#metalgate roundup: the censorship continues

March 25, 2015 –

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The ongoing rebellion against censorship in the name of social justice #metalgate continued this week when metal fought back against commercial assimilation. Commercial assimilation and social justice censorship have the same root, which is a desire to make metal “safe” so it can be sold to more people. This requires metal denying its inherently apocalyptic realist nature.

In the most recent case, doofus retailer H&M got trolled when it offered a new line of clothing with fake metal band logos on it, trying to assimilate metal’s subcultural style of dress so conformist herdsters can look like weekend rebels. A member of a goofy metal band thwarted the effort by inventing bands and histories that satirized the clothing line and tied it to nationalist black metal:

Henri Sorvali of Finnish metal bands Moonsorrow and Finntroll admitted to Billboard and Noisey that he is part of Strong Scene Productions, the “art collective” that set metal blogs buzzing by creating fake histories to go along with the imaginary metal band logos attached to some pieces of H&M clothing.

Sorvali says he and a group of people whom he declined to name launched the joke because they were angry at H&M’s campaign — which includes items like a bomber jacket and pants with patches styled to look like metal logos — because it was “selling people fake, imaginary stuff from a subculture that is based on honesty and being true,” he says.

…”There is so much controversial stuff which is definitely not suitable for mass marketing, and we wanted to bring the ugly side of metal to their campaign, to show that we as metalheads are more aware of the content you are selling people that you are as sellers,” Sorvali explained during a phone call from Finland. “There are so many things wrong with commercializing metal without knowing what they are selling that we felt that somebody has to make a statement about it.”

This counter-troll showed great ingenuity and has retailer H&M backing away in denial. The truth is that society fears heavy metal on two levels: conservatives fear it is eroding social standards, despite those standards having been obliterated in the 1960s and 1990s. Liberals fear that it is introducing unwelcome realism that clashes with their spectrum of belief, all of which is based in the Enlightenment idea of individual human reason being superior to natural order, including logic itself.

We shouldn’t forget that censorship of metal bands for being outrageous was common back in the day:

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And remains common to this day, for the same reason:

Politicians caught wind of Eat The Turnbuckle’s European tour before it made its way into Glasgow earlier this week.

Audiences get to listen to their ear-spitting death metal sounds while the members of ETT attack each other with an array of weapons including fluorescent light tubes and baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire.

But despite playing show in Edinburgh, they arrived at Glasgow’s Audio venue only to be turned away over concerns that the police would halt the gig, reports the Daily Record.

While Eat the Turdbuckle seems like a joke band designed to sell records for a gimmick, the fact is that metal’s focus on extremism, or a refusal to ignore the vicious and terrifying sides of life, has made it a target since its inception. Normal people dislike anything which makes them feel as if they are not totally in control of their own lives. Lyrics and imagery of disease, war, apocalypse and evil will disrupt the happy oblivion in which the normal person exists, which was the intent behind heavy metal’s founding: Black Sabbath wanted to interrupt the “peace, love and happiness” apologism for the daily oblivion of humanity, and to inject some “heavy” realism instead. Since that time, metal has continued doing the same when it is at its best, and when it is not so great, has managed at least parodic obscenity that ruffles the feathers of conservatives and makes liberals turn into nagging victim-baiters.

This pattern plays out in more areas than heavy metal. Canadian site Best Gore was censored for its publication of images that revealed both the dark side of life and, by showing that Canada isn’t the paradise under the control of a strong benevolent guiding hand that its leaders want you to think it is, revealing government ineptitude:

Mark was charged with “corrupting morals” under section 163 (1) (a) of the criminal code, for being the first in the world to publish a report on the gruesome murder of Chinese student Jun Lin, by alleged cannibal Luka Magnotta, also known as the 1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick video.

You can see the video below. If you have not figured out that this video might contain disturbing imagery, you have mental health problems. If you require special tags, warning signs and me to make a statement about how I don’t condone this and think it was a horrible tragedy and all the other fake altruistic boiler-plate salesmanship that political figures normally use, you’re a potato and should go somewhere else.

What most people refuse to accept is that censorship is the norm.

People do not like feeling out of control, and they only feel in control when in denial of all the scary things they can’t control like… death, disease, war, apocalypse, evil, and everything else in heavy metal lyrics.

Consider the case of Girls and Corpses magazine, which has not only been banned several times from Facebook, but had censorship issues in other areas:

We’ve had some problems. We did a Religion Is Dead issue and Ingram, I believe, is in Tennessee. They made us bag the magazine, because we did a religion issue. They said it was because of nudity, but there has never been any nudity in the magazine. They didn’t like that we took on religion. We went after all religions and it was comedic. We had Jim Caviezel in the issue. I did an interview with him. We made fun of all religions. Have a sense of humor. The only one we really tiptoed around was Muslims. We love Muhammad. We didn’t tread there.

The editors of Girls and Corpses had this to say about the Facebook censorship:

Sorry I haven’t posed in a day corpses. I was ‘put on notice’ by Facebook after I posted a fully clothed photo of a female, that offended some loony chic who had her Bible Belt cinched too tight. This “community standards” thing at Facebook is censorship pure and simple. Mostly, the offended party is someone jealous of the freedoms that come with G&C Magazine or are simply a humorless twit. If you don’t like something at Girls and Corpses, feel free to just leave. Don’t go whining to Facebook that we have offended you with our images. If you are too sensitive and have no sense of humor why did you friend us in the first place? Girls and Corpses is an intelligence test. The smart ones get the gag and the dumb ones should just get out… preferably at high altitude.

They make an important point, which is that those who call for this censorship are fundamentally not ideological, but seeking a sense of power. They don’t understand it, or it conflicts with their vision of themselves, so they demand it be removed. Facebook, like any other business, does what it can to provide a safe environment for its customers, which means removing things that make people feel unsafe, like nudity, violence, gore, racial comments, sexual innuendo, etc. These things are not the offense that people actually have, which is fear of the bad things that happen which are associated with these ideas. They see the symbol and, like the superstitious simians that humans are, they figure if they can remove the symbol and by doing so remove the awareness in their own minds of what it stands for, they can be in control and feel “safe.” All of that is nonsense on a realist level, but it’s how most customers an voters react.

