Black Sabbath – God is Dead?

black_sabbath-nihilismLost in the darkness
I fade from the light
Faith of my father, my brother, my Maker and Savior
Help me make it through the night
Blood on my conscience
And murder in mind
Out of the gloom I rise up from my tomb into impending doom
Now my body is my shrine

The blood runs free
The rain turns red
Give me the wine
You keep the bread
The voices echo in my head
Is God alive or is God dead?
Is God dead?

Rivers of evil
Run through dying land
Swimming in sorrow, they kill, steal, and borrow. There is no tomorrow
For the sinners will be damned
Ashes to ashes
You cannot exhume a soul
Who do you trust when corruption and lust, creed of all the unjust,
Leaves you empty and unwhole?

When will this nightmare be over? Tell me!
When can I empty my head?
Will somebody tell me the answer?
Is God really dead?
Is God really dead?

To safeguard my philosophy
Until my dying breath
I transfer from reality
Into a mental death
I empathize with enemy
Until the timing’s right
With God and Satan at my side
From darkness will come light

I watch the rain
And it turns red
Give me more wine
I don’t need bread
These riddles that live in my head
I don’t believe that God is dead
God is dead

Nowhere to run
Nowhere to hide
Wondering if we will meet again
On the other side
Do you believe a word
what the Good Book said?
Or is it just a holy fairytale
And God is dead?
God is Dead x4

Right!

But still the voices in my head
Are telling me that god is dead
The blood pours down
The rain turns red
I don’t believe that God is dead
God is Dead x4

Lyrically, it reminds me of “After Forever” but a bit more world-weary. Musically, it contains several allusions to past Sabbath and solo work by its members.

Thematically, it seems to me a response to black metal. Was Nietzsche’s target God, or our tendency to say nice things to each other and conceal the essential truth of the challenges before us? There are often many problems, but one root cause. If you don’t strike at that root cause, you get lost. If the problem is man, and not God, and society (collection of humans) instead of some external scapegoat, then we have a greater struggle than can be fixed by burning churches.

Black metal was purely Nietzschean in that it rejected the idea of a moral society and replaced it with the notion that the natural order of Darwinism produced better results. All of the Nietzschean tropes come out: praise of winter, of hardness, of privation, of wolves and of combat and struggle.

Black metal faltered in the mid-1990s when the bands realized that they might have missed their real target, which is something more like people socializing with each other and thus concealing unpleasant truths. While there are other intermediate and proximate causes of the problems we find it this world, the root cause often gets overlooked. That isn’t to say those other causes are good, or shouldn’t be fought in some form or another, just that they’re not the cause.

Black Sabbath is asking “Is God Dead?” and responding in the negative, pointing out that perhaps that last fifteen years of metal have been barking up the wrong tree. The first half of the song is questioning and self-centered, a personal drama. The second half, after the question is posed, is a thunderous rejoinder. The song splits on themes: the wine, the voices that fill the head (he cannot “empty his head”), the lack of any holiness outside the body that is the shrine, and the sense of a “mental death.” On the other hand, there is belief, a pervasive sense of something not fitting together with the narrative of the voices in his head.

Much is left ambiguous by this. “With God and Satan at my side” suggests a type of esotericism that mainstream Christianity will not embrace, and although there are references to the “Good Book,” a particular denominator has not been mentioned. However, the conflict between logic and intuition rises strongly in this song. On one side, there are empirical forces at work; on the other, instinct and a gut feeling. The song ultimately concludes with the idea that God is not dead.

And all of this happens under a banner formed of (a) a dour Friedrich Nietzsche and (b) a nuclear blast. This reminds me of not only black metal’s Nietzscheanism, but its apocalyptic viewpoint. In bad times, people start to get serious again about what they’re doing. Part of getting serious was, at least for black metal and probably for old Black Sabbath, rejecting what is popular and social.

Black metal is uncompromisingly against what makes people comfortable. In Until the Light Takes Us, musicians from Burzum and Darkthrone describe how they tried to get “bad” production for their music, to make it sound old and rotted. How they embraced evil imagery and acted out the most extreme things possible. This wasn’t a rejection of Christianity; it was a rejection of the social impulse behind civilization that prizes what looks/feels good to a group, to what is true — something that generally can be known by only a few, in the Nietzschean sense of the “apex predators” who have through natural selection risen above the rest and can see through a noble light how aggression is central to life.

