Varathron to unleash Untrodden Corridors of Hades

September 23, 2014 –

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Greek black metal founders Varathron return with a new album that takes the band in a modernized melodic metal direction but does so without losing the unique balance of heavy metal hooks and dark atmosphere that defined the debut, His Majesty at the Swamp.

Untrodden Corridors of Hades, which will see release via Agonia Records on November 21 in Europe and December 9 for the rest of the world, veers away from the old school doom metal sound of the debut but picks up with a version of the melodic metal of Walpurgisnacht but in a modernized style. This new style adopts the frenetic pace and compressed song structure of contemporary metal, but within that style, the ear for melodic composition and atmosphere of the original band makes itself audible.

With a cover by famed metal artist Mark Riddick, Untrodden Corridors of Hades was recorded, mixed and engineered by Kostas Kalampokas at Infinite Loop Music Studio in Greece and mastered by Tom Kvålsvoll at Strype Audio in Norway. The new album resembles 2009 release Stygian Forces of Scorn but with new energy and louder sound, as the embedded sample below reveals.

Tracklist:

  1. Kabalistic Invocation of Solomon
  2. Realm of Obscure
  3. Arcane Conjuring
  4. Leprocious Lord
  5. The Bright Trapezium
  6. Death Chant
  7. Delve Into the Past

Line-up:
Stefan Necroabyssious – vocals
Achilleas C – guitars
Sotiris – guitars
Stratos – bass
Haris – drums

Why Thurston Moore is right about black metal

September 18, 2014 –

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Most people believe that “trolling” happens on the internet and that trolls are a group like organized crime. Instead trolling is a method and trolls are any who troll, such as when Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore trolled black metal fans recently.

Having been around media and rock fans alike — two groups heavily invested in the pretense of self-styled self-image — Moore spotted a good mark for a brutal troll when he saw one. Thus with an offhanded comment, he lit the rage-fires of ten thousand fedora-blessed basements.

Black Metal is music made by pussies of the lowest order, and we felt it was necessary to investigate this aberrant anti-music behavior. We feel like the sound and attitude of black metal is a loss of self, life, light and desire in a way where it becomes so negative that a whole new bliss arrives where we become super pussy.

The guitarist elaborated later:

Black metal, it doesn’t even consider itself music. In fact, it doesn’t want to be confused with any kind of music because it’s something else entirely. It’s a voided concept from its start [laughs]. It’s all about complete disintegration of existence. It’s a music that uses the elements of rock instrumentation but it’s so anti-everything that, for me, it doesn’t matter what you say about it because it doesn’t exist. I figured I would just write something ridiculous about it. And boy, did black-metal devotees get really upset by it. You’re not supposed to be alive, so why are you getting upset?

We know that his first statement is a troll because it was the only statement included in the press release, and more importantly, it makes us of a dual meaning in the term “pussy” to wind up the angry denizens of vans down by the river. Moore has been around the alternative rock scene too long to be anything but scrupulously politically correct, so it is dubious he would ever use the term “pussy” in a sexist manner, but that does not prohibit him from playing off the common usage of the term in the metal community to mean (roughly) wimp or weenie.

It seems to me that Moore is having a bit of fun with the term and is distilling it back to its more Victorian usage where it refers to housecats as distinctive from street cats. Meaning that black metal fans are sleek, well-fed, pampered and most likely neutered. Domesticated. Not a threat to anything, probably not even mice, despite the face paint.

Black metal deserves this attack in 2014. From 1989-1994, the genre thrived amidst murder, politically incorrect statements and church arsons, but also some really excellent music. Since that time, much like modern Western civilization, black metal has been cruising on the wealth of the past. With a few exceptions like Demoncy, Beherit and Sammath black metal has fallen so far short of its historical peak that it resembles a collapsed civilization. Among the ruins of an ancient past of greatness, the remnants of a broken social experiment play and achieve nothing of any importance, but when challenged in a pub, they are quick to remind us all that they were Romans, once.

The usual crowd of poseur wannabes at the FMP and NWN forums have been cruising on the reputation of black metal for two decades now. They act like the worst street toughs ever and remind us that not only were they Romans, but once they burned churches and murdered people. However, they are most likely to come home from their jobs as Facebook consultants and hang around their loft apartments drinking craft beer and arguing over the minutiae of which indistinguishably bland “black metal” band has more “atmosphere” than the others, when in fact all post-1994 black metal sounds the same because none of it is written about anything. It is all variants on an aesthetic, and nothing more. The guts of it are gone; it has abolished itself.

