In the past, we have likened the spirit of metal that culminates in death and black metal to that of the literary, romantic movement in Europe. Romanticism was meant to embody ideals of naturalism and individualism in a return to primeval spirituality connecting us with our origins, our surroundings, and a more conscious future. The romantic character of the 19th century stands in glaring opposition to the heavy industrialist upsurge and man-centered utilitarianism of that time. Epitomized metal contrasts with this idea in one important aspect: while artists two centuries ago strived to bring attention to the importance of human subjectivity, underground metal stressed irrelevance of the human vantage point.
In describing metal as a neo-romantic artform we may well be undermining the aspects that define it in its historical and psychological contexts. Historical as each movement is encased in a flow of events linked by causality and psychological, on the other hand because of the relative independence and unpredictability with which leading individuals affront these inevitable developments. Together, these two factors account for freedom of choice within predestination. Even though romanticism and metal were both reactions to the same decadence at different points in time, the latter rejects the former’s inclination towards universal human rights and other products of higher civilization in exchange for a nihilistic realism arising from the laws of nature. Underground metal is a detached representation of a Dark Age; one where power and violence are the rule in which all forms of humanism are hopelessly deluded or simply hypocritical.
The uncontrolled and contrarian character of metal stands at odds with the more self-aware and progressive bent of romanticism. Metal, at least in its purest incarnations, can never be assimilated – something that cannot be said of the older art movement. Pathetic attempts at dragging metal under the mainstream umbrella that abides by status quo ideals often fail catastrophically. When forcefully drawn out before dawn’s break it will inevitably miserably perish upon contact with the sun’s rays like a creature of catacombs and dark night-forests.
Attempting to define metal is as elusive as trying to pinpoint ‘magic’. Outsiders cannot even begin to recognize its boundaries. The mystical, ungraspable, and intuitive nature it possesses attests to this and sets it apart from romanticism in that not even those belonging to it are able to crystallize a proper description. The very substance of the genre is felt everywhere but the innermost sanctum always dissipates under the gaze of the mind’s eye.
II. Romantic Anti-Modernism
Even though it cannot be said that the one defines or encompasses the other, the connection between romanticism and metal nevertheless exists. Aside from the concrete musical link between them which helps us describe metal as a minimalist and electronic romantic art, the abstract connection is more tenuous and related to cyclic recurrence1. Metal is not a revival of romanticism nor its evolution, but perhaps something more akin to its rebellious disciple: a romantic anti-modernism.
The foundation of this anti-modernism is a Nietzschean nihilism standing in stark contrast with hypocritical modernist dogma; it spits in the face of the semantic stupidity of post-modernism. This is a sensible and ever-searching nihilism2 that does not attach itself to a particular point of view but parts from a point of disbelief in any authority. It is a scientific and mystic nihilism for those who can understand this juxtaposition of terms. It does not specialize in what is known as critical thinking but in the empirical openness to possibilities taken with a grain of salt. The first dismisses anything that does not conform to its rigid schemata; the second one allows relativism as a tool with the intention of having subjective views float around while transcending all of them and moving towards unattainable objectivity.
Such transcendentalism connects metal with Plato and Theodoric the Great rather than with Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius. Metal looks beyond modern illusions of so-called freedom and the pleasure-based seeking of happiness. It recognizes that without struggle there can be no treasure and that today’s perennial slack will only lead to complacent self-annihilation. This is why, instead of representing the blossoming of nature in man through the sentimentalisms of romanticism in its attitude above time, to use the words of a wise woman, metal stands stoutly as a form of art against time.
III. Essential Reading for the Metal Nihilist
As an attempt to communicate our understanding of the essence and spirit of underground metal, below are some books through which to start the abstract journey through metal and the metaphysics that moves it.
Theodore John Kaczynski – Industrial Society and Its Future
Albert Mudrian – Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore
IV. Some Music Recommendations for the Metal Nihilist
We have traditionally presented a certain pantheon of underground death and black metal to which most readers can be redirected at any moment. A different set is presented below that is nonetheless consistent with the writer’s interpretation of Death Metal Underground’s vision.
Not being a connoisseur of cinema in general, the following is but a friendly gesture. This is a loose collection for the transmission of a basic underground metal pathos.
Tous les Matins du Monde
The Witch: A New-England Folktale
Until the Light Takes Us
A 2008 documentary film by Aaron Aites
and Audrey Ewellabout the early 90s
black metal scene in Norway.
Andrei Tarkovsky – Stalker
1This is not the re-happening of the exact same universe that Nietzsche is supposed to have been talking about, but a transcendental recurrence of sorts. What I am trying to express here is the cyclic reappearance of abstract and collective concepts among humans, because they are also part of this universe and as such are subject to such underlying pendulum swings in the forces that move it. Perhaps a better descriptor could have been abstract collective concept reincarnation, but that seemed to convoluted, and cyclic recurrence captures the wider phenomenon, irrespective of what definition academia wants to adhere to.
2This somewhat liberal use of the term nihilism deserves to be explained a little further in order to avoid confusion. By this it is not meant that metal’s outlook consists of nihilism in the ultra-pessimistic sense, in the sense of total defeat, which seems to be the expectancy of most people from nihilism. The idea here is that as an art movement born in the post-modern era, in a civilization that has already been ravaged by nihilism, stripped from relevant cults, metal begins from a posture of extreme skepticism that is extended to everything and everyone. This skepticism is nihilistic because no intrinsic value is placed on anything, yet it is scientific because it is curious and will experiment. Metal’s development dances between nihilism and individualistic transcendentalism.
I love used book stores — generally libraries, thrifts and small independents — because the chase is greater than the catch, and finding a rarity or just something fun to read is an inexhaustible thrill. A selection of old books gives a distinct perspective not just of writing but of history.
Each time I look over the dusty spines, castoffs of previous generations or well-loved volumes containing advice relied upon by those who came before, I am reminded how human history is a lattice of ideas. Each great thinker is a nodal point from which others branch, re-combining with other ideas or adding their own. And each writer boils down to one idea, usually, with the greatest having a handful.
