Analyze it to Life: Black Sabbath – Master of Reality

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The resurgence of Black Sabbath following the success of their new album 13 presents an ironic success when compared with the more substantial legacy of their earlier work. Without the first five albums, metal as we now know it would not exist. And on one album in particular, Black Sabbath laid the groundwork for three subgenres — stoner metal, thrash metal and doom metal — such that future generations could pick up the hint and fully develop these new alloys of the raw metal that Black Sabbath forged forty years ago.

Black Sabbath is widely acknowledged by critics and fans as the beginning of heavy metal. From the eerie tri-tone chills of “Black Sabbath” to the menacing crawl of “Electric Funeral,” from the sludge of “Cornucopia” to the pop sensibility of “Killing Yourself to Live,” the black stamp of Black Sabbath radiates forward into the future, culminating in a reprise of their career (including post-Ozzy line-ups) in 13. Ranking the first five Black Sabbath works on a scale of one to five, a convincing argument could be made for either chronological sequence going from best to least. It’s a toss-up for fans and critics alike. Paranoid garners most of the nods as the most influential album from all corners, and many fans cite Vol. 4 as their favorite. Numerous others consider Sabbath Bloody Sabbath the salvation of Black Sabbath, bringing a newer sound to the band

But whichever direction you go, Master of Reality stands in the center. It is the first, and maybe the last, Black Sabbath album from the Ozzy-era (and perhaps from the entire canon) to purge extraneous elements and render a pure metal, so pure that other alloys — especially stoner metal, thrash metal, and doom metal –- would not exist without it. While seeds of different genres surely exist on the other four albums mentioned, I will be arguing that Master of Reality not only undergirds these three subgenres of heavy metal but may well be the finest classic Black Sabbath album.

From start to finish, Master of Reality casts a dark, heavy, menacing, and philosophical spell on the listener. Perhaps “uncompromising” describes it best. As an artifact judged solely on its own composition and delivery, Master of Reality may be the first metal album conceived of as a metal album. While the first two Black Sabbath albums undeniably forge many elements of heavy metal, each deviates at certain points. Black Sabbath has numerous forays into jazz and blues. It’s heavy when it’s heavy, but an almost exploratory vibe pervades about one-third of the album. Paranoid, while certainly heavier overall and much more consistent than Black Sabbath, retains blues and jazz elements that do not appear on Master of Reality. The first two albums stand as classics of the genre, and valid arguments for their status as primordial metal albums absolutely exist. However, the unity and purposefulness of Master of Reality indicate that these albums were like drafts of an essay, brimming with good ideas and clever phrases but ultimately collections of elements rather than unified wholes. Master of Reality starts heavy, grows heavier, and finishes heaviest. As the analysis below will demonstrate, the thematic consistency of this album far exceeds that of its predecessors. The lyrical expression of the themes reflects a deeper and more reasoned understanding of the issues involved. Musically, the songs are tighter and more direct. While the free-form jams of the first two albums are quite interesting and in my opinion as good as anything of the era, they reflect yet again a collection of elements. Master of Reality offers much more stylistic consistency, indicating a more holistic approach to the project.

The opening track, “Sweet Leaf” stands as a blueprint for stoner metal. The lyrics celebrate marijuana as a window to another dimension only the enlightened perceive: “Straight people don’t know what you’re about / They put you down and shut you out / You gave to me a new belief / And soon the world will love you sweet leaf.” The plodding riff that dominates the song permeates the descendant genre. Then the break from around 2:35-3:25 shifts into a proto-thrash mode (especially evident in Bill Ward’s drumming) that will show up again and again on this record. The song concludes with the stoner plodding that begins it.

“After Forever” and “Children of the Grave” carry the proto-thrash elements to the next level. While many critics have begun to agree that “Symptom of the Universe” off Sabotage inaugurates proto-thrash, one hearing of Master of Reality should be adequate evidence that the thrash style was being perfected, not invented, by the time “Symptom” was pressed into vinyl. Taking on religion (and ironically deciding in its favor, saying “They should realize before they criticize / That God is the only way to love”), the shouted lyrics of “After Forever” offer a direct exploration of the question of the soul versus the institutionalized mechanisms that supposedly provide for its sustenance. Both of these themes persist into thrash metal. The up-tempo opening and subsequent power chord extravaganza stand as a stark contrast with the opening track. “Children of the Grave” is pure thrash. Again featuring a shouted vocal, the song amplifies lyrics that challenge war and societal manipulation with verses like “Show the world that love is still alive you must be brave / Or your children of today are children of the grave.” The lyrics of this song presage two of the most prominent themes in thrash metal. Like “Paranoid” before it, “Children of the Grave” chugs forward, adding sustained chord progressions above it. The break from 2:10-2:20 proves itself worthy thrash to this day. Bill Ward’s work heralds the prominence of drums in thrash. Taken together, these two songs form the blueprint for thrash metal.

