Skepticism records Ordeal live in Turku, FI

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Finnish funeral doom metal band Skepticism performed their yet-unreleased fifth full-length album, Ordeal, in a live recording at Klubi in Turku, Finland on January 24, 2015. The event was also captured on film for an accompanying DVD to go alongside the album, in shades of what Empyrium did last years with their first performance in nearly a decade.

The band describes the new songs as “emotion-laden, crushing, and yet beautiful, more than ever before.” Visitors to the historic recording event received an exclusive re-issue of the band’s first 7” EP which was originally released in 1992. Ordeal will be released on Svart Records in May 2015 as a CD/DVD bundle and a LP/DVD set.

Skepticism commands a loyal following who want doom metal to fall neither into the nearly tuneless grinding of some doom-death or warmed over rock stylings of stoner doom, but prefer atmospheric and melodic music that creates a contrast within dark moods and can develop songs for a sense of being transported. The band formed in 1991 and since 1995 has released a stream of quality releases which remain enjoyed by a devoted cadre in the underground.

Tracklist:

  1. You
  2. Momentary
  3. The Departure
  4. March Incomplete
  5. The Road
  6. Closing Music

Plus bonus live versions of earlier tracks:

  1. Pouring
  2. The March and the Stream

skepticism-live

Various Artists – Basic Needs

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The Basic Needs compilation of New England metal and hardcore punk bands can be heard online and purchased on cassette for those who wish to own a physical copy. Promoted by the shadowy forces behind Codex Obscurum zine, Basic Needs contains fourteen tracks of varied material from almost as many different bands, so it makes sense to review them by track.

  1. Sagnus – “Gaspipe”

    This track starts off in a death metal vein but rapidly descends into bluesy heavy metal with updated technique like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul. Nicely compact with no surprises but also no random or pointless bits, it fades out into noise.
  2. Human Bodies – “Stygian Reverie”

    Very much in the tradition of older hardcore but with black metal styled vocals, this Human Bodies track puts a new face on a familiar riff style and adds a Discharge-like chaotic solo, but otherwise sticks to fairly standard song form but keeps energy high.
  3. PanzerBastard – “Workhorse”

    Essentially d-beat hardcore, complete with broken rhythms and surging double-hit riffs, this song showcases high energy with emphasis on vocalizations.
  4. Sexcrement – “Chemical Handcuffs”

    This track starts off as pounding death metal but detours into a hard rock/heavy metal number that shows the band setting up a groove and more internal harmony, which actually makes the chromatic passages seem less intense.
  5. Suffer on Acid – “Ride the Light”

    Raging high-intensity hardcore from the “blurcore” style that emerged when the punk stalwarts confronted the horror of post-hardcore, Suffer on Acid creates music from fast simple riffs with exasperated shouting over the top. This track begins with a Black Sabbath style introduction riff that sets a mood to be destroyed which it is, amiably, by a thrash-style burst of collisive riffing and a classic hardcore punk extended chorus riff.
  6. Living Void – “Auxiliary Conspiracy”

    Writing in the fast style of death metal that bands like Deteriorate and Nokturnel pioneered before Angelcorpse, Living Void charge ahead with a series of quality riffs but then slow things up for a trudge/groove passage. The former strikes more than the latter.
  7. Suffer on Acid – “Terminal”

    Much in the style of the former track, “Terminal” relies more on vocal rhythmic hook and uses a standoffish groove more than burst but fits in lots of vocal rage and fast classic hardcore riffs to match.
  8. Living Void – “Categorizing Woe”

    This track starts with a doom metal promenade, then drops into trope of muted downstroke before bursting into high energy speeding death metal complete with blast beats and ripping choruses, the detouring into a darker and more black metal styled cycle.
  9. Ramlord – “Distant/Detach”

    At its heart, this track is older speed metal updated with death metal stylings to give it energy and more fluid transitions, but falls back into trope rhythm of vocals/drums in which the guitars drop like an interchangeable part. Some interesting black metal styled melodic work later in the track.
  10. Grue – “All Mortal Greatness is Disease”

    Beginning as a sentimental heavy metal/melodic black metal track in the Eucharist or Dawn variety, but then diverges into a chanted delivery of later Bathory-styled vocals over trudging rhythm riffs alternated with fast melodic hardcore riffing.
  11. Word of Unmaking – “In the Crypt of Dead Values”

    A Tangerine Dream style dronescape peppered with acoustic guitars and vocal samples, this track develops from linear into cyclic and recedes, leaving behind a homeostatic hint of atmosphere, then expands into a funeral doom track with articulated riffs like those from early Ceremonium.
  12. Fórn – “Dasein”

    What’s with all the Heidegger worship recently? This sludgy doom metal track follows the Winter model of slong grinding chord progressions with lots of fills from noise and vocals, changing riffs relatively frequently over this nine-minute track.
  13. Morne – “Coming of Winter”

    Sounding like a heavier version of Pelican, this band creates droning indie-influenced doom metal with heavy stoner doom elements and a hoarse plaintive vocal.