The rest is a support system for that. To take a great idea and fling it out into the world requires a book, a third of which is introduction, a third explaining the idea in depth and a final third gesturing at relevance and shouting down the inevitable counter-arguments. Then the author spends the rest of his/her career amplifying on that idea or chasing its elusive ultimate form. Then, RIP and all of that boils down to a sentence of summary that most people know.
Think of Charles Malthus (“utilized resources expand algebraically, but population grows exponentially”) or even Adam Smith (“the self-interest of the many results in a balance”). Metal bands are remembered the same way: Black Sabbath (“used horror movie aesthetics on heavy rock to invent proto-metal”) or Suffocation (“used death metal textural complexity with speed metal choppy strumming styles”).
And Carcass? They will forever be remembered as the guys who made clumsy grindcore based around medical lyrics. This is too bad, as their real strength was to expand the grindcore song structure to include longer riffing that often emulated Second World War era popular music, even if unconsciously.
In fact, most of their success comes from the fact that they did everything unconsciously. On the surface, they were having a laugh with gore lyrics and sloppy grind. The first album, Reek of Putrefaction, is entirely unselfconscious in this way. It does not want to be anyone’s friend, or appeal to an audience. It is just having fun and accidentally unleashes the subconscious mind through a biting parody of society and its fear of disease and death.
It was that awkward and offhand element that caught the imagination of an audience. That, and the ripping tunes: the first Carcass album made grindcore complex enough for songs to be distinctive, but kept its rumbling chaotic surface that hid the structure. This made it heavier than most of what was out there at the time and inspired a thousand imaginations.
After that point, however, the Carcass story tapers off. Every album since then has been the band trying to re-interpret its original unintentional success, but to expand it by making the music more like Led Zeppelin and Metallica so that it can be “serious.” And therein is the problem: this band suffers a deep neurosis and when it tries to be serious, it fails. When just drunk and goofing around, these guys are able to reach into the unsocialized parts of their minds and come up with something good.
Symphonies of Sickness came out shortly after Reek of Putrefaction, but already shows us a more self-conscious band. The title is cute, the songs more obviously melodic and prone to borrow hard rock riffs, and the production still vicious but in a controlled way. Everything about the second Carcass album is a managed environment designed to manipulate appearance just like the neat rows of houses in the suburbs, political speeches and advertisements for security companies. The band reversed its raw approach and joined what they mocked.
After that, it has been all downhill. The Tools of the Trade EP showed us the new Carcass: melodic songs, death metal riffs and none of the grindcore urgency or organic appeal. It was all very much a product of the conscious mind trying to be serious so that other people would like it. Necroticism — Descanting the Insalubrious shat the bed with more of the same. For the time, it fit in competitively with death metal, and I listened to it then, but found over the years that I reached for it less and less.
I feared becoming like an old punker I met back in the early 1990s. “Carcass, great band, but they lost it after the first album,” he said. I knew these guys, I felt. They were like the old bearded dudes in robes who stood on streetcorners in the 1960s with signs saying THE END IS NEAR. They were walking stereotypes: the bitter old “truist” who only likes the demos and maybe the first album for any band, and will tell you to stop listening to that commercial shit you’re pimping and look up some rare, expensive and ineptly-packaged 7″ or cassette instead.
But the old guy — at probably 35, already a curmudgeon-in-training — had a point: most bands have only one idea. In metal and punk, bands are artists first and musicians second; they become musicians to express some idea or feeling. They intuit that musicians become experts in making music that people like and as a result, the external form dictates the content and it becomes about like everything else: technically correct, artistically empty like all the other products, fast food and celebrity autobiographies.
Carcass went on to get a PhD in bed-shitting with Heartwork, which was a decent speed metal album with some nice technical touches, but lacked any purpose so became overly “emo.” After that, the grindcore audience fled and the hard rock audience — this was pre-nu-metal days — was scared off by the vocals, so the Carcass brand went into free fall. The band launched a bitter final salvo with Swan Song in which they realized that their responsible, middle class daylight personalities always wanted to just be Led Zeppelin because that is how you work hard and succeed in rock ‘n’ roll as a career!
I fall between your average suburban music fan and the old crusty punk. Perhaps the Peel Sessions, “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment” demo and a few scattered 7″ and live shows are the “real” Carcass, but the first album is real enough for me. After that, the band gets self-conscious and soon there is a stinky speedbump under the sheets. But Reek of Putrefaction is great and every person who enjoys quality outsider music should hear it.
One list of albums dictated by the masses of sheeple apparently does not provide enough self-indulgence and emotional masturbation for the hordes of mental weaklings that yearn to be called metalheads in order to disguise their lack of direction or ideals. Hence, here we are, clubbing away at one of these sorry piles of shit for the amusement of hessians. However, we also hope that the attentive unawakened reader may start to see a glimpse of the truth through outright disrespect for the inherently contemptible. (We have skipped some items in the original list as to not incur in much unnecessary repetition of releases, thus the odd numbering of the items herein.)
2. Swallow the Sun – Songs From The North I, II & III
The term “doom metal” is again used to justify slow-coming boredom and lack of originality. Swallow the Sun compile alternative metal slow and simple grooves with the alternation of growls and the clear vocals typical of post-cuckolded Amorphis Scandinavian gay ‘hard’ (ha!) rock. There is an obvious pseudo-progressive intent here as discreet radio moments pass us by in a series of haphazardly-stitched, disingenuous grimaces. Radio emotional pandering for the pretentious.
3. Draconian – Sovran
Apparently radio gay doom is popular at MS’ website. Only here we have a much more straightforward, perhaps more honest, attempt at the same run-of-the-mill pop rock opera. Draconian switches between male and female vocals, with duet episodes, themselves interrupted by long harmonized guitar lines reminiscent, at least superficially, of Funeral’s early work. However, Tragedies did not fall into popisms and rather took a more traditional popular music approach to vocals and applied it to a quasi classical level which may make one think of European early music. Draconian, on the other hand, stink of Barbie sex.