Black metal was born as a reaction — both to and against death metal, which was experiencing a rare period of commercial success in the early ’90s — and thus, it had a rigid definition before it even had a body….Euronymous’s Helvete was to Norwegian black metal what MacDougal Street was to the ’60s Greenwich Village folk scene, and his views were considered gospel. Death metal was “trendy” and “fun,” said Euronymous; well, black metal rejected trends and fun…For Euronymous, the primary essential element for music to be defined as “black metal” was Satanism. “If a band cultivates and worships Satan, it’s black metal,” he said. “What’s important is that it’s Satanic; that’s what makes it black metal.”

Moore keyed into this pointlessness. When a genre can easily merge with indie rock and heroin and form a “supergroup” like Twilight, and when droning nobodies like Deafheaven and Wolves in the Throne Room are accepted as normal parts of the genre, it is dead and buried. It has lost its sense of “genre,” or having artistic purpose, and now is just another shade of wallpaper in which we can drape the usual thoughtless rock music so that it can be sold to a new generation of domesticated rebels.

Black metal had relevance when it was a movement of artists who felt Western civilization had gone down a bad path and had a suggestion of how to reform it: remove its morality of protecting the individual, which translated into protecting the vast herd of anonymous people who fear that someone might wake up and discover that all of society built on morality is a shame. It rejected all that was “good,” and embraced all that was functional yet “bad,” building on 300 years of Romanticism which encouraged the same. As an artistic movement, it had purpose, which meant that not everyone could participate. As soon as they could, the Hot Topic generation seized hold of this music and turned it into a neutered, tame and compliant version of itself so that it would not offend their personal pretense or make them actually controversial, although they gladly accepted the appearance of the same.

As guitarist for Sonic Youth, Moore knows this well. He made his career by dressing up the dissonant protest rock of the 1960s in the veil of distortion inspired by the Ramones, and essentially carries on every trait of the most-played out decade of music ever in a new form. Like a salesman, he finds a way to make you buy the same ugly vacuum cleaner in a new color because now it has a gizmo that winds up the cord faster. But he also knows music, and he is right to bash black metal. It is a pussycat, fat and perched on a luxuriant sofa, which hisses and holds out a trembling claw as we approach, reminding us that it was a tiger, once.

h/t I.O. Kirkwood / Metal Descent

Sadistic Metal Reviews 09-18-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? When Hessians decide they are sick of every random person tagging along for the glory of metal while making the same dreck that big media pushes on us through the pop industry. Make art, make it violent and aggressive, be truthful… or go home as we enjoy your delicious tears.

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Siftercide – Siftercide

Some time ago there was much ruckus in the press because people were using the word “retarded” as a synonym for “extremely stupid.” This died down when people realized that retarded people are actually extremely stupid, generally in the 60-70 IQ range which is typical for Congress but very low for normal people. Siftercide is retarded. The basic idea was to make deathgrind at fast grindcore pace and throw in a few dissonant chords to try to hide the fact that these riffs are boring, these songs are predictable, and this music will generate a headache not because it’s extreme but because it is like listening to a jet engine. Really, screw this. It’s not worth your time or mine.

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Ormgard – Ormblot

Underground metal typically occurs at three speeds: the tempo set by the percussion, the pace of changing chords, and the iteration of tremolo strum. Ormgard makes black metal which frequently slows down the first two with the latter at full pace, creating the kind of atmospheric black metal that distinguished early Behemoth or Ungod. Much of this picks up the straight fast pace of classic black metal with relatively straightforward chord progressions that emphasize melody. Keyboards and howling possum in pain vocals accompany it; the album is sandwiched between two imaginative instrumentals that evoke the feeling of the ancient era. In mood, this album most resembles a less-Gothic version of the first Gehenna work, but picks up the energy like early Ancient to create a sense of conflict and desperation. While this breaks no new ground stylistically, that never struck most metal fans as important. Comparisons to Abigor will be hard to dodge, especially the Orkblut era, and while they are apt aesthetically, Ormgard spreads out further than Abigor for an approach more like that of the original black metal bands exploding from Norway in the early 1990s. Ormblot channels its power into a faithful exploration of this genre and while not strikingly interesting, holds the attention by being non-random and carefully manipulating mood to dark effect.