What this means for #metalgate is that we should not take SJWs seriously. They are no different than the church ladies and feminists who were complaining about Girls and Corpses or the outraged government servants who wanted the Luke Magnotta video removed. They see it as a threat to their personal power. They need a “reason” why it should be taken down, and so they fall back on using social conventions we cannot criticize, like “do it for the children” or “respect the victim’s family” or ideologies which claim to defend the pitied and helpless, like feminism, anti-racism, sexual equality and the like. We make a mistake when we think SJWs believe any of this stuff. In reality, they are using it the same way commercials use sex to sell beer or tough guy images to sell pickup trucks: they want to create a pleasant image, or at least one we cannot imagine criticizing, in our minds and then use it to sell us the product. In this case, it’s their power and importance, because without their outrage they would have nothing and merely be a group of weird-looking socially-dysfunctional mental defectives.

Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship & Rock ‘n’ Roll by Gavin Baddeley

March 19, 2015 –

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Among the many questions that journalists have struggled to answer, the fascination of some rock music and most heavy metal with Satan has ranked highly among them. Some take the pejorative view that it exists merely to offend, but others see in it the desire to create a counter-narrative or opposing philosophy to modern society itself.

Gavin Baddeley, a journalist who covers rock and populist metal alongside occult topics, delves into this project with a book that is both flawed and highly informative. Like a high school text, it begins with a history of Satanism and the occult with a focus on biographical fact and salacious detail more than philosophy. This gives us a vague view of Satanism that keeps the mystery alive, and nudges us toward the LaVeyian view. In this, the paradox of Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship & Rock ‘n’ Roll reveals itself: it is a journalistic exploration of the surface, namely what people say about the phenomenon of Satanism in music, not an explanation of their motivations.

Witness for example this exchange with Bathory’s Quorthon:

How did the Satanism get into your music?

When we first started, we had no ambitions to make records or write songs — we just wanted to cover Motorhead songs, because that’s what we’d grown up with. We’d just left school, so while other bands sang about drinking beer, fucking women and riding motorcycles, we didn’t know anything about any of that because we were too young. But we did have an innate interest in the dark side of life. It wasn’t purely Satanic from the beginning, it just grew into that. It was a protest, revolt thing — we knew it would upset people one way or another. If you look at it today, it all seems so very innocent. The main inspiration came from a Swedish horror comic called Shock. It was just the blood and gore thing, with a tongue-in-cheek approach…I didn’t have much of an academic knowledge of Satanism, though that came later as I got deeper into it. I started reading into the Christian side of it, too, which is when I decided that it is all fake, so the Viking elements started coming into my work.

This book is paradoxical because while it explores Satanism as a phenomenon, it accidentally hits a lot of other interesting notes about rebellion in general and the dislike of modern society held by metalheads. Its strength lies in its interviews with many leading figures not just in heavy metal but in various forms of occult rock and populist shock-rock. Once the reader gets through the Wikipedia-level introduction to Satanism through famous people accused of being evil, the book runs through a competent history of evil rock music and heavy metal, touching on the important acts with an uncanny ability to find thought-leaders in this area.

As it ventures further into heavy metal, this volume provides a detailed exploration of the death metal and black metal years which recite the major facts, provide some new details, and avoid rampant speculation. At this point as a reader I found myself liking this book, despite having been annoyed by the first chapters of history, and found its insights were greater than one would expect from a journalist outside of underground metal. There are some missteps but sensibly Baddeley allows the book to essentially trail off into interviews with interesting people who are vaguely evil, and does not police forms of Satanism to enforce an agenda. Thus the paradox again: a surface view of Satanism, but many ideas are allowed to emerge to show us the background thought behind those drawn to this general direction, even if no coherent philosophy emerges and so most of it seems like a trash heap of comedic contradictions, bold assertions, mistaken and inverted Christian notions and the like.

Some moments are simply good humor, such as this interview with the legendary Paul Ledney of Havohej/Profanatica/Revenant/Incantation:

What do you think of love?

I don’t know — I love sodomy

Many of the interview questions are excruciatingly obvious and repeated, but this is how Baddeley breaks down his subjects and gets them to finally articulate the core of their thinking on an issue, much like frustrated people often give the best summaries of an idea after they have tried to express it repeatedly to others. This both provides some insight, and creates a lot of redundancy in the interviews which add to the confusion of the topic and the consequent tendency of the reader to zone out. Still there are some exceptions, like this cutting to the chase with Varg Vikernes of Burzum:

Why do you and Euronymous have such a great hatred of the Church of Satan?

Satanism is supposed to be something forbidden, something evil, something secret, something people don’t know anything of. You go to America and in the telephone directory you can see ‘Church of God,’ ‘Church of Jesus’ and ‘Church of Satan.’ You call, and a woman answers, ‘Church of Satan, may I help you?’ You think, ‘This isn’t Satanism! Some stupid fuck is trying to ruin everything.’ The superstitious part of it falls apart. The Church of Satan deny Satan, they say He doesn’t exist, yet they act as if He did, they rebel against God. They call themselves Satanists because He also rebelled against God, but they’re basically light- and life-worshipping individualists.

How interesting that he picked up on individualism as the dominant trait of mainstream Hollywood Satanism. It is as if the ultimate rebellion is to transcend all barriers, including the final one in the self. The interviews in this book are often like metal itself, half amateurish lazy drop-out and half insightful dissident looking for a way outside of the tenets of modern society. In that much of the value of this book emerges, not so much as a study of Satanism itself but as a look at the psychology of opposition, with Satanism as a helpful focus that covers for the real story, which is a revelation of discontent with the philosophies of our time. While Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship & Rock ‘n’ Roll does not dig deeper than that, as a read-between-the-lines experience this book is worth its weight in gold and reveals far more than it could under its ostensible topic.