“Lord of this World,” “Solitude,” and “Into the Void” constitute a “doom suite.” As Osbourne’s plaintive wail pierces our eardrums, evil, demonic possession, psychological instability, and societal collapse penetrate our consciousness like a needle pushing a drug under the skin. The lyrics reflect a pessimism only hinted at in the preceding songs. The song titles themselves indicate a doom ethos. Try to imagine a darker or doomier final song than “Into the Void.” With the exception of a break in “Into the Void,” the tempos, riffs, and rhythms slow to a sometimes mechanistic, sometimes mournful, sometimes throbbing, always menacing procession of deliberate despair. The churning “Lord of this World” offers a view of demonic influence based not on Satan’s assiduity but human apathy: “You made me master of the world where you exist / The soul I took from you was not even missed.” The naysayers vilified in “After Forever” have won, and the dim hope that “God is the only way to love” offered in “After Forever” is snuffed out like a candle after a mass. “Solitude,” a slower, softer song expresses the ennui of a person suffering from self-directed pessimism. Ostensibly about a woman, the lyrics also sustain an interpretation of addiction or perhaps depression: “Crying and thinking is all that I do / Memories I have remind me of you.” The theme of hopelessness would become a staple of doom metal. “Into the Void” comprises interesting movements and perhaps one of the best introductory and main body riffs in all of Black Sabbath. The theme of contradictory practices, probably based on the co-occurrence of the Apollo missions and the Vietnam War, ultimately rests on the fact that hope is an illusion and the only peace that exists comes from journeying into the void — not on a rocket ship but in a grave on a planet “left to Satan and his slaves.” Again, the hope expressed in “After Forever” falls to the psychological manipulation of the children of the grave. The thematic consistency across the album is summarized and re-presented as a void that ultimately becomes the only option: a dark, heavy, menacing, and philosophical elaboration of the pessimism that will come to characterize heavy metal.

Master of Reality presents an overall coherence and depth reflective of a band that has realized its vision. Working out the details during the production of their first two records, Black Sabbath tempered that vision with experience. The musical, lyrical, and thematic sophistication of this album leads to an even heavier sound than had existed before. While it may be that down-tuning contributed to a darker sound, the beauty of this album emerges not from lower notes but from higher understanding. Some may suggest that Vol. 4 goes the next step further, but I would argue that it is the first step down-less consistent, less profound (although of Vol. 4 possesses a rather remarkable lyrical finesse). Sabbath Bloody Sabbath seems in the main a different enterprise than the first four albums (though it does elaborate some of the elements started on Vol. 4.) Some may suggest that Black Sabbath was an almost miraculous first outing, therefore making it best. I would agree that it laid the foundation for the genre but lacks the unity and purpose of Master of Reality, which is the album that confirmed the genre. Some may suggest the commercial success and exposure of Paranoid makes it the best expression of Black Sabbath’s ethos. Paranoid ranks as one of the greatest albums in the Sabbath canon, and many arguments could be made about the songs on Paranoid being their best work. But this analysis seeks to determine the best album. And Paranoid lacks the lyrical, thematic, and musical consistency of Master of Reality. In fact, from my perspective this level of excellence does not reappear until Heaven and Hell. But that album resulted from a new line-up and a new vision. In the end, I have to choose Master of Reality over Heaven and Hell.

A true testament to the importance of this album appears in the track list for 1997’s live collection Reunion. If we accept the postulate that Black Sabbath intended this collection to be a compendium representing the legacy of the Ozzy era as it stood at that time, the importance of Master of Reality becomes clear. Only four songs from the final five albums of the era are included. Only three are chosen from the eponymous first album. That leaves five songs each from Paranoid and Master of Reality (I’ll concede that “Orchid” is less important than any of the songs from Paranoid, yet there it is). With many fine tunes available from the final five albums, Black Sabbath included two-thirds of Master of Reality (four of six full-length songs). Surely they would not have featured so much of this album (and so little of the final five) if they did not want it to represent their legacy.

At the very least, Master of Reality caps the most important three-album sequence in the history of heavy metal. Although the first two albums present fierce, fatalistic, and fear-laden songs, songs with symphonic sensibilities and fusion-based energy, Master of Reality far exceeds both of them as a holistic project. The musical consistency and thematic pessimism of this album refines the ethos and aesthetic of the first two albums into a tighter work of art, at once more controlled and more innovative, perhaps because of the greater degree of precision and planning. Further, the variety of styles and increasing darkness of the themes and lyrics as the album progresses create the design signatures for the stoner, thrash, and doom metal of today, making it more influential than a cursory understanding would indicate. As a result Master of Reality reigns as the finest Black Sabbath album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRKGKXL1seE

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-12-13

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Heavy metal is either art, or like the rest it’s a product to make sad people feel better about their empty and pointless lives. Brutal honesty is all that separates us from that abyss. Remember, tears are a sign that you’ve really reached people…

evereve-seasonsEvereve – Seasons

Nuclear Blast, this is NOT “music to mangle your mind.” This is the AIDS of the music world. Cheap, hokey synths ramble under tepid saccharine guitar melodies while effete whiny crooning that makes Morrissey sound like Tom Warrior radiates in the background. You can just about hear the teenage bedrooms of America, reeking of self-pity and masturbation, where the obese and inbred listen to this. It’s OK, kid, everyone gets turned down by a fleshlight at least once. If you can imagine heavy metal with all of its soul removed, candied like one of those disgusting little fruits in a fruitcake, this would be it. There is nothing here that is metal except under the flimsiest of pretenses. “Evereve” is more like “Summer’s Eve.” Seasons could be a forerunner for HIM. If you ever hear a note of this, you’re going to need hormone replacement therapy.

covenant-nexus_polarisCovenant – Nexus Polaris (also released as The Kovenant – Nexus Polaris)