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Nocturnal Graves – From the Bloodline of Cain

The term metalheads generally use for bands such as this is “straightahead.” Straight out of the 1980s but with black metal vocals, it is high-speed basic riffs and catchy but binary songs. If you did not get enough of Aura Noir, or have an urge to re-live Slaughter Lord in simpler form, this may appeal, but the fundamental lack of musical motion or depth makes this a hard sell for the experienced metalhead. While the aesthetics have changed somewhat, this style of really basic riffing and exuberant simple songwriting has not evolved in 30 years. Its attempts to become more high-intensity end up being repetitive and it flows by and is forgotten when silence returns.

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Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless

If you are not fully paying attention, this album might sound like a good thing. Its style is pure Angelcorpse mated with 1970s heavy metal and some Southern Rock; its approach is to pack in extra riffs to interrupt a verse-chorus loop that focuses on the vocal rhythm of the chorus. No flaws in musicianship, vocals are vicious, but the songs do not really go anywhere. Or maybe a better way to say this is that these songs sound like academic exercises, laboratory experiments or designs on paper: they relate well to their parts but the whole is nothing larger than the linear sum of the parts. The result is much frenetic pounding and guitar raging, hooks grasping at your ears, and then a sense of disappointment as songs drill toward an end that means nothing more than the start. As the album goes on, more of the 1970s hard rock and metal riffs come out to fill space but the result remains uncompelling. This band is more competent than any others in this style but the style itself lacks any grasp on matters of importance and seems to be the metal equivalent of late-night TV. The Hod album we reviewed recently is a better take on this style.

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Colombian Necktie – Twilight Upon Us

Before Kurt Cobain shot himself in a heroin-induced haze, he was fond of saying that metal was out of ideas during the most fertile time in metal history since its inception. If he were around today, however, he would find metalheads buying him beers for saying that metal has run up the flag saying that it is out of ideas. Sludge, not really a hybrid of metal, happens when you mix stoner doom with slow hardcore and probably dates its innovation to the first three Eyehategod albums and slow Integrity songs. Colombian Necktie mix up the dirge-like rage-infused passages of those bands with ordinary Southern-fried rock played uptempo to keep your attention. Nothing stands out as horrible but the whole lacks any compulsion for a listener interested in content. You might as well listen to Huey Lewis and the News if you slow it down and run it through a distortion pedal, because in its core that is what Colombian Necktie and all bands in the sludge style seem to be heading for. If you read it cynically, it is another take on grunge music, which is basically hardcore bands making rocking music and trying to cloak it in metal aesthetics. If you look at any piece of these albums, it is hard to find fault, but if you listen to the whole, you will fall asleep standing up. Most reviewers get their albums free and hear them once and then give it a thumbs up so that the reviewers get promoted along the line by labels who love their spunky and wacky reviews. But if you look at music as a fan, anything you can only listen to one time and do not immediately want to hear again is off the menu, as it should be for Twilight Upon Us and its ilk.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 09-14-14

September 14, 2014 –

we_will_endure

What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? You are mortal; your time is short. Listen to the best and death to the rest! We recognize that music quality is an objective measurement, where “taste” is more subjective. Taste however is easily fooled and leads you and the genre to a place of mediocrity. Thus we select the better options and mercilessly destroy the weak… if you are a false, do not entry!

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Abysmal Lord – Storms of Unholy Black Metal

Borrowing some ideas from the flowing columnar death metal fad/trend of last year, Abysmal Lord attacks this phenomenon from the opposite end, mimicking black metal like Demoncy, Beherit and Blasphemy but giving the music less of a “messy” aesthetic and more of a structured, hard-hitting death metal approach. Perhaps some would call this “blackened death,” but we all know what a waffle that phrase represents. Unlike most of the clone bands, Abysmal Lord merits a second listen for tight compositions and a strong understanding of how to fit together these riffs. Alas as the saying goes there will be nothing new here to shock you, but really what is new? Little: we find music that expresses an emotion and then go with that. In this case, Abysmal Lord creates a sensation like being part of a malevolent fog attacking a city of oblivious burghers with intent to rip out their souls and force them to face the emptiness of the lives they lead. While many riffs cite from earlier bands, the overall feeling of these songs stands on its own, although the band will want to renovate ancient sounds in order to move forward with its own progress.