Maanes – Under Ein Blodraud Maane

March 15, 2015 –

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When a genre performs a postmortem on itself as black metal is about to do, it looks back through the years not only to find its peaks, but to find its forgeries. Like the first real black metal forgery, Ulver Nattens Madrigal, Maanes is an artistic fraud that uses the technique of black metal for its own sake, without having any idea of the underlying expression. It does not matter what that expression is because it cannot be policed with a list of rules, but the fact that it exists in actual black metal and not here is a matter of historical record.

“Sensitive guy” metal was nothing new when this was released. Opeth had already been mincing around the edges of the underground for a few years, following up on melodic softer death metal from Tiamat and Cemetary. Paradise Lost was huge and so was the idea of “crossover,” since everyone and their dog realized black metal had a narrow set of ideas that required exceptional people to implement, and that with those exhausted there was now a market for imitators. Maanes starts with the proposition that Burzum can be cloned, and to make that clone palatable to the kids emerging from the suburbs like spores from fungus, this clone could be hybridized with light progressive rock like Pink Floyd. The result is 90% black metal tropes laid out in mellow songs that develop seemingly independently of the melodic and corresponding artistic implications of the riffs, making an experience that is pleasant on the surface but leaves a gnawing emptiness from its failure to deliver the kind of profound transport and insightful revelation that black metal provided.

What makes this release hard to attack is that it is well-executed, well-produced and carefully concealed. Maanes are not amateurs; more likely, they are guys who got tired of having no success in other genres despite being better musicians than the people who were making the big bucks and getting their names in the newspapers. Like other Burzum clones of the era, most notably Abyssic Hate, Maanes make good use of Burzum sweep technique and even give a nod to Filosofem with the production. Using grandiose keyboards alongside somewhat obvious riffs capitalizing on known black metal patterns, Maanes keep up the black metal “sound” but these songs never go through the emotional process of discovering what lies beneath and so rapidly the listening experience becomes like hearing a front-loading washer finish up a duvet cover, if the washer had a good background in rock guitar.

The tragedy of black metal is that while it cannot be cloned it can be imitated, and so bands like Ulver and Maanes emerged to put a black metal surface on the same stuff they would have done with their Oingo Boingo cover bands a few years before. Interestingly, the technical competence as songwriters of these bands has declined over the years as nu-black has set its sights more on punk than on progressive rock. The approach remains the same and the effect similarly hollow, leaving listeners wanting more but not sure they want more of this. These sprawling songs carefully disguise how much they repeat their themes, often for seven minutes at a time, in what is essentially verse chorus songwriting that every two repetitions interrupts itself with a brief divergence. Newer bands do not even bother to do that, but make straight-up pop songs with black metal distortion and a few riff archetypes. Nods to Burzum, Darkthrone and Mayhem bubble to the surface throughout this release but it is unable to build context for its riffs to create the kind of atmosphere that those founding bands manipulated so well. The result is like every other aspect of modern society, ultra-competent on the surface and directionless within.

Demoncy re-issues re-recorded Empire of the Fallen Angel

March 8, 2015 –

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Musicians who go back and improve former works get all respect from me. For example, Godflesh re-imagining Love and Hate as a dub album, or even the recent Nausea re-working of demo-era material. Demoncy — long the reigning black metal band from the United States — announced the re-issue of its fourth album as Empire of the Fallen Angel (Eternal Black Dominion) which will see release on Forever Plagued Records in 2015.

This re-issue follows the new version of Joined in Darkness which will be available March 9, 2015 on both gatefold vinyl and digipack CD with an inverted cross booklet layout. Where that album was remastered, Empire of the Fallen Angel was re-recorded by Ixithra during 2013-2014 and may be substantially altered from the original.

For more information, see the Forever Plagued Records website.

Mütiilation – Vampires of Black Imperial Blood

March 1, 2015 –

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In the 1990s, there dwelled a cabal of musicians in France called Les Légions Noires which specialized in basic, raw, occult black metal. Many of the LLN releases were superb, most however, were significantly less than appealing. One of the more exceptional records to be served out of this French cauldron is Mütiilation’s debut album Vampires of Black Imperial Blood.

Stylistically, this album is similar to Black Funeral in terms of both riffing approach and occult fascination. This release works on its ability to place the listener upon the fulcrum between terror and nightly beauty. Cavernous rivers of melody advance and collide in such a way that it plunges the listener through a gloomy current that fluctuates between those two sensations until they are indistinguishable.

Vampires of Black Imperial Blood is often eclipsed by the oppressively colossal Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul that would come later. This makes sense because their sophomore effort does indeed leave a more lasting impression. However, to skip over this album would be a mistake as it nails down the grisly basis for the mastery to come.

Alchemyst – Nekromanteion

February 22, 2015 –

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Purveyors of occult black/death Alchemyst introduced their ominous presence in the underground in 2009 only to seclude themselves in 2014. During that time the band released three demos, a compilation, a split, and the full length effort in question, Nekromanteion. While the atmosphere that this band deploys finds kinship in the mystic aura of black metal, its genesis lies in the archaic realms of ultra-cryptic riff-labyrinth death metal.

Alchemyst manifests through cavernous, dark death metal with an atmosphere that crushes the listener under pressure while simultaneously enervating them with despair. Songs are comprised of unique, murky, and arcane riffs that resound varying moods, which creates a dark and meancing instability. The compelling essence of the atmosphere originates in the unpredictable motion of the music, which varies both tempi and riff form on a constant basis, like musical quicksand obliterating any consistency or hope wherever it finds it. Bass plays an equally vital role in the dynamics of the song, both structuring songs through foreshadowing, and traversing a vitriolic, dark tone that goes hand in blender with the chaos that the guitars conjure. Penetrating the sense as though breathing serpent fire, the ensuing descent feels like having a luminous light permeating your body and devouring it like nuclear explosion from the inside out.

