Traversing the Underground: Roots and Origins

tolkien-tree

Article by David Rosales.

A trend in the modern conception of anything has been that the newer something else, the better we expect or assume it to be. Experience in reality, however, has also given rise to another perception: that the new tends to be worse and not better. Attempts at rationalizing this drive the pseudo-intellectual, pro-sheeple crowd to say that times just change, but ratios of quality do not vary. This is not only unscientific but an obvious politically correct answer that has as its premise that everyone is equal, and hence, that the resulting products of these “equal” people must also be probabilistically equal. Impermeable external influence seems to them the only changing factor, with the internal being either infinitely constant or practically negligible. This is assumed and then possible causes are haphazardly and desperately pieced together, the answer is assumed and then anything is either positive evidence or brushed aside if too problematic to incorporate into the fairy tale. Ignorance compounded with pretense and emotional insecurity always results in capricious imposition of an arbitrary and dogmatic concepts and scale of values.

Continue reading Traversing the Underground: Roots and Origins

Apokalyptic Raids – The Third Storm (2005)

apokalyptic raids the third storm

Article by Corey M.

At the beginning of this album, I thought I was in for some ironically incompetent Venom worship with affectations of naivety: “Metal about metal” as it can be rightly called. The drums are played in a bare-bones punk style. The guitar(s) loop punk riffs in predictable verse-chorus style structures while the vocalist rants in a smoke-shredded voice about typical metal stuff. No virtuosic leads or even harmonies are present. However, as the record progressed, the raw efficacy of the chords overcame my cynicism and my head began to nod to and fro of its own accord. Maybe these guys are a throwback or tribute act. Maybe they have actually never heard anything more recent than the first Bathory album. Either way, their riffs have an undeniable ability to hook energy-pumping tentacles into your brain and stir in your heart the desire to get off your ass and be a living, bleeding, raging human. When it comes to music, is there anything better than that?

Listen to and purchase the vinyl reissue of The Third Storm from Hells Headbangers’ Bandcamp page.

Metal as Anti-Modernism

metal as anti-modernism

Article by David Rosales.

I. A Romantic Art

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.

Industrial Society and Its Future
Theodore John Kaczynski – Industrial Society and Its Future

Choosing Death
Albert MudrianChoosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore

the illiad
Homer – The Illiad

bhagavad gita
The Bhagavad Gita

Tolkein Children of Hurin
J.R.R. TolkeinThe Children of Húrin

critique of pure reason
Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason

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.

bruckner salone romantic
Esa-Pekka Salonen – Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 in E-Flat Major “Romantic

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SammathGodless Arrogance

condor-nadia
CóndorNadia

bulgarian state choir
Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir – Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares

julian bream portada
Julian Bream – La Guitarra Barroca

timeghoul
Timeghoul1992-1994 Discography

iron maiden somewhere in time
Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time

bathory-twilight_of_the_gods
BathoryTwilight of the Gods

V. Films

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.

tout les matins du monde
Tous les Matins du Monde

the witch
The Witch: A New-England Folktale

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Martyrs

until_the_light_takes_us.jpg

untilbox
Until the Light Takes Us
A 2008 documentary film by Aaron Aites
and Audrey Ewellabout the early 90s
black metal scene in Norway.

tarkovsky stalker
Andrei Tarkovsky – Stalker

Notes

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.

Nihilistic Holocaust webzine publishes rare Quorthon interview

The folks at Nihilistic Holocaust webzine recently uploaded a rare cassette interview that an unknown fan or journalist managed to score with Quorthon of Bathory. To my understanding, while there’s a reasonable amount of historical documentation of early underground metal, a lot of it is locked away in unscanned fan magazines, unpreserved recordings, and so forth. It’s always interesting when someone unearths these documents. This specific interview showcases Quorthon documenting his experiences touring, working with Black Mark Productions, releasing various albums and so forth. Definitely worth your time if you have a spare 15 minutes.