Black metal may be anti-Christian, but more, it’s about the potentially mind-warping effects of socializing with others. Black Sabbath seems to be suggesting a new direction, which is less toward atheism and Nietzsche, and more toward sacrality, to which black metal might then respond that sacredness itself is what gets destroyed by socializing with others and obscuring the truth. This mirrors where a lot of the black metal guys went after the movement — Beherit to Buddhism, Darkthrone to cosmic space music, Varg to esoteric nationalism, the Graveland guys to folk music, and many others moving on to esoteric sounds like Jaaportit or Vinterriket.

Although they’d probably kill me for saying this, black metal people are generally the most religious people in the room. They believe that life is sacred, that forests are sacred, and that if nature is “red in tooth and claw” and life is “nasty, brutish and short,” that these are manifestations of the divine as well. Far from being “god is dead” people, black metal musicians strike me as being “we are worshipping the wrong god” people.

Hegel would argue that history moves through new ideas, their opposites, and compromises (synthesis). I would argue that history moves by the ideas created through a type of play acted out by characters representing extremes. In this, black metal shows us the antisocial, and Black Sabbath comes out for the sacred; the two will find common ground, because metal is ultimately sacred music. It worships power, death, nature and violence while others prefer pretty flowers and prancing kittens, but only one of those two perspectives embraces all of reality, while the other requires a social filter to merely exist. Black Sabbath and black metal are united in their dislike of that social filter.

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Courts and media blame death metal for suicide again

truman_edley-death_metal-suicideWe have a problem in this world of respecting people’s choices too much. That is, they choose to lead a dysfunctional life, and disaster results. Then we go looking for scapegoats.

Our courts and media tend to like to blame heavy metal if they can. When the Columbine shootings were news, we heard all about how the shooters loved heavy metal. Other shooters also got profiled with the “heavy metal test.” In 1996, candidate Bob Dole even mentioned Rotting Christ as a sign of our country’s decline.

When Judas Priest went to trial in the early 1990s for the suicide of two kids, the courts and media focused on heavy metal. They did not focus on the broken homes, alcoholism, teenage drug abuse, previous suicidal behavior and outright misery of these people; that would be criticizing their choices. Instead, the courts and media chose to blame an outside force, heavy metal. That way, no one was to blame. That way, we can keep making stupid decisions and pay only money for them, and not think we might be the guilty parties endangering ourselves.

Truman Edley, 15, took his own life in November 2011. At the inquest we were told, as tabloid and social gadfly the Daily Mail reveals, the “schoolboy killed himself after listening to death metal on his iPod.” The coroner “refused to name the band he was listening to or publish the extreme lyrics which formed part of the evidence,” which reminds me of one classic band’s disclaimer, “lyrics too brutal to print!”

However, a more detailed view reveals the following addition details: he was prone to self-harm, his parents were divorced, and he had low self-esteem. God (or Satan) forbid that those factors might have been the biggest influence on his mental state, and that he might have sought death metal in addition to his regular music listening — both sources agree he mainly listened to regular rock and pop — to express those dark and horrible feelings. Another source tells us that Truman’s mother had him at age 18, and that he’d recently “seemed more withdrawn,” in addition to his enjoyment of social media and video games, other favorite media targets. Friends have set up a tribute page for Mr. Edley.

It would be too much for us to honor this teenager’s memory by looking into the source of his misery, which looks like it lies mostly with decisions made by his parents, himself and/or the society around him. Instead, we are given the cheap shot and easy answer, which is to blame the music that was playing on his iPod while he hung himself.

It looks better in the news that way, and we don’t have to face the unsettling fact that we might be acting in such a way to guarantee more such suicides. Just ban heavy metal instead; that way, we keep on doing what we’ve been doing and can brush Truman Edley and those like him from our memories.

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame snubs metal again

judas_priest-band_photo

Despite having inducted Metallica, AC/DC and Guns and Roses, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shows that it’s geared more toward rock, blues and RNB than metal, which continues to have its legions of influential acts excluded despite being more popular and influential than many already on the list.

Entertainment Weekly noticed the conspicuous omission of Judas Priest (and several other notables) from the ranks of the elite among rock’s historical and present acts. EW then went on to note that other classic metal bands have not been recognized.