The cheese of “black metal” circa 1998 is on full display here in this one album. Considering the Dimmu Borgir membership and the touting of a drum performance by Hellhammer circa his “help, I need money and even joined Arcturus” days, you know this will be bad. The vaudevillian sideshow vibe of later Ancient and Cradle of Filth is tricked out to sound like a joyous PG rated sci-fi soundtrack is playing over a rock opera, making this all sound more absurd. Imagine the music from a children’s variety TV show but with some drunk guitarist in the background hammering out heavy metal riffs with black metal stylings as he copulates with close family members while wearing a tutu. If you heard a “black metal” parody in recent times, chances are it sounded like this.

immolation-majesty_and_decayImmolation – Majesty and Decay

This album brings to mind Dogwin’s Law for metal: as a metal band ages, the probability of it reverting to its influences becomes one. Immolation started out as a speed metal band, then detoured into death metal for a few albums, and now is back to heavy metal but in a simplified form using death metal technique. When they did that cover of Mercyful Fate, it shook something loose, and Immolation thought, “Why spend hours fitting twisty riffs into intricate combinations?” Verse, chorus, break, solo — done! Collect check, buy motorcycle parts. This is the metal equivalent of baby food: over-cooked, pre-ground, sweetened and without any difficult parts. Gone are the wildly imaginative riffs and catcomb-like song structures. Instead it’s The Jets covering Bryan Adams put into power chord riffs. Embarrassed by their own non-output, Immolation tries to hide the emptiness by getting emo on the choruses but nothing can save this pile of paint-by-numbers metal. This is metal’s equivalent of Bangerz with some guy howling along in the background about stuff he read on Infowars.com.

morgoth-feel_sorry_for_the_fanaticMorgoth – Feel Sorry for the Fanatic

Another case of mid-90s “evolution,” Morgoth ditch the Death Leprosy worship for a sound more akin to Voivod at their most commercial playing Killing Joke at their poppiest. Vocals sound like a parody of Amebix, lots of mumbling and tuneless sung-shouts. Verse-chorus structures and an industrial rock production suggest this band was attempting to cash in on the industrial/cyber image trend of Ministry, Godflesh, and Fetish 69. With waves of label hype behind it, Feel Sorry for the Fanatic failed as only the falsest of marketing hype can. Creating a neutered album with fringe-accessibility to an audience that didn’t exist the year this album was released left the band to fall on its face in embarrassment and dishonorably disband.

wolves_in_the_throne_room-bbc_session_2011_anno_dominiWolves in the Throne Room – BBC Session 2011 Anno Domini

This band of hippies in denial have improved in the songwriting department, but by so doing reveal the underlying emo to their music. It’s clearer than ever before that Wolves in the Throne Room were never black metal. This two-song release allows the “post-metal” to shine, but musically “post-metal” is identical to emo, a subset of late hardcore/indie rock hybrids of the late 1980s. Musically, nothing has changed since that time, so if you’ve been in a cave since 1984 you might enjoy this band. These two tracks are far less random than previous Wolves in the Throne Room output. While they try to ape black metal with heavy guitar distortion and howled vocals, in harmony and choice of scale this material would fit in on a Jawbreaker or Rites of Spring album more than any black metal album. In fact it’s a complete sham to ever list this band as black metal because it misses out on what they do well, which is a very slow version of emo. Droning emptiness portrayed with slighly dissonant tracks that sound like self-pity incarnate. It evokes a lot of different feelings that boil down to the same state of suspension, in which mixed-emotions and self-pity that brings self-doubt resolve all things to the same. I wouldn’t recommend this for any metal fan or anyone who remembers the late 1980s.

solar_deity-devil_worshipSolar Deity – Devil Worship

If you approached a black metal band as if it were a doom metal band, you might end up with something like Solar Deity. Very musically literate in a way that is reminiscent of Necrophobic, with understated melodic riffs and good rhythm, this band nonetheless suffers from a type of drone syndrome where just not enough changes to keep interest, although there’s nothing offensive. Clearly mostly inspired by the first two Gorgoroth albums, Solar Deity attempt to set up a number of songs to narrate and develop theme, and do a reasonable job of it, but their riffs are rather lukewarm and repetition-intensive as is their usage. The result would be great if designed for doom metal, but as black metal ends up being an abrasive drone and sense of confused purpose within otherwise well-composed music. It might be good background music for repetitive tasks. You know, really feel that tedium as you clean water heaters, file taxes or chase hipsters off your front lawn with a shotgun (aim for the knees).

tribulation-the_formulas_of_deathTribulation – The Formulas of Death

Death metal isn’t hard rock. If it wanted to be hard rock, its members being honest people, it would have elected to simply be that instead. However, there’s a huge market in dressing up regular boring corporate product rock music as something “edgy” like death metal, which still hasn’t been conquered by the civilizing forces of socialization. Like previous Tribulation releases, The Formulas of Death is ambiguously in the death metal realm and in fact treats its death metal elements with ironic scorn. The result is a pretty good hard rock band embedded in a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Get a real vocalist, throw out the token chromatic riffs and d-beats, and re-style this album as something along the lines of early Queensryche or Cinderella and it would be great. This will make just about every “Best of 2013” because people can’t tell the difference between turd and steak tartare but also because it’s catchy. Simple music for simple minds.