4. Shape of Despair – Monotony Fields
Mediocre and dull ‘doom metal’ seems to be extremely popular. It may be that since the average music listener is a terrible one, and that they seek these sounds as stimulus for a purely sensual experience and so can only identify with very simple-minded works, however contorted their outward forms may be. Shape of Despair provide the pop listener with the ‘doom metal’ experience in the same way that Cannibal Corpse provides him the ‘death metal’ experience. Of course, this is the sort of listener that “listens to all kinds of music”. All is imbecility.
5. Galneryus – Under the Force of Courage
One day little guitar Syu wanted to find a place for his neoclassical wanking and so created the power metal band Galneryus. Galneryus released a couple of comically-endearing and childish albums until the inevitable sellout moment came. After trying their hand at pandering to a more mainstream audience and wisely switching to writing lyrics in Japanese (realizing, perhaps that their main market was inside Japan after all, and that foreign fans would always be attracted to the sound of a strange and unique language), the band took a wide turn back to a firmly European style inspired on the likes of Manowar-inspired streamlined power metal with augmented structures that balance a manner of unpredictability without ever feeling unsafe and, of course, always remaining singable. Clever and winky, empty as fanservice-crammed anime.
8. Leprous – The Congregation
Groovy, syncopated, modulations disguising poorly-presented repetition, weird clean vocals, just enough electronic noodling and laid-back but ‘cool’ drums. This is the recipe par excellence for the multiculturalist wet dream presenting all forms and nothing but insecurity and hollowness at its center. Here is where the worst overproduced radio pop is peppered with jazz fusion gimmicks. Metal? Music or public obscenity?
9. Moonspell – Extinct
A horrible blend of modern industrial tropes and a sissy euro-rock basis, accompanied vocals angsty enough to seem edgy but just safe enough as to not scare away the wimps who listen to this garbage. The high school poser solos do not really redeam this first-world, spoiled-kid, macho pretension.
14. Enshine – Singularity
Basically, the sonic representation of the sparkly, clean-shaven assholes of fans of these music ready to be sodomized by real metal music. Lacking in all natural self-assertion or distinct personality, this is music for the bottom who craves to be dominated. In other words, music for social justice warriors.
15. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
This is as ridiculous as pseudo-progressive core pandering can get. What is worse, this band is playing a dangerous game in which they may lose all of their audiences, or perhaps score with New York hipsters. Crammed in under two minutes you may find explicit deathcore and alternative rock passages, power metal leads, nu-black metal runs lead by duets of inhaled low growls and Chester Bennington’s evil twin brother’s whining, without excluding the use of high squeals. Basically, a puddle of diarrhea that clearly gives away the cause of ailment. Unbearably disquieting in its stupidity.
Despite being mostly in favor of the SJW infiltration of heavy metal, media sources sometimes reveal skepticism of this rigid mind-meld that is replacing quality metal with an inferior but politically-correct substitute. In fact, the political correctness is merely a method of inducing you to buy it because it has the right “message,” while ignoring the low artistic quality of the material as a whole.
But the SJWs don’t know that. They are not unique, having appeared first in the 1980s with a group that would not call itself politically-correct but acted the same way as today’s SJWs. As hardcore waned, local scenes arose in which people wanted to participate for social reasons: to be popular, find dates, have parties. Their music was not ground-breaking, so they took over with superior numbers, and used politics as a means of filtering out all other music. Thus they triumphed, and promptly made punk so boring it self-destructed in dissipation.
Today’s SJWs are not history students of hardcore punk or any other subject. Their goal is to make themselves important, and to seize control of a genre they think will give them social power, but they cannot replicate its greatness nor understand it, and so they are doomed to failure. What do they care, however — they will simply move on to the next genre, take it over, and have their five years of glory there too before covering up those tats and going to a cubicle job just like everyone else.
But doubt is spreading already. In an editorial over at Stereogum, Michael Nelson launches into the usual SJW rhetoric, and then does something really interesting. The article is a top 50 of metal of the year, but as is typical these days, it must editorialize. So he makes an introduction and then cuts to the real topic on his mind:
But mostly, more than ever before, metal found its very character scrutinized by a hyper-aware, politically divided public — a public largely informed by metrics-focused media outlets eager to weigh in on the issues of the day. This was a carryover from late 2014, when popular blogs like Metal Injection and Metalsucks ran essays with titles like “The Problem With Heavy Metal Is Metalheads: Stop Calling Everyone A Faggot” and “Why Is It Okay To Be Racist And Misogynistic About Babymetal?” And in 2015, the takes arrived on an almost daily basis, via articles like “Racism And Sexism In Heavy Metal Highlighted In New Study” and “Why Is The Convicted Murderer Of A Gay Man Being Celebrated At A Major Metal Festival?“
This past July, renowned metal journalist (and occasional Stereogum contributor) Adrien Begrand wrote a piece for Pop Matters titled “Some Talk, No Action,” putting the entire metal community on blast for failing to effectively flush out certain musicians whose art and/or actions seemed to suggest some form of bigotry or separatist ideology. Begrand called out by name such bands as Cobalt, Inquisition, Lord Mantis, and Bölzer, but he extended the indictment to include countless participants — primarily the media and fans who support (or fail to condemn) any artists who support (or fail to condemn) intolerant worldviews.
This is actually a good (albeit incomplete, but give him a break, he had two paragraphs) history of the explosion of #metalgate. In the late 1990s, the underground fizzled because it had no more greats to offer, and the imitators surged in. Since that time, record labels and hipsters have been trying to find a way to make rock and punk rock — which, unlike metal, which emphasizes transcending the individual, emphasize the importance of individual desires over attention to consequences — into a “metal flavored” form. This is an ideal product for local mediocre bands to make and labels to hype since anyone can do it so there can be a steady stream of profits. SJW-metal is just their tool of forcing everyone else out and taking over.