It might be too much to expect what is basically a moneymaker for Northeast Ohio’s tourist industry to induct, say, Deicide or Morbid Angel; it’s arguable that heavy metal is outside rock ‘n’ roll, and doubly so that death metal is. Even more, asking them to include something like Demilich would counteract their mission of making material available that the vast majority of people would be inclined to enjoy on an aesthetic level, since there’s no evidence that mainstream culture adores labyrinthine riffs and low-end vocals.

Qualifications required are few, but the process is ultimately a popularity contest among a small elite. The only objective requirement is that 25 years have passed since a band’s first release. At that point, an internal committee of experts vets the suggestion and then passes it to a vote of 1,000 rock historians and other experts worldwide. Since most of these are rock fans, and rock fans traditionally disparage metal, it’s unlikely they’ll vote for a metal band.

However, it might be nice to see recognition of metal. It’s possible that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the wrong place to do it, and that metal needs a hall of fame on its own. Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Slayer at a bare minimum need to be in there. Of course, if it were metal-based, it could even have more diverse listings, such as a “Best of Death Metal” so we can finally expose mainstream America to Demilich.

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Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita

imprecation-satane_tenebris_infinitaThe long-awaited first real album from Imprecation resembles less their 1995 debut Theurgia Goetia Summa but a more streamlined and moody creation. While the demos compiled into that album revealed a raw understructure of a morbid subconscious arising, the newer work from Imprecation focuses on deliberate and meticulous ritual.

Shifting from a predominantly fast-riffed approach, Imprecation meld 1980s-style speed metal back into their death metal. Satanae Tenebris Infinita use extensive palm-muted downstrumming to carry riffs that are less phrasal than previously, and as a result are less distracting from the vocals and their integration with drums and (occasional) keyboards. IN addition to speed metal influences, riffing reveals the Slayer tendency toward angular riffing and an enmeshment with riff forms from earlier death metal.

While songs break to fast riffs, and vary standard song structure on a regular basis, the majority of the work here is mid-paced death metal with melodic underpinnings. In old school metal style, riffs start out simple and run into contrasting riffs, which fit together by relationship of riff shape and the emotions evoked. Songs later pick up on earlier themes and conclude; this patterning is reminiscent of early Celtic Frost. Lead guitars appear like schools of fish in twisting metallic sounds that dissipate into the dark surroundings.

Satanae Tenebris Infinita shows a band mastering their riff-craft and intensity of their earlier work by adding layers of dark moods, combining several genres of metal to produce a mid-paced death metal epic with the emotional depth of doom metal or early Metallica. The result resembles a ritual descent into an occult netherworld, and achieves the suspension of reality for which death metal is famous, filling the void with a world of grotesque beauty and raging death metal energy.

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How to get into death metal for under $100

get_into_death_metalA cold swimming pool presents a challenge. Do you dip in a toe, and prolong the agony? I suggest instead holding your breath and jumping straight in, so that when you get over the shivers you’ll be ready to rip.

Exploring death metal is the same way. This genre rewards those who immerse themselves in it and figure out its nuances so that they can derive its purpose. Death metal is after all an intensely artistic movement that carefully rejects the world around it. To get into it, you need to leave the world behind and go to planet death metal.

Luckily, planet death metal is not far away. Since the genre birthed itself in the years 1983-1986, it has undergone many mutations, but no real changes since about 1996. That leaves 13 years, 17 years ago, as the vital time period. This means that death metal is now relatively cheap to acquire.

To immerse yourself in death metal, buy yourself a starter collection. This list of classics ought to do it:

  1. Formative Generation: 1983-1986 ($60)
  2. Classic Years: 1987-1992 ($39)

This isn’t a complete collection, but it gives you everything you need to get immersed in this vital genre. There’s a lot more to explore, including the next generation of death metal and the many niches of metal’s evolution.

However, for less money than it takes to fill up a Suburban, you can have yourself the beginnings of a death metal collection. You could buy six nu-metal or metalcore albums for these prices, or you could simply score some real music and do yourself a favor.

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Anxiety, depression high among metal fans

heavy_metal_anxietyLook, science journalism, it’s time for us to have a chat. I read you every day, but when you write about metal, I wince even before I read the article.

Here’s why: check out this article in which it summarizes research findings that ‘An analysis of 551 college students found “significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression among listeners of heavy metal/hard rock music, as compared with non-listeners.”’