Of unusually high quality for a local compilation, Basic Needs shows a wide variety of the more promising bands in New England. Living Void, Word of Unmaking and Suffer on Acid strike me as the standouts which interest me in investigating further but there were no complete dead moments.

Desolate Shrine – The Heart of the Netherworld

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We all want a powerful underground. The way to achieve that is to be harsh, cruel and unrelenting in our judgment of underground-style bands, or we permit lower quality to become the standard, and then because that is easier, it is what we will get. What we signal we accept becomes the norm. It is essential to be cruel to bullshit releases, and Desolate Shrine The Heart of the Netherworld is tryhard blather that permits introduction of modern metal tropes into old school metal while failing to achieve the power of expression that is the defining factor of old school underground metal.

On its surface, The Heart of the Netherworld is melodic doom-death. Under the surface, it consists of tired chord progressions and techniques worked around utterly repetitive songs which move in a wholly circular fashion and achieve nothing. The vocals pick up the modern metal trope of open-throated riding of the beat, putting the vocal in the lead role and deprecating guitar. That is as well, as no unique or expressive riffs fill this album. Instead, sort of like a slower degraded version of Nile, Desolate Shrine adapt rock riffs and add a few accidentals but tend to focus on a melodic interval accented by a strumming or arpeggiated pattern. The result is a form of churn, both at the riff-level and the song-level, which results in total boredom and directs the focus at the vocals, as if the vocalist were a parasitic organism that took over the brain of this band.

In addition, Desolate Shrine works in a number of modern metal patterns such as the recursive strum, the post-metal drone and (most odious of all) the chromatic ratchet turnaround that bad hardcore bands have been using for what feels like 40 years now. Aesthetically this album is exciting, but once you pop the hood and look inside, you realize it’s not a Mustang but one of those little Fiat microcars that sound like kitchen mixers that have been oiled too frequently. The underground is not a surface flavor; it is a way of composing, and to reach that stage, a way of thinking. Desolate Shrine have not taken the first step on that journey but have stepped off on another route.

Sacrilege – Turn Back, Trilobite

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During the 1980s, multiple metal movements existed in parallel. The genre birthed itself a decade before and almost immediately got merged with hard rock, only waking itself up with the NWOBHM in time to avoid total assimilation. In the next decade, it diversified.

Sacrilege emerged from the UK proto-crust scene and transitioned slowly into metal as most of these bands did when, musical basics familiar, they sought to use their new artistic powers for more precise communication. The band put out a trio of albums before lapsing in the early 1990s. Turn Back, Trilobite was the third of these and showed the band leaving its punk roots behind entirely to explore a doom metal style. This release prompts comparisons to Candlemass because in its pacing, use of percussion and even vocal melodies it evokes that long-standing doom band.

The notable differences here are that Sacrilege sometimes slides into ludicrous hard-rock riffing that immediately pushes it into the background, and that one of these guitarists clearly listens to quite a bit of Metallica Ride the Lightning which shows up in some of the muted-strum double downstroke work here as well as in the Hammett-inspired lead guitars which use falling scales to produce lengthy solos from relatively consistent structures. This effect works better with the shorter solos on Metallica but here often becomes too symmetrical and rambling, but otherwise, adds a greater efficiency to some of these songs.

People like this album, and it is hard not to, because it is ambitious. It touches on tropes from jazz, rock, folk and hard rock in addition to its basis in heavy metal, and by using doom metal pacing, allows itself more space over which to stretch out vocals and riffs, installing a greater range of rhythms. The problems with this approach are that in many ways the band were not ready for it. Too much of this album is comped in with 1970s hard rock riffs, the vocalist for all of her range tends toward very similar patterns (which fits with the Ozzy-Marcolin range of vocals), and too many of the rhythms and riff shapes are similar, causing navigational difficulties for the casual listener.