Worlds

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Article by David Rosales

Pretty much once in a lifetime does an artist of the greatest kind offer a work that has added to its musical consummation the ability to summon entire worlds into the conscience of the listener. The three following examples of this achievement go about this in the same way that Tolkien’s mystery mythology is built: by broad strokes, consistency in themes and marvellous artistry in strategic details. These also form a triad that describe three concentric spheres of human experience: the physical, the mental and the divine.

Stormcrowfleet (large)
Stormcrowfleet
: The Metaphysical Will

Here is a pondering on will, vision and the embracing of the self’s calling:

Devouring the world through the senses, only to slowly flood back into it and extend Will yonder. Powers sifting awesomely in vast expanses according to harmonious law. As the fruit of work materializes, impetus is satiated and now serves as pulse. Arcane forces call beasts of desire into action, as does the disciplined mage through obedience to true aphorisms attain silent influence.

Destiny is embraced, faced with passionless determination. Beyond what is felt, what is seen, what is heard, closer to the truth, there proud and solitary existence awaits. In that place, sensation and impression are fused with meaning. It can never err, it simply is and is ever becoming. Such is the fire-lit secret of unclothed reality.

folder
Dol Guldur
: Mind and Imagination

Longing for earthly beauty and the majesty of man’s handwork and a respect for the purpose that is instilled into them cries out in whispers through the crevices of undead statues. High culture and nature are melded in absolute harmony through a revitalization of Tolkien’s verses. Man is here but a speck in the middle of the grandeur of this Earth, this center of our cosmos, the most precious of gifts to mankind.

Mythic transpositions of stone structures and forests from a mortal’s character and inner struggle are interleaved. The landscape painting of the master linguist is vibrated in shy cadences that sustain melodies gradually taking us aloft to places not corresponding to our physical present, nor to a faithful idea, but somewhere in between. This is where dream and reality meet, whence manifestation of destiny ensues.

bathory-blood_fire_death
Blood, Fire, Death
: Cruelest Present

Without leaving behind legendary imagery as an aim and placeholder for imminent action, we are shown an unapologetic picture of crudeness. This is the here and now of human experience. It is the visceral rushing of adrenaline-charged blood through the limbs.

No glory, no shame, only happenstance. In this nihilism is the truth of the triune complemented and completed.Things are or they are not. You live or you die. Revel in the ritual of life and attach no special meaning to anything.

Invocation Spells – Descendent The Black Throne (2015)

invocation spells - throne cover
Article by David Rosales

Downward strums; rock-like, minimalist d-beats; a repetitive, constant duple-time cadence that becomes a familiar entrancing device. These are all the hallmarks of eighties Hellhammer inspired evil speed metal plus plus. What we hear in Descendent The Black Throne is, basically, what we would hear if Tom G. Warrior were more “progressive” minded and less careful about creating a strong atmosphere of darkness (Editor’s note: Tom eventually got around to that in a fashion on Celtic Frost’s Into the Pandemonium, although such is certainly not Hellhammer inspired).
It is precisely the feeling that Invocation Spells seem to be more bent on the “evil of fun” rather than the “fun of evil” of a Hellhammer. This can be seen in the fact that songs focus on the variety of rhythms rather than in respecting motifs and emphasizing them. Now, this is not the mindless progressive obsession that refuses to produce any sort of repetition as sections are, in fact, reused, but the different sections seem to bear little relation to each other outside stylistic coherence. This forward momentum that emphasizes rhythmic acceleration and intensification over clarity makes Invocation Spells’ Descendent The Black Throne akin to run-of-the-mill “infernal”, pseudo-black, speed metal of the eighties.
While I could recommend this for fans of this particular style of metal, what I would actually recommend is that you download Hellhammer’s full discography, as well as Bathory’s and Celtic Frost’s early output and make this the sole repository of your attention to this spectrum of minimalist evil metal. Nothing you find out there rivals them, and if you want to get acquainted with excellence and not just flooded with quantity, you have a choice to make. Oppose irrelevance. Oppose mediocrity. Avoid mental indolence.