Nelson goes on to look into the chaos that followed Disma being accused of being horrible Nazis, and he pretty much beats the SJW tin drum here, but then, something interesting happens:
The last thing any of us here wants to do is give additional exposure to artists who peddle or preach hatred or intolerance. The other last thing we want to do is act as some Orwellian thought police slowly sanitizing metal by doling out oxygen only to those artists whose views reflect our own, whose actions meet our personal standards of acceptability. It’s easy enough to treat Burzum’s Varg Vikernes as a pariah: The guy is an enthusiastic, unrepentant bigot and a convicted murderer. (It helps, too, that he hasn’t released a decent album since 2011.) I often wonder, though, how the world would react to “Angel Of Death” or “Unsuccessfully Coping With The Natural Beauty Of Infidelity” if those songs were released today. This is dark music! It’s not supposed to be safe! It can be safe, but nobody ever got into this shit because it was safe; we got into it because it was scary and transgressive and primal. Who are we to make it safe?
Then again, who are we to promote art or artists fostering unsafe environments?
I’m not winding up for some big, poignant conclusion here, sadly. I’m leaving this as an ellipsis.
There’s a certain subtle brilliance in this. The whole point of this lengthy introduction was to get himself SJW cred, then point out that censorship is just like the totalitarian ideologies that SJWs claim to dislike. In fact, Nelson writes that it is even worse, since it is done in the name of good, and points out that many of metal’s classics would not pass this test. Then he leaves the question up to us, since he obviously cannot directly contradict the herd or they will amass and ruin his life (or a least get Stereogum to fire him, and then mob his Facebook account!).
SJW is still a potent movement because it gives power to the unmemorable by allowing them to take down people better than themselves. It gives a voice to the mediocre and a reason why their mediocrity should jump the line ahead of artistic superiority. Like all mass movements, it is a revolt against quality, with the pleasant notion that everyone will be equally important concealing the reality, which is that when everyone is the same nothing good can rise. Metal stands against that, and this is why SJWs target it. But the tide is turning even now.
Too many of the bands I review are (apparently) uninterested in their songwriting beyond a basic level, and too many of those that actually are interested approach improving it from exclusively an academic position – the idea that applying enough ideas from theory will make for interesting content. DMU’s orthodox positions are firstly that being able to work from some sort of message/concept is a potent motivator, and secondly that greater emphasis is needed on structural development. These are both useful things to keep in mind, but properly implementing them requires a great deal of effort and possibly some rearrangement of your internal mental hardware. While there is no substitute for hard work, there is one particularly useful technique I’d like to share that helps with the latter.
The concept is fairly basic – take a work of music, transcribe it, and adapt it for different instrumentation, but executing it effectively takes some proficiency. For the best results, you need to use instruments that require radically different performance technique than the originals, or at least something that imposes major restrictions on your sonic palette. The canonical example around here is either a kazoo or a piano, depending on how serious an article discussing the subject is. As someone who relies heavily on software to create and ‘perform’ music, I would tend to recommend restrictive, simulationist sequencing software like Famitracker (which emulates the limited sound hardware of the Nintendo Entertainment System). Ultimately, the exercise has been done enough by other people that de-emphasizing the specific choice of instrument makes sense.
Ideally, the very act of rearranging a composition will provide some insights into its structure. Transcribing the composition requires some understanding of what an instrument can and can’t do, and possibly a strong ear if good notation or transcription is lacking. Furthermore, the limitations of the new instruments may force one aspect of the songwriting into the limelight, revealing its strengths and weaknesses. One caveat is that the derivative you end up making will probably incorporate your own biases as a performer and composer, but even that might help you to understand your own strengths and weaknesses in that regard. I personally should know, since I often end up taking my own compositions and rearranging them as I gain access to new tools I want to take advantage of. In the process, I often end up making structural changes that hopefully strengthen the new versions, and I also learn ways to make future works better.
In short, rearranging is a useful technique to learn some aspects of composition, although it’s no panacea, especially since there are limits to how much original thought you add while still calling it a rearrangement. Given an opportunity to hone your composition skills, though, you should seriously consider giving it a shot, especially if you’re in a band that likes to play covers.
In the Death Metal Underground, the promos are reviewed in two separate yet equally important groups: the worthy which are investigated thoroughly and the shelf turds used to test the wounding potential of artillery. These reviews are the latter.
Mastiphal – For a Glory of All Spirits, Rise for Victory (1995, reissued 2015)
Emperor started the mass delusion among basement dwellers that adding dark wave keyboards to random metal riffs constituted black metal rather than loose stool. Mastiphal obliged, stopped jerking off to Sailor Moon, and wrote carnival music around stolen metal riffs and goth rock choruses. Celtic Frost, Slayer, Deicide, and all your other favorites get the Clan of Xymox cocks. These uncut, smegma-encrusted Poles rim that Castlevania cartridge, gape it, and slam their sweaty balls away. The breakdowns are there for pulling out and sword fighting.
Also sprach Zarathutsra : man discovering tools :: Mastiphal : man discovering anilingus
Goatblood / Nuclear Perversions – Rex Judaeorum / Wolves of Apocalypse (2015)
More three chord hardcore punk played out of time by fat hipsters who want to enslave the south side of Chicago. Good luck with that pickup beat. How about a delightful goat curry instead? True island flavor. Only long pig available? It will be delicious. The succulent belly fat from all those PBRs will melt right in.
Fat War Metal Pig Curry
1. Thoroughly restrain the long pig. Pry off the gas masks and slit the pigs’ throats over a bucket in the Jewish and Moslem tradition. If their faces are too ornamented and disgusting to look at, put the gas masks back on and savagely strike the necks until all heads are severed.
2. Let the carcasses drain of blood for the black pudding. Did you think blood libel was false? Our bodies will naturally turn theirs into excrement.
3. Be sure to cut off all metallic ornamentation. Flay all subcutaneous ink. Scalp the upper part of the body and use your blow torch to defoliate the chest hair. When butchering and gutting the carcasses, be sure to save the intestine and fat for the pudding. Discard the diseased livers.
