This is what metal needs

A culture detached from youth culture, ten year (18-28) a/k/a product marathon:

Dr Paul Hodkinson, deputy head of Surrey University’s sociology department and an expert in youth music subcultures, has been re-interviewing a group of goths he first studied in the late 1990s to find out. “They were teenagers and in their early 20s then, and I thought it would be interesting to go back because a number of people do stay involved in the goth scene,” he explains.

Though many people who belong to youth subcultures such as punk and rave tend to drift away in their 20s, Hodkinson says it’s more likely that older goths will want to remain involved in the scene, even though it may become harder to combine with the responsibilities that come with age.

To outsiders, it’s the visual markers of being a goth – long, dyed-black hair, black clothes, pale faces contrasted with dark, dramatic eye make-up –that stand out. Taken on their own, these characteristics might be reasonably easy to cast off. However, Hodkinson says that although the aesthetic and clothing are important, the primary tenets of involvement in this subculture mean being “thoroughly passionate about goth music and style, and some goths would tell you they have an interest in the dark side of life, and a natural tendency towards a degree of angst”.

This means a level of commitment to the goth scene, and friendship groups and identity that develop around being a goth, which result in social lives that “are so intertwined that it would feel very odd to leave it,” he says. – The Guardian

Next time you see some guy in a Pantera shirt, tell him it’s all his fault. Or an Opeth shirted guy. Whichever. They’re the same, when you really think about it: music more like rock music which panders to the assimilators.

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Heavy metal religion

Interesting source:

Industrialization and modernization have had a drastic effect on the Western world. The combined effects of urbanization, commercial consumerism, modern science, and a host of other factors have “left us cold, alone and naked in an uncaring universe. It has stripped us of our ability to commune with the transpersonal, robbed us of our freedom to choose, and forbidden us to look inside our own minds for any kind of release (Schroll 2005:60).” Compartmentalization of the aspects of one’s life in modern society furthers a sense of incongruity and separateness. Professional life is often separate from family life; social life is often separate from religious or community activities. The multicultural and ever globalizing nature of the modern world creates its own difficulties. And strong sense of culture and community are rarely based on geographic location, but more often around a sense of one’s history and the beliefs, ideas, habits, morals, and aesthetics it affords. Thus, to find a sense of commonality one must often leave the neighborhood in order to gather with like-minded people. – Dave’s Metal Blog

He goes on to explain how heavy metal forms an ad hoc culture/religion/values system in the above vacuum. Good stuff.

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Murder in the Front Row: Shots from the Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter, by Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew

Brian Lew was an early metal nerd (liked to read, watch Star Trek, and may have been a computer nerd) who went to Bay Area speed metal shows and took a number of classic photographs. You may know Harald Oimoen as the longtime bassist of DRI. Together, they’ve thrown together their best pictures of this early scene, in the hopes perhaps of catching the growing wave of nostalgia for when metal was actually good (pre-1995).

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Jeff Wagner – Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal

Human progress will forever be linked to those most primal memories of our species, wherein there emerged that intrepid curiosity that formed the crux on which history could be built. Moreso than the will to merely survive and subsist, it was the will to forsake the paradise of safety and pursue instead the harsh, untamed dusklands of the unknown, where intense tribulation could reveal the fiercest potentials of the few that could overcome. Within the realm of music — that most iconically Romantic of arts — this sentiment persists as a striving to expand the capacities of willful expression into an all-encompassing whole, swelling into symphonic full bloom during the 19th Century. But now, in the dreary modernity that constitutes post-World War II planet Earth, Metal music has proven to be an improbable successor to this upward-climbing composing ethos, and its 40-year history itself resembles less some linear development than it does the genealogy of a warrior race: evolving as one from troglodytic Rock origins, but then splintering into variegate subdivisions as established kingdoms become ever stiflingly overpopulated. If it is those most radical of subdivisions commanded by wildcat eccentrics, hermitic technicians, and sadistic savants that best define the nebulous label that is “progressive metal”, then ‘Mean Deviation‘ — the new and exotic pet project of Metal Maniacs veteran Jeff Wagner — is the one book ambitious enough to fasten a historical yoke around such a chaotically polymorphous Metal strain.

