Metal: a holdout against temporary culture

The mainstream media stumbles up against everything, so it’s no surprise they hit on valid ideas sometimes:

With the Beatles finally on iTunes, Garth Brooks and AC/DC are among the few notable acts that continue to staunchly hold out, unwilling to agree to Apple’s restrictive pricing schemes and loath to see their albums chopped into singles.

Angus Young of AC/DC, another act with an exceptionally lucrative catalog of music, once insisted that AC/DC doesn’t make singles, “we make albums.”

“If we were on iTunes, we know a certain percentage of people would only download two or three songs from the album,” Young told The Daily Telegraph in 2008. “We don’t think that represents us musically.”

Young has said AC/DC’s sales haven’t suffered as a result. The band’s last studio album, “Black Ice,” released in 2008, sold more than 6 million copies worldwide. – AP

The problem with digital music is that it’s licensed content, not something you control. If their DRM goes down, or their download site goes away, what do you have? A license to download — but only from them, in the formats specified.

If we find something better than MP3/MP4(AAC) to compress music, what happens? You buy it again.

If Apple goes bankrupt, which it has come close to many times, what happens? You buy it all again.

CDs may not be ideal, but for a certain segment of the market, they’re perfect. We don’t want to muck around with an account on Apple.com. We want a physical object, we enjoy purchasing it and taking it home, and we can do that because we’re selective about what we buy.

You can’t say that about Lady Gaga or whatever other trivial crap most people listen to.

Metal is one of the few genres that is holding out in this way. Instead of making purchasing easier, we argue, make it harder and more expensive. Make the choice count for more as a result. Make people think harder about what they buy. Make them touch a physical representation of it, and keep it around the house.

Sure, I hate the mountains of landfill produced by CDs going into the dumpster. But for the most part, these are CDs for terrible music that should have never been signed, or CDs of trivial music that people “got tired of” a month later.

AC/DC and heavy metal represent the opposite principle: buy a few things you’ll want to hear for a lifetime.

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Under a Toltec Moon – Memories on Mexican Metal

1. Introduction
2. A desert walk
3. Nahuatli steel
4. Pactum: M.O.D.L.
5. Mortuary: Blackened Images
6. Transmetal: Amanecer en el Mausuleo
7. Cenotaph: Riding Our Black Oceans
8. Shub Niggurath: The Kinglike Celebration
9.  Sargatanas: The Enlightenment
10. Aztec rites of darkness
11. Xibalba: Ah Dzam Poop Ek
12. Funereal Moon: Beneath the Cursed Light…
13. Avzhia: The Key of Throne
14. Demolish: Remembering the Cabalisticae Laments
15. Argentum: Ad Interitum Funebrarum
16. The Chasm: Conjuration of the Spectral Empire
17. The resurrection of the necrocults
18. Necroccultus: Encircling the Mysterious Necrorevelation
19. Yaotl Mictlan: Guerreros de la Tierra de los Muertos
20. Infinitum Obscure: Sub Atris Caelis
21. Denial: Catacombs of the Grotesque

Written by DevamitraObscuraHessianPearson and Xavier with Eduardo (Shub Niggurath / Necroccultus), Demogorgon (Avzhia), Marco (Xibalba) and Joel (Mortuary)

Introduction

In Mexico the god appears; thy banner is unfolded in all directions, and no one weeps.

The Hymn of Tlaloc

Goedel’s law tells us that no logical system can anticipate all of the demands of reality, because reality as an inarticulated mass of events and causes is naturally bigger in scope than any description of reality. The fallout from this is that every society loves to have a no man’s land, an anarchy zone and a lawless frontier. It’s hard to talk of Mexico as a singular entity when it is comprises so much more. It’s a former Spanish colony, containing the vestiges of two of the greatest empires to walk the earth — the Aztec and Maya, both of whom were warlike, enjoyed human sacrifice, and compiled more learning that any modern group would voluntarily undertake. In addition, it’s also part very learned place, part chaotic third-world disaster, and part anarchy zone. From this ferment comes some of the best metal to grace the earth. After Scandinavia and the US, Mexico produces the most quality underground music. And even more, the Mexican bands seem to “get it”: they can reconcile a nihilistic morality, technological warfare and even gutter-level fighting sensibilities with the arch, elegant and imposing formality and bravery of the past.

A desert walk

Muerte. That word, in Mexican art, embodies religious and historical streams of life so much more than the anglosphere’s clinically worldly emphasis on death as medical phenomenon. This muerte is a gate to antiquity, a divine storm, a holy mystery – contemplation of its secrets connects the Catholic superstition, still so powerful and affecting to common people, to the cruel and decadent rituals of the Toltecs and Olmecs, when no purpose higher could be envisioned than to bleed for the gods. Glimpses into Mexican tradition most often involve the morbid signature of supernatural belief in a strange form of unearthly life, represented by the skull worship of the Day of the Dead and the various devil masks and bizarre colourful monsters decorating the fiestas, as in embodiment of death metal aphorisms such as “the past is alive”.

It would be fairly easy and obvious to point out social ills, crime rates and poverty as motivating factors for religiously oriented fatalistic thoughts, but for the psychologist and the occultist the pathology of the morbid mind is not only a reaction, it is also a cause itself, deeply ingrained in behavior and culture. To go into this sphere in depth would require another kind of a broader study and it is hardly of interest to most of our readers, so we shall mostly be occupied with the mythical, visionary image of Mexico, closest to us who are far away. It is the land of the eagle and the scorpion, of the peyote cactus and tropical steam, of the sea and the canyon. As we see everywhere in the world, the landscape becomes the structure of the mind, which gives life to stories and archetypes showing the apparent chaotic complexity of nature in symmetrical solutions. And musically, what can offer better representations of the occult-mathematical beauty of life than the hymnals of muerte: Death Metal and Black Metal?

To this day, Mexico has not produced vapid mainstream metal sensations nor hard rock imitations to speak of, at least not ones that would have entered our awareness. It’s as if the inward drawn nacional spirit shuns the idea of establishing false identities and masks of life through exports, but instead entertains the Mexicans with whatever art or entertainment the local masses wish to be produced – but this is a realm mostly obscure to outsiders. Even in order to scratch the surface of Mexican rock and metal, one needs to stress the importance of such luminaries as Luzbel and Transmetal, names mostly unknown even in cult metal collector circles. As a more recent example, the astral and progressive death metal of The Chasm has certainly been gathering well deserved praise and attention in the underground, but as a phenomenon it’s still far from gracing the cover in Terrorizer or Decibel magazine.

Nahuatli steel

As the youth of the world tripped in the pseudo-spiritual chemical bliss of the 60′s, the seeds were sown in Mexico as well with an interest towards Rock music merged with esoteric and mystical themes, but true to its violent century, the nation oppressed its bravest minds, declaring them “communist”. Thus was quenched the initial surge of Heavy Metal, as clubs were closed, magazines censored and subversive content in radios minimized. Everywhere else the initial 70′s where the pivotal time for the realization of all kinds of “satanic” and “occult” music manifestations, so in the case of Mexico it took at least a decade to recover from vandalism espoused by the government.

As the wave of Americanization hit Mexican youth culture in the early 80′s, it was inevitable that some unique voices would rise against manipulation and show their own kind of “metal mass”, inflected with the Catholic superstitions and violent streets they saw all around them with innocent, idealistic eyes. Two names especially can not go unmentioned: the original thrashers Death Warrant from Ciudad Juarez and the more classical but frighteningly psychic Luzbel from Mexico City, one of the greatest metal institutions to rise from the sand of Mexico and a prophet of Doom Metal themes and aspirations.

Huizar, the maniac behind Luzbel, managed to also put forth with his comrades at Escuadron Metalico label a series of compilations which in the mid-80′s showed the sounds of the new metal generation inspired by, mainly, American thrash metal and European speed metal. These “Proyecto” vinyls featured Transmetal, Ramses, Six Beer and practically everyone else who dominated the end of the 80′s when finally Mexican metal was too strong to be quenched by sporadic police raids and random accusations of blasphemy and iniquity. These troubles were akin to an anvil upon which the hammer of the light bringer shaped and pounded the minds that were to break free of the shackles of social upbringing and even “humanness” itself.

Eduardo: Well, to have a live appearance was not easy at all, because many people in Mexico (until this day) are a very difficult audience towards the Mexican bands. But we showed them that we were true about our ideals and that we gave 666% in every show! So we got the support of all the metalheads and they gave us in return a total storm of headbanging and full support. These were unforgettable moments to Shub Niggurath.

Joel: There was a small metal scene hungry to hear more extreme metal, so we always had great support from the beginning. I think there were more people supporting the scene than there is now supporting new metal bands, it’s a weird thing! Authority and “normal” people, as usual here, they didn’t understand our music. Sometimes the police were around looking to bother us, came up to the rehearsals and trying to get us, but never had luck, hahaha! And the people, those normal people, were the ones to send the police. I remember a show in Guadalajara or Leon in which the flyers had a circle in our logo and said: Watch out, Catholic, don’t assist! That was really funny.