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Aratron – The Recovery

Aratron creates efficient death metal in the intersection of styles between Centurian and Aura Noir, with lots of high-energy rollover rhythms pervading the riffing. The songs come together tightly and each riff fits in to the simple song structure and makes it more powerful. Like many bands of this type it stays within high-speed and mid-paced tempi and performs most of its motion with guitars over relatively passive drums. Riff forms will strike no one as stunningly new but belonging to this band in a form of its own when heard together. Unfortunately the band possesses a great weakness in the vocals which use chihuahua-style rhythms and sometimes, assemble themselves around the simplest pattern derivable from the song and repeat it slowly without variation in timbre or tone. That subverts some of the subtlety of this work which aims to be full-ahead-go and yet avoid falling into the pitfalls of that style. Periodic melodic breaks are reminiscent of Black Sabbath and show the capacity of this band for building more complex songs even when at heart they favor full-energy riff-chorus loops with a few extra riffs to reinvigorate their momentum. Many of the chord progressions used sound like these guys really like early Mayhem.

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Atara/Miserable Failure – Hang Them

Two grindcore bands comprise this split, Atara who are groovier and Miserable Failure who are more manic. Listening to these, the casual metalhead will recall that grindcore fizzled like a damp fuze in the 1980s not only because all the bands upsold into Led Zeppelin hybrids but because the genre itself is so limited. We get it: short songs, screaming, noise, havoc. But when does the cliché wear thin? When do we realize that we are making a parody of what elders said about our music for three generations? That riffcraft and songwriting take a back seat to novelty? Napalm Death was “cute” on Scum and From Enslavement to Obliteration but they bailed out after that. Carcass moved on after Reek of Putrefaction, and even the mighty Repulsion left it at one album. Within a narrow scope, there is only so much to say, and so grindcore like the previous minimalist experiment in punk rock abolished itself. Atara manages solid songs with a bit of groove between the extravagant flourishes but songs are extremely similar; Miserable Failure sounds like more constant screaming with repetitive droning riffs going on in the background. In one of the great paradoxes of humanity, both are probably at the tops of their genre, and yet that is not enough for a second listen.

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Integrity – Systems Overload

Bands like Neurosis and Integrity inspired the “sludge” revolution in metal by playing post-hardcore slowly and for atmosphere, but what attracted the industry was that as these bands gained experience they began sounding more like regular rock music. This allowed the simple calculus of all record labels: new thing / same old thing = new thing we control. This Integrity album shows the band pulling back from the punk and into the punk rock while keeping the aesthetic — the numerator of the fraction above — of hardcore, but adding in the raw structure (the denominator) of basic rock songs. You will recognize many of the patterns on this album from hard rock and classic rock albums, although to their credit Integrity have thoughtfully modified them and extended them, mixing the single items up across songs so that nothing sounds exactly like something else. In this, Systems Overload is one of the most professional albums to come out of punk; they worked hard on making every bit of this fit within the product range the audience expected but with a new aesthetic so it could be branded and a differentiated product. In that area this album is admirable, and it makes for easy and pleasant listening other than the strained and soar throat vocals, but otherwise it strikes me as music for the inexperienced that would be fun for a season and then discarded.

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Nihilistinen Barbaarisuus – Väinämöinen

This two-song EP evokes the golden days of Bathory with a long and hypnotic track followed by an acoustic instrumental, but owes more to the Norwegian wave such as Burzum and Gorgoroth. Much as with the latter, it composes in the melodic minor scale, and borrows much of its sense of pacing and trancelike riffing from second-album Burzum. This creates a sense of being suspended in time while watching for action to occur within a scene, and the use of flowing tremolo suspends reality much as it did with Gorgoroth and Graveland, another background influence — by the sound of things — on this band. The first track expands to six minutes on a few short themes and develops internal counter-melodies to give them depth (a less-overused version of the technique in Borknagar), which avoids the lazy wandering of bands like Drudkh or Inquisition, and instead creates a deepening sense of mood. The second track uses acoustic instruments and creates a folkish aura for the first, developing similar themes as if shadowing darkness with light. Much like other faithful retro-continuation projects such as Woodtemple, this music maintains integrity and avoids the pitfalls of contemporary music. It may not be the most exciting owing to an internal balance that is not as savagely unbound as Burzum, for example, and to its arrival twenty years after these techniques hammered audiences for the first time. However, unlike almost all from the genre today, Väinämöinen understands how to make beauty in the darkest despair of the human soul, and from that find not a contrarian impulse toward “good” but a desire to resolutely wage war on all that is inferior and thus, raise the darkness to a higher level of clarity that approximates beauty.