Alchemyst share a kinship with contemporary abyss-dwellers such as Antediluvian, Abyssal, and Lantern, in its use of dark, meditative resonance as the basis of its mood. However, it takes a different route toward instability, which is to base its sound in unexpected variation rather than constant grinding.

Chalice of Blood – Helig, Helig, Helig

February 16, 2015 –

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This album presents a perfect case study in wallpaper black metal and a discussion of its apologetics. The title, formed from three repetitions of the Swedish word for “holy,” incurs two different wallpaper metal infractions: pointless repetition of riffs and pointless contrasting ideas.

Pointless repetition of an entire rhythm or riff, as opposed to reusing a theme in a different context, occurs when a composer has one of several possible aims. Traditionally this has been to let the listener get familiar with an idea, to let it sink in, as some would say. The most popular aim of repetition in the more ambient-oriented black metal field is to create atmosphere. The aim of the latter is to lead the listener beyond familiarity with the riff and into a kind of stupor. The listener is taken into this state with the purpose of preparing him for something else: a deeper dream level, as it were, which would follow. But apologetics of wallpaper music claim that all ambient-oriented repetition, even the one they themselves may admit to being meaningless, achieves its goal if it brings the listener to the aforementioned state of stupor without necessary deepening of mood.

Pointless contrasting ideas serve to redirect of a musical path or modify the nature of the stupor in which the listener is in, such as from an anger-fueled one to another infused by sadness or even happiness. The use of a contrasting idea makes sense if it interacts with its context and primarily with its adjacent riff sections, much as in writing each sentence in a paragraph must relate to the topic and the sentences before and after it. When contrast lacks that purpose in context, it becomes a technique for distracting from the stupor so that the listener does not realize that the trick behind the stupor is repetition alone and it will lead nowhere, which converts a dream-state into a state of boredom in instants.

Wallpaper Music

Wallpaper is defined as: “paper that is pasted in vertical strips over the walls of a room to provide a decorative surface.” It provides a decorative surface only without reference to what surrounds it. Its context does not matter so long as it covers a blank surface and provides something to look at. It is not meant to have any meaning. The frescoes, carvings or statues of classical art, on the other hand, were meant to be both pleasing to the eye and to convey a certain meaning, inviting the visitor into a different dimension (in the mystic-spiritual metaphorical sense).

Now the following question assails us, would someone completely unfamiliar with Western art become induced into the mental state that the authors of such art intended? Not necessarily. The degree to which that person’s reaction to art approaches that which was intended depends directly on the similarity of the background in culture and experience of the subject to that whence the artwork sprung from. This, like context, comprises the memories that give a new musical figure meaning.

In fact, herein lies our key to reverse engineering intention (of the author) and/or purpose (which may be independent of the author’s conscious intent) in music. This key is context. Let us be clear here that this does not refer to Epistemic Contextualism, which does not lead to a discussion on inherent meaning arising from some original intention but to that of attributed meaning as interpreted in any situation, even alien contexts to that which gave rise to the original product. The intended meaning of context in this article is precisely the conventional one described in the previously linked article as:

…certain features of the putative subject of knowledge (his/her evidence, history, other beliefs, etc.) or his/her objective situation (what is true/false, which alternatives to what is believed are likely to obtain, etc.)…

This allows us to appreciate the sense and coherence of a work independently of if we agree with its tenets. On a separate but related note, it is also from this vantage point that its connection to a more transcendent nature can be gauged, since the particular context, that which is temporal, is known.

Analyses, use, limitations and power

Perceiving context in a particular way and analyzing a problem in the real world is the subject of studies that produce methods to approach them. Everything that is perceived is subjective in the sense that depending on our experience and background we may highlight and give importance to different factors. After that, methods are devised to point out objective qualities that are pertinent to the aspects we want to analyze. This is true of mathematical analysis, and even of scientific analyses in chemistry and physics.

Of course, there is a catch here. The complexity, in terms of scope, of what is being analyzed matters in no small measure to the objectivity of the results. In the case of the sciences, the scope is reduced to what is known while assumptions are made about what is not known and then, given the reduced and strictly defined boundaries of what is being analyzed (which is usually not the whole system but rather a model of the system), completely objective results are obtained in the context of the reduced-system model. As a more knowledgeable person in the field would put it:

The larger the scope of the analysis of a system becomes, the more assumptions regarding the conditions that enable the system to behave in a certain way become present. Sometimes these assumptions are made deliberately, but sometimes they are present unknowingly. This is due to the complexity associated with an increasing scope of analysis, which makes it unfeasible to obtain a straightforward solution. Furthermore, complexity is associated with the relationship among the different factors (variables) and the system/phenomena being observed. — L. Garrido

The error factor grows alongside this scope and it may even become unmeasurable if we do not know how to precisely quantify a particular element like purpose or intention. Which is precisely why they are not included in the scope of any scientific analysis. It must also be clarified that the error factor of a problem does not represent its concrete error, but the maximum magnitude of all possible errors. Meaning our analysis could indeed be perfect, although this is unlikely.

Analysis in Music

In music, a very wide scope must be admitted into its analysis. This is necessarily so since we acknowledge that music is much more than the notes themselves, than the organization of these notes alone, than the context in which they are perceived, or the intentions of the artist. Musical quality encompasses all of them at the same time and, in a Renascentist-Magical holistic view, ultimately engenders a separate entity altogether which is none of these elements and is rather born from all of them. Any music analysis consists on the breaking of music down to its components with the aim of understanding how they function as parts of a greater whole.