As a random find in a record store on a rainy Saturday, this album provides some good listening because its ambition creates a world our brains can explore despite its failings. Like most doom metal, Turn Back, Trilobite relies too much on predictable and repeated tropes for enjoyable regular listening. The greater emphasis on “emotion” in doom metal tends to mean a narrower range of mood, and as a result the album flows past like tapwater more than distinguishing itself with the cornucopia of tropes it applies. That and the obvious Metallica derivations paired up with mediocre riff patterns excluded this one from running for the big time and shortly afterward, the band members excluded themselves to do other things. With the right producer to enforce some editing and variety, this could have been a massive release.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOqcF2-41fc

Sanctuary releases “Exitium (The Anthem of the Living)” from The Year the Sun Died

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During the 1980s, Sanctuary albums popped up wherever speed metal was sold but never quite found entry into the genre because of their reliance on a hybrid sound with the brainy radio heavy metal of the day. Like Queensryche, they embraced the dark rainy sound of the Northwest that later lived on in grunge which aims more toward presentation of intense vocal performances than a maze of riffs leading to detonation.

“Exitium (Anthem of the Living)” takes a doom-metal infused perspective on that style much in the style of Skyclad or Confessor, dropping into slower riffs to allow melancholy vocals to tie the song together. Song structure is simple and cyclic with flair but essentially exists to support vocals, so riffs follow a verse-chorus layout. The vocals sound a lot like Alice in Chains with more morbidity or Queensryche with more aggression, laying out a melody that is both hopeful and fatally self-contradictory. This creates an atmosphere of darkness with an inspirational tinge to it that seems almost like the band is exulting in self-pity.

The newest Sanctuary album The Year the Sun Died will walk among us on October 14. Fans of this band may find the changes unsettling and less intense than past works, but may appreciate the greater emotionality and connection to inner sensation that The Year the Sun Died appears to offer. As metal reaches toward rock in many directions, this somewhat overcast and isolated approach may work for Sanctuary as they try to forge anew their signature sound.

Divine Eve in studio finalizing new material

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Divine Eve’s Michael Sleavin and Matt Killen in the studio.

Doom/death metal band Divine Eve penetrated the walls of the studio some time ago to record their forthcoming full-length following up on the 2010 release of Vengeful and Obstinate, an EP which saw the Texas band build on the strengths of their 1990s debut As the Angels Weep. Since that time, audiences who enjoy the type of fusion between Swedish death metal, punkish heavy metal like Motorhead, and doom-death like Cathedral have eagerly awaited new material from Divine Eve.

It appears the wait may be over, or at least nearly so. An advance track, “Into the Conquest End,” graciously loaned to this writer by Divine Eve, shows the band maturing and stripping down their sound. Like classic death metal, Divine Eve know how to use a theme well, varying it both in speed and texture and also expanding upon it as the song progresses. The song begins with a raw death metal riff — reminiscent of Death “Altering the Future” — and repeats it on a trancelike beat. This theme repeats in two forms, one with an ending trill and another with a more rigid, doomlike conclusion. The band then breaks into an energetic and simple riff derived from the middle phrase of the previous at an upbeat punk tempo, and use this to introduce the chorus riff which hammers out the theme of the song in a riff answering the first theme.

The band rides the second theme against the chorus and picks up an energetic groove. This part of the song quickly falls into a comfortable zone, both enjoyable and straightforward, which appears to be the moment the band were waiting for… to strike. At this point, the song stops with a simple standoff riff reminiscent of the opening theme of Beethoven’s fifth in its rigidity and simplicity, then returns to the first them before dropping to a slower and darker version of the second theme which answers it in a mode more like that of the chorus. The band then transitions through a lightly strummed, drumless heavy metal style anticipation pause and then builds on that melodic riff as a means to transition to to a bounding doom metal riff that would have been at home on As the Angels Weep but with more of the old-school doom that Saint Vitus made famous. As this mood builds, it falters and collapses into the first theme, then chorus riff, and finally a variant on the standoff riff. The song wraps up its simple elements by repeating them multiple times in different pairings to create a sense of a deepening meaning emerging from the mundane, like an occult meaning derived from the pattern of everyday objects.