Updated version of The Heavy Metal FAQ published

September 10, 2014 –

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Version 2.0 of The Heavy Metal FAQ exists within grasp of your browser. This update and addition to the sprawling work that first began in the early 1990s when a group of die-hard metal fans began writing to each other on USENET, first published in full form in 1996, now contains information on the metal years after the turbulent 1990s.

Running over 100 pages of print in length, The Heavy Metal FAQ covers the origins, history, philosophy and artistic purpose of heavy metal and its many sub-genres including death metal, black metal, NWOBHM, thrash, grindcore, speed metal and proto-metal. Its new and more detailed chronicle of the rise and proliferation of heavy metal reveals the development of this genre and its many offshoots.

Written by a former death metal radio presenter and editor of this site, the document aims to address the common questions that readers and listeners have about heavy metal, and then to go one layer deeper so they can see the motivation behind these artists and the social and historical significance of heavy metal. Not for the faint of heart, much like metal itself, The Heavy Metal FAQ could be a gateway to a lifelong habit of heavy metal reading.

Call for submissions to Folk-Metal: Critical Essays on Identity, Myth and Culture

September 7, 2014 –

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A forthcoming journal on folk-metal, mostly in the pagan metal and viking metal sub-genres, requests that those with essays on the topic submit them for publication next year. The journal focuses on metal bands who use traditional musical instruments, lyrical references to customs and mythology, allusions to traditional culture, or displaying of cultural imagery in performer attire and artwork.

Folk-metal refers to the style of music that arose in the 1990s in Europe which consisted of “fusing traditional or folk music with heavy metal music forms.” The journal lists a number of bands from the power metal, black metal and death metal genres who qualify under this style:

Skyclad (England), Cruachan (Ireland), Finntroll (Finland), Skyforger (Latvia), Amon Amarth (Sweden), Amorphis (Finland), Falkenbach (Germany), Waylander (Ireland), Svartsot (Denmark), Metsatöll (Estonia), Empyrium (Germany), Mägo de Oz (Spain), Silent Stream of Godless Elegy (Czech Republic), Korpiklaani (Finland), Mael Mórdha (Ireland), Alkonost (Russia), Balkandji (Bulgaria), Dalriada (Hungary), Lumsk (Norway), Týr (Faroe Islands), Ensiferum (Finland), Celtachor (Ireland), Eluveitie (Switzerland), Elvenking (Italy), Primordial (Ireland).

Interested writers must submit a 300-word abstract and short biography of 50-100 words to to the editor, Dr Jenny Butler at j.butler@ucc.ie and cc. to butler.Jennifer@gmail.com by November 10, 2014. The final essays must be 4,000-7,000 words and will be due by June 1, 2015.

The journal suggests the following themes as a topical starting point:

  • Folklore, song lyrics, and cultural identity
  • Neo-pagan worldview of the bands
  • History of the genre, participants and events
  • Indigenous religion and mythology
  • Political and/or nationalistic agendas
  • The concept of homeland
  • The representation of deities and mythological beings in songs
  • Heroic elements
  • Fantasy literature
  • Nature, landscape and sacred sites

Burzum releases “how-to” videos for classic songs

September 3, 2014 –

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Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes has released instructional videos showing those out there in black metal fandom land how to play along with a selection of riffs from classic Burzum songs.

The videos, released via Vikernes’ ThuleanPerspective YouTube account, show him playing each riff and explaining its context and purpose in the corresponding song with an ear for atmosphere and emotion.

Ferngully: The Last Rainforest

September 1, 2014 –

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Although it has little in common with the horror movies and apocalyptic fantasies reviewed here, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest won me over with its themes of humans losing touch with nature and becoming greedy narcissistic dorks who then cause the destruction of rain forests.