skeletonwitch-serpents_unleashedSkeleton Witch – Serpents Unleashed

If focus groups found a way to slam Sentenced Amok and At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul into a metalcore product that panders to Adult Swim viewers, then Skeleton Witch would be the abomination unleashed. Tired and generic riffs more bound to cliche than tradition power an interchangeable series of mellow-deaf parts stitched into galloping rhythms. Although it appears to be like metal from a distance, I suspect if MC Hammer knew how to play a guitar, he’d come up with something like this. Poppy and bouncy background noise for people who value video games and Comedy Central more than music, Serpents Unleashed might be the sonic equivalent of a middle schooler’s diary: covered in stickers and glitter, but the content within is more than predictable in essence even if not in particulars, and in ten years it will humiliate them if unleashed.

beyond-fatal_power_of_deathBeyond – Fatal Power of Death

The problem with retro works is context. What was once a whole context is broken down into techniques, “moments,” transitions, tempo changes, riff-archetypes and melodic frameworks, and then reconstituted. However, since there’s no motivation except to be retro, there’s no new context except appearance. Thus the bands doing this tend to default to the simplest elements possible, which are either age-independent but average stuff the original genre tried to escape or conventions of the present age. The result is that you get the same stuff, but someone has covered it in retro-feeling-stuff. The end result is like a bison spray-painted with corporate logos, a contextless mishmash that’s oblivious to its own true nature. Beyond make a credible effort but they are trying to fit riffs together, not use riffs like words or colors on a painting, and as a result, nothing is communicated by frenetic energy, doubt and disorganization. Moments of this release are stunning, but the whole does not add up to much because it’s not about anything.

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Matt Olivo from Repulsion directs Henchman: The Al Leong Story (2014)

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You probably remember Al Leong even if you never knew his name. He has acted in dozens of films as a bad guy supporting other bad guys. Hence the name of the documentary Henchman: The Al Leong Story directed by Repulsion guitarist Matt Olivo, which will see release in 2014.

Olivo has continued his musical career in parallel to his cinematic one. Interviewing dozens of media moguls and high-profile talent such as John Carpenter, Olivo assembled the documentary out of reminiscences and interviews. These enabled him to portray the career and life of legendary Hollywood stunt performer, actor and martial artist Al Leong, famous for his work in Die Hard and dozens of other violent entertaining films.

To help Olivo continue his overtime career (once you’ve been in Repulsion, you’ve wona t life) go to the Henchman: The Al Leong Story Facebook page and make sure to “like” the page, and then spread the word of the film to friends, family, bystanders and any movie industry executives you happen to know.

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Matt Olivo and John Carpenter.

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Matt Olivo and Repulsion back in the 1980s.

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Assück – Blindspot

assück-blindspotGrindcore as a genre started out incredibly strong but unfortunately has grown stale with copycat bands and hipsters. By remembering those who made the genre great, we may inspire the genre to create great works once more.

An early runner in the grindcore genre, Florida’s Assück were one of the first bands to fuse grindcore’s rhythmic intensity and youthful energy with elements of the phrasal and percussive riffing of death metal. The combination would later become “deathgrind.” Assück additionally was staffed by remarkably proficient musicians.

Blindspot was released in 1992, a year after their landmark debut, Anticapital. This short EP shows a continuation of Assück’s style from the album, but nevertheless maintains interest throughout, due in no small part to the enthralling percussion. Drumming displays a wide breadth of styles masterfully integrated into the framework of simple grindcore rhythms. Often, it will interact directly with the riffs, mirroring the attack of each chord with a percussive element. The riffing is a potent fusion of hardcore punk power chord bashing, harsh dissonance, and death metal inspired chunkiness. Vocals are a hardcore­inspired growl, similar in ways to Napalm Death or Blood’s vocals.

This entire release is over in about seven minutes, but that is all that is required. What many modern grind bands can learn from this EP is how complete the release sounds. Despite how short it is, if it had gone on a few minutes longer it would be tedious? had it been shorter there would have been development issues in the songwriting. This is the true essence of grindcore – composing not just short songs, but short songs that are coherent in their structure and intent. By striking a balance between grindcore’s chaotic extremity and death metal’s emphasis on coherent riff construction, Assück has continued to remain a fan favorite and influence. This EP only helps to cement their legacy.

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How to “sing” death metal — an interview with Lane Taylor, vocal coach

lane_taylorEvery death metal listener has at some point heard some variation on the statement that death metal bands are untalented, and that instead of mellifluous singing, there’s some guy “just standing there screaming” (that’s from my Mom, about 25 years ago).

Despite three decades of these vocals, they remain vastly misunderstood. Leaving aside for a moment the question of their purpose and effect, there’s also the technical question of how they are produced. And how does this compare to regular “sing-a-long” vocals?

When heavy metal vocal coach Lane Taylor reached out to us here at Death Metal Underground, we asked him if he could resolve this issue. Is screaming singing? Is it a technique, with a right way and wrong way?

And most of all, what’s the right way? Here’s our interview with Lane.

You’re a vocal instructor for metal bands. How did you find this path in life?