Already before the decade was over, the most evil of the bands inspired by Thrash, namely Mortuary, Pactum, the inimitable Toxodeth and Transmetal (who tightened their sound album by album and still continue to do so after more than 20 years of career) had overtaken the gap between the international underground and the Mexican one. Suddenly the Judas Priest and Scorpions influence as the mainstream Mexican sound was replaced by a streetborn brutality and occult gore visions that would have made Slayer shudder. Studio and recording conditions were hardly ideal, but creating an easily digestible sound was hardly the intent of these iconoclasts, who repeated the slightly anterior efforts of the Brazilian scene in unleashing a torrent of noisy darkness easily mistaken for hardcore punk as the antithesis to forgetfulness and ignorance in adult human life.

Joel: Musically, our influences were basically Slayer, Venom, Possessed, Celtic Frost, and some classical masters. Lyrically important were the things inside my mind, my way to see this life, and obviously some great writers like Nietzsche, Poe and Lovecraft influenced us. Before Mortuary, each of us were playing in various bands songs of the bands that influenced us. When I was a child I studied some basic piano as well.

Eduardo: Also I had musical experience before Shub Niggurath: we created the Death Thrash Metal band called Tormentor. This was the origins for the unnameable abhorrence later known as Shub Niggurath.

Pactum – M.O.D.L.

A mob of confusion, alike crawling insects, attacks the strings as early blasphemists Pactum struggle to make sense of violent, anti-religious ideas called forth by their satanic subconscious in Mexico City’s extreme response to Bathory and Sarcofago. While the anally raped vocalist rants meaninglessly on, the guitars manipulate suggestive, dischordant layers of picked notes and speedy runs that often sound chaotic but on a closer listen reveal an affinity with classical construction much like the early methods of Burzum and Ildjarn to call forth elegance from pieces of degeneration. Be it dissidence, incompetence or imagination that made Pactum to mangle the pieces of thrash they built upon nearly inrecognizable, the originality and harsh, spontaneous electric discharge that carries these songs onwards makes for a curious and surprising listen for those who are able to listen to the nearly unlistenable. In “M.O.D.L.” the band has discovered one of the valuable early lessons of black and death metal, that of desecrating the sanctity of rigid social structure by defying musical conventions and bringing the expression closer to the fractal noise of nature.

Mortuary – Blackened Images

The elaborate and malign death metal of Mortuary is one of the most recognized funereal voices of early Mexican scene in cult circles and totally deservedly so, as the melodious and grinding old school sound hasn’t dated one bit but preserves the vital energy field of the times when death metal was not taken for granted, the quest for the ultimate density and sobriety. The rhythmic intensity brings to mind the debuts of Morbid Angel and Vader while the gloomy melody disposed as the interconnector of the more thrashing riffs is without question Central or South American in character (think: “INRI”). Joel Alanis’ voice escapes the trap that caused problems for many a thrasher, holding the rhythm of the syllables in position when reciting the blasphemies in English, and his powerful roar commands the fast, climactic and concise songs effortlessly to their logical conclusions. Even today Mortuary’s short but perfectly articulate album could serve as a protocol for building enjoyable but deep death metal, one that incites both head-banging and heart-scrutiny as the ultra-infectious “Reign of Dead” and “Asphyxiation” attack your brain with sensations from beyond and memories from the depths of the layers of mental programming.

Transmetal – Amanecer en el Mausuleo

As the inaugural saints of muerte spread their leathery wings over Michoacán and the 80′s were drawing to a close, Mexico’s silence was ruptured by these mangled, hellspawned shouts and nearly arbitrary riff structures envisioned by the scene’s godfathers Transmetal as the path leading to the aerie of the future. Simple and pitiless like a less experienced Sepultura or Slayer debut, this early collection sees Transmetal attempting to bludgeon their way through a barrage of speed metal in an endless call-and-response of rhythm riff and hoarse barking. Germans had invented most of these figures and refrains as early as 1984 but the untamed desert frontier of their homeland does bestow Transmetal with a rancor bringing it closer to the most subterranean and spontaenous garage punk bands that had the chance to practice their instruments on brief relapses from fighting social corruption. The sketchy but decisive melodies of “Temor a la Cruz” and “Fuerza Invisible” hardly represent an international or even local pinnacle of art, but they were enjoyed by a legion of punks and metalheads for their absolute breakup with the more mainstream appealing qualities of traditional heavy metal.

If there is a style of metal one thinks of in regards to Mexico, it must be Death Metal, in its brutal but most oblique forms, the sonic heir to Aztecs’ solar blood rites and Toltecs’ shadowy sorceries, an amalgamation of heretical thought inspired by Crowley and Lovecraft with a deep respect for the sacred and universal forces of nature which permeates the continuity of godforms in Catholic religious language in shades of traditional paganism which it overtook in surface but never in spirit. The first of these classics was undoubtedly Mortuary’s famous “Blackened Images” (also one of the earliest important Mexican releases sung in English) but no underground Death Metal maniac would forget the splendid, churning visions of Shub Niggurath (“Evilness and Darkness Prevails”, “The Kinglike Celebration”) or Sargatanas (“The Enlightenment”) either, not to mention the virile luminary Cenotaph (“The Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows”, “Riding Our Black Oceans”) whose lifeblood still runs in the veins of the most prized names of today’s underground (The Chasm, Denial and Hacavitz among others feature former Cenotaph members).

Demogorgon: Our ancient strain of blood has always been important to us, as on it are real human sacrifices and that is something we deeply connect with. We are proud of it and it deserves all of our respect. But anyway, we are mostly influenced by European Black Metal.

Joel: Definitely the legacy of our past has been influential in what we do, also the current situation in which the country has plunged. All the ups and downs of the past of our culture influence us directly or indirectly. The difference is the window from which we look at it, it’s definitely not the same as for the rest.

Eduardo: Mostly these bands’ message is about Death, destruction and occultism. If I’m not wrong, only Xibalba took our cultural roots into his concept – they even wrote “Unique Mayan Black” on their debut album. Cenotaph, Mortuary, Shub Niggurath, Tormentor, Deus Mortis, Deadly Dark, Necrophiliac and Pentagram among others were influenced by the Florida and Scandinavian scenes when they built Death Metal during the late 80′s and the early 90′s. My influences have always been bands like Morbid Angel, Deicide, Bathory (old), Sodom (old), Nihilist, Therion (demos), Thergothon, Winter, Necroschizma, Bolt Thrower, Slayer (old) and H.P. Lovecraft’s masterpieces. In Shub Niggurath, Arturo (who handled vocal invocations) was always in charge of the lyrical concept. Regarding “Evilness and Darkness Prevails” I only did the guitar solos, after that I had to leave the band. I have nothing to do with “The Kinglike Celebration” – for me this is not the real Shub Niggurath. For me, this was just some kind of project, without Arturo there, I am not sure about the result.

Cenotaph – Riding Our Black Oceans

Coming off the back of an excellent debut in the form of ‘The Gloomy Reflections Of Our Hidden Sorrows’ and losing a prominent member in the form of Daniel Corchado, Mexican horde Cenotaph radically altered their sound aesthetically and showed a refinement of production and to a smaller extent, musical technique. Whereas the first full-length resembled a prototypical version of Nile, with an exotic though nonetheless esoteric and original take on New York death metal (think Incantation, Morpheus Descends), ‘Riding Our Black Oceans’ owes its musical framework, when speaking of instrumental technique, to European metal, most notably the first two albums of At The Gates, with a much more classicist approach to melody. With the outgoing of previous throatman Corchado a new vocal makes itself at home, not far from the tortured howls of Anders Friden. The same sense of aggression is also present in this work, but is less of a catharsis than the aforementioned Swedish band or the German act Atrocity, and has a motive towards evoking a nostalgic depth, rather than a psychological-emotional one. The percussion is chaotic and structurally brings to mind a more rigid and maze-like ‘Beneath The Remains’ by Sepultura, with more adventurous battery that evokes their ‘Morbid Visions’ record. Acoustic guitars embellish and interlock with these intricate arrangements, and are an obvious nod to Mediterranean and Southern European music. This stylistic admixture works brilliantly, rather than being a work that is merely imitative of an established style, it works the more obvious traits for its own ends, borrowing rather than copying. Cenotaph make a very distinct and profound work here, one of the finest releases to come out of Latin America.