While this is a reasonable assessment of the original study, keep in mind that science is a world in which we find out relationships between things before we find cause. Thus, there’s a few problems with this article:

  1. 551 people from community colleges around San Diego is not exactly a representative sample;
  2. The term “heavy metal” means a lot of things to a lot of people, but that doesn’t make them all right;
  3. We’re not sure whether this anxiety pre-dated the heavy metal or not;
  4. We’re not sure whether this anxiety is a result from honest and realistic fears about the future of society, whether brought on by minds opened by metal or not.

You can forgive us for being a little twitchy here in the metal world. Every time someone shoots up a school, there’s someone in the media or Congress looking to blame heavy metal. Heck, they almost banned us back in the 1980s with the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). But when studies come out, and then you give them a headline that makes it sound like heavy metal “causes” these problems, you’re giving ammunition to the bad guys.

Even more, this article has a huge picture of Rage Against the Machine on top. Who ever considered them to be metal? They don’t even like metal. They’d hate being called heavy metal. That’s like calling Nirvana metal, while Kurt Cobain was talking about how heavy metal was out of ideas and offended him politically.

Now let’s look at the good news:

Among those who listen to heavy metal, there were no significant differences in anger, anxiety, or depression among frequent as opposed to occasional listeners. The key factor seems to be the inclination to be drawn to this music, rather than the amount of time spent listening to it.

Translation: there’s something in fans before they hear heavy metal that makes them prone to being anxious about the future of our world. It’s unclear whether they’d be anxious in a different society, or even a more stable one.

Naturally, this pushes back against the idea that pure, perfect children turn into drug-abusing, crime-committing, sheep-raping suicidal maniacs the instant you let them listen to heavy metal. It also suggests that trying to slam that barn door extra hard after the horses are gone, and shutting off your kid’s music, won’t do any good.

Fortunately, it also points out that metalheads aren’t prone to anger or depression. In fact, as other research points out, it may be the smarter kids who are drifting toward heavy metal. This suggests that anxiety may be a side-effect of intelligence and awareness of what’s going on in the world, not “heavy metal poisoning.”

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Terminate – Ascending to Red Heavens

terminate-ascending_to_red_heavensAny band making music of a vaguely “Swedish style” is going to attract both absurdly high hopes and cynicism, and Terminate fulfills some expectations from each column.

Mixed emotions about Swedish-style death metal appear mainly because the recent “revival” of Swedish death metal is more like an “imitation” of the past using the bad techniques of the now. A lot of bands picked up Boss HM-2 pedals, dimed their amps and switched to flying Vs, then mixed a few classic Carnage, Nihilist and At the Gates riffs into their bog-standard death metal with the design philosophy of a cardboard box.

Terminate may or may not fall into this category, but their rendition of Swedish death metal is more like what happens now than what happened then. Its verse-chorus approach is sparse with riffs and heavy on repetition, and its songwriting is blocky, in that these riffs don’t particularly appear to relate to each other and the need to drop in a note-shifted favorite from Left Hand Path or Like an Ever-Flowing Stream cramps their songwriting. The other struggle this band faces is that their choice of notes, chords and rhythms is what we might call “obvious,” meaning that these will always be common variations of the most basic approach to writing this style of music, and they’re not particularly evocative ones.

As any reader with an IQ over his or her shoe size can guess, the overall style here is “Swedish death metal,” which is now as much TM as the Nordish foods at the front of Ikea. Terminate use the crunchy riffs that gradually create a melodic mood, although here it’s more like a side-step from crunch to melody, and build an architectural sense of the sonic space in which death metal moves. Vocals are equally gruff and guttural, sounding a lot like Carnage or Utumno on a bad day.

Ascending to Red Heavens distinguishes itself because it is not cynical toward its subject matter. The band dives right in and goes for the death metal thrills of thunderous riffs and dark passages culminating in near-nuclear levels of antagonism. Whether this rises above the average is an exercise for the reader, but at least this band, like other Swede-worshippers Disma and Decrepitaph, enjoys its subject matter and tries to be faithful to the idea of it as a whole.

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The metal-academic connection goes mainstream

keith_kahn-harrisThe pace of recognition for metal studies in academia accelerates with an article in the Wall Street Journal. This article covers The Heavy Metal and Popular Culture International Conference which occurred at Bowling Green State University.

In academic circles the movement to grant recognition to heavy metal and to study it has gained momentum recently with the launch of a heavy metal journal, the International Society for Metal Music Studies forming, classical musicians reaching out to metal ones, political recognition of heavy metal as a subculture, and at least one highly talented professor using heavy metal to teach literature. The article points out that from 2000-2011, 224 academic papers were written on metal, with 63 scholarly articles written last year.