Heavy music was my first true love. I was hooked the moment I brought home Metallica’s Black Album at the age of 10. As the years progressed and new styles of metal developed I decided to join a couple local bands to try my hand at composing the music I love. I enjoyed minor success in the local music scene and actually came pretty close to getting signed around 2007. As life would have it things didn’t work out with the band so I decided to get into teaching. There are a million guitar teachers out there so I decide to be different and study the art of screaming heavy metal vocal styles. I had already taken plenty of singing lessons at this point but could never find someone who taught screaming! For years I read every book and watched every instructional tutorial I could find on the subject and then later developed my own approach. The lesson feedback from my early students was great and so I decided to make a go of becoming a heavy metal vocal instructor!

Are death metal vocals a form of “singing”?

Technically no. When you sing you are singing musical notes in the keys of A,B,C,D,E,F or G. Musical notes fit together like a language to form musical scales. Screaming is a bit different in that you scream at a pitch instead of singing musical notes. When you scream it is done at a low, middle or high pitch.

Many people would say that metal vocals don’t offer much to the technicalist. Do you have some favorite examples that prove that talking point wrong?

Perhaps screaming is not that technical in a musical note sense but that is because it is a different beast! Metal music as a whole in my opinion is the most technical music there is! Many of today’s metal vocalists sing AND scream in their music which is very tough to do while still maintaining a clean powerful singing voice. Finding the right balance of singing and screaming when performing is technical in its self. Of course it is just my opinion but I believe Randy Blythe of Lamb of God is a pretty technical screamer. The man can do a lot with his voice! He has a lot of awesome vocal tones and really can mix it up with his screams.

Do you instruct people in death metal vocals? What methods do you teach?

Many of my students are into death metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Bolt Thrower to name a couple. One of my first students even had a tattoo of the band Deicide – now that is a loyal fan! Since guttural low screams are a signature element in most death metal bands I will start the student out with a focus on the lows. After taking the student through several breathing and vocal warm up exercises we get into the meat of the screaming exercises which include “The Medicine Ball Toss”, “The Barbarian Hey!”, “Dog Barks and Growls” and “The Karate Voice Throw”. More information on these techniques is available at Scream Like A Rockstar!

Can you describe, in technical terms, how death metal vocals are produced?

In your throat you have the true vocal cords which are very thin pieces of tissue that allow you to speak and sing. These vocal cords block the escaping air that is pushed up from your diaphragm muscle and this creates a tension on the vocal cords. As the air pressure escapes through these cords they vibrate and produce speech or singing. There are thicker more durable pieces of tissue attached to the vocal cords and these are known as the false cords. These false cords are what a screamer relies on to produce a scream. When these cords come together with the right tension and air pressure it basically turns your throat and mouth into an echo chamber and your scream is produced. The false cords are very necessary in heavy metal vocals because they take much of the strain of the true vocal cords. Without the false cords the true vocal cords would be damaged very easily by screaming.

What are the benefits to a metal vocalist of receiving instruction? Are there ergonomic and health benefits as well as performative ones?

For the beginner screaming lessons are a must! If you are new to screaming and practicing with poor technique it is important to correct it so you don’t injure yourself. Just as it takes time to build muscle at the gym the same is true with building up strong vocal cords that can handle this type of extreme music. For a seasoned veteran screamer a good instructor can provide great ways to warm up which will help ward off vocal injuries and will also help to increase vocal stamina when performing. In my program I also provide vitamins and supplements you can take if you get sick on tour or need to bring down vocal inflammation.

How do people avail themselves of your services, and do you work remotely?

I am based out of the North Bay area here in California but for those who aren’t local I also have an instructional DVD at my website Scream Like A Rockstar. The DVD took 3 years to make and contains lots of goodies to help metal musicians reach their rock star dreams! At the website I also run a blog with some good free tips to help novice screamers. Thank you very much to the staff at Death Metal Underground for allowing me the opportunity for this interview!

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The importance of experiencing local metal

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Fields of Elysium.

Some time ago, Jon Wild relayed a local news write-up about Amarillo-based death metal band Abolishment of Flesh. I am a part of Death Metal Underground, and I live in Amarillo. I’ve gotten to know these folks, and I thought I’d offer a follow up. I can say without reservation that they are as great as the best of people one finds anywhere. Since moving here 14 years ago, I’ve found I had trouble finding a niche. The ostensibly Christian veneer of this region fades rather quickly when it becomes known that one does not practice some variety (or in my case, no variety) of faith. That sense of alienation grows when one prefers Pentagram CDs to Pentacostal services. So outside the people I knew from work, I really didn’t associate much with the local population. As metalhead and loner from way back, this arrangement suited me just fine. Solitude trumps solicitousness any day, and twice on Sunday.

Then, as Brett Stevens reported earlier this year, a long-time dream came true for me. I offered a college course in heavy metal. As a result of this class and the monumentally fantastic people in it, I started to become acquainted with the local metal scene. A couple of my students were in metal bands, and a couple of others were involved in the campus radio metal show, The Rocket. So when a trivia question about death metal arose on The Rocket, I called in and won tickets to the West Texas Death Fest (WTDF). And as the cliché goes, it changed my life.

abolishment_of_flesh
Abolishment of Flesh.

