Death Metal Underground
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Sometimes the worst must be exploited

May 19, 2013 –

Is this the end of all music?

May 12, 2013 –

eskimo_callboy-bury_me_in_fucking_vegasFriedrich Nietzsche posited that at the end of human times there would be a “last man” who cared for nothing other than immediate personal pleasure, and in this vapidity would banish civilization to the abyss.

I believe in metal we have found this moment through the work of “Eskimo Callboy.” This band are metalcore/electro crossover. I use the term metalcore to differentiate music from metal that, unlike metal which likes to string riffs together into a continuity creating atmosphere, likes to make abrupt contrast like “protest songs” do through its jarring, discordant and deconstructed melodic structure.

However, that’s just the start of the description. Metalcore means metal riffs without metal composition, but it’s basically a catch all into which we’ve dumped the last forty years of music: rock, rap, punk, post-punk, post-hardcore, techno and even disco. As if emphasizing this, the song below “Is Anyone Up” fits the disco pattern that techno appropriated, and works into it a second layer where verses are doubled with one double being played as straight metalcore, and the other being autotuned vocals in a club music setting.

What continually amazes me about mass culture products is how competent and diligent they are. Not even in the way that some bands, like Ara or De Profundis (both of whom are metalcore, which is sometimes called “modern metal” to hide its hybrid origins), are competent, which is to say they write songs that on a musical level fit together. No, these bands are competent as products. A McBurger must be sweet, tangy and leave you wanting more; good pop must be oozing with consonance, but bittersweet and minor key in its “mixed emotions” that give it “profundity” or a feeling of “authentic” emotion, and leave you wanting more because for a moment you felt like something stirred actual emotion in your soul (when in fact, all you were feeling was your longing for such emotion).

What pop music represents is not a unique musical style in and of itself, but a style of music designed with a singular goal in mind, which is to be mass accessible. As a result, it has no rules per se, although it has many studied patterns it uses. It also has no soul, no style and no boundaries; it assimilates everything it can, and churns it into the same old stuff. Give it a genre like, say, reggae, and it will invent reggae-flavored pop that on the surface uses reggae rhythms and sounds, but underneath is composed just like all other pop. Give it jazz and you get Dave Matthews, Sting, Yanni or Richard Marx; give it punk and you get Blink 182, Avril Lavigne and Fall Out Boy. When you hand it metal, it can’t handle it, because on a musical level, metal breaks the mold. Metal insists that riffs fit together in some way that maintains atmosphere and mood, and thus that riffs address one another. Pop functions by having its “riffs” address only one thing, which is staying in key and being distractingly clingy and catchy.

The threat to genres like metal is that it will be assimilated. Eskimo Callboy assimilates metal through metalcore, which borrows metal styles and some metal riffing and puts it into the post-hardcore “carnival music” style, but also adds electro (disco/techno/trance fusion) and even a small part of broken suburban rap to the mix. The result is quite good, as pop. Every moment is catchy and simple, and while it seems immature to those who’ve heard more music than a teenager, it certainly isn’t amateur. In fact, it’s totally professional. Every instant on this record is calculated to make people like it, and through that, to make it make money. It’s not like more challenging material, which skims the line of what you can like and expands what you’re willing to recognize; it takes what you recognize, sweetens it and over-processes it, and then serves it to you in heaping spoonfuls. That’s just on a composition level. On a production level it’s really to be admired: everything is perfectly placed, the sound is loud and pure, but with enough effects to give it texture. This is the work of masters at their craft.

Those of you who caught the shocked reaction by the band Ara to being called “metalcore” may now see why the band reacted so badly. Eskimo Callboy is metalcore, unabashedly so, and even embrace the label. However, it’s correct to call both bands metalcore, because both betray the metal principle of riffs commenting on riffs, and as a result are at best metal-flavored rock. Metalcore is that which wishes to be metal on the surface without being metal underneath, and it’s a polite catch all that can be applied to “modern metal” (Necrophagist, Ulcerate), nu-metal, blackgaze, black punk, crabcore, etc. We don’t even need to address these bands as metal because even they don’t see themselves as metal.

As it turns out, the song “Is Anyone Up” has somewhat of a concept behind it. It’s dedicated to the (former) Is Anyone Up website, on which people posted anonymous nude pictures which were then linked to online profiles for ridicule and mockery. The site was like 4chan on steroids with a specific intent to be cruel to the foolish, unwise, promiscuous and generally ill-parented girls of the lost generations in the West. While it seems cruel and destructive to me, it’s hard to feel that much surprise when you people email nude pictures to their latest hookup and in the hope that he won’t become bitter when they move on and email them to a friend. Of course he will — treat a man like a disposable lighter, and he treats you like something that must burn.

