Growing up, I always detested “political” albums because people were ranting to me about partisanship from an adult world that I knew had already failed. It really was shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic to demand one failed version of the current order over another. It also violated what I felt was sacred about art: its abstraction, metaphor, and connection to the naturalistic experience.28 Comments
Maryland Deathfest once again has visa troubles forcing the cancellation of a headliner. Sodom‘s visa troubles last year led to the cancellation of their headlining appearance on the main stage of the parking lot festival. Now, British hardcore legends Discharge (the originators of d-beat hardcore) get the short end of the stick from the Baltimore festival’s disorganization.2 Comments
Tagged as a death/thrash sort of cross-over band, Amok, at least in the present album, sounds much closer to hardcore stemming from the tradition of Discharge Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing and filtered along the line of Amebix Arise!. Some gestures of 80s heavy metal show up but only briefly and not prominently enough to turn this into one of the many kinds of so-called “melodic death” bands out there. In Necrospiritual Deathcore a healthy, coherent mixture of different punk and metal expressions collide to form an enjoyable album.
Like any hardcore album worth its salt, we find fragments of speech taken from television or radio, snippets of urban audio, coughing, among the rough scream-barks of the vocalist. All this, combined with the great pains to which Amok goes to give this album musical variety despite the fact that the music is primarily percussive (and simple in its percussion). Commendable are the smooth tempo changes in the album that are never abrupt even though they change the music drastically. Voice and instruments conspire so that the “line” is never broken when going from a faster speed to a slower one. When it comes to accelerating, though, the punks show themselves.
On the other hand, given the simplicity (and I mean real simplicity) of each song and the fact that the album is a song-collection (rather than a concept album, or a greater work, or a set of variations), the staying power of this kind of record is very limited. Sounding like a more single-minded, less flexible Amebix, Amok Necrospiritual Deathcore will please and entertain, but there is little reason to continue listening to it when there are albums like Arise! lying around. All in all, it is a refreshing hardcore album with heavy and death metal colors done by expert musicians.
Slayer blasted their way into the underground metal scene in 1983. Metal had just shifted; the genre of Black Sabbath got taken over by the Led Zeppelin fans, resulting in glam and arena rock, and was just being taken back by a DIY movement via speed metal. Inspired by that speed metal movement, Slayer took their music in a slightly different direction.
“Heavy metal and British punk, that’s what we are.” The four young men from Southern California shaped their music by instinct, applying the techniques of punk to the most intense moments of heavy metal. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Angel Witch, GBH and Discharge. It all went into the blender and the result emerged more vicious than ever before.
Woodstock – Los Angeles, CA – March 28, 1983
The Keystone – Berkeley, CA – January 27, 1984
The Country Club – Reseda, CA – September 1, 1984
Heavy Sound Festival – Poperinge, Belgium – May 26, 1985
Dynamo Club – Eindhoven, Netherlands – May 28, 1985
The Ritz – New York City – June 12, 1986
Felt Forum – New York City – August 31, 1988
Clash of the Titans – Genk, Belgium September 22, 1990
Show No Mercy reflected more of a heavy metal bias, still hanging on to the grandeur of the 1970s. By Hell Awaits, Slayer forged their own style, inspired in part by the minimalism of the Haunting the Chapel EP. Even more, the band discovered a mythology in Satanic rebellion against a world where the term “good” meant obedient, oblivious and zombie-like in pursuit of individual pleasure at the expense of realism. They hated this world, and branded it with an inverted cross in rage at its existence. This outlook was healthier than the pleading resentment of the protest rock bands and less dead-end apathetic than what punk became. Metal had a new voice.
With the next album, Reign in Blood, Slayer pulled out all stops and most melody to create the ultimate hardcore album. The metal elements infused riff structure and song structure but its energy was pure hardcore punk, the raging album that The Exploited and Black Flag always had wanted to birth. In the 1980s, endorsing Satan and singing about the dark underbelly lurking beneath our happy commercial Utopia was in itself a life sentence of exclusion. Slayer wore it with pride and as people caught on to the new music, the most extreme band in underground metal headed toward the dead center of the genre.