When I walked into the show, I saw ink, piercings, gothic scripts, black t-shirts. I learned rather quickly that the black t-shirts covered hearts of gold. A former student was taking tickets. Two students met me there. The promoters of WTDF, who had offered the trivia question, were waiting for me. They knew who I was, and I was welcomed with a hug. Facebook friendships formed. I learned that they were also a local metal band called Abolishment of Flesh, which is supremely ironic because instead of abolishing flesh, they live to sustain the good fortunes of everyone they know. In any event, I got to know Jess (promoter) and Ramon (guitarist/ vocalist) Cazares over the next few months. I think of them as the hearts of local metal. Hearts, plural. I went to see Abolishment of Flesh and kept tabs on their national Brutal Alliance tour, in which they partnered with New Mexico neighbors Fields of Elysium. Par for the course, the bands shared everything along the way. It was part tour (death metal overground, I like to call it), part family vacation. I also became an avid follower of local metalcore band Sixgun Serenade — the rhythm section of which comprises two former students of mine — who are at work on an album to follow up 2013’s The Avenue of the Giants. I’ve gotten to know their families. In much the same way a “church home” may sustain some people; I found my niche in the local metal community. These are my people.

A few weeks ago, The Rocket again hosted Abolishment of Flesh in the studio as guests to talk about their forthcoming CD Creation to Extinction. On that day, I wore the band’s t-shirt to all my classes and changed my profile picture on Facebook to reflect that. I made my cover picture a picture on the band and me taken after a show. Of course all the people involved altered or posted to their pages. It was an event. Encouraged by this activity, I tossed out the notion of a campus metalfest. People came out of the metalwork. More Facebook friendships were forged, more family adopted (and probably more shows to see, more t-shirts to wear). All for an idea.

I’ll be heading out to see Abolishment of Flesh on December 14 as they inaugurate their new CD (and celebrate drummer Robert Ginn’s birthday, because it’s a family thing). Sixgun Serenade will play a benefit in January. West Texas Death Fest is slated for April. I believe we are fortunate to have a metal venue, numerous metal bands, an annual metal festival, a couple of metal radio shows, and a university metal course. We’re pretty active for being smaller city distant from metropolises and centered in a region that by all accounts is not particularly comfortable with metal.

So, in the end, together, we have the mettle to sustain our metal. We smelt the ore daily through friendship and family. It’s not about death metal. It’s about life metal. It’s about living metal and living, metal.

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Sixgun Serenade (with author Martin Jacobsen).

Abolishment of Flesh:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BH6MM6EEss

Fields of Elysium:

Sixgun Serenade:

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Glorious Times tshirts available with art by Kam Lee

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Kam Lee, former vocalist of Mantas/Massacre and former editor of Comatose Zine, has contributed art for the official Glorious Times tshirts printed for fans of the book and the time period. The shirts are white print on black and feature the Glorious Times stencil logo and art on the front.

We have covered Glorious Times in the past, but for the newcomer, it is a book of retrospectives by people who were active in the death metal underground from 1984 to 1991, which were the formative years of the genre and its earliest internal differentiation. Featuring many rare photos and perspectives, Glorious Times helped kick off the current retrospective view of the old school death metal scene that has brought many bands out of hiding and seen many classic recordings and publications re-issued.

For a sample of Glorious Times, download the Nuclear Death profile and read our update on version 2.0 of the book as well as our original article calling attention to the great work that Alan Moses and Brian Pattison are doing with Glorious Times and their help for the underground metal scene. Then consider buying a tshirt to support!

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Torchure – Beyond the Veil

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Torchure‘s Beyond the Veil, recently re-issued on Vic Records, shows the best of the inventive spirit that hovered at the boundaries of extreme metal.

I say at the boundaries because this release, like early Sentenced or middle-period Therion, keeps one foot in the relatively accepted worlds of speed metal and heavy metal while another remains planted in the underground. Properly described, it’s a doom metal (of the heavy metal variety) hybrid with death metal.

The deathier aspects are embedded in mid-paced passages that show, in an odd twist for the genre, melodic development in both guitar and vocals, creating a sense much like that Dissection wielded of an inner core of beauty to a crashing heaviness. Slower doom riffing resembles both Cathedral and funeral doom bands to follow like Skepticism, although this would be considered uptempo.

Offsetting those elements are a number of harder-rocking numbers that use repurposed heavy metal riffs in a death metal context to deliver charging intensity at a faster pace. Many of these resemble the interstitial music between speed metal and death metal, like Slayer or Destruction. The melodic balances the spacier pentatonics and the crashing chromatic riffs that connect it together.

The result is a highly inventive album that showcases a study of metal riffing from the early 1970s onward, and by maintaining a doomy mood, expands death metal from raw riff interplay to a science of developing riffs in the context of a carefully planned mood shift in each song. This comes at the expense of the more expansive song structures which death metal could adopt by changing riffs every 24 seconds.

Vic Records has unleashed a quality re-release here with sound quality intact and no loss of detail, building on the strength of the original and delivering an improved experience. With luck this will allow a new generation to discover this often-overlooked (probably because of the misspelled name) German death metal band.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-05-13

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? If you treat heavy metal like a form of art or culture, it suddenly reveals its inner depth. Labels want you to see the surface only. To separate the two, we must be brutally honest. Look for the occasional gem in the sands of sonic feces.

cemetary-phantasmaCemetary – Phantasma

Claiming to be tired of the “dungeons and dragons metal stuff”, Cemetary mainman Mathias Lodmalm stops trying to rip off Tiamat and Sisters of Mercy for Nuclear Blast fan boiz and unleashes his last pose. If his progressively more AIDS-influenced output didn’t clue you in, this last Cemetary album feels like a garage band project done for the purpose of emulating Nine Inch Nails or Skinny Puppy. It shows how interchangeable most poppy industrial is, so I can see something like this album succeeding on the radio, but as luck would have it, this is just another faceless electronica product in a sea of many. The only thing this release has in common with the previous Cemetary output is the same sub-standard quality that left them entombed in the chasms of out of print Black Mark releases no one cares for.