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One of the most intriguing techniques for the analysis of “conventional” tonal Western music is called Schenkerian analysis. This was a system named after the theorist who devised it, Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935). It consists of demonstrating how music can be divided into a hierarchy of notes which range from background indispensable notes to more those of a more “auxiliary” nature, although the terms “neighboring” and “passing” are more suitable since they do not carry such a strong connotation of these notes being less part of the music. Before him came Arnold Bernhard Marx (1795-1866) whose revolutionary way of analysing music included judging the purpose, character and direction in music independently of the composer’s conscious awareness through the subdivision of sections until one finds indivisible components. These can belong to one of two kinds: the self-sufficient and assertive Satz or the motion-oriented, forward-moving Gang. Schenker’s method is, in a way, a formalization of the more intuitive process of Marx, who used a more holistic approach (and a wider scope, more assumptions), into a more mechanical approach — though still subjective to a certain degree.

Despite wild claims by detractors of this way of analyzing music which want to reduce Schenkerian analysis to subjective make-believe so as to dismiss any objective value in it, an argument is to be made in favor of its objective and logic and characteristics. The user of this analysis at his best can be compared to a detective following clues. The best detectives are not clueless idiots blindly following a manual. Detectives first take note of context, use psychology and decipher motives and even subconscious processes that the criminal himself might not be aware of. There is a lot of guessing involved, but educated guessing, which while being subjective interpretation cannot just be dismissed as simple opinion (in the passive-derogative and dismissive sense) since it follows a method based on objective points. It is important, of course, to point out that the detective also relies heavily on experience.

It is here that we turn again to the idea of context. The ideas of direction, stability and instability, and character inherent to these style of analyses is born out of concrete knowledge of the development of music during the Common Practice Period (roughly 1600s up to 1900). These are “concrete” in the sense that they were not just an archaeological approach to understanding the past, in which the theorist is separated from the data in question and is always forced to look at it from the outside. Rather, the theorists who developed these analyses were part of the musical “subculture” (and the culture at large which encases it and is an audience to it) which engendered the music they studied. So their subjective views and experience are, in my opinion, validated as relevant by that same fact that places them as insiders.

The reader might rightly question this last claim denouncing that this in itself cannot possibly give the theorists and historical critics license to judge the music at the subjective levels previously mentioned. I will address this by calling attention to the music theory “standard”, or rather a “musical language”, that came into being in the first half of the 17th century thus producing what we know now as the Common Practice Period. This language is based on harmony that is built by contrapuntal norms, avoids certain musical effects and favors a narrative style. From its very beginning up until the 19th century, a certain significance, as meaning in a spoken language, was attributed to musical phrases, melody direction and movement, harmonic tension or instability, together with rhythm. What is relevant about this is not that these beliefs existed, but that they were part of the music education and culture of that time. The rules and conventions (even the ones relating to extra-musical implications) by which these theorists and critics measured and judged music were the same that the composers themselves ascribed to. This does mean that some of the less talented critics would see superficial aspects as set in stone, but this was not true of A.B. Marx who saw music as an everflowing, ever-evolving transformation of styles whose steps beyond what he knew in his time were only as visible as vague shapes in the horizon.

Is the application of Western European analysis and philosophy to metal music really justified?

Now, if this analysis belongs to the Common Practice Period, would it be fair to apply it to metal music? After all, the processes that produced Metal music are different. It would not make sense to apply the same analysis to Iranian or Indian music which follow their own systems whose musical constructions have inextricable spiritual and religious significance in the culture that engendered it. Neither would we thus judge jazz, which is the result of African-American music borrowing European art music notions to produce a language and a more sensual purpose of its own. My opinion is that we can say jazz gets excused because the ultimate product is more African-American than European.

When taking a look at music and judging its “coherence” one can metaphorically refer to it as its logic. When taking a look at a logical argument, we first take look at the premises or assumptions and from there follow it through its process. If the argument fails to make sense based on its premises we can say it has failed. The same applies to music. We can judge musical construction according to the premises it sets for itself. The style it chooses, yes, but more importantly, the general music language (Iranian classical music has different harmonic notions and goals, for example, as does jazz) it chooses for itself.

Metal starts with Black Sabbath taking rock-based music (which itself subscribes to the use of Common Practice Period harmony, but used in a more mechanical way to produce simple verse-chorus music) and bringing back the more theme-based approach of horror movie soundtracks. Soundtracks which were themselves inspired on 19th-century Romantic music. From then on metal develops as this rock-and-dark-Romantic musical hybrid and at different points borrows elements from other music genres but always distinguishing itself as Metal by always keeping an entrenched Romantic music orientation. One can then distinguish deserters who fled to the rock camp by abandoning of this orientation (Metallica is a clear example). The more the genre evolved the more marked the difference between rock defectors and those who remained metal became. This is because the latter would try to distinguish themselves more from the rock element which was so prominent in the former. This is the process that originally gave rise to the terms sell-out and underground. It must be clarified that what is meant here is not that the rock element in any music is bound to produce poor music.

The only constant at the heart of metal then, is the Romantic sense of theme-based music with a serious and heavy character. From this point it follows that the “premises” that metal has chosen for itself stem directly from the Common Practice Period in general. This does not mean that we should try to read metal music as we would read a Beethoven symphony — at least not on the surface. The characteristics that metal has borrowed from classical music affected the genre at multiple levels and thus surfaces in different bands in different ways and to different degrees. We cannot judge all metal in the same way either because just as different musical genres choose different languages (different premises for their arguments), so it is that different bands choose dialects of their own which require us to understand them and part from there on. But they must be seen as precisely that: dialects of the broader language of metal. Thus they still fall under the umbrella of our discussion (Ildjarn would be a particularly interesting case to discuss as its surface and the first impression it gives one leaves no room for obvious comparison to Romantic traits).

One understands the intense repetition of some black metal as stemming from the same purpose it has in electronic music. Black metal remains metal because it still ascribes to the dark-Romantic principles metal is defined by. Part of this is tonality and how harmony is used to create movement, which along with rhythm creates pulse and is tied by theme and the large-scale interplay of sections. Part of it is the more complex interpretation of how the character of each section and song speaks out and relates to the other sections or songs.