Let’s look at these insightful lyrics:

and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
girl it’s nothing personal
I’m sorry for this
but I think you fuck anal so well
that everybody should know
your pussy deserves much more attention
than I could give to you
you said that I’d be the only one
-you are nothing more than a folder on my harddisk
and you are nothing more than the guys I’ve met before
-fuck you little whore I’ve got your cunt in HD
and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
oh lord ,shame on me!
gnargoyles everywhere
I’ve lost my ability
to infactuate hot chicks
you never will expose a girl again
your daddy will be proud of his stupid little girl
shut the fuck up
tonight I’m on a photo date
with the highschool-sexgrenade
and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
I’ve seen a lot of boobies
I’ve seen a lot of cunts
as long as there are hot chicks
there’ll be always men that hunt
#NBHNC
means a lot to me
we cannot stop to stare
so put your ass up in the air

If you live in a world of innocence like me, you probably have no idea what #NBHNC means. It’s a crass term from the above site, on par with the famous Deke chant “no means yes, yes means anal”. Basically, imagine rancid scorn, regret and longing wrapped up into one package of human emotional poison.

Metalcore is a pop genre, not a metal one. Like most pop genres, it is based in the principle of flattering the listener and hoping to appeal to both their egomania and their weakness at once, making them want to become part of your little club. Not surprisingly, the video for this song actually occurs in a club, but that’s not the type of club I’m speaking of. Instead, think of what psychologists call an “in-group.” It’s any group that (like Costco) requires some kind of token exchange to gain entrance as a member. In social circles, it’s often as easy as buying a pop song and knowing the words. Pop is generic music that makes you feel like you’re part of some mass movement for listening along with it, and so it seduces your brain.

All that is needed to complete this review is a bit of comparison. I was recently subjected to The Dark Knight Rises or at least the first twenty minutes of it. Like generic pop metalcore, it is well-produced and written to keep the attention of its audience. Unlike metal and a movie worth watching, the plot is unrealistic and the acting looks like acting, instead of camouflage of their real identities that allows actors to reveal the meaning of the script. More than anything else, the word for this movie is stupid. The script is dumb and implausible, the cartoony characters (“Bane” — LOL) are ridiculous and not threatening, and even every attempt to imbue it with nuance comes across as ham-handed like the truly phoned in acting by Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy. And yet it is popular. The same is certainly true of Eskimo Callboy, which at last count had 75k “likes” on Facebook, where most underground death metal bands languish at 1,500. However, as if often true in life, the rare is the exceptional, which is fortunate as Eskimo Callboy is only exceptional in its endorsement of “last man” attitudes.

Interview: Ara

April 22, 2013 –

ara-band_photo

Music is never in stasis. It is composed of two parts, a form and a content. The two are related; in the best of situations, content causes the musician to innovate a new form. When the content changes, the old form is not relevant. However, some things are timeless and those forms persist.

Such questions emerge at the front of the mind when we look at Wisconsin’s Ara and their latest album, The Blessed Sleep. Whatever the changes that have been wrought in metal over the past 20 years, Ara roll back some of the tendencies toward excessive form and pointless technicality, and return the focus to songwriting. (See our review of The Blessed Sleep.)

Ara presents a challenge to what metal has become and to what many conceive of as metal. We figured we would go deeper for the whole story, and were fortunate to speak with guitarist and band cofounder Jerry Hauppa, who helped clarify the situation and told us about the inspiration and musical vision behind Ara’s latest, The Blessed Sleep.

You approach metalcore/tech-deth with a stripped-down style that focuses more on songwriting. What made you decide to do this, against the conventions of the genre?

None of us are really thrilled by the theatrics of sweeped scales masquerading as riffs in extreme metal nowadays. To the casual fan this can superficially be interpreted as sounding crazy and chaotic but we all come from older metal backgrounds where the riffs and arrangements had to have creativity and personality in order to express deviation between songs and moods. Cluttering up a song with a ton of parts can be an effective way to display chaos at times but we are trying to make sure each part serves the song well enough where nothing seems to be either filler or extraneous.

What do you think separates “modern metal” (metalcore, tech-deth, indie metal) from the older extreme metal like death metal and black metal?

The Blessed Sleep seems to have indirectly caused quite the argument about this in the comments section of your review for the record, but in my defense of death metal I clearly differ from the opinion of your readers in terms of what I feel falls under its umbrella. I think that “modern metal” is less a genre and more a statement that tries to separate any current take on the genre that threatens the ethos created in the early 90s. I agree that most of what I hear nowadays doesn’t resonate with me, but I’m not going to invalidate it by claiming it isn’t death metal or black metal because I’m afraid of what that means for me as a listener.

What I will say, is that I feel I have an uncanny ability to hear motive in music, and what I think you are getting at with the title “modern metal” is the unfortunate actions of -core acts that clearly resemble marketing ploys and the inhibiting crutches present in their writing, which throw at the listener a sense of immediate gratification through the aforementioned sweeps and of course, breakdowns. What we are trying to do is not throw the listener a bone so I feel we have more in common with the rebellious aspects of the early death metal movement than what people are considering to be “modern.”

In your view, what are the founding acts that influenced this style? What influences do you as a band have in addition to these?

The style shown on the record, or in modern metal? As for the latter, I have no idea really. I know that it seems many young bands don’t understand the history of metal and are trying to emulate a band that has emulated another band and so on, and that’s a shame with the ease of resources we have nowadays.