5. Clean the intestines and cube the meat not too lean.
6. Fry the cumin, coriander, tumeric, and peppers with ghee. You may also use some of the fat obtained from the thighs and midsection.
7. Rub the curry onto the cubes and let marinate for at least twelve hours. This is a smart time to prepare the pudding.
8. Heat oil and cook the mixture in a sauce pan on low heat for hours. Cover and be careful. Do not rush with your dish’s composition but do not worry too much; like war metal, curries play themselves.
9. Serve over rice.
Ithaqua – Initation to Obscure Mysteries (2015)
Greeks broke. Greeks need foreign currency. Greeks see black metal autists who buy everything with bullet belt. Greeks know metal autist like black metal on pro-tape cassette. Limited tape trade Discogs Ebay. Rotting Christ and Varathron most true drum machine sampler Hellenic black metal. True cult early 90s. Cover them on 300 limit copies. Sell all rights of recording to label to buy case of skunky Euro piss lager. Stroke hairy Hellenic forearms. Wish you were cool. Drink away 51% youth unemployment. Kill self.
Kombucha is sweetened tea fermented by a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. The sludge digests the sugar, shitting out vinegar, carbon dioxide, fruit phenols and slight amounts of alcohol. What you get is an infected vinegar soda that is popular among delusional fat hippies and AIDS patients as a supposedly immune-enhancing probiotic. Since the Death Metal Underground sadistic reviews bloody HIV-infected feces all the time, we have sent one of our brave staff members to test the few bottles available in his local supermarket
GT’s Enlightened Organic Raw Kombucha Original
An original, unflavored kombucha. Black tea, sugar, organisms, and their excretions. The appearance is yellow brown, like a bottle weak iced tea that some sicko ejaculated in. It smells similar to rancid, vinegared wine. Not a good wine, but an overly sweet bum wine. There is little vinegar to balance out the sickeningly sweet taste of rotten fruit. This is probably as further fermentation would raise the alcohol by volume to levels where the drink would qualify as an alcoholic beverage in most states. The mouth feel is thin soda and mucus. The slime gets in my mouth even with careful decanting. Drain pour.
GT’s Enlightened Synergy Organic and Raw Kombucha Trilogy
The term trilogy invokes greatness in the public eye. The Star Wars Trilogy, Lord of the Rings, The Slayer’s first three albums. This “trilogy” kombucha invokes rotten wine cooler. It looks and smells like a Zima mixed with dirty pond water. The taste is a bucket of wine cooler that was left outside in a swamp and being used as a breeding ground for malaria infected mosquitoes. What is the intended audience for this? Appletini drinkers do not favor fermented foodstuffs.
Capital Kombucha Basil Lemongrass
This one is filtered and honey-sweetened. Only a slight amount of yeast jizz laces the bottom of the bottle. I presume this brand is intended for delusional, hippie new age parents to give to their unvaccinated children instead of demon root beer. The Basil Lemongrass flavor tastes like the piss of a diabetic Thai man. May scarlet fever strike the children of whatever taste testers approved this.
GT’s Enlightened Kombucha Gingerade
Who would allow their child to drink this over ginger ale? A few ounces were enough to make the reviewer violently ill. He vomited a hot dog all over his own penis while passing loose stool. Only the Heimlich maneuver saved him from irrumation by sausage.
The old saying goes that those who love to use tobacco smoke cigarettes, and those who love tobacco smoke cigars and pipes. The cigarettes give you a quicker hit because the lungs, with their much vaster absorption area, deliver nicotine to the brain within about three seconds. The cigarette ends within three to seven minutes and the craving subsides momentarily. With pipes and cigars, the nicotine slowly oozes in through the mucus membranes in the mouth, tongue and (sometimes) throat, creating a stronger dose of nicotine but without the sudden “falling off a cliff” sensation. Many metalheads smoke cigarettes, but more are branching out to pipes and cigars for the flavors, more intense dosage and less damage to the body.
Please do not read this as an anti-cigarette rant. They are wonderful, in their own right, and much less work than cigars or pipes. However, burning any leaves and inhaling them directly into your lungs 10-20 times a day would cause some kind of long term health problem as gunk — tar, ash and irritants — builds up on the alveoli. On top of that, our industry and lawmakers have decided to mandate all sorts of processing of the tobacco, so who knows what else is being inhaled. If you would not mind going into a fast food joint, taking home their lettuce, dehydrating it and sitting next to a giant pile of it burning all day, cigarettes might not bother you. And keep in mind that there are brain-boosting benefits to nicotine in addition to resistance to neurodegenerative disorders, an effect which you do not get with the charred salad.
Cigars are beyond the scope of this article, but pipes are its focus. Pipes are essentially little wooden, stone or clay cups for burning tobacco with an inhalation tube attached. The smoker fills the pipe loosely with tobacco, then ignites it with some of the many means available to us ex-hominids, inhaling the smoke into his mouth and savoring it before blowing it outward into the personal space of those around him. While the topic of smoking pipes merits a full book, this article provides an introduction to pipe smoking designed to be as simple and low-cost as possible.
To get started, you will need:
A pipe. Generally between $35-$65 for a good starter pipe. Look for 0.7inch diameter bowls and filterless stems. This tool may help.
Tobacco. This comes in tins and bulk, usually found at Brick and Mortar (B&M) shops, and Over the Counter (OTC) usually found at drugstores and supermarkets.
Pipe cleaners. Each time you smoke, you will want to clean your pipe. Pipe cleaners have two ends, so that is two smokes per cleaner. It is not a terrible habit to include a bundle or package of these each time you buy tobacco.
A pipe nail. Demystifying this tool: it can be as simple as a key. You use one end to cut up tobacco, allowing it to collapse into an ember, and the other to tamp it after you light it for the first time. Tobacco rises like a demon unleashed when touched with fire, but compressing it allows it to smoulder so you can sip the pipe.