Shub-Niggurath – The Kinglike Celebration (Final Aeon On Earth)

From the extra-dimensional plane of unspeakable horrors that’s revealed in our nightmares by black, arachnoid creatures, prying open our sub-conscious to witness terrible visions, comes this brutal classic of Lovecraftian Death Metal. As a later album in the old-school tradition, ‘The Kinglike Celebration’ has the strength of dynamic and coherent composition under the unmistakeably nefarious atmospheres that could only come from the first generation to be instructed by the likes of Possessed and Sepultura. Unlike more recent acts such as Portal that also delve into the Non-Euclidean realm of Howard Phillip, this work remains an highly geometric one, as if to frame the malevolent world of the Ancient Ones within the scope of human cognition, enabling the sensations of fear and awe and involuntary submission to the higher, evil will. The symmetrical structure of these songs oversee a central melodic theme being deconstructed with the horror of trembling and ominously churning, Deicidean riff-work that builds to a majestic revelation of cosmic power, usually embellished by eerie synths. From this expanse, the band reintroduces the central riff, re-contextualising it through powerful lead overlays and purposeful percussive and rhythmic enunciation, with the crescendo-inducing prowess of a Classical symphony. Shub-Niggurath advance the pulsating Slayerisms of Deicide’s first album to encompass thoughtful formulae of occult melodicism and awaken the unspeakable entities of the grand, cosmic hierachy.

Sargatanas – The Enlightenment

These blasphemers from Guadalajara were around as early as 1986 according to their biography. Only denizens of the infernal layers know what they must have sounded like back then, but their full length revelation is also nothing less than ancient and horrific, of deeply atmospheric and disturbed vision of extended, simple and dragging death metal torment. Shunning the eloquent melodies of Cenotaph and likewise the rhythmic energy of Mortuary, Sargatanas withdraws into ascetic and morbidly elongated tremolos pillared by blasphemous growls mostly maintaining the emotionless, yet commanding tone of satanic artifice, as a stone statue summoned to unholy life and crushing Christians with no haste or passionate compulsion – determinate, almost peaceful. The meditative quality is carried to the extreme in mid-paced or even slower songs such as “Fear and Suffering” or “The Proclamation” (featuring drum patterns motivated rather by ritual ambient than Dave Lombardo) making it even somewhat plodding. The band barely animates for a gloomy rendition of Possessed’s “Satan Curse” in a version that sounds like bubbling lava or tremors preceding an earthquake and one of the most delightful tracks on offer, the chaotic “Satanist” whose main riff recalls Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” and as many other tracks on here, is seemingly randomly interrupted for a mock satanistic prayer. In any case, this inward bound attraction and solitude of vision will open only to deepest underground death metal cultists and fans of subtle terror based on psychological expectation and illogical mood cues, examples of which are found plenty in Mexican horror movies and early black metal in the vein of Samael and Barathrum, which undoubtedly heavily weigh on Sargatanas’ study list regardless of this band’s origins being placed even further back in the dimension of time.

Aztec rites of darkness

Without prior knowledge it would be easy to assume that the Black Metal biosphere of Mexico would have been overtaken by bulletbelted battalions fueled by alcohol and sexual lust, but instead some of the most purely mystical and meditative classics of the 90′s underground arose from under the wings of Guttural Records, the all time prime supporter of Mexican occult metal who still keeps cranking out occasional re-releases of material whose quality is, occasionally, simply beyond our dreams. To name some, if you have not heard the most moving moments of Xibalba, Avzhia, Funereal Moon and Shub Niggurath, you don’t know how astral and insane Black Metal can simultaneously be while resorting neither to “progressive” nor “raw” clichés, instead being alive with the fervent force of Mexican demons that feast on the souls of succumbed sorcerers, the experience and experiment being total.

Marco: We have been listening to Metal music for a long, long time. We began by listening to a lot of ’70s bands (Purple, Priest, etc), we experienced the radical change and the explosion of the new bands from the ’80s (Venom, Bathory, etc.) and we just grew with the evolution of this music through the end of the ’80s and the beginning of the ’90s. I think all of this music has influenced us a lot. Books that have inspired us throughout all of this has been ancient literature from the pre-Hispanic cultures of our homeland – with special focus on the Mayan topics mainly, though we also like H.P. Lovecraft’s books. In those days, there were not many bands like us around. I remember that on the few gigs we had, some people were just staring at us, and some other were just enjoying the sound. It was really small and we just seem to get more attention from other countries than ours. Sometimes, regular people were inventing silly stories about bad things happening to them simply because we were about to play on that day. I don’t think the media was focused on this kind of extreme music back in those days, as it is now.

Demogorgon: Avzhia was formed with influence from Death, Thrash etc. Metal, absorbing and swallowing the blackest of these styles of Metal to form a dark and melancholic sound. Musically we were influenced by the old school of Black Metal, bands such as Bathory, Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, etc. and ideologically for example Emperor, Dissection, Satyricon, Black Crucifixion, Grand Belial’s Key, The Black, Tormentor, etc. We were never schooled musicians, we started doing it simply like we felt at the time in the earlier 90′s and we’re still doing music the same way. Avzhia was the only Black Metal band playing in the midst of a lot of Death Metal bands, we remember brutal mosh pits and hostility… so when Avzhia took the stage the audience seemed to be taken by a great fucking depression! In the early 90′s it was a big challenge to keep moving forward into the majestic world of Black Metal.

Xibalba – Ah Dzam Poop Ek

Like Cenotaph, but in the context of a Nordic black metal band, Xibalba take obvious cues from mid-period Darkthrone and Burzum’s ‘Det Som En Gang Var’, and use various aesthetic tricks to distinguish the artistic and ethnic context herein, whilst also succeeding in not letting grandeur overwhelm the beauty of their work. Flowing, harmonic riffs, much like an upbeat version of ‘Panzerfaust’ work their way through catchy, waltzing rhythms that would fit nicely into balladic pieces, sounding just as apt as an interpretation of ethnic, triplet based patterns, transferred onto the modern drumkit. Samples to introduce particular songs use ancient Mexican folk music to accentuate the ‘Mayan’ character of this record, this is done sparingly and is non-excessive, charming and ensnaring. This album is strictly traditionalist in its execution, but successfully incorporates unique, exotic elements into its framework, retains its dignity without compromising it’s honesty. This was released in 1994 and was a time where many metal acts were on the verge of signing artistic death warrants by trying too hard to be different. Xibalba continued the legacy of black metal’s orthodoxy and breathed new life into it.

Marco: I think “Ah Dzam Poop Ek” is a great album, we express the essence and the atmosphere of our past in every song. Maybe it could have had a better production, but in the end that is the sound that captures the environment we are related to. And it’s good to stay away from a trite, standard and expected programmed sound. We hope to release our new album soon.

Funereal Moon – Beneath the Cursed Light of a Spectral Moon

Easily one of the most obscure and horrifying symphonies ever composed on the Mexican soil, the drug-addled, hypnotic and twisted black ambient scenarios of Funereal Moon despite the Guttural Records connection bear little resemblance to the warm crusted ground of Xibalba or the quasi-Nordic beauty of Avzhia – or any other formal black metal for that matter. If you have heard some of the unsane abstractions concocted by the French black legionnaires or Texan congregation of Equimanthorn on their mostly private tape mayhem, you might have an inkling of what to expect. Subsonar synths throb, cheap reverbs multiply growling voices to comical intensities, layers merge into a ritual cacoon of violent concentration in a macabre crescendo of not-so-subtly erotic (especially in the hideous “Vrykolkas (White Irish Eyes)” backed by whiplashes and female moans) palpitations begging for release through the dagger of the proponent. When synthetic guitars and mechanically stumbling drumscapes kick in to approximate occult metal architectures, the effect is close to what Black Funeral evoked years later in the industrial black metal revivals of “Az-i-Dahak” and “Ordog” – here achieved without any excess stylistic measures, simply thrown in your face in the name of blasphemy and contempt. Cheesy and immature to the extreme, but at the same time mercilessly compelling like an exploitation movie, these desolate voices of sorcery seem somehow one of the closest to the alienation and horror of the Mexican “Nocturnos dominion”, where immoving cacti stand upon the chaparral as guardians of twilight and coyotes raise their chant to the bloodred moon, all ensorcelled by the forgotten spells of Tulan sorcerers.

Avzhia – The Key of Throne

From out of Mexico City’s chaotic and concrete urban sprawl arose this monumental Black Metal album as a statement of militaristic and natural order, inextricably linked as they would have been to the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan, the former capital of the great Aztec civilisation. Avzhia here develop the ritualistic and prolonged, ‘Pentagram’ by Gorgoroth-like phrasing of ‘Dark Emperors’ into even grander arrangements panning across vast battlefields and landscapes, bringing keyboards to the foreground for a sense of epic melody that resembles Graveland’s ‘Creed of Iron’ being guided by the expansive compositions of Emperor. There is none of the lead guitarwork that’s central to ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ in forming esoteric musical themes, so the symphonic majesty of ‘The Key of Throne’ is simply and effectively accompanied by the fullness of sweeping powerchords and this approach brings a lot of primitive but intelligent flavours to the sound and the composition as far as bringing the themes to a successful conclusion is concerned. When stripping away the keyboards from the guitars to reveal the simple beauty of an idea, almost Punk-like riffs of the sort Impaled Nazarene are infamous for are unleashed in a warlike clash of thought and action. With the inclusion of the keyboard, there’s a sense that Avzhia might have heard Skepticism’s ‘Stormcrowfleet’ as the same feeling of ethereal beauty and earthy power is evoked. The bass plays an important role as well, during the drawn-out riffing, reminiscent of Primordial’s ‘A Journey’s End’, folkier parts can be heard echoing underneath like a dormant race building its power to strike, and strike it does as the full instrumental ensemble combines to reiterate this idea. Perhaps this is Avzhia’s vision, like the Norwegian Black Metallers once possessed, of Satan’s adversarial power conquering the modern, Christian lands, once again appeasing with the blood of fallen enemies the ancient gods who had long ago died for their race.