Divine Eve added a sense of mystery and atmosphere to the world of death metal bands that play extensive segments of doom metal in their work, expanding upon a lengthy list of death metal influences. Like Cianide, the band has drifted toward a fusion of older metal styles (notably Motorhead) that maintain the same mood, which is a bleak but militant droning which suggests a dystopian collapse followed by rise of vengeance warriors bent on restoring an atavistic order. The result gives more variability to the death metal style and may confuse listeners in a positive way by taking different ideas and restating them in the language of death metal. The production on this track takes an organic and spacious sound and gives to it the dense textures of ancient walls, clarifies drums far more than previous releases and keeps vocals grim but intense enough to stand on their own. The result suggests that the power of the older material will take on a new militarism on the forthcoming album.

Saint Vitus on 35th anniversary tour of North America

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Classic heavy metal doom metal band Saint Vitus embark on a tour celebrating the band’s 35-year history from May 8-25, 2014. The band will be playing the entirety of their Born Too Late album, the first to feature Scott Weinrich on vocals. Saint Vitus made a name for itself in the world metal community for being one of two bands to continue the 1970s style of metal throughout the 1980s and 1990s, making heavy metal hymns slowed down to reflect a completely alienated worldview.

Tourdates:

  • 5/08/2014 Launch Pad – Albuquerque, NM
  • 5/09/2014 Club Red – Phoenix, AZ
  • 5/10/2014 Cheyenne Saloon – Las Vegas, NV
  • 5/11/2014 The Observatory (Psycho De 5o Fest) – Santa Ana, CA
  • 5/13/2014 The Echo – Los Angeles, CA
  • 5/14/2014 SLO Brew – San Luis Obispo, CA
  • 5/15/2014 Strummer’s – Fresno, CA
  • 5/16/2014 Thee Parkside – San Francisco, CA
  • 5/17/2014 Branx – Portland, OR
  • 5/18/2014 Highline – Seattle, WA
  • 5/20/2014 In The Venue – Salt Lake City, UT
  • 5/21/2014 Marquis Theatre – Denver, CO
  • 5/23/2014 Red 7 (Outside) – Austin, TX
  • 5/24/2014 Fitzgerald’s Downstairs – Houston, TX
  • 5/25/2014 Three Links – Dallas, TX

Lineup:

  • Dave Chandler – guitar
  • Scott Weinrich – vocals
  • Mark Adams – bass
  • Henry Vasquez – drums

When Bassnectar was a metalhead

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Metal is not a job and will never pay the bills. Hence many metal musicians move on to other careers. Sometimes this includes other forms of music. Such is the case of Lorin Ashton, a/k/a Bassnectar, who previously was in a black/doom metal band called Pale Existence.

Correctly intuiting that metal would not pay the bills, and being from the already-undernoticed San Jose scene which got obscured by the greater prominence of nearby San Francisco, Ashton migrated from underground metal to playing multiple DJ sets a day in an effort to develop his hybrid style.

The result was Bassnectar, a merging of afterhours club music and sonic torment which showed its heavy metal origins. While Ashton retains his long hair and metal/punk tshirts collection, this lengthy history of involvement in underground metal is probably lost on his audience.

Pale Existence also featured Steve Cefala of doom/black metal band Dawning. Most fans don’t know of this underground history, so we present a comparison of Lorin Ashton a/k/a Bassnectar in both the old days as Pale Existence and in his newest form:

Interview with Steve Cefala (Dawning)

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Steve Cefala (R) and Birdo (L) of Dawning.

Welcome to the strange and protean world of Steve Cefala, black/doom metal musician, MMA fighter, former adult entertainment actor, and now, the force behind the returning Dawning and its unique brand of slow melodic metal with horror movie keyboards.

Dawning was born in 1996 at the hands of Mr. Cefala and a close cadre of collaborators. Dormant for many years, but never forgotten, the band was resurrected with the – – –/Dawning split that showcased a classic song for the band and gave it new arrangement and orchestration.

We were lucky to catch up with Mr. Cefala between his many high-energy ventures and get in a few words about the split, the history of Dawning, and its future both as band and concept.

When did Dawning form?

Bud Burke (now in Exhumed) and I quit Pale Existence and started Dawning in 1996. Bud and I may have done some rough Dawning recordings on his four track as early as 1995. We were juniors in high school. We had just terrorized the high school battle of the bands with our cheesy Satanic side project Desecrator (there’s so many bands called that).

Why do you think Dawning is less known that other bands from the era?

First, although not many people know about Dawning, the people I know of that like Dawning are people I respect.

But there are several reasons for Dawning’s relative obscurity. Some are obviously self-inflicted: personnel/lineup problems and changes, lack of self-promotion, etc. We were more focused on making good music and recording it than on the promo side. Also not fitting an exact genre or lack of other doom/black metal bands locally at the time did not help.