Warning: this movie is about 1 hour 15 min long and is children’s animated film, thus can be forgiven its heavy-handed approach since we all know that movies for children are basically propaganda from well-meaning but usually delusional dipsomaniac adults. The soundtrack has traditional folk music that sounds mystical and yet upbeat like Dead Can Dance, and this redeems much of the loss of atmosphere that occurs once any story transitions to cartoon.

The story involves loggers using a leviathan of a machine to chop down trees in the last rainforest and polluting the land as well. A human gets accidentally shrunk by the forest spirit (faeries in this case) and sees the reality of the situation and makes attempts to stop this. This evokes a physical/metaphysical antagonist who is like the Satan of forests. He was trapped in the trees in a long-past age but the churning of the machine inadvertently releases him and he melds with the machine and takes control of it. His intent is to finish his diabolical plot to destroy all forests and the life within them, possibly branching out Antaeus-style to destroy all life after that.

Naturally, our heroic characters launch on a quest in situ to defeat this monster. The intro mentions the pre-history: the humans also used to know of the existence of the fairies and during the black-demon cataclysm a Satan figure called Hexxus was spawned whose goal is to destroy the forest, and while the humans ran away and the fairies trapped Hexxus inside a tree. As you can imagine, a restoration of the magic in the soul brings back the fairies and possibly saves the last rainforest.

You probably do not want to watch this as an adult unless you are so drunk that you have an irrepressible urge to destroy rainforests and need a simple, step-by-step guide to changing your attitude. I mostly recommend this for adults to show to children, who are never too young to be taught the right propaganda — and I think this is probably better than the other options — to program them for zombie-like life among the office towers, fast food joints, sewage treatment plants and arms dumps of the modern world.

Krieg releases single from new album Transient

August 12, 2014 –

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Post-metal/black metal hybrid Krieg unleashed the first single from its new album Transient in the form of “Order of the Solitary Road.” This track shows Krieg begin with a standard post-metal introduction, then segue into Taake-era black metal, then ride out most of the track in a Motorhead-inspired road riff. The result is notably better than most of this genre but the introduction of post-metal elements somehow fractures its message and leaves the black metal portions seeming isolated in an oil-on-water mix. Perhaps the direction for this band is to ditch what various music magazines think is a good idea and also discard the black metal, and focus on these Motorhead-style riffs that seem to fit its persona.

The first release from Krieg in over four years, Transient will be released on September 2, 2014 by CandleLight Records. It includes a guest appearance from Thurston Moore of seminal indie band Sonic Youth, and also features a cover of “Winter” by founding crust-punk act Amebix.

The tracklisting is as follows:

1. Order Of the Solitary Road
2. Circling the Drain
3. Return Fire
4. To Speak With Ghosts
5. Atlas With A Broken Arm
6. Time
7. Winter
8. Walk With Them Unnoticed
9. Ruin Our Lives
10. Home
11. Gospel Hand

5 albums that ruined metal

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If you create anything of beauty in this world, people will be attracted to it. They will want what it has, but because achieving that would require them to change themselves, they will instead make a version of your beautiful thing that fits their needs. This will become popular and soon idiots everywhere will adopt their dumbed-down version of your beautiful thing, effectively ruining what you have created.

Over the course of metal’s lifespan, it has several times been afflicted with the curse of popularity. During the middle 1970s, bands began cloning what Black Sabbath did and mixing it with the more radio-friendly sounds of Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who and Deep Purple. The result gave metal such a bad name it required an underground genre, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, to renovate it with punk energy and DIY spirit. Then in the late 1980s, speed metal bands started selling out and making radio-friendly jive that quickly destroyed the genre because no one wanted to associate with it anymore. Only a few years later in 1994, underground metal imploded as clone bands and outsiders began making imitations of the new sound that used songwriting conventions and “values” from other genres. Most recently in the 2000s metal became “socially acceptable” and became basically a cover story for lite jazz and indie/emo which now could claim they were groundbreaking and authentic.

But I digress. Let us look at a brief history of bands that helped ruin metal and see if we can figure out where their influences ended up in today’s milktoast hybrid metal.