Demogorgon: To analize this album, well, it contains too few tracks but each one of them satisfies us and yes, there’s both ideological and musical evolution – but as always, firmly obscure roots that define Avzhia.

As the populist variants of Nordic Black Metal and Gothenburg Death Metal grew in volume and number, so did the attempts at “romantic” or “psychedelic” sound in Mexico, mostly misguided through a lack of coherence and real inspiration beyond the mundane wish to belong in a clandestine good-looking cult of gothic clothes; an unfortunate occurrence of middle class commercial mentality in a society otherwise unnaturally divided and polarized (the shades of civil war never left, nor the even deeper bloody roots of muerte culture). Prominent American label Full Moon Productions signed Argentum for their one interesting album, “Ad Interitum Funebrarum”, while many in the vein of cloak-and-hood-gothic Demolish and the rather interesting Black Vomit toiled in obscurity. The Chasm, a masterful brainchild of Cenotaph alumnus Daniel Corchado, advanced from Mexican beginnings to dominate the forthcoming decade (now in Chicago) with a progressive (structural, non-gimmick) Death Metal tour de force. Another relocator was the grinding, blasphemous and simplistic “bonehead black metal” group Morbosidad, whose several drummers died in accidents.

Demolish – Remembering the Cabalisticae Laments

To be honest, and there is a reason to be because we are not here to create empty hype and false promise, most of Mexican metal of the 1990′s was comprised of worthless copies aping whatever neo-gothic metal trend was looming in the world at large and it’s nowhere more clear than in this compilation of the successive 1995 and 1997 demos of Demolish and the progression from mediocre to bad influence. The bouncy, hyper-emotional and lethargic black groove of the first part “Reinforcement Laments from the Lamb” (That’s just about what I emitted halfway through this concoction!?) is an incriminating example of heavy metal dressed as black metal, enveloped in saccharine keyboards which occasionally would inspire a vomitous reflex from even that top hatted abortion of Dimmu Borgir (old). Suffice to say there’s a lot of Anne Rice-y occult romance and affective screaming and bombast with hardly any musical surprise or moment of interest, as they would probably distract from the singular intent of securing the attention of fat gothic Wiccan bitches. I guess you might be into this if Covenant’s mercifully forgotten “In Times Before the Light” or earlier Cradle of Filth was the best thing that ever happened to you in black metal. The older more creeping old school death metal influenced occult metal in the earlier recorded second part “Artis Cabalisticae” includes violent moments of hope, but not enough to convince any further than, say, that first EP from Portuguese womanizers Moonspell. Hardly any Toltec spirit here, so move along.

Argentum – Ad Interitum Funebrarum

Hooded Wallachians prowl the crenellated wall tops of ancient castles, Mediterranean bards wield their lutes as metallic Paco de Lucias and some thin, wimpy goth called Philix Pherboreon (is this a Harry Potter character?) attacks the cheap Roland determined to reign as nocturnal dominion over every Mexican black metal wannabe circa 1996. With surprising class and flair, Argentum’s hymns to darkness remind one that the atmospheres descended part from “The Principle of Evil Made Flesh” and part from “Goetia”, might not stand the highest in today’s black metal elitists’ repertoire but today, sounds more exciting and unique because of their severe emotional and dimensional indulgement in a nearly forgotten quest – to compose music, not meaningless random noise or robotic riff patterns. The band is undoubtedly at their peak with the sustained moods of “Enter an Encysted Hibernation” and other slower pieces such as “The Serpent’s Lament” which traces the ethereal scents of the black lotus much as My Dying Bride would have if they had obsessed with black metal during the time of their first album. When the bands decides to thrash onwards in speed, and yet retain the “gloomy” keyboards in “Mortuus Infradaemoni”, it’s undoubtedly a bad choice, sounding ridiculous and swamping their intentions of occult credibility observed with “Lections on texts including English, latin, Catalan, Creol, and Ancientdark Language & Spanish”. The question mark imprinted by this upon one’s brain is better than mere satisfaction, though.

The Chasm – Conjuration of the Spectral Empire

The Chasm’s fifth album in a productive and populated discography continues their journey through the astralic realms of the dead, traversing a heterogenous soundscape much like the cultural topography of Mexico itself. Where Corchado’s work with Cenotaph was inspired by the rhythmic power of Swedish Death Metal, this album is more in tune with not only the melodicism of old troops from Gotenborg like At The Gates, Unleashed and Dark Tranquility but the morbid disharmony of Norsk Black Metal classics ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ and ‘Under A Funeral Moon’, which owe much to the Latin American primitivism of Sepultura that also goes into the sound of ‘Conjuration of the Spectral Empire’. The expansive melting pot of sounds and styles is guided by Shamanic visions that peer into the inpenetrable abode of Mictlantehcuhtli, coloured and contrasted by the opposing principles that intersect this psychic plane, giving this album a vast sense of direction proportional to the longing for ancient wisdom in a world torn from the continuum of tradition. From the very outset of ‘Conjuration…’, the winds of the Chihuahuan desert are conjured by guitars and effects, bringing to mind the main theme composed by Ennio Morricone for the nihilistic Western classic, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. Each song develops from or towards a single, clear and always beautifully poignant melodic idea, fusing the structural framework of early Dismember with the technique of Technical Death Metal bands like Cynic and Atrocity and their insistence on rhythmic and melodic interaction, although the use of inverted powerchords amidst the South American chaos and Melodeath flourishes, to create a more sombre atmosphere recalls the obscure Black Metal of Mütiilation’s second album. The Chasm avoid the pitfalls of Melodic Death Metal by having this focus, removing themselves from the tendency of bands to resemble a Scandinavian folk riff-salad with no conceptual reasoning behind it. Instead, songs qualify as movements and the phrasal development therein demonstrates an awareness of Classical music that restores the grand aspirations of the Swedes and therefore stands alongside the likes of ‘The Red In The Sky Is Ours’ and ‘Like An Everflowing Stream’ as monuments to the primal, cosmic darkness of our true, inner nature.

Through the international contact and amalgamation of principles brought about by simultaneously World Wide Web access and the extent of educating the young generation in English language (movies, videogames and music being elemental and important here) the new millennium saw Mexico closer than ever to its northern neighbour. Youth factions such as the hated “emo” culture would have been out of place in 1980′s conservative Mexico, but despite clashes between groups they are widely approved today. All in all, it seemed to weaken the unique characteristic of the Mexican underground which was the tough rebelliousness in speed metal and occult/mystical lyrical tendency in Death Metal. In other words, too many corpse painted posers (such as the unending repertoire of Azermedoth Records) and uneventful, funny “goregrinders” (Disgorge, the original of this style, still continues to exist) infected the underground.

Eduardo: Certainly this isn’t an easy way to get money, fame or groupies. If that’s what a band is looking for, it’s just a bunch of shitty losers. You should work because you love what you are doing, and doing this just to be a sell out and gain a living from the people who manage you is a completely Shitty attitude. Underground Death Metal is for true warriors who eat, shit and talk metal, and love it as a son! To know all the underground beasts that still dwell on the catacombs of the worldwide scene and support them as brothers… In Europe it’s awesome how the Metal way of life is still the way for the chosen to die with their boots on. Metal in Europe is bigger than other music styles without the need of being in a popularity contest. Metal is for metalheads and that’s it.

On the other hand, in Mexico, Metal has been taken as a trend. Every single metal subgenre such as death, thrash, black or speed has been invaded by stupid bastards with childish ideas and only commercial purposes. This is not only certain individuals, as even labels have mutated into money makers – signing bands created to give a commercial and false name to metal. They think that they know everything and even take the image of the old gods as costumes. Please! All those denim jackets full of patches from Possessed and Slayer, just to name a few, worn by kids of 18 years and claiming to be “thrash ’til death”! Jajajajajajajaja! Or the new trend of “old school death metal”? Please, when those bands were out, nobody cared about them! But now everybody is looking for those bands, jajajaja! Only the true ones we’ll meet at the end of the road. The other ones will escape to the next trend, because they never really belonged to us!