We also had offers to be published by record companies which we messed up. As we were about to record for a 10″ release, the incredibly talented bassist who was the band’s contact had a breakdown from acid and thought he was an alien… and the other guitarist Mike Rabald turned super flakey and just would not record his darn guitar tracks, despite being at the recording studio drinking ale and playing Sega Genesis every day instead! After months of that B.S., when we finally threatened to kick him out, he and the sound engineer showed up at my front door demanding cash for what we had recorded so far or they would to destroy the reel! Prick…..

For some reason, we just could not get a show at this period in time. This pissed me off because I was the first metal guy to rent the local library out and throw many underground DIY metal shows and I had set up a lot of shows for local bands with my previous band Pale Existence. Some ugly heifer from my high school ended up renting the library out and getting metal shows banned from the library due to burning bible, blood spills, and setting off fire alarms. Way to go! I also threw a lot of shows for Exhumed and a bunch of local acts at the Cupertino library. They are cool guys but they never reciprocated because we were not gore metal (I remember them helping out Gory Melanoma a lot with shows for instance) or would not kiss their ass or something. Drummer Brian and I used to tease them about them being Carcass rip offs and Matt Harvey being Mr. Rockstar. Anyways, the library shows I threw were integral in bringing the South Bay death metal scene together. They were free all ages DIY shows that united a bunch of different metal and hardcore genres.

It’s also not like people didn’t know we were available. Dawning got only three shows! The KFCJ radio show, one at a frat party in SLO, one in a gazebo teen center I rented. This was despite that I had a full band lineup from 1996-2003! A third show was set up in an alley in Gilroy and the club owner canceled the show at like 7 pm (Maelstrom was headliner) before metal heads, who showed up later like 8, could get the message.

I would mention some other excellent local bands from that era which may have been forgotten includes Gory Melanoma, Infanticide, Butt, Agents of Satan, Deity, Disembodiment, Doomed-horn, and Gorgasm! :) I am glad to see that Morbosidad is still active also :)

Originally, what did Dawning sound like — what was the intent, and what were the influences, behind the sound you were going for?

The sound I have always aimed for with Dawning is to take a synthed out movie soundtrack and cross it with raw doom or black metal guitars and vocals. With a hint of ambient (backwards vocals, chimes, timpani drums). The end of the first demo has a incredibly slow doom ending with a collage of apocalyptic samples. When I started recording this shit back in 1996 I didn’t hear anyone grinding black metal guitar chords over a doom beat. I still barely ever hear that. I guess all the black metal bands are playing doom and ambient now mostly — at least the ones who aren’t constantly blasting as if they are at some type of competitive track meet event.

“New” Dawning sounds basically exactly like original Dawning. It’s all written on the Roland JV series keyboard mostly. There were some demos we did that trended more towards black metal, and some had hippy elements.

Our influences include movie sountracks like Goblin, Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks), John Carpenter scores, Vangelis, Jerry Goldsmith (the Omen), etc. as well as classic 90s doom and black metal — Winter, Disembowlment, Grief, Marduk, Darkthrone, Impaled Nazarene, and My Dying Bride. There is also some trance influence from raves and partying. On the hippier demos there’s a Hendrix and Sabbath vibe to the guitars at times.

Also, Dawning has goth/industrial influences. I listen to Godflesh, Rammstein, Depeche Mode, My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult, Type O Negative, etc.

How did that sound change over time?

  • Demo 1 – Blackened doom/new age-ish (hint of ambient). Just Bud and I, no bass.
  • Demo 2 – Live on KFJC. Groovier. More Hendrixy and more Sabbathy. Full band lineup starting with this demo. Trippier more occult-based song themes. Bouncy hippy basslines.
  • Demos 3 and 4 – More black metal. Less doom.
  • Demo 5 – Exit Bud Burke, enter Mike Beams (Exhumed). More brutal and detuned. Added elements of sludge doom.

…then back to the original sound of demo 1 again for the split. The upcoming full length is like demo 1 but with more mid-paced grooves and a few blasts besides the doom beats.

You’ve re-recorded “Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof” for the split with – – – on Preposterous Creations. How did this split come about, and what’s new with the re-recording?