In response, Slayer did what few bands have the guts to do: they backtracked from their nihilistic extreme and made a melodic album, but kept the melody constrained to a sense of dark atmosphere that would not be revisited until black metal exploded four years later. South of Heaven immersed the listener in pure mood and then manipulated it to create an unnerving experience of getting in touch with emotion by leaving behind all that is human. This was the peak of Slayer and represented the end of their emotional involvement with their own music, thus afterwards they pursued ideas that others had made popular and successful, hoping to make their own form of the alien.7 Comments
Before there were names for styles like death metal and black metal, and before anyone beyond a handful of people knew of these genres, pioneers created the groundwork for both genres and influences on several others. They had little at their disposal besides primitive recording and photocopied zines, but somehow these founders established the basis of new styles.
The media eventually adopted the term “extreme metal” but originally this music went by the appellation “underground metal” because you could not find it in stores, magazines, on TV or in academia. Eventually the genres within underground metal gained recognition and you could find them in record stores starting in 1997 when the distribution model changed.
But years before that the groundwork was laid by a few dissident artists. Let us look at the albums that set up the groundwork for both styles of underground metal, death metal and black metal:
1. Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
By the time Discharge emerged, punk and metal both had large followings. Discharge birthed itself from within the movement called “hardcore punk” that assembled itself when punk fans felt like their music had been co-opted by the very radio industry it hoped to alienate. Hardcore punk bands lived in squats, recorded with whatever was handy, and promoted themselves with zines and 45 RPM singles (the origin of today’s 7″ records). They made their music deliberately abrasive and their themes beyond anarchistic into pure nihilism and rejection of all social thinking so that radio could not co-opt them. For the most part, they were successful, but then the genre became inundated with imitators who saw the simplicity of the music and the power of the social scene and entered for their own purposes, like marketers and advertisers would do years later. Discharge struck back with the ultimate anti-rock album. Drums did not coordinate with guitars, instead keeping time while streams of power chords flowed over them and changed at will. Vocals repeated short cryptic koans that entirely rejected the idea of society itself. Taking a cue from Motorhead, Discharge also added organic distortion to the vocals, creating a sound like an unearthly howl from a place collapsing into hell. Released in 1982, Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing launched a wave of others who used these techniques, including all of underground metal.
2. Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids
In sunny, peaceful and socially engineered to perfection Switzerland, discontent arose with this occult and anti-social release. Turning up the intensity on distorted vocals, drawing influence from both Venom and Motorhead, Hellhammer wrote slower riffs than Discharge but added in the sense of dark finality that bands like Black Sabbath successfully captured a decade before. In addition, Hellhammer contributed a style of songwriting that probably derived from progressive rock records, who themselves borrowed it from classical: song structure followed the content of the song and not a standard song format. This caused the band to spend a great deal of energy matching up riffs so that they “talked” to one another with a type of internal dialogue. Heard best on the epic 9-minute “Triumph of Death,” this technique allowed Hellhammer to fuse the alienation of punk with the dramatic theological imagery of Black Sabbath into a mini-Wagnerian opus. These techniques came to live on in radically different forms in both the rising death metal and black metal genres.
3. Bathory – The Return…
An entirely homebrew project, Bathory took what metal bands were doing to its logical conclusion and starting in 1984 recorded a series of albums using heavy distortion, occult themes, distorted vocals and fast chromatic riffs. While much of this material stuck closer to standard song format, quite a bit deviated with inventive songwriting that suggested a power of theater in the presentation of metal riffs. “The Return Of Darkness and Evil,” the title track from the second Bathory LP, demonstrated this power with its soundtrack-like thematic composition. Although this band derived no influence from Venom, its distorted vocals took a higher path toward a harsh shriek like one might find in a horror movie soundtrack. As a result, not only death metal but all black metal bands derived influence from this founding act.
4. Slayer – Hell Awaits
Starting the year after the release of the Discharge album, Slayer crafted a new kind of heavy metal using the chaotic rhythms and chromatic composition of hardcore punk but the elegant and theatrical structures of heavy metal. The result shifted from social awareness lyrics to mythology that revealed a dark future for humanity, and stitched together songs of multiple contrasting riffs which shifted to support content instead of content supporting song form as most pop bands did. This created albums in which listeners could lose themselves entirely and made Slayer one of the biggest and most respected metal bands in history. The tremolo-picking used to create fast flowing riffs that kept energy high, unlike the muted-picking used by most speed metal bands of the time, formed the basis of the technique used by all death metal and black metal bands since. If a band falls within the underground umbrella, it undoubtedly takes influence from the first four Slayer records and most likely has at least one die-hard Slayer fan among its members.