The resurrection of the necrocults

This is not to say Mexico’s soil doesn’t still bleed black at the desolate fullmoon hours. Old bands all the way to Luzbel are still sporadically active and the promised Avzhia offering “In My Domains” is one of our most awaited forthcoming releases in several years. Infinitum Obscure featuring The Chasm’s Roberto Lizárraga is a throwback to the days when death metallers weren’t afraid to expose religious mysticism, supernatural fervour and psychological “dark” addiction in one package, while Hacavitz and Yaotl Mictlan bring back the Aztec themes but do not retain the climactic level of Xibalba’s “Unique Mayan Black Metal”. Satanists who preach the ontology of Self and the theurgies of netherworlds remain plentiful, Denial and Necroccultus (both featuring scene veterans such as Supplicium’s Isaíah Huerta, Shub Niggurath’s Eduardo and Cenotaph’s Oscar Clorio) being probably the best of the bunch, and also for example Ravager enjoys wide exposure and releases on prominent European metal labels (while Avzhia sadly toils without a record deal).

Demogorgon: Look out for “In My Domains” – this album is strong in itself, riff by riff. It’s raw while plentiful in melodic interludes, grim voices and depressive atmospheres. We do what satisfies us, then other metalheads can satisfy themselves with Avzhia’s music. It’s great to meet true people when we do shows. Avzhia is always going to exist in the dark side of true Black Metal and we will keep doing our work full of darkness of our Lord Sathanas. Grim, cold, melancholic and depressive are characteristics of what Avzhia is! Only the true emperors live, eternal life to Black Metal! See you soon wherever you are… on “In My Domains” tour.

Marco: We just like the sound of a good song, no matter what style it is. As long as it reflects honesty and passion, clearly away from the rules of the mainstream. We have made this music since the ’90s, and still I can have ideas for a song that sounds great, even when there’s hundreds of bands around. You just need to find the right notes and stay focused on the path. This music has been really distorted from the original roots. What makes it worth I don’t know, but maybe just to know the right path is still there and the fact that we’re contributing to it. I think it depends on the integrity and personal convictions everybody has. It’s all part of finding personal freedom or spiritual release.

Joel: We are satisfied with the music that we did. It represents the things we felt at that time, and it’s a real condition that still prevails. Songwriting for us has been a natural change in the evolution of the band, as new songs have the seal of Mortuary but are definitely not the same. We have an evolutionary progress, you’ll see.

Necroccultus – Encircling the Mysterious Necrorevelation

On the footsteps of Irapuato bands such as the Paradise Lost influenced Supplicium and the Chasm-ic A Perpetual Dying Mirror the mad inverters of music decided to go for an irate, warlike sound most akin to Vader’s most brutal incantations. For a fan of Sargatanas and earlier Shub-Niggurath, there are plenty of morbid mental cavities to succumb into in atmospheric death-thrashing of “Mirage of Death” or the more Northern sound of “Descent To Requiem”, actually close to Absu’s early efforts in mingling Swedish death metal and the more ritualistic and sensual sound of ambient black. As regrettably is the case with neo-death metal, there is a great temptation to succumb into a patterned safe manifestation of used riffs, which no longer have the capacity to shock or inspire but the most fresh and innocent listeners. One can only imagine what impact “The Necrosphere Within” would have had in 1987, but the lack of a honest exploration of death metal horizons arouses the question how long can “formulaic death metal” be “death metal” at all, since the genre was incepted to scare the listener into an acceptance of devious un-life. In a hodgepodge of riffs, the social instinct takes over and the music loses the “death-feeling”. A slight rescue is obtained by preserving much of the doom character of the members’ earlier bands, as well as wicked and proficient guitar solos. In total, “Encircling the Mysterious Necrorevelation” is far from bad, but it also lacks the essential magic and forceful intellect characteristic of Mexican metal peaks.

Yaotl Mictlan – Guerreros De La Tierra De Los Muertos

Yaotl Mictlan in a similar respect to Xibalba borrow stylistically from European black metal. Their debut full-length contains a battle-hardened ferocity not unlike Graveland’s ‘Thousand Swords’, and in attitude resembles a less esoteric version of the classic Polish black metal acts. Musically this has the precision and sharp execution of Enslaved’s ‘Frost’ album, but with is overlaid with meandering, arpeggiated guitar forms that bring to mind a more rock-inclined take on Burzum’s first album. True to backdrop, the band bring elements unique to their Mexican heritage to the fore, in the form of wind instruments, percussives and acoustic guitar passages that are distinct within flamenco music. This is no doubt a unique approach, and firmly grasps a sound it can call it’s own, though lacking the cohesion and charge to put them in the same tier as Xibalba or Avzhia. As a result of this, ‘Guerreros De La Tierra De Los Muertos’ comes across as a tiresome listen, but not without the occasional flourish of excellence. Now signed with Candlelight records, it will be interesting to see what results their next release will artistically yield, as there are moments of promise here.

Infinitum Obscure – Sub Atris Caelis

Often referred to as a clone of The Chasm, Infinitum Obscure do indeed share more than a few identifiable traits with their fellow Mexicans, most notably the tremolo picking and those galloping triplets that lend so much power and vigour to the rhythm. There is something that ultimately separates the two bands, however; that being the conceptual direction each band embarks upon: while The Chasm invokes a strong, dark atmosphere that emphasizes the mystical, esoteric passage through some evanescent portal, Infinitum Obscure are far more direct in organizing a forceful rhythm in such a way as to remain concentrated on a single, grounded idea, often reinforcing this focus by frequently returning to familiar themes. So, while their main inspiration might take flight into stranger landscapes, Infinitum Obscure are quite content to portray the lost chasms of this world with an evocative atmosphere of imaginative melodies and, most importantly, direct and uncompromising riffing. On ‘Sub Atris Caelis’, Infinitum Obscure’s sophomore album, these points are emphasized more clearly, making it their definitive accomplishment to date. The need to shake off the burden of being a mere clone band is eminently present; the band tasks itself with creating something altogether their own, resulting in a real sense of the epic emerging from the patterns interwoven throughout the record; each song is striking at something profound, grasping wildly in the search for solidarity. The consequence of these compulsions is an album that sounds like it is still very much in The Chasm camp; while really it has taken several progressive leaps forward, leaving us with a work of art brimming with the self-confidence of autonomy.

Denial – Catacombs of the Grotesque

Some of the most impressive new death metal from anywhere in the world, this churning, impactful and bodily animalistic accomplishment from former Cenotaph and Shub Niggurath madmen is not a joke. What Cannibal Corpse always intended with their chromatic, bass-heavy and relentlessly rhythmic one dimensional stream of riff becomes an amalgamation of melodic motifs and devastatingly experimental squeals in the hands of these  perpetrators, as the background noise boils and envelops much as the classic “Onward to Golgotha” did, while the constant, FX enhanced, ridiculously monstrous voice of Ivan Velazquez intones all the perspiring tension of underworld nexus, the twilight threshold of life and death where sorcerers and demons whisper secrets to the warrior, offering true and false guidance, representing the violent archaic generations that waged war on Mexico’s bloody soil and continue to make many lives into living hell. I have alluded to the monotone nature, which is probably intentional and it hardly detracts from enjoying this cryptic abomination for further and further listenings, as the heights such as “The Pestilent Pits of Disgrace” or “Necrotic Invocations” are deceptively complex mazes of chords and melodies disguised as straightforward infernal metal by the tight manner of production and the guitarists’ sparse use of leads or interludes. Most importantly, the unrelenting hopelessness of these afterworld visions will force the listener to abandon the illusion of safety and immortality that makes the common man succumb to faulty, immoral decisions from day to day, thus achieving one of the highest principles of death metal: mental change (abomination). One would hesitate to lift such a recent work to the hallowed pantheon of Cenotaph and Mortuary after a brief listening span, but if a candidate is chosen from this tournée, this must be it.

It can be said that while Mexico’s metal offerings are not especially plentiful, they are generally interesting and spirited while the best of the country are just about the best these genres have ever seen, on an international scale. Mexicans’ natural groundedness coupled with the mystical tendencies is an excellent standpoint for witnessing the oblique directions of Death and Black Metal from an unpretentious, furious, “Luciferian” angle. It’s almost a surprise there isn’t so much more of it, even though I’m surprised if any reader of this article gets a sense of scarcity regarding items of interest in Mexican metal. So, that being said, it’s about time we leave you to contemplate the mysteries of Toltecs and Satan in the consummation of the extreme, Romantic and evil compositional systems of these modern Mexican warriors and dreamers.

Marco: I think this music is very individual and very personal, and it can take you to a spiritual level, if you listen carefully. Our ancient cultures are based on spirituality, so that’s the point in our just making this weird mix. One song can take you to the top of the pyramids, and reach for the skies, and another one could take you to a scenario of a war against the conquerors. In the end it’s all about finding your own roots, it’s some kind of, another, resource to open your eyes and to step away from the enslavement of social rules and moral unconsciousness (Christian superstition included). In the end the people in power need a dormant society, so they can keep on corrupting, spreading corruption in every corner, and people are just playing the game. Only the connection to your roots will set you free.