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This character was an important trait during the Common Practice Period and it plays an important role in metal. When it goes unchecked, even if the outer technical aspects of music were all carefully crafted, the inner sense is perceived to be empty or messy. This thinking was very evident in the thoughts of both great composers and historical critics from the Romantic period such as Philipp Spitta (1841-1894) whose biography of Johann Sebastian Bach reveals extensive discussion, analysis and critique that encompasses everything from historical context and evolution of genres along with their influence over the German master, to detailed score analysis and explicit separation of what he refers to as “inside” and “outside” musical traits. The latter being musical expression itself, the structures, and the former being the character/aura/personality of not only the music pieces themselves but also of individual sections and their relation to the whole.

Modern metal unknowingly fails catastrophically by trying to create interest out of pure contrast. Still, some of the best modern bands keep a constant style and even use theme to tie a song together, but little or no evident thought is put into the aura of each section of a song and its balance with the rest of the song (see Fallujah).

The modern variety of metal bands which identify as “technical” (as opposed to Atheist, Immolation or Gorguts which were dubbed so after the fact) try to create interest by approaching this as if it were a textbook exercise, playing with the theme, placing it in different contexts, creating smart texture changes and witty variations. Since all that was cared about was the technical correctness of the piece, the evocation power of the music is negligible as it is not born out of Idea, but out of technical exploration (see Ara). The apologist comes in at this point and says that “emotion” is also in the process and that all parts are judged by passing them through this emotional filter. This is never denied here. But this statement would actually reinforce the notion that this music follows a backwards process: outside to inside, rather than inside to outside. The writer of purely technical music uses hard logic to drive his music creation and then judges it from an emotional vantage point. This works for science, but it spells out death for art.

Whereas in all productive men instinct is the truly creative and affirming power, and consciousness acts as a critical and cautioning reaction, in Socrates the instinct becomes the critic, consciousness becomes the creator — truly a monstrous defect. — Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, Chapter 13

This general idea has been understood in the European classical music traditions for centuries and awareness of it has given the world some of the most refined and whole works of art music. It is only in our post-modern era that we erroneously want to strip everything away from its original meaning and validate poor art by arguing that all that matters is the writer’s own intentions, which nobody can guess or question.

Defenses for Wallpaper Music

The most stalwart wallpaper music apologist is bound at this point to support the previous statement by stating the fact that our modern culture (and even more specifically, that our metal subculture) is very different from that which engendered classical Romantic music. While I consider this argument to be debatable, I will concentrate on the biggest issue that comes out as a result of this reasoning as a whole. This is the idea that because modern artists are free to choose how to express themselves they can pick from any musical-philosophical camp and just smash it together, twist it around in whatever way they see fit or their limited organizational skills and inspiration allows them to, with little or no justification other than their “need” or “right” to express individuality.

Allowing that artists are, indeed, free to choose their means of expression, their music can be rubbish in the context of the language they choose if they attempt to use it in ways it was not meant to be used. Can a previous “musical alphabet” give rise to a new “musical language”? Yes, and this is precisely what jazz and metal (separately and in very different directions, the former separating itself far more from a philosophical perspective while the latter remained akin in spirit) have done with Common Practice Period theoretical knowledge or general concepts.

A “smart” wallpaper apologist remark here is that we at DMU “fetishize” the European classical music outlook. But we do not ask bands to ascribe to the metal language which has explicit ties to that European tradition. If a band does not want to be judged from this perspective, then choose a different set of premises, a different language to speak. I would be very interested in witnessing attempts at using metal instrumentation to play music built on the principles of traditional Indian music. It would not be metal, but it would be a thing of its own with coherent expression.

Does it mean that everyone making music has to subscribe to already-existing musical languages and that there is nothing new to be had so that we can only indulge in superficial variations? This is what post-modern short-sightedness would have us believe and in doing so somehow justify the trivial superficiality of the so-called experimental bands. But then you can turn to great composers such as Arnold Schoenberg(1874-1951) and Olivier Messiaen(1908 – 1992) who effectively created brand new musical systems for them to express the music they wanted. They were both world-renowned advanced composition professors, which says a lot about how difficult it is to single-handedly accomplish such a task. Furthermore, as Uri O’Reilly’s article Developmental variation and underground metal implies, defined constraints and limits that guide genres and the languages they speak do not themselves imply a prison for the mind or shackles for creativity, but rather a tool much like a sniper rifle’s scope to reach precise and far-off targets. Bands that build incoherent music out of disparate musical languages or fail to use their chosen language effectively and expect the listener to submit to the purely emotional shock of the music, or worse, listen to exuses and rationalizations to “explain” the art, have missed the point: context is meant to be referred to, much as we expect language to have consistent approximate meaning. To ignore that meaning is communicate with no one, whether in music or the written word.

Defenders of wallpaper music will react in a populist manner and say that all that matters is that one likes the music, and ask rhetorically and spuriously who is to judge music otherwise. To assume that art should have meaning is to judge one subjective experience over another, they say. Some might say that in that case, anything deemed to be wallpaper from a point of view might be seen as meaningful from another. While this may be theoretically true, in application it is the same as claiming that spewing random syllables cannot be labeled as gibberish since they may, in fact, mean something in some hypothetical human language. The next wallpaper apologist complaint here would consist of pointing out that while language has hard and precise meanings (which is actually, not entirely true), music appeals to general emotions and moods and so, if the work accused of being wallpaper achieves some sort of reaction in the listener that produces coherent thought, then it has “meaning”. But this, again, is just the same as the random syllables reminding anyone of something in his own language and thereby acquiring a meaning provided from the outside.

Return to Chalice of Blood Heilig, Heilig, Heilig

Just like Romantic-era critics with knowledgeable background and cultural familiarity with their genres allowed them to make criticisms not only of technical construction (outer traits) but also of character and sense (inner traits) of the classical music of their time, so is the educated metal critic who understands the objective nature and origins of metal endowed with the same capacity to dissect metal music.
A track by track approach to Chalic of Blood Heilig, Heilig, Heilig will illustrate the concept of wallpaper music and reveal its failing as a method of artistic communication.