periphery-periphery_ii_this_time_its_personalPeriphery – Periphery 2: This Time It’s Personal

It’s important to note that borrowing a few techniques from the metal genre doesn’t make you a metal band. Underneath the “harsh” vocals and “crazy” drumming are mechanical Nu riffs and mathcore noodlings. Whiny crybaby vocals and pop-choruses make this nothing more than a commercial product for socialization amongst Xanax-addled teenagers who are somewhere between dropping out of high school and becoming Che Guevara shirt-wearing low level pot dealers who often lapse into 9/11 conspiracy rants. The whole thing is organized to seem more like an emo album with its pop-punk cheerfulness and feminine vocals that reflect a feeling of being “hurt” by “mean society and girls with standards,” much like their clone targets in Sikth. If these people were more honest with themselves, they would drop the superficial “EXTREME” portions and become the next Hawthorne Heights.

satyricon-the_shadowthroneSatyricon – The Shadowthrone

If you are looking for the start of black metal’s disintegration, it can be found here. Taking liberal inspiration from bands that preceded it, this album is the blueprint for how semi-talented musicians can copy a genre’s sound while embodying none of its spirit. The songs are narrative on the surface; however, when the listener attempts to peer beyond appearance it is quickly apparent that there is nothing of depth, the musical equivalent of modern poetry. Tracks meander from one location to another, never providing any causation for why the arena is changing. The riffs are tiring in their simplicity and irrelevance, and motifs are at best uninspired. The band also deserves blame for introducing drunken popularizations of folk melodies that distract listeners from the vapid quality of metal present, which has been the operating principle of folk metal for the last 20 years. The only people who can appreciate this album are the deaf and fans that lack standards.

harm-cadaver_christiHarm – Cadaver Christi

The real way to be a reviewer is to assume that nothing is free. No one gets a promo. Everyone must pay mall prices. There are no buddy hookups, freebies from the cutout bin, and you have a budget that’s commensurate with that which the average 15-27 year old can field. It doesn’t matter that the wiper blades for your Lexus cost more than even an album from overseas; the question is what your audience can afford. Your readers. And knowing that they have finite money and time, what’s worth spending it on for them? Music is a zero-sum game. If you can buy only five CDs a month, you want to buy the best five possible. All of this is what was once called common sense, apparently, but now is voodoo quantum dark energy esoteric witchcraft knowledge to most people. That being said, I’m sure the guys in Harm are nice people but this album is dismal. It’s bog-standard Swedish-style mid-paced death metal with every cliche of bad metal involved, including the highly derivative riffs, emphasis on vocals as lead instrument (a fatal failure for metal bands), plodding pace and lack of melodic or structural development. Avoid unless you’re so average that anything else is over your head.

xysma-first_and_magicalXysma – First and Magical

Starting life as a Carcass clone, Xysma have progressively been perverting that band’s Symphonies of Sickness formula into becoming a more accessible “rock” product through perceptively mainstream blues and psychedelic moments as well as the “angsty” sounds of then “nu” radio hit band Helmet. With liner notes claiming The Beach Boys as an influence, it all comes together as a light-hearted parody of underground metal through the juxtaposition of “happy” and “trippy” moments amidst blasting death/grind fare and two-note groove riffs. Arguably the first death n’ roll band, Xysma could be held responsible for the mainstreaming of death metal through the use of elements the genre at that point have fully filtered out of its sound. While I don’t think the band meant any harm with this release, it has nothing to offer except “light-hearted fun” and seems like a bizarre interim period between their old Carcass-influenced sounds and the Helmet style they would adopt on their next album Deluxe. Similar to what Tiamat and Entombed did, Xysma saw the potential for material gain in emphasizing grooves and so got rid of the vestigial underground baggage to embrace commercialization.

inquisition-obscure_verses_for_the_multiverseInquisition – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

Inquisition has been a constant within the American metal scene for over a decade, churning out albums that differ little in quality from one another, though with still enough distinction to be recognizably different. The band’s latest release, Obscure Verses for the Multiverse, is a continuation of the band’s recognizable style.

On this album, the band further perfects its rendition of the rock-influenced black metal genre, with many similarities to bands such as Satyricon or Marduk. Rather than a connected narration binding each song together, tracks are riff composites that sacrifice atmosphere for chaos and disorder. In compensation, riffs utilize ornamentation such as harmonics, bends, and minor chord strums in order to retain interest as drums blast away incessantly. This succeeds for approximately 30 seconds before the listener realizes that he could derive the same effect by shaking a glass container of marbles as a phone rings in the distance, simultaneously entertaining and a source of exercise.