It’s a ridiculously exacting task to try and chronicle the entirety of a musical subgenre that isn’t really a subgenre, and whose content cannot be readily identified by formal analysis alone. And yet Wagner, being the dauntless historian that he is, enters the Nocturnus Time Machine® with naught but the earnest objective of highlighting whichever works were exceptionally bizarre, brainy, or both. Placing his starting coordinates in the late 1960′s when progressive rock and early ambient music had already begun to explore more neoclassical avenues, Wagner narrates the concomitant emergence of heavy metal, and oversees its unprecedentedly rapid appropriation of prog complexities. The most non-canonical, wildly erratic career choices of Black SabbathKing Crimson, and especially Rush receive extensive coverage, and upon this foundation of classic radio giants, Wagner uncovers many of the grandiose intellectual motivations that would plant the seeds of ambition in the burgeoning ’80s underground — an explosive era that Wagner veritably lived and breathed throughout.

From this point is of course where the bulk of the book begins and where divergent paths are most numerous and dramatic, starting with an initial divide between what is now commonly known as Progressive Metal proper — Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory, and [must we mention them?] Dream Theater as examples — and the more abrasively progressive styles that were set in motion by speed metal aberrants WatchtowerVoivodCeltic FrostCoroner, and a small conglomerate of other leaders whose names consistently haunt the chapters further on. The subsequent outgrowth of extreme metal within the following decade then takes the spotlight for what seems like a third of the book, and the magnitude of its proliferation logically finds Wagner having to document deviance on a steady, region-by-region basis. But in this manner, he is as remarkably thorough in his examinations of familiar prog-extremists as he is with some of the more impossibly obscure names, reliably identifying which recordings showed noteworthy marks of ingenuity. A study of Finland, for instance, seizes Demilich by the tentacles and takes special interest in Beherit‘s darkwave transmogrification. Norway’s chapter highlights Mayhem‘s early adoration of Swedish prog band Änglagård and of course German synthpop and kosmische musik, and goes on to investigate the growth of Manes, Burzum, Enslaved, and Neptune Towers. Continental Europe reveals a constellation of luminaries ranging from Supuration to Atrocity, whilst the melting pot frontiers of the Americas yield regional anomalies as diverse as Gorguts and Obliveon up in Québec to Atheist and Hellwitch down in Florida. And, wherever possible, Wagner takes great efforts to cite any intellectual influences or achievements on the bands’ parts; tellingly, Classical and ambient music is a frequent subject here, as are academic degrees in a surprising array of fields.

It is surely impossible to write a “progressive metal” book that will be accepted in all circles of the culture, as controversy and even widespread disapprobation seem to be taken for granted in the music itself. But for the particular minority who identify themselves as hessians, it is certain that many will lose interest as the final hundred pages close in, simply because almost all of the so-called cutting edge Metal bands of the late ’90s and onwards fail to contribute anything significant to the genre; but in Wagner’s defense, there are many instances where he does bring attention to the growing problem of entropy. The more philosophical among us may further object to the very grounds for Wagner’s criteria for “progressive-ness” — that is, how much the work in question defies convention and expectations. To build from an early example, Wagner argues that Voivod’s ‘Angel Rat‘ — an album widely lambasted as a sell-out for its regression to verse-chorus, consonant indie stylings — is in fact a progressive step for the band because it was so utterly unlike any of the albums that preceded, or anything else in the scene at the time. But this is nothing if not the most prostrate kind of optimism, which accepts an undesirable antithesis — in this case, total artistic decline into meaninglessness — as a necessary part of a dubious process towards some ideal of absolute artistic freedom or whatever. It’s true that to speak of “progress” we need to postulate an objective or end of some sort to move towards, but externalities like novelty and individuality alone are insufficient; something more intrinsic to Metal’s being must be identified, otherwise you allow for a flood of the same self-obsessed, irrelevant music-as-product to garner the association simply because it’s clever enough to imitate the distorted aesthetic. Therefore it is best to assert as an axiom that for the subject to be Metal, it must have as its essence that visceral if rather elusive-to-define spirit of vir, whose amorally creative will to power is partially outlined in the introduction to this review. From here, determining progression in Metal is only a contextual (and decidedly more limited) matter of whether the subject meaningfully transmits its central motivation using methods previously unexplored, for any number of nuanced reasons ranging from technical breakthroughs to conceptual maturation to ingenious angles of arrangement; of course, the ironic consequence to progressive forms is that they are often seized upon by the majority and ossified into standard forms over time. So, based on these tenets, you would have to re-evaluate progressive-labelled, impostor Metal bands like Opeth as actually not effectively progressive as a band like Morbid Angel, who were significant not only for innovative technique, but for using their talents towards representing death metal philosophy with hitherto unheard-of imagination and perspicuity. Take this same critical hammer to the “progressive eras” of Enslaved, Amorphis, Death, and all related corrupted prodigies who allowed themselves to be domesticated into entertainers, and suddenly ‘Mean Deviation’ is chiseled down from a bloated tome to a slim pamphlet.