Joel: It’s a matter of self confidence in all the things we do, the feeling of greatness inside, the feeling of power, to reach new levels in the extreme brutal metal music we make! I’m not here to convince anyone to do anything, we are selected persons, we the whole scene… the others, the weak, must die!

Highest hails from Deathmetal.Org to Joel of Mortuary, Marco of Xibalba, Demogorgon of Avzhia, Eduardo of Necroccultus and last but not least Noe of Guttural Records for providing in-depth thoughts from the original perpetrators of real Mexican Metal! All of these bands are active so look out for forthcoming events of true massacre of the highest order.

Once you decided to come to Mexico you should have put all your petty fears away. Your decision to come should have vanquished them. You came because you wanted to come. That’s the warrior’s way.

– Don Juan Matus

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 09-25-10

Empyrean – Resurrection Engine: This is really one of the more musical things to cross my desk, but these guys are on heavy drugs if they think the audience for this genre will reward them. First they try to do some metalcore, which I’m now convinced is basically emo (an offshoot of hardcore, originally popularized by Fugazi, then becoming its own genre) with metal riffcraft: songs are three-riff, with one riff for verse, one for chorus, and one a melodic interlude that happens every third repetition of the others and can be expanded upon without moving the fret hand much. As a result, their straight-ahead songs have a very cookie-cutter sound; the band really shines when they take post-rock literally and make spacy ballads that are as much folk music or ambient in spirit as they are rock (think Agalloch), and are very removed from metal and doubly so from punk. When the band launches into this type of material, my ears perk up. It has been dumbed-down a bit for the high school audience, most of whom are still trying to decide whether to dedicate their suicide to a girl, or nuclear warfare. However, a great sense of harmony underlies these songs. I think the band should chuck all the metalcore/post-metal horseshit and just do what they do best, which is atmospheric folk post-rock like Hawkwind crossed with Laurie Anderson or Brian Eno. I say do it you boys because metalcore/emo-core is like all rock music a giant aggregation of styles, which ties you down with so many conventions that soon you’re just repeating cliches in “new, exciting” forms. Empyrean have a chance to break free. Do it.

Herpes – Doomsday: This band make facile doom/death with underscorings of punk, shadowing early work by Autopsy and Cianide. They like to launch into songs with rough skeletal riffs, then develop those with their most grind/punk-influenced verse riffs, and then rotate through variations on that theme before concluding with a circuitous “descending into the dungeon” style resonant doom riff. This makes for an engaging mixture: just hookish enough to lure you in, twisted and cryptographic enough to keep your attention, but mostly these old school death metal tunes just immerse you in a dark atmosphere and then let it soak in, saturating you in a morbidity and empty despair that mirrors the purposelessness of modern life. Some influences from modern metal appear in the riffing but not in the song structure or tempi. Percussion is excellent and to these ears sounds solidly in the Chris Reifert tradition, both energetic and holding back just enough to keep the sensation of being in the midst of a dirge. This 2010 demo portends a bright future for these French old schoolers.

Glaukom Synod – The Unspeakable Horror: The industrial/metal fusion has been attempted many times since the Killing Joke/Ministry/Godflesh triumvirate back in the late 1980s, and it rarely comes together as anything other than industrial music with random riffing. Glaukom Synod do better than that, setting up a form of droning EBM that takes the bounce and happy right out of its percussion not by eliminating swing but by hammering offbeats only as a secondary role to the abrupt rhythm of whatever sample or keyboard riff dominates even the drum machine. On the whole this is more on the Ministry side of things, with catchy beats and intermittent appearances by noisy guitars, but like many industrial projects has difficulty closing a song. Songs more than anything else just fade out, reminding this reviewer of the Godflesh reworking “Love and Hate in Dub” which was literally dub: sonic wallpaper that rotated past, gaining a little momentum each time, and then evaporated. It’s quite competent and makes for good listening if you like this range of styles.

Impureza – Inquisition – The demo years: If you like Nile, you’ll like Impureza, because they share an approach. Riffs are not fluid rapid motion using chords like notes in a melody, as occurs in death metal; riff development is not riffs counterpointing one another like a conversation that only makes sense after you’ve heard both parts, as in death metal. Instead, as with Nile, riffs are designed around a chord repeated at a particular rhythm with a few melodic offsets, more like progressive rock or guitar AOR (Rush) than death metal, but still quite musical — in fact, more conventionally recognizable as music. This album starts with classical-styled acoustic guitar and gradually integrates this grinding progressive indie death metal into the mix, then tears through over a dozen songs of high-intensity material. These songs are technical but not in the sense of “completely losing site of having a topic.” They’re a layer of technical on top of regular songwriting, which instead of distracting from the song fleshes it out and gives it more momentum. In a world of “technical death metal” that’s basically really repetitive, sweep-happy metalcore, Impureza is a refreshing blast of sanity.

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Metal as religion

Some good stuff to chew over:

Lyrically, early black metal fused virulent anti-christian politics with Nietzschean-inspired satanism and ecological mysticism. As the scene grew into the 1990s, however, satanism became a problematic notion and several figures tried to find new ideological backing to their music. One solution, adopted by figures like Ihsahn, the vocalist for Emperor, was to treat satanism as merely a metaphor for Nietzschean individual freedom. Another far more problematic move was that taken by Varg Vikernes of Burzum, who dropped satanism in favor of nazism, and emphasized themes of mystical ecologism in opposition to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The third path was to reject satanism for a return to traditional Scandinavian paganism, a move made in the early years by Enslaved and one which has since spawned a new sub-genre: pagan metal.

What is fascinating here is the consistency with which black metal has pursued religious forms. Satanism is replaced, not by a basic materialist atheism but with almost anything else: Occultism, Nietzsche, paganism, mystical nazism. Such religious pluralism begs the question as to whether these are just new and interesting attempts at youth rebellion, or whether something more is playing itself out.

What if metal is drawn to the religious because it aspires towards a similar goal? What if it is not in opposition to religion, but in competition with it? In the 2005 documentary Metal: A head-banger’s journey, a fan is quoted as saying: ”Is heavy metal a sacrament? For some people it is. If it keeps kids alive, if it gives them hope, if it gives them a place to belong, if it gives them a sense of transcendence, then its a spiritual force and I believe it is a pipeline to God.”

Metal’s obsession with religion is part of its obsession with living at the limit. The goal of metal is extremity—to push music to the boundaries of noise without concern for the comprehensibility of the final product. Black and death metal groups in particular manipulate time structure, tonality, tempo and production quality to ensure that anything resembling a traditional rock, jazz or classical sound is deformed beyond recognition. Of central importance to this manipulation is the need to be heavier, faster, more technical, more “brutal” or more “true” than the past generation. – James Robertson, “Death Metal: A Pipeline to God?” Social Sciences Research Council blog “The Immanent Frame”

While I agree with much of this, I think metal’s conception goes back to the word heavy, the idea of horror movies, and a rebellion against the counterculture.

Metal sprung from the counterculture… but in opposition to the peace and light, it was the dark and heavy. It wasn’t music for taking life non-seriously or coming up with with trivial answers like “love will save the world” (you truly have to be fucking stupid, delusional or corrupt to believe that).

Metal’s message can be found in the song “War Pigs”:

Now in darkness world stops turning,
ashes where the bodies burning.
No more War Pigs have the power,
Hand of God has struck the hour.
Day of judgement, God is calling,
on their knees the war pigs crawling.
Begging mercies for their sins,
Satan, laughing, spreads his wings.
Oh lord, yeah!

While humans distract themselves with trivial shit, including the hippie con about love and light, the cruel manipulators are profiting behind the scenes and laying the seed of mythological levels of destruction.

While every popular music act except metal is espousing the “it’s all about you, have some fun, we’re all important, it’s about humans being individuals” karmic snake oil, metal was telling you to look at history, look at bigger patterns, realize that technology and “good intentions” were not going to save the day. We are insignificant, it said. What matters is not that we’re alive, but what we do with the time.

In other words, metal is an entirely different existential coping strategy than Christianity (an inherent God judges you based on your deeds) or hippies (if you just make happy socially, you’ll be OK and part of the group). Metal’s idea is this: the world is out there and it’s very real, which makes life very intense, so make sure you have an intense life, in part by not doing the stupid self-defeating shit that has dogged humanity like an expert parasite through the modern time.

It was only when black metal came around that this got fully Nietzschean, and people started talking about how equality was bunk, how most people are too oblivious/distracted to have any competence in making political or social decisions, and how we’d be better off if we slashed down the weaker/stupider and handed glorious victory to the strong, rising above the herd and exterminating them so humanity would evolve to a new level. Eugenics, Social Darwinism and natural selection as a purification of the artificial, sterile, “everyone wins” equality-based world of both the Church and the liberals (1789: “liberty, equality, fraternity”).