However, this author has no desire to be unjust: the album undoubtedly will be praised by many a Wacken attendee and provide each an hour of entertainment, and truly; that is the goal of metal. After all, it certainly couldn’t be art!

sheol-sepulchral_ruins_below_the_templeSheol – Sepulchral Ruins Below the Temple

This is a really good effort but ultimately isn’t distinctive enough, and it’s not a matter of style. The style applied here is mid-period death metal hybridized with the latest trend, which has been Incantation/Demoncy worship by people who love linear riffs that internally counterbalance themselves with extended chromatic fills that crush melodic tension. Sheol have put a lot of thought into the amount of variation in each song, the coherence of the style, and in adding distinctive elements like intros, melodic accents and rhythmic breaks. However, ultimately this is a churning stampede of riffs that are relatively similar in approach and thus form, and the result is that it feels like listening to the wind while riding a train with the window open.

harm_wulf-theres_honey_in_the_soil_so_we_wait_for_the_tillHarm Wülf – There’s Honey In The Soil So We Wait For The Till

I had a grandfather who traveled the country as a journalist, interviewing union leaders. This generally happened on Greyhoud buses, because if you were a man of the people back then, you wanted to be seen in the common man’s transportation. During a disproportionate number of these interviews, someone was softly playing a guitar in the background and singing. It sounds exactly like Harm Wülf. Despite the cute somewhat edgy name and the aura of mysterious darkness, Harm Wülf is a fifteenth-generation copy of a copy from four generations ago. Soft guitar playing uses only about three strum patterns and gently loops over a verse and chorus while the half-whispered, half-sung vocals are the real focus. This is how college weenies have been getting laid since 4,000 B.C. It seems deep on the surface, but it’s really a pile of cliches, starting with the awkward and obviously imitative title. It wants to emulate a well-known post-Neurosis project, but that’s actually good. This is just rehash, reheated and disguised behind a single sprig of parsley.

ayreon-the_theory_of_everythingAyreon – The Theory of Everything

Oddly, this band merges 1970s prog rock sounds with 1980s pop and ends up mixing in a number of diverse influences that, per the nature of ambitious merges, default to a common ancestor. Thus this album ends up being ambitious AOR with periodic metal riffs, a lot of keyboards, and a lot of cheesy vocals. If you like walking turds like Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys this cheese-fest will delight you. It is not as pretentious as the 1970s progressive rock that defined the genre, but it’s also uncannily pop which makes it hard for an experienced listener to tolerate. Musically, it is better than average, other than a lack of melodic development or use of harmony and key as we’d expect from a prog band. Aesthetically, it’s the contemporary equivalent of Boston or Asia or any of those other prog-soundalikes that never crossed that line to got full-on hardcore.

deathbreed-your_stigmataDeathbreed – Your Stigmata

Fairly standard deathcore, Deathbreed sounds death but doesn’t feel deathy. That is, there’s a lot of quoting of classic motifs from death metal, but they don’t get developed, and the band has no agenda so they end up at a musical LCD that’s basically rock made like a punk band would if using metal riffs. The result is predictable, but that’s not its problem. What kills it is that it has nothing to express. Even teenagers bleating out predictable platitudes about their trivial problems would be more realistic than this photocopy of a photocopy (with added jump-beats for the slower kids).

ulcerate-vermisUlcerate – Vermis

On Vermis, Ulcerate once again fool the gullible into thinking that “if it’s needlessly discordant and has growls on it, it’s the NEW and EVOLVED death metal,” only it’s not that apt. Underneath all the wankery, you’ll discover the songs never really go anywhere beyond the idea established in the beginning. All the superficially chaotic sounds render a meta-atmosphere of insanity through discordance, but the one fixed mode of expression this dwells in makes it all very obvious by the first track’s conclusion.

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Coffins / Noothgrush – Split

coffins-noothgrush-split2013 has been a big year for Coffins, with the release of their debut album The Fleshland for Relapse Records in July and the recent announcement of their upcoming appearance at Baltimore’s Maryland Deathfest in 2014. Coffins toured with Noothgrush in 2013 in Japan, thus it is not surprising that the two, who have gifted each other with fresh ideas, have decided to release a split EP on Southern Lord Records.

While Coffins have always had their fair share of sludge influence, the band up the ante by incorporating more stoner rock riffing and melody. The result is slower and stripped down, with less of an Autopsy and more inspiration from Eyehategod. The band still retain their core sound with mid-paced riffing hybridizing Coffins’ downpicked death metal chug and Noothgrush’s crawling musical ethic. Lead work, although sparse, brings a brightly colored spark. The drums straddle the line between D-beat infused percussion in the style of Deathstrike and the breakdowns that are archetypal to the sludge hybrid-genre. Inflected riffing pounds through both tracks in the stoner metal style, inserting absurd jauntiness into droning music.

Noothgrush on their half of the split apply characteristic sludge riffing accompanied by sample-infused soundscapes which provide abstract narratives pertaining to the song titles. The material retains an earthy, doomy sound without digitised production artifacts. “Jundland Wastes” samples the kick drum from “Tusken Raiders” amidst desert winds, reminiscent of the tripped out atmospherics of “Dystopia” but with a more concrete narrative function. “Thoth” follows in very much the same footsteps, with a sample-driven interlude halfway through — complete with layers of ear-piercing feedback and tasteful synth pads — provides a welcome break from the crushing, monolithic riffing.

Whilst Noothgrush ominously work their trademark, sample inflected sludge machine, Coffins’ foray into the sludgier side of the doom-influenced musical spectrum is somewhat generic; it feels lacklustre in comparison to Noothgrush’s experienced assault. Where Noothgrush manage to keep things interesting, if a bit mundane, Coffins’ offering for this split EP feels rushed and uninspired.

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