We start off with “Hoor-Paar-Kraat”, which, if seen as a song or independent piece fails immediately as it consists of a chord progression in four bars in standard time signature played through 1:39 minutes with no variation besides different pick-up and ending percussion patterns, and a background guitar strumming the same chord progression in different ways (more sparsely here, more vehemently there). One is then tempted to see it as just an introduction, a sort of prelude to what is to come.

It is then that we face “Nightside Serpent” whose structure consists of an introductory or main riff followed by two distinct verse riffs. The riffs talk to each other convincingly in their contrast and similarity. They clash against each other in a way that makes one think of the classic of classics, “Transilvanian Hunger”. But while Darkthrone used as little as two riffs per song in that album to create whole sections with functions ranging from intro, to verse to a sort of ramp into meditative climax, only to bring us back to its initial aura, Chalice of Blood’s song is simply that: a main riff, a verse, a second verse. This is simply played two times and brought to an abrupt and meaningless end at the 3:19 minute mark. It is here that we start to suspect that the presumed introductory track may just be a taste of the incompleteness and vacuity of this music.

The third track goes by the title of “Shemot.” It can easily be divided in four parts. The pick-up measures are soft and consist of a strummed chord bent by a whammy bar which applies vibrato at the same time. Then the first of these parts is a Darkthrone-intense section with use of the raw energy of hard-picked tremolo and fast Immortal blast beats. This section dissipates into the second. The texture changes drastically into sparsely strummed chords and mid-paced double-bass drums to the beat of a snare in duple time. We then climb back to the intense texture shown in the second section as a way of climaxing that brings back the riding first riff to function as outro as well. This all happens in 3:18 minutes. The focus here is how much “atmospheric black metal” riffs can they use contrastingly to create shock. Other than that, there is little eloquence to this.

“The Communicants” is probably the most deplorable song in this album with the most obvious wallpaper thinking displayed. The whole song is built by repeating the same slow-moving chord progression of 8 measures from beginning to end. The only thing that signals different points in the piece are the drum patterns and the presence or absence of the vocals. This repeating chord progression is not used as one would see one of the German master composers create vast amounts of content through clever variations and chaconnes, but it literally consists of repeating the exact same music ad nauseam. Or ad 7:11 minutes, to be precise.

Finally, we reach the last inconsequential, empty track named “Transcend the Endless.” In here we are presented with 3:30 minutes worth of the same minimalist black metal approach sans substance.

Albums such as these remind us how little understood monuments such as Transilvanian Hunger really are. The greatness of the classic lies in the careful use of the least number of riffs in arrangements that together with voice and drums created complex structures with cleverly placed articulation points. The minimalism of Darkthrone’s masterpiece is only in how little tools and riffs they used. It is not a minimalism of complexity of thought or construction.

A blatantly simple music which expects emotional shock and some consistency in style to do all its work, Chalice of Blood Helig Helig Helig gives us almost twenty minutes of essentially nothing. Nothing except transient noise.

Mainstream media discovers Mayan-themed metal, ignores black metal past

February 13, 2015 –

quetzalcoatl

Darling writers and poor researchers at L.A. Weekly have discovered Eduardo Ramirez, composer for post-black metal band Volahn, and his use of Mayan imagery:

A large shipment of a new heavy metal album to Germany, home to one of the genre’s most rabid fan bases, isn’t exactly breaking news. But when the subject matter isn’t the typical black metal tropes of Satanism and misanthropy, but instead pays tribute to Mayan civilizations and cultures of centuries past, it’s a testament to how well Ramirez is spreading his unique vision.

While his quest is surely a good one, he’s far from the first to do this.

Black metal included nationalism among its ideals, which meant singing in your native language about your native culture, whether that was Nordic or Mayan.

Several bands, most notably Xibalba with their classic Ah Dzam Poop Ek, have written about Mayan topics. Add to that list Xolotl from Mexico. In Austin, ex-Masochism guitarist Juan Torres created Ayasoltec, an Aztec-themed metal band, almost a decade ago.

It’s great to see bands endorsing their native culture, language, religion and folkways. However, it’s not something new; it’s a part of black metal, which the mainstream media like L.A. Weekly has spent years denying exists.

Burzum releases new track “Mythic Dawn”

February 5, 2015 –

myfarog-cover

Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes demonstrates a long history of crossing over between worlds. With Burzum, he crossed black metal with the cosmic space ambient music (RIP Edgar Froese) that defined the best of the previous decade, and now with his newer folk/ambient work he crosses over between the world of role-playing games, philosophies that get bast the postmodern thought-loop which has stalled humanity for the past century, and the inspiration in warfare, wizardry and medievalism that distinguished the aesthetics of his black metal.

In releasing the new track “Mythic Dawn,” Vikernes shows us a work in progress with a somewhat sparse but distinct track in the style of the second half of The Ways of Yore, specifically “Autumn Leaves” for the shimmery distorted background guitar effect and “The Lady of the Lake” for the plodding slightly offtime loop of neo-tribal drums over a simple bidirectional chord progression. As a work in progress, the new track is naturally sparser, but the chord progression seems very basic and song structure less integrated with its own purpose, which suggests this is a very early conceptualization of this track without the traditional Burzum “magic” being added. As musicians age, they often retreat into the realm of techniques and textures such as specific samples or types of melody, and this can adulterate the material that in their younger years they would have agonized over until all of it had an intensity of its own and none fit within a template, even if of their own making. With some luck and gumption Burzum will not avoid that fate.

As part of the video, Vikernes reveals pages of his Myfarog role-playing game (similar to Dungeons and Dragons, usually abbreviated “D&D”) and in the text on the background image of the video describes its appeal to those who, like Vikernes, have rejected modernity not just as an experience but as a concept entirely and seek alternatives outside of the realm of what modernity can describe. The game looks complex, and the song is promising for its initial stages although it looks like it will require some work, and so the audience looks on with interest at this evolving event and hopes for more.