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Pantera – Cowboys From Hell

Before this album came along, speed metal had a certain gravitas to it. Songs were about war, human moral conflict, literature and the apocalypse. Then along came Pantera and injected a bro-sized dose of personal drama into it. After Pantera, speed metal included talking about how angry you are, getting drunk and starting fights about whose jeans are out of fashion this season, and raging about your inability to retain women who are not covered in naturally-growing wool. It was a strike of Idiocracy against the intense music of Metallica, Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Testament, Anthrax and Megadeth that dumbed it down to the Belieber level, just with more angsty testosterone. Not only that but the complex songs got replaced by verse-chorus and lots of “emotional” vocals accompanied by softer guitar parts. The path to death for speed metal started with this watered-down, dumbed-down, ego-drama path to stupidity. Luckily after they had made their money, Pantera disappeared and the band members went on to more reputable projects.

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Cannibal Corpse – Tomb of the Mutilated

In the year that death metal reached its peak, Cannibal Corpse release an album that made death metal accessible and in doing so, made it a satire of itself. This is Dethklok before Dethklok. Borrowing from the percussive style that Suffocation innovated, Cannibal Corpse took out all the complex songwriting and replaced it with somewhat complex riffs in predictable format. It took away difficult rhythms and topics and replaced them with I-puke-blood style blockheaded lyrics. They also introduced Pantera-style songs about sexually mutilating women because women are difficult and sometimes all one can get is a brojob back at the frat house. This album crushed the growing death metal movement by putting a giant IDIOTS AND SYCOPHANTS WELCOME sign over the door to the genre and convincing people that songs with blockheaded gore lyrics and simplistic structures under grunting incoherent vocals were more “death metal” than the complex music of integrity that defined the genre at the time.

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Cradle of Filth – The Principle of Evil Made Flesh

Point your TARDIS back to 1994. Black metal was in full-swing, having just put forth all of its founding works and then exploded in a media-fueled inferno of murder, anti-Christian and politically incorrect sentiments. In come the “smart” people who figure they can make a buck off this new phenomenon. Their formula: make Iron Maiden style metal with the new screechy vocals and make it emo so that kids can feel like it sympathizes with their horrible lives where their parents just totally control them and stuff. Then mix in the usual “teen paranormal romance” rambling about vampires and evil and you have baby food for coddled toddlers. It took some brains to like black metal, but Cradle of Filth asks nothing so challenging of its listeners! Even more, this band introduced the “carnival music” style of putting radically different riffs next to each other so that the listener loses track of song structure entirely. These songs are basically advertising jingles and warmed-over Goth rock stuck into second-rate metal, but all the kiddies brought their sweaty dollars to Hot Topic because they felt it “understood them.”

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Meshuggah – None

Right in the middle of 1994 it became clear that black metal and death metal had left the building. They had said what they wanted to; people had to either top it or find some easier and sleazier way to do. Ripping off the percussive textures of Exhorder, Prong and Exodus, Meshuggah came up with a “new” style that consisted of over-extending ideas from previous and better bands. It’s worth mentioning that Meshuggah’s first album was 80s speed metal with death metal vocals, but that it was extremely boring. Meshuggah figured that if they just made their style more dramatic and used lots of choppy riffs with shiny new “complex” polyrhythms, they could fool a new generation into liking their stuff. Without fail, it worked, and now metal bands find it necessary to incorporate the worked-over 70s groove with two-chord texture riffs and claim a “djent” influence. At its core, this band remains the same bad 80s speed metal that failed on its first album.

opeth-orchid

Opeth – Orchid

You can pitch a market one of two ways: on one hand, you can be “just one of us regular guys” and pull a Bruce Springsteen (or warmed over punk); on the other, you can claim that you are so far out and deep that only a few deep people can understand you. The best is to hide the former in the latter so that you are selling the “profundity” of sing-song music for children but it gives them a chance to pop on a Fedora and think they are really so deep, you know totally deep, that no one can be as deep as they are. Opeth sold itself on being “open-minded,” which is this message: we are different from the rest of metal because we use acoustic passages instead of just solid heavy metal riffs. What they choose not to tell their fans is that they are more like everything else that is not metal, so to like this stuff is to admit you fail as a metal listener and go back to pumping radio pap through your Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. But every underconfident basement-dwelling pretentious geek loved this stuff even though it consisted of a simple formula, soft verse and hard chorus, that is most famous for its use among nu-metal bands. Nonetheless, Opeth opened the door for people who wanted to signal to the world how profound and different they were, and now most bands are tinged with the same simpering pander that makes this music sickly sweet and an inch deep.