But this is an extension of the horror movie theme, which in turn derives itself entirely from the work of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells. Here’s the basic plot: something from a foreign culture or undiscovered part of our world emerges and starts wreaking havoc. People panic and the dumb sheep screw it all up by not only failing to respond to it with any intelligence, but also by shouting down anyone who tries to deal with it as a real, functional question instead of an emotional/technological one. Finally, the loners re-invent technologies to defeat it — or not — and the few beat the threat, so that the many live. But it’s not democratic. The point of horror movies is mainly to make you hate your own species as you see that all but a few cannot discipline their minds to respond to new stimulus. They panic, they make excuses, they steal now-worthless cash, they get drunk, they run away, they flake out. What they don’t do is achieve any effective action at all.

If you want the origins of metal, I think that’s it — modern society grips our society like a plague, and as years go by and the decay gets more advanced, people are still unable to do anything about it because they’re caught up in their own emotions and drama. But that point is far too realistic for any academic.

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History of death and black metal

I want to say that I will start with the year 1984. Death metal had been around since 1984/1985 depending on who you ask. Mantas, Genocide, Deathstrike, Possessed, Slaughter and others had started years earlier and wanted to make music that made Slayer sound like Wham. “Black metal” had already started with Venom and Mercyful Fate. Then Bathory and Hellhammer came along. The term “death metal” was more widely used back then. Hell, there was even a compilation called “Death Metal” that had Running Wild and Helloween on it! Although I do dig both of those bands, they are hardly death metal! But the comp did have Hellhammer as well. So there was a back and forth there for a while. Even Sodom came along and called themselves “witching metal” to start off with! hahaha. But bands jumped back and forth and it was common for bands to be called both at times. Once Massacre, Repulsion, Death, and later Xecutioner, R.A.V.A.G.E., Morbid Angel and others started getting going with demo tapes flooding the underground, death metal was really starting to spawn. My comment about Slayer was a joke. Slayer upped the ante, so to speak, on playing faster and more aggressive. Slayer was influenced by D.R.I., Cryptic Slaughter and the fast hardcore punk that was coming out. Just like those hardcore bands became influenced by Slayer and other metal bands later on. So these death metal bands took the Slayer formula and made it even more aggressive and even faster and heavier than ever before. Black metal was kind of regulated to the same bands for a while. Possessed had the imagery of a black metal band, but were total death metal/thrash. Mercyful Fate broke up and Venom and Bathory started getting a little different in their musical direction.

Flash forward to 1989. I was already a couple years deep in the metal underground, but this is when I really got into the DEEP underground scene with the tape trading and fanzines and all of that. ALL KINDS of underground bands, that played different “styles” were all in the same fanzines and on the same compilation tapes. The black metal of Samael, Beherit and Blasphemy was featured right next to the death metal of Autopsy and Nihilist. The thrash of Merciless and Sindrome was right next to the grind of Agathocles and Anarchus. Everyone seemed to get along in one, big happy underground metal family! Then over the next few years, death metal then broke as a worldwide phenomenon. Everything either had a Swedish guitar sound or was recorded at Morrisound Studios with Scott Burns producing it. And had Dan Seagrave doing the artwork on the cover. Morbid Angel became mainstream, Carcass and Obituary started getting play on MTV more often. It seemed EVERYONE was familiar with “death metal”! But then weird stuff started happening with these bands. In Sweden and Finland, some of the old death metal bands started getting more rock or gothic (or both) with their music. Opeth and Katatonia followed suit with a progressive rock or gothic rock sound. Entombed did a horrible mix of death metal and rock and roll. Therion got weirder, then went all show-tunes. In Finland Abhorrence became Amorphis and ended up having more in common with classic rock. Disgrace went punk rock. Xysma went hippie. Convulse went “death and roll” (PUKE!) There was a disconnect that started and some bands and members of the scene felt slighted. But it was felt that death metal went cheesy as fuck. Some people grew tired of all of this, and decided to form a new thing. And the leader of this new movement was Euronymous of Mayhem.

Flamingly interesting post, on Metal Maniacs of all places.

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How to fail as a metal band

This amusing list has been making the rounds:

One of the real delights of listening to truly great music is the capacity it has to continuously surprise an attentive listener. Great music makes itself known, in part, by the ways in which it yields up its secrets: slowly. In a sense, great music never “gets old” because each experience of it reveals new insight, allowing us to approach it as if for the first time.

The corollary to this, of course, is that while genius manifests itself in infinitely variable ways, all bad music is pretty much bad in the same predictable ways. Error was always thus: it cannot grow, it cannot meaningfully change, it can only, like a virus, reproduce itself in hosts who have not previously been exposed (which is why, to the experienced and attentive listener, each new iteration of bad music becomes more easily identified symptomatically while the inexperienced and/or stupid listener is likely to fall for FAILS that their more competent brethren spot from a mile away).

A Taxonomy of FAIL

Carnival Music

Symptoms: Like a carny barker or a snake oil salesman, many bands try to distract listeners with novelty or wild stylistic gesticulations designed to steer attention away from the underlying emptiness of what is being offered. Often, this will take the form of superficially “innovative” gestures like adding flutes, “technicality,” exaggerated, cartoonishly executed additions from “surprising” outside influences, or maybe just really long songs.

Classic FAIL Archetypes: Opeth, Dimmu Borgir, Deathspell Omega, Necrophagist, Cynic, later Therion

Sonic Wallpaper

Symptoms: Most often associated with black metal, this FAIL is typified by a failure to grasp the dramatic, narrative aspects of metal. As a result, these bands make music that is often pleasant, inoffensive and even impressive in its constituent parts, but devoid of meaning, spirit, passion or lucid organization. It may work as background music, but it cannot stand on its own merits when listeners pay close attention. Basically, when you find yourself hitting the snooze button four minutes in, you’ve stumbled on this brand of FAIL.

Classic FAIL Archetypes: Ulver, Drudkh, Negative Plane, pretty much anything involving Stephen O’Malley

Metal as Mainstream Pander

Symptoms: Most often spotted in the wild among established bands who have depleted their creative fire and genre tourists with no established connection to metal, this FAIL can be easily spotted by the way it apes mainstream music while superficially applying metal technique. Often includes elements of either Sonic Wallpaper, Carnival Music or both. Comes in both “high brow” and “low brow” versions.

Classic FAIL Archetypes: later Metallica, later Enslaved, Wolves in the Throne Room, post-Hell Bent For Leather Judas Priest

Angst for Autistics

Symptoms: FAILS of this sort reveal themselves by an emphasis on dumbed down rhythm to the near total exclusion of all other traits, usually accompanied by some sort of superficially “shocking” or simply mind-numbingly aggro lyrical content. Basically, they exist to mollify the angry impulses of speds, emotionally crippled jocks, JNCO-sporting malltwats, meathead bigots and assorted other human defectives.

Classic FAIL Archetypes: Pantera, Cannibal Corpse Origin, later Deicide, pretty much all metalcore, deathcore and NSBM

From a user named Dylar114.

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Glorious Times: A Pictorial History of the Death Metal Scene 1984-1991

Glorious Times: A Pictorial of the Death Metal Scene (1984-1991) presents a retrospective of the early death metal scene, written by the bands themselves, and edited by Alan Moses (Buttface Zine) and Brian Pattison (Chainsaw Abortions Zine). If you want to see what the early bands were thinking, doing and how they helped invent death metal, this original book gives you a window into the past and future of death metal.

Here’s my original review of the book from August 6, 2010:

When Kontinual lent me his copy of this great book, I had no idea what I was in for. It’s not a retrospective and not so much a nostalgia swipe as an attempt to preserve the past of the death metal genre through the words of the musicians who created it.

Outside of an introduction by Laurent Ramadier, the book is entirely composed of short retrospectives written by the bands themselves. Some are apologetic and wistful, others charging ahead full of verve, and still others factual or like the odd literary piece by Revenant’s Henry Veggian, insights into the mentality of those days.

It doesn’t make sense to group this book in with other death metal books like Choosing Death or Lords of Chaos, which attempt to analyze and formulate a coherent single narrative for the evolution of the genre. Instead, this is primary research material, with each essay providing approximately a short interview’s worth of primary source material for the growth of the death metal underground.

Compiled by Alan Moses (BUTTFACE ‘zine) and Brian Pattison (CHAINSAW ABORTIONS ‘zine), this half-folio tome brings out the best in death metal, including introductions to a veritable treasure trove of early partial evolutions of death metal. If you want a shopping list for the most obscure neo-death out there, get a pad and paper before you read this.