I guess as for the aspect of a more chaotic form of death metal, you could probably say that Cryptopsy’s Whisper Supremacy took the idea of a metal song arrangement and turned it upside down- at least for me, when I heard it, nothing really sounded like it. Today’s bands probably are really far removed from that record but the bands they ripped off might be familiar, I don’t know.

As for the influences of the band, for me, I’ve always been drawn to more complex music because I like to hear something new in a song each time I hear it. I’d say Gorguts, Anata and Cryptopsy are definite influences, as well as Theory in Practice and maybe the early explosion of Unique Leader bands. As far as how the record sounds, I could probably say I was drawn to the feel of Sinister’s Aggressive Measures record in terms of their atonal leanings and not having the guitars be tuned super low. The rest of the guys in the band have a huge list of influences, but I can say I know Erik worships Discordance Axis, Adam loves stuff like Fleshgod Apocalypse and Jim listens to everything under the sun.

How did you get the crisp sound on The Blessed Sleep? It sounds like you played it live, but somehow got a nice digital snap to each track. Where was it recorded?

We recorded with Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street Studios, and we are extremely happy with the sound. We have recorded there numerous times with other projects and he is a blast to work with and everything he does sounds amazing. I don’t really care for the sterile production of modern metal bands and really wanted this record to sound tight yet savage, so we deliberately left it without too much polish to give it its own atmosphere. As for how we got the sound, I know there are tons of guitar tracks going on all the time so it has a wall of sound that gives it the heaviness that I think a lot of technical bands are lacking.

What prompted you to found Ara, in the style you’ve chosen, and what additions do you hope to make to the genre?

I always wanted to do my take on death metal since I was a teenager, and only now am I lucky enough to be around the musicians that can make it happen. The style is I suppose an amalgamation of all of my influences in extreme metal, but as I get better at writing music I really feel as though the compositions are inherently mine and don’t directly emulate any particular band.

As far as the second half of your question, I don’t have any lofty goals where I think we can be flagbearers for any kind of genre movement, I just hope people check out the record and like it. If I had any wish that we could influence anything, I do hope the riff can come back. I miss and mourn for the riff.

Where do you want to go after The Blessed Sleep? It seems like you’ve reached a peak within this genre; are you going to grow in a new direction, or refine?

As of today I have written 11 songs for a full length and am really excited to see how the new material will shape up. The rest of the guys know four of the new songs and I would say it is decidedly different from The Blessed Sleep. There is a much greater focus on melody but not in the At the Gates way, probably more in an Anata way. I am trying to make the songs complex but with very few themes explored per song because I want each song to be its own entity. You can hear one of the new songs in the live set on the youtube video you posted, it’s the last one we played. I’m trying to balance melody with discordance in each song. Some of the newer stuff is way faster than anything we’ve done and we have some doomier stuff as well. If you like The Blessed Sleep I think you’ll be excited for the progression. Also, we are very much hoping for label support for future recordings.

What do you think draws people to your music?

The band is very new so I don’t really know yet. People like speed and we have and love lots of blast beats. We also try to be atypical so I assume people that like weird metal will hopefully like it. Time will tell.

If fans wanted to explore your music, where do you recommend they start, and what should they do next?

You can stream the whole record at arawi.bandcamp.com, so there you go. Then I suppose you should follow us on Facebook to find out what we’re up to and where we’re playing.

Will you be touring for this album? Will we see you in Texas?

I absolutely want to get on the road for this record and hopefully we can do so later in the year. Erik and I play in another band called Northless that is in the studio next month so after that is wrapped up we can get our scheduling straight and play outside our home town. We would love to play in Texas if everything works out and if so we will definitely let you know! Thanks for your time and the support!

Ara – The Blessed Sleep

April 20, 2013 –

ara-the_blessed_sleepThe metalcore community is aware of your criticisms and attempting to reform itself.

During the past decade, a number of bands have tried to reign in the genre from its Necrophagist-style peak of unrelated technical fireworks to more of the songwriting that made bands like Botch, Human Remains and Rites of Spring influential founders of the genre.

With The Blessed Sleep, Ara steps up to the plate by streamlining the genre and removing the unrelated parts, which keeps a focus on songwriting like Harkonin or Neurosis. This eliminates the biggest problem, but for those who don’t like metalcore, it leaves the tendency to scream out lyrics in a trope of regularity and a fascination with “different” riffs and surprise twists that often leads toward a predictability of being unpredictable. (Imagine a general on the battlefield who maintains an advantage by being unpredictable. After a while, it becomes random, and easier to respond to because there is no expectation otherwise.)

The Blessed Sleep attempts to work around these challenges to the genre by varying tempo and the texture of riffing, stacking subtly melodic arpeggios up against chromatic chugging riffing, and by not using any single technique constantly (except the angry-man-in-a-phone-booth vocals). The result is far more listenable and develops actual songs that, although based on jarring contrast, are able to return to a single pair of themes and develop variation there.

Although Ara are touted by many as technical, nothing here is particularly technical as in specific skills, but putting these songs together without them falling apart and playing them on the nose will be difficult for any but a professional and experienced band. The streamlined songwriting, topicality and focus make The Blessed Sleep one of the more intense tech-deth albums to emerge in recent years.