Now it’s apparent that ‘Mean Deviation’ surely has its points of contention, but then again the book’s stated aim isn’t to illustrate a concrete and ontologically-sound definition of what progressive metal is, nor is it out to namedrop every single band that may have garnered the label through whatever happenstances of popular delusion. Essentially, the book’s aim really is as simple as what its title conveys: to reevaluate the Metal timeline with a specific interest in whatever was outstandingly highbrow and/or shunned by the hypothetical average headbanger. It is a scholarly, well-referenced, yet personable inquiry of metallurgical innovation, which harbors aspirations towards objectivity and acceptance amongst society’s intellectual elite, but never mistakenly reduces the art to a mere science. Rest assured that trivia in abundance is here to tantalize the reader’s inner nerd; just remember to take it all in with a sizable grain of sodium chloride.

Written by Thanatotron

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Metal: returning from the dead?

Listening to Schubert on a Saturday morning:

Underground metal died somewhere between 1992 and 1996, depending on who you talk to. Bottom line: by 1996 neither the quality nor the abundance of distinctive releases was what it had been.

From 1996 to about 2002, the metal community waffled and tried to re-live the past. Then with the rise of Opeth and later indie-metal like Boris, in about 2004 the metal community threw in the towel and decided to let itself by assimilated by indie-rock.

From 2004-2009 the rise of metalcore, indiecore, nu-metal and black hardcore continued unabated, until people realized that (a) this music had more in common with self-pitying egodrama radio rock than soul-renewing heavy metal and (b) that the new audience of “metalheads” were hipster idiots as a result.

Starting in 2009, we had a revival of the underground. Are we supposed to be cheering? Yes — guardedly. Every time anything retro emerges, all the frauds come out of the woodwork along with the honest artists, and the frauds tend to win out by sheer volume.

A few asides:

(1) Long live the notion of meaning to life. We don’t need it to be inherent, we just need it to be there to discover.

(2) Long live art. Art sings the sad and the good together into a balance, but makes that balance exciting, like a space through which we can dart and dive and discover ourselves again.

(3) The ego has its place, but the ego can fool us like a Satan-God hybrid that lures us away from life itself.

(4) Nothing is as it seems.

(5) Metal is a renovation of our spirit; it is the war-spirit mixed with the sentiment for all the beautiful things that makes us give a damn about doing right. We do not fear God, and we do not fear society. We fear meaningless and pointless exercises in personal satiation without ever really finding something worth expending our lives upon.

Whatever lies after death, and whatever rules this universe, or does not, we must consider that our lives need both meaning and significance, meaning that we need a reason to suppose our actions have consequences that we care about. Without that balance, we have no reason to exist.

As metal returns from the land of meaninglessness (twee indiecore hipster schmaltz), we see the retro-fakers being shoved aside and a rise of people who are continuing the spirit of the past:

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Metalenema on in 20 minutes

The all-new Metalenema on No Control Radio, 1071-2 HD! Death/Black/Thrash every Saturday night from 10PM-12AM CST. Streaming available on www.nocontrolradio.com

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