The Forgotten Role of Drums in Metal

darkthrone

Fenriz as the archetypal metal drummer is perhaps a puzzle to most, perhaps considering his status to be a mere by-produt of Darkthrone becoming an icon. The status of most worthy personalities of metal tends to be double sided in that way. There is the respect for what came before, usually a blind fanhood of what is not understood and is only explainable in terms of some kind of historical relevance and then there is the underground ackowledgement of the musical talents of the artist in question that stand the test of time. The difference in perception arises from the fact that these artists’ greatest merit lies in subtletly. The Subtlety of where to use a specific technique, however rudimentary, so that the music is better enhanced, completed or open to being built on (say the drums got written before everything else).

In drumming in particular, the lack of appreciation for proper arrangement has been greater than in the vocal or guitar departments, perhaps because the only antecedents in this type of percussion come from rock and jazz. In rock, the drums are merely a time keeper and groove-adder. In Jazz, it is typical that they serve that function plus, like all the other instruments, allow the musician to keep masturbating on the instrument with little thought to how this adds to the music as concept and not self-referential indulgence. But in all fairness, there is an old school of jazz in which the music is kept together more neatly and in which the drums play a much more constructive role.

In metal, the drums are not only a support instrument but should blend in into a whole. In fact, ideally, the guitars should be doing this too. The point is so subtle and hard to grasp that even the musicians that acknowledge it have a very hard time translating it into practice. As with all great things coming from a simple concept, it is easier said than done. The most prudent drummers and bands limit the percussion to a function (that in metal is more prominent and important than in rock) rather than the spotlight, and this is at least a first step.

It was the increasing distance between all rock-like perspective in music that made metal approach a more purified and important integration of drums into its frameworks. Works such as Hvis Lyst Tar Oss or Transilvanian Hunger are inconceivable without percussion. That is not to say that the rest of the elements are not good, but they are incomplete without percussion. And so are their corresponding drum patterns without them. Metal had to go back to an extreme minimalism, stripping down every layer to realize the importance of every little element. This Burzum album belongs to end of black metal as an era, but I will place it here even if it appears counter-chronological.

After an initial dive into this primitivism driven (Celtic Frost, Bathory) by gut instinct of the most authentic kind, death metal proper developed and quickly escalated in its use of technical arrangements that went overboard in the sense that they were unnecessary for the point of the music itself, though not necessarily bad. Technicality was set besides essence and communication in importance. The formal music tendencies that are so prominent in classical music started to surface in metal.

A great overlooked exception to this rule was the work of Adrian Erlandsson within the framework of arrangements and indications of Alf Svensson for At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours. The fact that these integral arrangements are unmatched in death metal to this very day is a testament to how little understood they are. The fact that the drumming here twists, bends, propulses, stops, counterpoints in a great variety of different drum patterns that while theoretically rudimentary are often technically demanding, especially when performed as  a whole, indicate that a sense of continuity in expression must be kept by the drummer through changes of tempo, time signature and character. What makes this superior to other progressive-oriented albums is that for all this variety, the style of expression is tightly restricted. The reduced repertoire of guitar and drum techniques to the minimal from which it builds its complexity in a language of its own endows it with this distinct personality. Without the guidance of the architect Svensson, though, this band completely floundered in mediocrity soon after his departure.

Today, few bands grasp the importance of the integrated drums let alone being actually capable of translating the concept to a concrete plan and then puting it into practice. As far as I have seen, with very particular exceptions, the most sober drumming comes from the modern tradition that has branched from (old, the only real) black metal. First of all, it may come to those learning it by virtue of studying the past, this makes the grasping of a concept much easier. This does not include the nu-black or post-black camps which represent a departure, regression and deconstruction of metal, a reflection of decadence.

It is rather in the work of Abyssum’s Akherra that we see the role of drums as an essential part of the music. For this, the rest of the instruments must accomodate the drums, not only run on top of it. The naive layering of instruments most bands are used to is precisely what makes them amateurs in this. In proper metal, the drums are inside, not under the music. This is part of what the metaphor “drumming in counterpoint” reflects. Drum patterns that are relatively independent in the sense that they aren’t just there as a support, but come into contact at every moment with the music, bending, yielding and transforming along with the rest of the music.