Fire. I favor the compressed cardboard matches in matchbooks, but you can use anything. For some, lighters and zippos taste horrible, so they prefer the match. The only trick is to burn off the tip before lighting.
To avoid the usual drama, let us launch into the process of smoking:
You go to some place with little wind, but some air circulation, where you have a comfortable chair. Sitting in it, you take out your tobacco. Holding the pipe over the tobacco container, let the shreds of tobacco fall into the pipe. When it is half-full, gently tamp with a finger. When it reaches the top, pinch from the center to one side and then the other, compressing the tobacco and letting it fall back into place. (Much has been written on this topic, usually under the unfortunate appellation of packing a pipe, when the correct word to use is fill: put tobacco into the pipe so there are no fully empty spaces, but fall short of compacting it so air — necessary for fire and smoke — can flow through. Ignore all other advice.)
Put the pipe in your mouth, holding it gently with teeth and firmly with lips. Light a match, and hold it vertically at a slight angle so the flame climbs the stalk of the match, then when the head has burned off, move the match over the tobacco in slow circles while inhaling. Take the smoke into your mouth and the top part of your throat if you wish, but try to avoid it leaking further down toward the lungs. You can compress it by gently blowing out the air from the front of your mouth, which draws in smoke from the pipe. The best way to inhale that I have found involves flaring the nose and drawing in air slowly but steadily.
My favorite cycle runs in seven second increments. For bigger mouthfuls, draw in your smoke, then keep it in your mouth for three seconds, then exhale and wait another four seconds. For slower sips, take one for about a half-second, then wait at least three seconds before the next. It helps to have a slight background circulation of air to keep the pipe oxygenated and smouldering well.
Many smokers do a “char and light” where they torch the top layer of tobacco, then tamp it lightly because it has risen up as it burned, and then light again to get the resulting compressed tobacco to blaze. At two-thirds through the bowl, it may be helpful to use a poker or the pointy end of your pipe nail to chop up the resulting ember and set it ablaze again. The lighting requirements vary between tobacco types, which will be addressed below.
When no more smoke comes out of the pipe, and you sense that the tobacco has been converted mostly to ash, tap it out into convenient bushes or a metal trash receptacle without a plastic bag. The ash will be hot and melt plastic. To tap out, hold the pipe in your hand and swing it downward to shake the ash out of the bowl. You may have to stir it with poker or nail beforehand.
Then comes the most important part of the ritual. If your pipe lacks a filter, run a pipe cleaner from the mouthpiece into the pipe and leave it there for a few minutes to absorb both direct and ambient moisture. This will keep your pipe fresh-tasting for its next use.
Pipe smokers vary. Some are hard-hitters who blaze through a bowl quickly, where others are sippers who have a pipe going all day for an hour at a time. If you re-light too frequently, or smoke too fast, the pipe may get hot; if this happens enough and to a great enough extreme, it may cause a condition known as “burnout” where the material of the pipe chars and cracks. To help avoid this, smoke on the seven-second method and also, allow some nice thick gunky tar to line the bowl, especially on the bottom. I always smoke some OTC aromatics, which are full of sugary flavoring that bonds together the goo and forms a kind of tar cement, down to the bottom of the bowl to layer it with a nice thick coating of glop. This glop chars over time and becomes a sort of pipe creosote that insulates against extremes.
Tobacco originates as leafy plant in the genus Nicotiana, which when cured, dried, pressed and shredded becomes a delicious flammable method of nicotine delivery. The great variations in what are called generically tobaccos occur in the different strains of tobacco plants, and the different methods used to grow, cure, dry, press, and cut the leaves.
That process produces a number of tobacco types, which are then combined in varying amounts into different blends, which you might think of as “tobacco recipes” because they achieve a unique flavor through the ingredients — different types of tobacco — mixed within them. These blends are also distinguished by their cut or how they are sliced, which is related to the flavor and tobacco characteristics in each blend. Many blends are then coated in flavoring known as “aromatic”; if the primary flavor to the smoking blend is the flavoring and not the underlying tobacco, the blend is referred to as an aromatic tobacco.
For the end user, tobacco is then shaped by another force — the consumer market — and placed into the following silos:
Over-the-Counter (OTC). OTC tobaccos are designed for convenience. They are usually either aromatics or a type of shag-cut tobacco that is also used for Roll Your Own (RYO) cigarettes. These burn most easily, cost about $2 an ounce, and are generally mild in both flavor and nicotine level.
Luxury. Like most things in our society, the good stuff only starts when you step off the mainstream and pony up some more cash. You would not buy Budweiser to drink, nor Marlboro to smoke, so you will choose a pipe tobacco made under the brand name of an established firm. A handful of producers make these tobaccos now, but they tend to be stronger and rely more on the flavor of natural tobacco, although many are also aromatics but with a wider variety of flavors than OTC.
Boutique. A cottage industry has sprung up in making this variety of luxury tobacco which aims for unique and intense flavors, sometimes combining aromatic and unflavored tobaccos. These are more expensive than “regular” luxury and are made by a handful of blenders who also own mail-order tobacco shops.
Vintage. In the past, everything was better. People have been saying that for generations, and apparently each were correct: the tobaccos of only 20 years ago were stronger and more flavorful. Luxury tobaccos, once considered regular tobacco, have been stored in sealed tins (if you buy one on eBay, make sure it is also “unopened” as opposed to re-sealed) and are now much sought-after.
I recommend starting with a solid OTC like Carter Hall, Prince Albert, Captain Black, Five Brothers or even Drum. These are the easiest to learn to pipe with, and give you a feeling for what mild levels of nicotine and flavor are like. In addition, they are low-cost so you will not howl and scream if you accidentally ruin a bowl or spill some.
You may find that these are pleasing enough for you and that you are content to smoke them for life. There is nothing wrong with this; many have done so and it provides the least fetishistic and complex smoking experience. Five Brothers stands out from most of these because it does not use aromatic flavoring or propylene glycol (PG), a moisturizing agent added to many OTC tobaccos. If your OTC tobacco comes out of the can or pouch and seems damp, it probably has a good dose of PG. Many aromatics, including those sold at the luxury level, also have this treatment.