I hooked up with Phil from Presposterous Creations on a web forum where he had posted some old Dawning demo links. I was told Gary from Noothegrush (who actually recorded our live at KFJC demo back in the day) helped get Phil interested in Dawning. Chiyo and Gary (from Noothegrush) have always been most supportive of my band. I honestly think Dawning might not exist today if not for them. And I was told that John Gossard (Weakling) had also talked to Phil about us, which helped. Originally Bud was planning to come out on vacation to visit and record on the new tracks with me. But Exhumed called him and off on tour he went. Now he doesn’t return my calls or lousy Facebook messages even.

“Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof” on the split has a new arrangement. Better recording. Also, there was a period during these most recent recordings where I was diagnosed as allergic to sunlight. This time was depressing and that gave the songs a darker tone.

A couple of years ago I noticed there was something called the “101 Rules of Black Metal” going around the internet (you can google it). I noticed a rule saying that “the exact date if the divine arrival of the massive hoof shall never be revealed under any circumstance.” It even made it on the Ozzfest official page at that time. I was a little surprised that phrase was ingrained as a rule of metal (I see no other song title as a rule — but I could be wrong). I will admit that I did want to get some credit for the notoriety of the song I had created in 1995-96 and that was part of my motivation in redoing the song and getting it published. I am extremely thankful to Phil and to Noothegrush and the handful of people including John Gossard who kept the spirit of Dawning alive on underground message boards and such. Also whoever put it in the rules of metal I am thankful but would have been better had Dawning been given proper credit.

What’s – – – like, in your words? What was the appeal in working with them?

As far as actually splitting the record with – – – , it was Phil who came to me with this idea. Personally I find the piano parts on all – – – songs to be very inspired and unique and I also love his guitar tone (it reminds me of early Ulver!). So I was honored to split the LP with – – –, though I know nothing about them it is an honor to be associated with that level of talent.

Do you think metal is in a slump, or a time of over-abundance? Are there any parallels to humanity at large?

I do not like the overall musical trends in metal. Blast beat blast beat blast beat. Hail Satan this, hail Satan that. Blast beat blast beat blast beat. Blah blah blah. Playing drums like a track meet competition.

Most of the Gothic doom bands seem really gay (not in a happy sense though) compared to My Dying Bride, at least locally. Stoner bands who are not stoney — or original. Technical death metal which gives me a headache. I also don’t like the super mainstream bands right now like Lamb of God.

Nachtmystium and Electric Wizard and a few other amazing bands in the mainstream (I enjoy Noothegrush, Ludicra, and Weakling) but there’s too much crummy bands you have to go through to find a good one. Compared to the 90s — it sucks!

Locally I fell into the boring status quo sound a little too much with my last band Condemned to Live (DJ) for a few years so I must also take my share of this blame.

And yes humanity stinks too. Pretty much everything stinks these days honestly. I stopped listening to Marduk and Vader, and then Fear Factory and bands like that when they put out that pseudo techno album in the late 90s.

Also when you play a show these days its often a pissing competition between the bands instead of a brotherhood of metal. The other bands come up to you and complain about the band order instead of introducing themselves. Or you could be informed that another guy in the other black metal band that night does not like your band etc I was playing black metal live when he was in kindergarten but hey whatever…

In the 90s we knew we were all social rejects and we bonded over that. Today these kids who grew up in a post 9-11 world live in a darker cutthroat worldview. 90s metal tended to have some sense of humor that is now absent by in large. I think the global economic depression has caused metal to lose its fun fantasy oriented spirit that it had before. By the way outside a few dive bars here like the Caravan, metal is so unpopular where I live in San Jose — everything is gangster rap this, gangster rap that. I can go out for a whole week and maybe see one metal tshirt. Funny thing is my gangster friends like Dawning and are supportive.

What do you think are the differences between black metal, doom metal and regular old heavy metal?

Honestly, it’s all over genre-ized. I honestly wouldn’t even mention my bands genre but I feel strongly we were ahead of our time and deserve a little credit, even if its just a tiny bit. Everyone is mixing black metal and doom now. Back then I heard maybe one Incantation album that did that a bit, not much else.

I can tell you locally while I respect the underground hardcore approach of many bands — mostly everyone just wants to be a genre guy and fit in, which is sad cause metal ain’t even popular in the US in mainstream pop culture so these days why worry about fitting in.

It’s sad to me. Oh well. When I talk to other musicians these days its “Hey, I like this one band, Electric Funeral — let’s do a band like that” or “Hey, I like this band Cradle of Filth lets do one of those!” Nobody wants to make their own band sound. It’s much easier to join a specific genre, follow that genre’s rules to the T, and network from just within that genre. That’s my main problem with modern metal. Of course there are exceptions.