Printed in an initial run of 150 copies, the book will be heading back for a reprint soon. In the meantime, here’s the list of bands who contributed material:

  • Autopsy
  • Paineater
  • Deicide
  • Baphomet/Banished
  • Groovy Aardvark
  • Sepultura
  • Prime Evil
  • Brutality
  • Master/Abomination/Death Strike
  • Nuclear Death
  • Hellwitch
  • Malevolent Creation
  • Vomit
  • Death
  • Derketa
  • Cannibal Corpse
  • Deceased
  • Massacre
  • Insanity
  • Disharmonic Orchestra
  • Possessed
  • Incubus/Opprobrium
  • Revenant
  • Massappeal
  • Unseen Terror
  • Lethal Aggression
  • Incantation
  • Tirant Sin
  • Morbid Angel
  • Hideous Mangleus
  • Dream Death
  • Nocturnus
  • Ripping Corpse
  • Soothsayer
  • Acheron
  • Where’s The Pope?
  • Napalm Death

It will be great to see this book hit the racks for the long term, because it’s chock full of raw material for anyone curious as to the birth of death metal, the underground, and the related genres that spawned from the raw ferment of metallic anguish in that era.

For more information, consult the blog about the book, or its myspace.

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“Heavy metal is tribal music”

Someone finally explained heavy metal in terms simple enough for the nodding nobodies to comprehend:

Biff Byford, lead singer of 1980s heavy metal behemoths Saxon, is preaching to convert the non- ferrous among us to his cause. “Heavy metal is a tribal music and everyone is a member of the tribe,” he explains.

A wistful look passes across the features of a man memorably described by one critic as “the dray horse of heavy metal”. “The music’s not about love,” he adds, warming to his theme. “Our songs are more about Richard the Lionheart, steel trains and thunder. But when you do click with a big audience, it can be quite an experience, a massive connection… I suppose you could say it is a religious experience in a way.” – The Independent

As some people have been saying for years, metal is the one true alternative in pop culture — most of pop culture is about the individual and its desires, and the ethic of convenience that accompanies them. Don’t do the right thing — do what feels good! Ignore history, we’re inventing a new regime! One for the people, by the people, about the people. And when we gain power, and throw out those bad old fuddies with their social standards, everything will be totally awesome!

Heavy metal is the opposite. It minimizes the individual, and reduces you to the role of one in a tribe. It de-emphasizes the now, and replaces it with a broader view of history. It makes desires secondary to quests, goals and heroic struggles. It’s the anti-pop-culture, or the counter-counterculture. It’s a war against all of the illusions that allow our modern time to be corrupt. You can’t fight a corrupt society with flower power, pacifism and universal tolerance.

You can fight it by taking a look at reality for once, which is what heavy metal does. And because we’re the oddballs, we are the tribe of those who drop out of the “consensual reality” created by media, social pressures, advertising, government propaganda and what the crowd is talking about. We look at hard reality, fire and iron and blood, instead. While we may look like the other drop-outs, space-outs and individualists from the outside, we are in fact made of different stuff.

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Metalbolical Compilation Volume 1

Metalbolical Compilation Volume 1

1. Equinox – Night of Churchyard Watcher

Florida death metal with a tiny bit of groove, like a cross between Massacre and Cadaver, this track grows from a a verse/chorus loop with infectious chant-rhythm vocals into Exodus-style speed metal. The rather straightforward nature of these riffs may make it hard for this band to carve a niche for themselves.

2. Seeking Obscure – Battle of the Undead

Reminiscent of a slower and more brooding Deicide, this one-man band writes strong but non-distinctive riffs that would echo the infectious vocal rhythm, but this in turn reduces internal tension between instruments in the song and consequently, development of the song itself over time.

3. Waxen – I Claim Your Throne

This unabashedly sentimental heavy metal cloaks itself in death metal, then black metal, and finally brings out its true soul, a Dissection/Judas Priest style band with lots of lead rhythm guitar riffs showing off chops that get lost in a song that does not develop much beyond its initial ideas. Add to that the vocals that resemble a chihuahua with a head cold and you can see how confused this approach is.

4. Unburied – Domicile of flesh

Coming to us from the death metal styles of the mid-1990s, this song is half bouncing riffs reminiscent of a more organic version of what Six Feet Under does, and the other half is charging two-chord riffs. If you can imagine a sped up, groovier and more porn/gore-obsessed version of Mortician, the essence of this band takes form in your mind.

5. Archaic Winter – Colors of Despair

This band is at its peak when it sticks to fast death metal riffs that come in clusters of two complementary phrases and a melodic fill, and while the song structure doesn’t evolve much, it varies just enough to bring the mood to a closure. This track suffers from some confusion as to how to stick to the style at which this band is best.

6. Toby Knapp – Polarizing Lines

If you took Joe Satriani and Dissection and put them together in a goofy, over-the-top package like Iron Maiden, you would see the essence of shredder Toby Knapp’s style (he’s also in Waxen). The entire song is like a solo divided into a series of motifs that evolve briefly and then repeat, leaving us without the sense of vast emotional conflict and resolution that made Satriani’s solo albums reviewer favorites. Knapp might do best with some supporting musicians to help shape his raw energy with less musically precise riffing.

7. Dyngyr – Scourge

Reminiscent of other carnival metal bands like Tartaros, this raw black metal with keyboards band manages to keep a basic surging rhythm but throws in too many divergent impulses to tie them all together, creating a riff salad that because its riffs are so similar in rhythm, represents a rotation through different views of the same basic idea. The result is a fun roller coaster that is not particularly memorable afterwards.

8. Onward – Beyond the Strong

As if anticipating that only a few years later, men would stand on stage in tights with guitars and sing about Odin as part of the folk-metal movement that birthed out of black metal, Onward get out there with the old school NWOBHM and speed metal riffs and a soulful, bittersweet vocal track. This is well composed and unabashed in its worship of metal past, like a more hopeful version of In Battle but too pouring out its soul for most power metal listeners to take at face value.

9. Serpent Son – False Hope for Survival

This credible death metal offering aims to throw out many different riffs without them becoming divergent, in the style of bands like Demigod or Pestilence, and succeeds to a degree although many of its melodies use too many connecting notes to unleash their inner atmosphere and subtlety. Instead of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, they need to refine what they have so its interplay keeps the song intense and growing throughout.

10. Fetid Zombie – Pleasures of the Scalpel

Reminiscent of where Deceased took their music, this band works hard to disguise old school British heavy metal as American guttural goregrind. It’s pounding, chortling, gurgling, burping, crepitating madness until you realize the underpinning riffs are jaunty melodic middle fingers at common sense, similar to Gwar.

11. Nepente – Red Suns

Raw riffing meets interesting combinations of those riffs to make a dark atmosphere that submerges us in repetition made unexpected by changes in context. If you ever wondered what a hybrid of Von and Mortem might sound like, this is a good candidate.

12. Unearthed Corpse – Stench of your Decayed Blood

Ultra-basic death metal in the older style like Master meeting Malevolent Creation, this simple but catchy song uses a few riffs to good effect, pounding out a very similar verse/chorus pattern and then opening a sonorous transitional riff like a wormhole. Reminiscent of early Insidious Decrepancy.

13. Killing Addiction – Thresholds

This theatrical take on the mayhem of old school death metal combines slow necrotic riffing of the style Morpheus Descends made with the upbeat variations of post-Suffocation percussive death metal bands, challenging themselves with tempo changes that remind me of cats leaping between vehicles moving in different lanes of a superhighway. Like their undernoticed “Omega Factor” from 1993, this track has potential but suffers from dominating vocals and messy production.

14. Unit 100 – Bring Me the Circular Time Collapse

Of all the Toby Knapp projects in existence, this one provides the most interesting outlook because it mixes metal genres so fluidly, pacing Fallen Christ style chromatic riffing against avantgarde stylings reminiscent of Supuration. It’s enjoyable to see how the band hold them together and then blend them, creating a confusing musical experience that lingers in the mind after it has passed by, even if aesthetically the mix of stadium rock, Iron Maiden, death metal, crossover and progressive rock is too much of a buffet and not enough of a main course.

You can get this comp for $2 from Metalbolic Records. This is an older compilation, and volumes 2-3 are now available as well for the same price.

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Ray Miller (Metal Curse zine) wins Bloodstock T-shirt competition

Many of you know Ray Miller from Cursed Productions, Metal Curse zine and the death metal band Adversary:

Bloodbath is very pleased to announce Ray Miller from Elkhart, Indiana, USA as the winner of our Bloodbath over Bloodstock t-shirt competition. Blakkheim and Mikael hard a real hard time picking the winner out of so many great submissions but finally managed to come to a decision. Blakkheim had the following to say: “The reason why we picked this design to be the winner is simply because it looks like it was dragged out of a closet that hasn’t been opened since 1990! It pays tribute to rest in festering slime after the bloodbath over bloodstock!!!!” – Bloodstock

Congratulations, fellow old-schooler. May many a corpse be sodomized in the presence of this tshirt!

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