From that point, the next stop is an entry-level luxury tobacco. I suggest going with a Dunhill blend because they are widely available, not overly flavored, and tend to be sliced for easy burning. You can generally get a tin of 50g/1.76oz for about $9 online or $15 in the real world, if you are in the United States; this will vary with local tobacco taxes. You may notice that you are paying quite a bit in taxes throughout this whole process, and wonder if that is in fact the impetus for the whole societal jihad against tobacco. Keep wondering. In places like Canada and Europe, they pay multiples of what you pay here. Scary.
At this point, I would stop moving up the ladder. Boutique blends are a variety of luxury blend that costs more and has more unique, ironic, oddball, quirky, and otherwise off-the-beaten path blends. However, it tends to be lower in nicotine content and it is unclear whether these weird little blends are actually that distinct from their archetypes. There are only so many types of tobacco and while many different combinations can be made, most of them resemble a few fundamental types. I have never ventured into Vintage tins and can say that, while undoubtedly these older blends were of a finer quality, that may not have been preserved over the years. Nicotine levels especially degrade. To my mind, the piping experience cannot be separated into “taste” or effect but must include both, and so the fetishism with flavor — even if grounded in science and experience — strikes me as perhaps being a mistake.
Tobacco comes in several cuts which reflect how the leaves are presented:
Shag. Cut laterally across the leaf, leaving an interlocked mess like peat moss that loads easily and burns well.
Ribbon. “Normal.” Thicker slices that seem to be vertically up and down the leaf.
Flake -> Ready Rubbed. Flake occurs when tobacco is pressed in blocks and then sliced; Ready Rubbed is the result of “rubbing out” those slices.
Plug. Tobacco is pressed together and allowed to mature that way, then cut into little pucks.
Cake. Like a plug, but loosely packed, resulting in a crumbly “coffee cake” style.
Cube. Cross-slicing the tobacco produces tiny cubes; sometimes hard to keep lit.
Twist -> Slices. Tobacco is twisted in plugs or flake is re-twisted in tubes, then cut into little “coin” shaped bits called slices.
Multiple types of tobacco dot the landscape. These refer to the strain of tobacco plant and how it was cured and prepared. These are:
Burley. Think cigar leaves. This air-cured tobacco has a nutty flavor and higher nicotine and oil than most others. It is used to complement other tobaccos in blends, and is known for its tongue “bite” from high alkalinity.
Virginia. High sugar content and sweet natural taste make this type a favorite in many blends. Although this tobacco comes in many colors, its flavor stays within the mild range and makes it the basis of many blends.
Cavendish. This term applies to any tobacco that has been aged and cured with a heating process that brings out a fuller taste.
Latakia. This is Oriental tobacco which has been cured with smoke from burning oak, pine, juniper and yew wood to give it a bittersweet taste.
Oriental/Turkish. Sweet and low in nicotine, this is tobacco grown using the Eastern method of low soil nutrients and plenty of sun, which produces its fragrance and flavor.
Perique. Fermentation in its own juices after Burley tobacco is pressed into barrels gives Perique a spicy-sweet flavor. This is generally an additive to other blends to give them some spark
Dark Fired. Leaves are cured with smoke under carefully managed heat and humidity, producing a blend both strong in nicotine and flavor. It is used as an additive more than a main ingredient because of its intensity.
English. Mostly Virginia, with Latakia for body and Oriental tobaccos to provide spice.
Scottish. Similar to an English blend, the Scottish blend uses less Latakia and more Virginia, with little or no Orientals.
Balkan. Strong in Orientals and Latakia, this tobacco blend uses Virginia to balance those dominant flavors.
American. Although there are some similarities to the English, the American blend uses more Virginia with possible Cavendish or Kentucky style tobaccos.
Danish. These resemble the English, but with a deeper flavor and less spice, using more Burley and Cavendish but emphasizing stronger, more balanced flavors.
You will probably find yourself shopping by blend, which could be a substitute term for flavor. What type of smoke do you wish to taste tonight? There are several indexes for ranking different blends:
Harshness. How much acridity and bite there is. Strong smoke can be hard on the smoker, and “bite” is created by the alkalinity of the tobacco, which raises the pH and increases absorption of nicotine but may also cause a tangy burning sensation on the tongue.
Strength. You are smoking a nicotine-bearing plant. How much nicotine is delivered? A tobacco with high nicotine may be worth pounds of low-nic fruity aromatics.
Note. This refers to the smell left behind after the tobacco is burned. This influences both your taste of the tobacco, and what your friends, family and coworkers experience.
The de facto standard for tobacco assessments is Tobacco Reviews. Like other crowd-sourced sites such as Wikipedia and Metal-Archives, or reviews on Amazon, it is good for basic factual information and opinions from people whose judgment you have verified and who — as a result — you trust. It is not good for randomly reading reviews because most of them are written by twitchy, bitchy and queeny internet consumers who complain about all the wrong things, like all the irrelevant, and miss the point. Some of the tobaccos rated highly by this site’s users are excellent, but others are simply quirky hipster fodder. Tread carefully, and consider using the various pipe forums out there: Puff, Pipes, Smokers Forum, and Tamp and Puff. The private reviews at this location have endured because they are frequently strikingly accurate. The main point is: find someone whose opinions you respect and tastes who align with yours, even if the exact opposite of yours, and you can figure out what you will like.
A word on lighting pipes: some prefer magnifying glasses and sun, others coals from the fire, still others matches and apparently, most like either butane lighters or Zippos. As a diehard match user, I can say that matches fail in the wind, and there is more wind that you might think, but that they seem to create the least influence on taste. Perhaps a laser is appropriate.