Codex Obscurum – Issue Six

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Underground metal zine Codex Obscurum gained an audience for its focus on music of an underground nature without the associated fetishism of image and product obsession that blights most zines no matter how underground. In that sense, it was a regression to the healthier times of the 1990s, when fanzines were fan-oriented instead of label-oriented, and both old and new audiences have delighted in it for five issues.

Contemplating Issue Six of this magazine shows how far it has come and how it has not lost any of the delight in the music that marks a good fanzine. Over the past several issues the focus of the magazine has shifted to interviews and reviews, and this shows in the much wider coverage that Codex Obscurum achieves with Issue Six. More bands see print in this issue and, through greater experience of interviewers, questions cover a wider range. The issue starts with an interview with War Master, whose albums regularly feature in our best-of lists around here. While this interview is short, it provides the vital news that this band is working on a second album and an EP, and talks about touring and general attitude of the band after switching vocalists. After this follows a thoughtful and probing interview with (the New) Mayhem guitarist Teloch, which contains mostly striking revelations about the black metal scene and its relationship to political correctness. For those of us more inclined to avoid newer versions of once-classic bands, this shows insight into the thought process behind the current “scene.” Further interviews with Anatomia, Lantern, Obliteration, Rottrevore, Symptom, Acid Witch, Castle Freak, Impaled Nazarene, Fister, Hecate Enthroned and Ritual Decay. The interviewers in all of these approach the subject with knowledge and tailor their questions to the subject’s personality, which brings out more of the people behind the bands.

One of the bigger changes since the last issue appears in the abundance of reviews that Issue Six has to offer. These take two forms: mid-length descriptive and personalitied reviews, and semi-dismissive Haiku form reviews that often tell more than a few pages of labored, assiduous writing. The descriptive reviews offer a practical assessment of how a metal listener might approach an album in a compact package. Witness the review of Cruxiter Cruxiter:

Cruxiter – S/T (2013 – PrismaticO Records)

Wow, what a surprise this album was. Cruxiter are not a well-known band, as this is their first full-length and they’ve only been around for a couple of years. But it sounds like they’ve been around since the ’80s. In fact, this whole album sounds like it’s from the ’80s. Cruxiter are traditional heavy metal from the wastelands of Texas and will not disappoint one bit. It’s as if early Mercyful Fate had a ménage à trois with Manilla Road and early Iron Maiden, all while listening to ’70s guitar-driven rock. The musicianship on this album is fantastic; each song is a classic metal anthem with soaring vocals and impressive guitar riffs. Miggy Ramirez’s vocals are high-pitched and remain steady throughout — he certainly pulls off the style perfectly. The highlight of the album is “The Devils of Heavy Metal” and is one of the best songs of this style I’ve heard in quite some time. The one thing that may dissuade some listeners (and it’s a shame, at that) is the production of the album. There are no crystal-clear sounds on this album, everything is produced in a way that makes sounds like it was recorded in 1984. It adds to the retro-feel of this album, and is part of what makes this album a great listen. The album is streaming on their bandcamp page, I’d highly recommend you check it out if traditional heavy metal is your thing. Keep an eye out for this band. — James Doyle

Ten pages of reviews of this type help inform the listener on the cutting edge of underground metal, skipping the numu/indie/post gibberish, and then detour into two pages of Haiku form reviews which cut to the core of each album from a listener’s standpoint. While these are more dismissive, oftentimes they utterly nail why an album is irrelevant or why we the audience should look past style and appreciate what makes it great. These offer a counterpoint to the desire for articulation that motivates the descriptive reviews, and give a quick synopsis where that is all that is needed. They are more motivational than merely reporting the facts; this style might be useful in dismissing some of the recent material that labels pump out which requires no more than a few minutes to recognize as an archetype of fail and dismiss.

As has been the trend with the last few issues of Codex Obscurum, the editors struggle to balance a gory old-school art-driven layout with a postmodern format that is easy to read in the age of computers, tablets and whatever “et cetera” will soon encompass. An abundance of great artwork appears throughout Issue Six, with more use of graphics inserted in the text stream or offset to one side. The Acid Witch, Fister and Ritual Decay interviews could fit in either a glossy pro-printed magazine or a contraband underground zine and show an optimization of this layout style. One thing that could improve is the differentiation between interviewer and interviewee, which is currently done with the industry standard of the speaker’s initials at the start of the line. An ideal layout of this format has proved elusive, with some zines bolding the comments by the interviewee, but this like most other solutions burns more page real estate. On this site, we put the interviewer’s comments in bold because that makes them easy to skip, but also requires more paragraph space which is at a premium in a zine that has to render itself to paper instead of the limitless scrolling of modern society’s replacement for daytime television, the internet. An ideal answer may conceal itself on this issue but it is the only area where this zine proved difficult to read at a glance, which is otherwise facilitated by its clean layout with clearly separated art and well-signaled interviews with band logo at the top of each.

Issue Six continues what seems to be becoming a section in Codex Obscurum, which is an unboxing and review of Dungeons & Dragons gaming sets and lines of books. While many in the metal community seek to isolate themselves from the inner nerd inherent to all metal, a more realistic assessment shows that many metalheads are in fact nerds “in the closet” who enjoy many activities which stimulate the imagination and analytical thought process simultaneously much as D&D does. This feature goes beyond the knowledge of the casual attendee at D&D games and could stand on its own in any lifestyle or technical magazine. Among the thoughtful interviews and carefully articulated reviews, the role-playing game material fits hand in glove, and adds to the feeling of this zine as well-rounded in the underground sense, covering music and lifestyle without drifting into the product fetishism that shears mainstream magazines off from the flow of what fulfills people both as metal fans and individuals. Looking forward to seeing this zine continue to grow and develop.