to Venom. There’s a reason these sort of re-releases are confined to collectors, and that is that these demos show a young band trying to get the order of riffs in its songs correct and at the same time develop an image, sound and voice. The result is great, if you like listening to parts of the same six songs 18 times each. A true-blue die-hard ultra-kvlt collector will put this on the stereo next to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” and start working out each riff until he’s sure how everything works. Then again, with the hindsight of nearly thirty years, we know exactly how it should turn out, which means that for the rest of us, this will sit on the shelf in perpetuity except as a conversation piece.
Maveth – Coils of the Black Elite
This album reminds me of middle period Immolation, in which creative riffing often fell into very similar rhythms and as such, the songs sort of became a continuum which resembled pulled taffy: cut off a length of Immolation, let’s listen to that. Oh look, sliced Immolation! It’s the same way here. Maveth has very creating riffing with excellent right-hand control, but the songs themselves are a muddle because the riffs are the direction and as such, there’s not really a way to put the riffs together that makes sense, so the band converges on a mean and drops into very similar trudge rhythms to make the songs catchy. At first listen, especially the first three tracks, promise is everywhere; by track five, it’s clear that circularity has occurred.
Purtenance – Sacrifice the King
This EP suffers from a primary flaw, which is disorganization. It’s not random, but it’s what happens when you decide to make death metal and so treat that as a container, and then “write to fill” and twist the riffs into place so they work with each other. It’s not about anything, and thus is “random” in the sense that it could mean anything. As a musical experience, it mostly conveys a sense of disorganization and frustration. The best bands mold that sort of raw emotion into something which rises above the confusion and achieves clarity. If not beauty, truth, goodness, etc. at least something that is desired more than it is hated, and so inspires them, even if that goal is hatred itself.
Studies of the relationship between popular music and religion have increased rapidly in the last twenty years, and the scholarly interest in metal music has “increased markedly during the past decade”, states researcher Marcus Moberg in an article published in Popular Music and Society earlier this year, where he evaluates the current scholarly writings on religion in metal music and culture.
The issue at hand is, apparently, problematic. Concerning metal music and culture as religion, researchers have used “top-down” methods to justify their assumptions, with little (if any) empirical evidence to support them. Case in point is Moberg’s own suggestion that “more thought-out views on religion in general would be relatively common among wider metal audiences” (considering metal’s individualist outlook combined with its fascination for religion), but there’s simply no (or not enough) data to support this claim. Another problem connected to the lack of ethnographic information concerns a prejudiced downplaying of the ideas within metal as little else than a rebellion against adult society. “[T]he issue of rebellion has always constituted a central theme in the scholarship on metal”, writes Moberg, but a clear specification of what ‘rebellion’ consists of has been lacking.
Metal music and culture can also be seen as “offering its followers a wide range of resources for religious/spiritual inspiration”. According to Moberg, scholars studying this area have been more careful in their interpretations, but have downplayed as well as exaggerated the seriousness with which metal bands explore these spiritual themes.
Moberg’s recommendation, then, is for future studies to be based more in fieldwork and ethnography, and less in speculation:
[I]n order to be able to provide more persuasive arguments about what followers of metal culture themselves actually get out of their participation in metal culture in ways that relate to religion/spirituality, studies would clearly […] benefit from striving to ground their arguments on the expressed views of musicians and fans themselves (and this concerns the issue of “rebellion” as well).
Supposedly, we shouldn’t be surprised if curious PhD students start asking us questions in between songs at the next Asphyx show…
December 24, 2012 (Austin, TX) — The net’s oldest and longest-running metal site and home of the Heavy Metal FAQ, Death Metal Underground at deathmetal.org, announced today that the Inner Society blog at innersociety.org would be its exclusive representative in China.
Inner Society has for some time provided album reviews, news, commentary and information about heavy metal with the outlook that heavy metal is an art form with significant contributions to make in its critique of modernity, and in its gesture of a more naturalistic way of life. It is the premiere blog in China for underground metal from this perspective.
“We are pleased to announce this collaboration, as it enables us to reach more people worldwide with the message of true metal,” said DeathMetal.org spokesperson Rob Jones. “The more people we reach, the more wimps and poseurs leave the hall, and the greater likelihood that the remainder start seeing metal as an art form, not a distraction or a product.”
Founded in 1988 and originally distributed over dial-up bulletin boards, the Death Metal Underground is an archive of information about metal that has changed over the years but stayed true to its focus: revealing heavy metal as the art form that it is, similar to the work of Romantic writers like E.A. Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and Bram Stoker.
The premiere blog in China for heavy metal theory, Inner Society has provided information about underground metal to audiences in China while keeping its focus on the development of the music worldwide. Lauded for its articulate, no-nonsense reviews, the site has attracted a loyal following during its years online.