The pipe world is full of both facts and lore. Lore refers to anything passed on by groups of humans in social circumstances; the idea is that if it survives a dozen generations, it might be true. In the meantime, you will be wading through mountains of nonsense and worst of all, unnecessary complexity added by people who wish to seem profound or wise. Pipe-smoking is simple: you are lighting dried leaves in a tube and inhaling. The rest is mere adjustment.
The following resources may be helpful for those seeking to know more:
The DLA/DMU has taken flak over the years for being unwilling to embrace new trends, but this criticism forgets that we also avoided endorsing older bad ideas. Our writers have generally avoided jumping on the bandwagon for the “trve kvlt” just as much as the new, millennial-friendly indie-rock version of metal. The reason we can do this is that we apply a simple quality standard instead of using the consensus of others to determine truth.
Despite having many editors, each of whom had somewhat varied opinions on the process, if viewed on the large scale the site has kept a generally consistent opinion. That is: some of the so-called classics are good, and few of the new school releases are good, but the determination is not made by category, but by analyzing each release on its own merits. This leads to sudden shock for some who expected us to be cheerleaders for anything that seems to “uphold the true spirit of the underground,” and dismay for those who like the newer material as release after release fails our test.
Metal is in a slump and has been since 1994, in quality. Correspondingly, it has been in a boom in terms of quantity of fans. We have more “metalheads” (cough) now than ever before. However, anyone who is not in denial — and most are — can tell you that quality has fallen off dramatically. The music has lost its energy, its nerve and its insight and been buried under a wave of bands that are either obedient and docile system products, or slaves to the underground record-collecting audience that does not care about quality so long as the aesthetics of previous generations are preserved. Both groups unfortunately are useful idiots for industry, which can keep producing low-cost clone bands and reaping the profits.
We discard bands for two reasons: not being metal, and not being good. The bands that are simply not good tend to have the most fans, ironically. Who among us can claim that, for example, Blazebirth Hall bands and Drudkh offered anything musical or artistic to metal? They cloned Graveland in a light and breezy melodic form that is essentially music for children. In the same way we refuse to celebrate underground “favorites” that consist of ranting and disorganized music like Sepulchral Aura, or avantgarde prog fanboy-bait like Fanisk and Deathspell Omega.
In addition, we discard that which does not uphold the artistic, intellectual and philosophical spirit of metal. There is quite a bit of overlap here with “not being good.” We would not endorse Cradle of Filth; nor would we endorse Opeth, back in the day, or Cannibal Corpse, on the basis that they were essentially rock bands trying to assimilate metal and thus produced a moronic mindset. Similarly Pantera and to a lesser degree, Anthrax. Back in the day we thought SOD was inferior to Cryptic Slaughter, DRI, and Corrosion of Conformity. We refused to endorse Wolves in the Throne Room, Animals as Leaders, Gojira, Mastodon and other indie-rock pretending to be metal. We ignore Pelican and all stoner doom bands because they are boring and terrible. This music is distraction from metal, not metal, but its fans make a big show of being “very metal,” which tells you exactly what they are hiding and deflecting your attention from.
This approach wins us zero friends in the short term, but trusted readers in the long term. People — especially those who lead purposeful lives and do not have lots of time, nor enjoy, combing through catalogs and blogs trying to figure out which 1% of the reviews are not lies — like getting the low-down on quality metal. They enjoy that moment of discovery when they find something really good, something they can listen to not just this week and six months or a year from now, but for future decades. That is ultimately the standard by which any music fan operates; they like music, so they veer toward the best, not just at a level of mechanics (technicality) but artistically, or its relevance to the ongoing philosophical and moral maturation of humankind. Most of humanity likes mediocrity or at least convinces itself that it likes those bands. After all, Third Eye Blind has sold more records than most segments of the metal genre. But popularity — whether among credulous hipsters or gormless mass media fans — has never determined quality. Consensus is not reality. Only reality is reality, and we make our best stab at it.
With that in mind, you may ask: why write negative reviews? The answer may surprise you. We seek to give music fans the intellectual tools they need to fight back the onslaught of Opeth, Pantera, Ulver, Cradle of Filth, Meshuggah, Vattnet Viskar, Cannibal Corpse and Deathspell Omega styled bands. We use both positive and negative examples to illustrate, to the best of our ability, what metal is and which approaches to it have produced the quality level necessary for prolonged listening. This puts us at odds with most metal journalists, for whom writing is a day job and as a result, is interpreted as endless enthusiasm for whatever is new and exciting because the consensus likes it. They are essentially advertisers because they are writing ad copy about these bands, not a look into what makes their music function. It is designed to make you buy music, because journalists who can sell music get famous and become editors. You will notice that major publications run almost no negative reviews. Why is that, you might ask? Because their job is to sell music, not review it, even if they call it “review.”
In all human endeavors our social impulses, which because we are selfish beings are actually self-interested impulses translated to altruism to flatter and manipulate others, override any sense of quality or purpose. The task ceases to become the task and becomes the process of creating the appearance of results instead of results; bands stop trying to be good, and focus on replicating what has worked before in new forms. The “best” (by consensus) bands “sound” different on the surface, but musically are extremely similar, because that formula has worked in the past. That is a social impulse: make what people like because it does not challenge them and makes them feel smart, profound or at least “with the crowd” to be listening to it. This social impulse has ruined metal since 1994.
Metal thrives — as it did during the mid-70s, early 80s and early 90s — under two factors: (1) it is ignored by most people, so it is free from the manipulations of those who want to sell rebellion-flavored rock to morons, and (2) it has some truly great artists to kickstart it and establish a standard. The former is self-evident, but the latter can be explained as follows. When early Norse black metal came out, it set a standard of quality and allowed fans, by simply choosing to spend their money on what was more rewarding, to exclude bands that did not meet that standard. Why would you buy Forgotten Wolves when you can get Darkthrone? Why would you pick up another speed metal clone when you can have top-quality death metal? Metal thrived when it was elitist, closed-minded and viciously competitive. Now that it has become a group hug, quality has suffered and no one seems to have noticed. Except us — and we are watching.