“You have to keep that 16-year-old mentality,” said Todd Evans, a former member of GWAR and participant in the Bowling Green State University conference. At the same time, these academics or “metallectuals” as the article dubs them, are attempting to discern more of the meaning behind this intense and powerful subgenre. We who have advocated Hessian Studies for almost two decades are glad to see this welcome development and hope there’s more to come.

Photo Credit: Keith Kahn-Harris, by Eva Roca for the Wall Street Journal.

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Sanctifier – Daemoncraft

sanctifier-daemoncraftSanctifier craft fine quality vintage-sounding Brazilian death metal, straight forward and without the desire to pander to the elitist shit contingent wanting the next trend. These death metal maniacs have been kicking around since they were teenagers in the 80s and are not children of the tape-trading phenomenon but instigators of it.

For that reason, while Daemoncraft displays its Brazilian sound right off the bat with a warped rhythm weaving through opening track “Demon Ov Lava” (which is also added as a bonus track with Portuguese vocals at the end of this CD) they’re also influenced by their peers of the time such as Immolation and latter-era Morbid Angel (i.e. during Rutan’s relocation from Redbank to Tampa). To my ears at least, this mid-period death metal influence shows up musically on this recording and appears more prevalent than other pioneering influences the band naturally does have.

Getting robbed at gunpoint and thus losing his equipment didn’t hold sole song writer Alexandre Emerson back from creating some wicked songs yet again in the name of worshiping the ancient ones, even before it was a fashion with the young whipper snappers after this sort of music became available at the mall. The cult of Cthulhu remains central to the driving force behind the writing of this music. Lyrical content avoids any crypto-punk subject matter which was par for the course when this band were teenagers and is consistently so now that they’re seasoned elders of the genre.

Daemoncraft emerges as a compact album with some amazing guitar work that has just the right amount of more modern (i.e. early 90s style) feel meshed with the primitive proto-death metal of the 80s from which this band is forged. “The Enchanter” is a good example of this layering of feeling between the two realms. However, the song is consistently deliberate throughout and makes for an excellently paced album.

I agree with executive producer Everton De Castro of Dying Music when he says Daemoncraft is a work for metal brothers of the death metal old school; for those who aren’t just here for a trend, is there any other kind?

Sanctifier – Daemoncraft: $12 (BR) / $10 (US)

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Sammath signs to Hammerheart Records for “Godless Arrogance”

sammath-godless_arroganceDutch-German blazing black metal act Sammath, who are preparing to unleash their fifth album, Godless Arrogance, have signed to worldwide metal music label Hammerheart Records for the release of that album.

“I’m getting emails and telephone calls from people all over the world,” said Sammath guitarist/composer Jan Kruitwagen on the change that catapults them from a smaller metal label to worldwide distribution on par with Relapse and Nuclear Blast. The band is leaving its label of sixteen years, Folter Records, on amicable terms. “Joerg from Folter was actualy proud as fuck that we got signed to these guys and only wishes us well. It wasn’t easy telling him after 16 years on his label, but he understands.”

According to Kruitwagen, Hammerheart sought Sammath after hearing the demo tracks from the upcoming album and knowing the band for a long time. “The new tracks will destroy! Guido from Hammerheart knows what’s good,” he said. Believed by many to be the boldest step of the band’s career, Godless Arrogance combines the elegant melodies of Sammath‘s first album, Strijd, with the aggressive ripping death metal approach of their most popular work, Dodengang.

The band doesn’t plan to change a thing about their approach, which is old school technique and composition with an eye toward defiant independence. “We have lots of work left to do. All drums are recorded without triggers and everything is recorded live. Getting this all sounding like we want takes time. We do everything ourselves, no hands but ours will finnish this CD, except Peter Neuber for the master (Necrophobic, Revenge, Severe Torture),” Kruitwagen added.

Godless Arrogance will see release in “a couple of months at least,” but will not change its approach. “We need to make sure it all sounds up to mark, without losing the intense sound it already has,” said Kruitwagen. He added that despite a changing music industry, the band remains committed to its approach. He added, “let the music speak for itself.”

The tracklist for Sammath‘s Godless Arrogance will be:

1. Shot in mass
2. Fear upon them
3. Thrive in arrogance
4. Death (hunt them down)
5. This world must burn (hammer of supremacy)
6. Through filth and the remains of man
7. Nineteen corpses hang in the mist

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