5. Sodom – Obsessed by Cruelty
Inspired by Venom, Sodom combined the energy of hardcore punk and the new techniques of Slayer and speed metal bands to come up with its own primitive version of this new style. These shorter songs resembled the thrash which was rising as a style at the time but instead picked dark and morbid occult topics. Despite the basic instrumentation, Sodom gave its songs serious themes and pulled off epic melodies which fit an archetypal pattern much like those of horror soundtracks do. The resulting concentrated bursts of fury gave rise to much of the viciousness of underground metal as well as its twilight atmosphere and fiery sense of destruction for all that occupied positions of social acceptance. While many of these songs fit standard song format, Sodom interrupted that to present concluding material in a style like that of Black Sabbath. As time went on, this band verged closer to death metal but kept the searing emptiness which lived on in black metal.27 Comments
Suppose that you’re a dying society (“the human race was dying out / no one left to scream and shout” – the Doors) and that you decide to give it one last hurrah. To try honesty instead of manipulation.
You might come up with punk music. It strips out everything that reeks of manipulation. The good production, gone; the complex chords, gone; any pretense of musicianship, out the window.
But then people realize that you’re going about it backward. You can’t change your methods to change your goal. You have to change your goal. That means you’re thinking about composing music in a new way, not just how you’re going to play differently with something rather familiar.
This lets loose the dogs of war.
No longer is music carved from a known pattern; the song is the pattern, and it obeys no rule other than its content. Face value is made secondary to internal value. Like it is in human, whether we have souls or not.
This is what Discharge did to the world of punk — and later, to metal:
Musically, punk’s first wave hadn’t been all that far removed from regular rock’n’roll. “God Save the Queen,” with its hummable melody and simplistic chord changes, is clearly a relation, albeit distant, of Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones. The difference is in the attitude, in Johnny Rotten’s adenoidal snarl.
Discharge’s revamped version of punk bore little resemblance to anything that had come before. It was faster, harsher, and often almost entirely lacking in melody. The riffs were generally three-chord affairs, but they were played at warp speed, accompanied by a rumbling bass and a merciless, galloping drumbeat. The songs rarely topped the two-minute mark. As Garry Maloney, who drummed on some of the band’s best recordings, explained to a ‘zine called Trakmarx, “We just embraced speed—the concept—not the drug—took it to its logical limit.”
Away went the blues scale, playing in uniform musical measures, and having pop song format work for you. Instead, the new vision was the lawless chromatic scale, a lack of key and thus of soaring bridge and chorus, or even any fixed song format. It was repetition made into its own undoing, a type of ambient music made from noise.
Rock ‘n’ roll died with Discharge. Others, like Amebix and The Exploited, followed. On US shores the Cro-Mags and thrash (DRI, COC, Cryptic Slaughter, Dead Horse, Fearless Iranians From Hell) further put metal into punk. With metal’s phrasal riffs and punk’s lack of structure, music got closer to ancient times.
Suddenly, the melody determined the song, and since the songs were topical, the melody was determined by the idea. Like ancient Greek dramas, where the chorus sang poetry as the story was acted out on stage, the new punk-metal hybrid entered the world of motifs and mimetic meaning, where art imitates life to tell the story of a journey or adventure and how it changed those who sallied forth.
The end of the second song, nearly eight minutes in, elicited a weak cheer, a few claps, and a robust chant of “D.R.I.”—a local thrash band on the rise, which had played earlier that night.
This was the new legion, thrash and underground metal (death metal and black metal), and it ushered in a new era. Where music was plain-spoken like punk, but mythological like metal. Where it took metal’s criticism of human behavior and used that to explain punk’s extreme political dissidence. Where people started looking at what they’d die for instead of what they’d live for.
Since that time, metal and punk have both gone through many generations. None have gotten very far from those originals who broke free however. They had to destroy before they could create and, when the dust of destruction and subsequent self-destruction finally settles, creation will begin anew.