As I understand it, you also had a career in pornography. Can you tell us about this? What was it like? How did it inform your worldview as a metal musician?

For me it was just a job. It paid better than my retail job had been paying however.

The funniest thing was when I started working in it nobody believed me. Then when I showed them proof, everyone said I was weird for bringing the mp3 with me. That’s life. It was also weird I got in through the studios that mostly filmed “blacks” (Black Market XXX for instance). Eventually I worked for some big companies including JM Productions, Immoral Productions, Bang Bros, and more. I quit right after I had a shoot with Playboy channel where I was to play guitar and shoot with Tuesday Cross as well as a pilot of series for HBO fall through.

It was surrealistic working in that industry. The scenes were sometimes elating. But at the same time the conditions of a shoot were often sterile. The bright lighting, lack of music, no pictures on the walls, taking orders from director; also I was commuting to LA for this which made it harder. It was fun but also hard work. For one thing you have to stand on one leg most of the time so the camera can see. And theres a lot more logistics and networking compared to even a normal job. One thing I will tell you is we do most scenes twice. Once for the pics on the box. Then clothes back on and film the scene on video. Also going and getting tested monthly for STDs (mandatory) was a pain in the ass and came out of pocket. And a lot of the female models were too much drama and ruined the fun.

I was also sponsored as a mixed martial arts (MMA) athlete by a clothing company at the time. Between training MMA, doing the porn shoots, and performing metal in the clubs with Condemned to Live I had a wild lifestyle. I stopped working in the films back in 2010 though. That industry suffered from piracy much like the music industry. Anyways I have a girlfriend, a normal job, and a traditional modest lifestyle now.

Is Dawning back on the warpath? Will we hear more in the coming weeks, months and years?

I create the music of Dawning for myself and for the chosen few who are willing to listen to what Dawning has to offer them. To those who will listen we offer an escape to another another dimension in which their imagination can run free.

While I have been trying to get the band going live, at this point I am tired of auditioning show-off types and have taken matters into my own hands. I am currently playing electronic drums while at the same time playing keyboards on with my other foot (Moog Tarus clone). My right hand also plays some keyboards. So I am playing drums and keyboards; the drums are electronic, so I feel like I am piloting a spaceship when I am playing I can be in my own world. Also I am not a great drummer, but I can keep the beat.

My girlfriend Charity has taken over on bass guitar for now. She has named herself Nubian WitchGoddess (is that one taken?) and I am working with a guitar player named Gabriel. If this lineup works out we will be performing very soon. The Caravan has always been supportive and said we can play anytime. Noothegrush expressed willingness to play the tiny club with us eventually, which was very nice of them. Also I personally have an entire band’s worth of equipment including every instrument and amp and drums and PA etc., so let it be known I have 100% been trying to take Dawning live for the last year or so and basically have received little to no support from local musicians in this effort. I have had many ads out with few responses. And, funny, what do you know — now that the record came out like 10 people just contacted me all of a sudden about joining. Way of the world I suppose!

There is a full length album I finished recording coming out on cassette in a few months on French label. It has some more upbeat black metal stuff but plenty of doom too. It flows. The new full length album is about the Satanic albino cult that lives high in the hills above Silicon Valley, by the way. My car broke down up there many years ago and the Sherrif told me about them and gave me gas to get the fuck out of there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u82y93yi7Ng

Interview: Argus

argus-band_photo

As recent writings from Keith Kahn-Harris and others indicate, metal may be suffering from too much: too many bands, too huge an information flow, too many blogs, too much focus on surface aesthetics.

Contrasting this flood of “too much” is a true metal movement designed to emphasize what metal has always done well, but done anew by new generations. One member of this movement is Argus, whose album Beyond the Martyrs caught our attention for its NWOBHM/Candlemass classic metal fusion.

Luckily, frontman Butch Balich was available to answer a few profile questions and some existential ones via email. His answers strike me as relatively without contrivance, and show us this band both as it presents itself and as it is likely to be experienced.

Can you tell us how Argus formed? Did you come together on a mutual love of existing music, or a desire to create something that didn’t exist at the time?

The band was put together by Erik and Kevin out of friendship and a desire to jam and play some tunes. I don’t think it was ever envisioned it would become what it has. Our goal has always been simply to write great songs. We don’t concern ourselves with whether or not we are forging new paths or treading well worn ones. Its all about playing music we love and infusing our personality into it.

What is a “working class metal sound” (from your official biography)? Do the members of Argus identify with working-class or blue-collar roots?