Such attention to detail goes far beyond just playing slower or faster, stronger or softer when the rest of the music does so. It is not only a matter of intensity or speed in correspondence. The drums must live in symbiosis with the guitars, and not like a running pair of athletes besides each other. Silences and types of drum patterns specifically tailored to different sections are exemplified in Abyssum’s “The Illusion of Pan” in which we see important  decisions taken about the smallest details such as ride strikes in the rhythm of a particular keyboard melody speed, the variations between soft blast beats and other less forward-moving patterns as great inflections and indicators of the song’s pictorial journey that are not as clearly reflected in the rest of the music alone.

This entry is not about judging this or that band over another. The point is the study of drums for the future of metal. The recognition of the evolution in the use of drums throughout the genre. Surprisingly, Black Sabbath Master of Reality shows the kind of thinking that would go into Celtic Frost To Mega Therion in terms of the reduction and powerful use of elements into highly-personalized expressions. In this Black Sabbath showed how far ahead of their times they were. It took metal more than a decade to catch up to them. These musical transpirations in their music were refined through the black metal tradition going through death metal. The best we can hope for is bands today piecing out elements in this way, and being able to identifying what great drumming consists of in metal. But this must start out from the vision of metal as a proper music, as highly-integrated elements which conspire within an indissolubly dependent complex set of relations.

Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom (1990, 2015)

blasphemy cover

Bringing together the grindcore of Napalm Death and the primitive black metal of Bathory and Sarcófago into a death metal way of thinking, Blasphemy gave the world a solid although juvenile Fallen Angel of Doom. Racing in consisting grinding expression while going beyond the riff and into an atmosphere-inducing state as a result of the progression of riffs that is fitting of that primitive black metal, the songs in this album open a portal through which disturbing visions come to alienate us, inducing a feeling of aloneness, doom and  fear.

That strong evocation is accomplished from the fusion of these two genres, in my opinion, because they are not just smashed together but rather assembled in a different mold, that of death metal and made into one language. The other thing is that you do not hear interleaving riffs in different styles, although we do hear a good deal of flexibility in riff type in terms of rhythm, texture and note length. The riffs themselves are both completely fitting for grindcore, but it is the duration of their repetition and the effect of their arrangement that results in a similarity with primitive black metal. In order to achieve a stronger result coming from goal-oriented development, the structural-minded songwriting of death metal comes to round off and concentrate the raw energy of the other two genres.

A Comment on Bardic Tradition in metal

leypold-wandererinthestorm

The terms bardic or minstrel metal have often been used to describe bands that usually sing in a clear voice and with anthemic overtones, often imitate medievalesque motifs and write lyrics in the manner of romanticized ancient legends. Generally, the metal subgenre most readily associated with bardic expression is power metal because they advertise themselves as modern-day minstrels and theirs is the kind of catchy and upbeat music most people can latch on to most easily. The bardic spirit along with the culture it transmits, however, requires a sturdier medium that is able to etch its runes indelibly without detracting from the importance of their message.

Power metal could be described as a blend of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden mixed with the energy of speed metal. The influence of Ritchie Blackmore cannot be overstated either. In time, they developed their own tropes and particular voices that set them apart from their Briton godfathers. Bands making music in this style are known for an overt expression and presentation that falls just a little short from that of the despicable glam metal. More often than not, these theatrical habits and indulgences overshadow both the content of the music and the words, both of which come close to becoming only an excuse for narcissistic expression. The persona takes precedence over the message.

A sensible division of terms would be advisable here since the words bard and minstrel actually denote two very similar but different traditions. The bard was said to be an itinerant poet who, with the help of music, kept traditions and values alive through stories and legends written in meter. The minstrel made its most significant appearances in courts. Its main job was to entertain the nobility. The latter job’s description often overlaps with that of a jester whose curriculum included clownish acts like juggling. Here is where we find the most apt description for bands like Helloween or Blind Guardian, who willingly and naively took the latter term for themselves.

In lieu of this minstrel metal, a bardic one, with enduring power to carry and transmit the word by giving it the place of honor, is needed. Firstly, any musical tradition with this aim must achieve an optimal balance between being both evocative and submerging yet enveloping the words so that these are propelled forward, emphasized, given contour and colour. Secondly, this is metal. And as proper metal, the riff must lead.