Those guys grew up here in Western, PA and I think definitely identify with a working-class, blue-collar set of roots. We see ourselves as hard working and our music as fairly straightforward — what you hear is what you get — we aren’t overly complex and fancy in either our writing or our performance yet both are powerful. So I think we meant to portray the band as a straight up true metal band that works hard and is not pretentious in any way.

What would you identify as your primary and enduring influences?

We’re all over the map really. If you separated us and asked each of us you’d hear everything from Sabbath to Slayer, KISS to The Beatles, Maiden to NOFX, Marvin Gaye to Slough Feg. Collectively I think we draw from a common pool of Maiden, Thin Lizzy, some doom like Candlemass, old Metallica… We know what we want the band to sound like though so you’ll hear big riffs, great harmonies… sometimes the bands that those things remind of are coincidental, for instance “The Ladder” from Boldly Stride the Doomed has a real Solitude Aeturnus vibe even though I’m probably the one guy in the band who loves them. We are also influenced/pushed by bands like Slough Feg or Valkyrie.

You’ve picked an amalgamation of older styles for your music, instead of trying to keep up with the cutting edge or invent something. Why did you make this choice? Is there anything new under the sun, musically?

Let’s be honest — there really aren’t any combinations of riffs or notes that haven’t been used. There is NO ONE reinventing the wheel musically anymore. SO, our goal is to write great songs that we love — it is the goal of any good band. Our goal has never been to create something wholly unique as that is impossible. We draw from what we love about the music we listen to and enjoy playing and hopefully our personality comes across enough — and that is what makes us special. The notes/riffs/melodies may not always be something unheard of but we each have way of playing our instruments that adds up to ARGUS sounding like ARGUS instead of a mere rate retro metal knockoff.

Do you think the style you play selects the audience you receive, and that some audiences are more supportive than others?

I think any fan of true metal would like the band. We are neither overly refined or simplistic. I think our music has the ability to appeal to folks across different spectrums as it mixes bits and pieces of things and has strong melodies. I do think we’ve been most accepted by true metal and doom crowds so far. So far every audience we’ve played for has been pretty damn supportive to be honest. I do feel there is a niche market for what we do even though it has the potential to grow larger. If you play the style we play you do need to be prepared to accept that the fanbase is fairly limited and it will take a great amount of touring, perseverance and luck to advance beyond cult level.

There has been a movement in metal over the past four or five years called “True Metal,” in which people are less interested in outward-looking hybrids and more in an inward-looking, metal-centric attempt to continue the spirit of classic bands, although not necessarily the details. Have you seen this? Would it apply to Argus?

There is a segment of folks who aren’t interested so much in modernism and would prefer new bands to play in the old style. This is me to extent though I prefer bands not to be complete ripoffs of a specific band. I prefer bands like Slough Feg, Pharaoh, Twisted Tower Dire, Enforcer who have obvious influences but whose own personality comes through and who don’t consign themselves to 80s production values 24-7. I think Argus fits in with a retro tag though I have to say I think we manage to sound modern without sounding modern (if that makes sense). Like we don’t sound dated even though we’re playing metal based on the classic metal and hard rock bands.

This is your third album, after an EP and a demo. How has your sound changed during this time? Do you see it going in another direction as time goes on?

I don’t see that our sound has changed so much as streamlined a bit. We’re trying to capture the vibe and point of each song without belaboring the point in endless repetitions of the same riff. Why take ten minutes to say what can be said in six? I think it’s been a gradual transition. We’ve definitely become better songwriters over 7 years. Stylistically though we’ve been fairly constant. Maybe less doomy but no less moody.

Why do you think heavy metal remains popular after forty years of existence?

Because it is powerful, honest, hits-you-in-the-gut music. Because lyrically it provides escape. It provides understanding. It’s a very gut level thing… metal. There is an energy to it that few other forms of music capture — …and power, volume… I also think metal is also where you will find musicians whose level of integrity and devotion to their fans is high as opposed to more throwaway styles of music where musicians are chasing dollars exclusively rather than the art.

What’s next for Argus? Are you going to tour, or write more material?

We’re about to start writing for album 4. We hope to get over to Europe again the Summer of 2014. We have a festival appearance booked at the Ragnarokkr Festival in Chicago the weekend of April 4-5, 2014. Other than that we’re looking at some possible US dates… we’ll see what happens. Are discussing plans for small releases like a possible 7″, an EP and maybe a split.