A candidate for the best work within a genre of music should capture every manifestation as best as it can and be able to answer the question: what is X? One might make the argument that the best album must capture the genre at its summit; still, that is a far more difficult essence to capture as in the case of metal, both black and death metal scaled adjacent but different peaks and therefore offer their own unique views of the same musical landscape.
At the beginning of this album, I thought I was in for some ironically incompetent Venom worship with affectations of naivety: “Metal about metal” as it can be rightly called. The drums are played in a bare-bones punk style. The guitar(s) loop punk riffs in predictable verse-chorus style structures while the vocalist rants in a smoke-shredded voice about typical metal stuff. No virtuosic leads or even harmonies are present. However, as the record progressed, the raw efficacy of the chords overcame my cynicism and my head began to nod to and fro of its own accord. Maybe these guys are a throwback or tribute act. Maybe they have actually never heard anything more recent than the firstBathory album. Either way, their riffs have an undeniable ability to hook energy-pumping tentacles into your brain and stir in your heart the desire to get off your ass and be a living, bleeding, raging human. When it comes to music, is there anything better than that?
For a short book that you can finish in an afternoon, Extreme Metal by Joel McIver packs a great density of information of unusual breadth into this deceptively simple volume. Comprised of brief introductions and then combination profile, history and review of the major works of each band, this book applies a flexible strategy to information and dishes out more on the more important bands but refuses to leave out essential minor ones.
McIver released two versions of this book: an original (2000) and this update (2005). With each edition, the book gains more factual information and the writing kicks it up a notch. I first read Extreme Metal I shortly after it came out in a bookstore and noted how some of the writing was boxy and distant, but how (thankfully) it did not drop into the hipster habit of insider lingo and extensive pointless imagery. In Extreme Metal II, McIver writes according to the journalistic standards of the broader media and skips over the conventions of music journalism and especially metal journalism which are less stringent. If there is an Extreme Metal III, the language will be even more streamlined and relaxed.
A good book on metal includes not only information but interpretations; all books filter by what their authors think is important, and one of the strengths of Extreme Metal is its ability to zoom in on not just the larger bands but a number of smaller ones that contributed to the growth of the genre. With each of these bands, McIver presents the information as relevant to a metal fan interested in learning the genre but also in hearing the best of its music. After an introduction by Mille Petrozza of Kreator, Extreme Metal launches into a brief history and afterward is essentially band profiles in alphabetical order. McIver includes all of the big names that one must include especially in any book that wishes to have commercial success, but devotes a fair amount of time to focus on the underground and the odd details that complete its story. He displays a canny instinct for rooting out the important, even if obscure, and relating it to the progress of the genre as a whole.
Written in a conversational but professional style, the book unloads a large amount of information with a low amount of stress and reads much like an extended magazine article covering the growth of the extreme metal genres. Depending on what sub-genres a listener enjoys, parts of the book will be skimmed, much as some Hessians glaze over whenever anything related to nu-metal emerges. McIver displays the instincts of a metal listener and refuses to sugar-coat his opinions, but does not drift into the trendy internet sweetness-and-acid diatribes that afflict those who rage at the excesses of the underground. Instead, the book assumes that its readers are open-minded enough to listen to any good heavy metal and tries to dig out the best of it, even if those standards need to expand when nu-metal or metalcore float by.
Massacra was a French ‘neo-classical death metal’ band and was formed in 1986. Three demos landed them a deal with Shark Records from Germany and later, the major label Phonogram. However, the band was put on hold in 1997 when a founding member, Fred Duval, died of skin cancer at only 29. Some members of the band formed an industrial band, Zero Tolerance, and released an album on the Active label.
Recommended Album:Final Holocaust (Shark, 1990)
Among the truckloads of paper published since Lords of Chaos convinced the industry that money could be made in books about underground metal, Extreme Metal distinguishes itself by being open-minded and yet straight to the point. Most books pass over perceived minor bands like Massacra, Autumn Leaves and Onslaught, but this book fits them into context and explains their relevance in a way that is both enjoyable and informative. While major bands like Metallica will always get more coverage, here McIver works to tie his write-ups of those bands in with traits of other bands who both helped make that success happen and carried it forward.
McIver has gone on to write other books including a best-seller about Metallica, a biography of Max Cavalera of Sepultura, retrospectives of Motorhead and Black Sabbath, a band history of Cannibal Corpse and most recently, a book about alternative band Rage Against the Machine. He demonstrates comfort at every level of above-ground and underground bands, but his instinct as a fan makes him a writer worth reading as he tears through metal, sorting the entropy from the growth. While one can write about underground metal to any depth, Extreme Metal strikes the right balance of information and expediency and produces an excellent first step for any fan or researcher looking into these sub-genres of heavy metal.
People say what they hope will be true and the grand visions printed about the internet back in the 90s are no exception. While most of us were hoping for Neuromancer on our home computers, more “mature” people saw the internet as an emerging market. They cynically promised as a new age where anyone could publish to the internet. It would be a new age free of domination by big media and a marketplace of ideas, they said.
Fast-forward to the time when those predictions would have come true and we see a far different reality. Information overload renders the internet mostly useless. With so many sites dumping information on the masses, the ones that succeed are the ones who get mentioned in the traditional media. Thus in metal media, the big internet sites are dependent on label money. Labels advertise, sites repeat, then that gets quoted in advertising and the audience, figuring the site must be a big deal, flocks to it.
This means that the big metal sites have exactly the same problems big media did back in the 1980s. If a band is good but not popular with a huge spectrum of people and thus high-margin profitable, it doesn’t get mentioned. We’re right back where we were before the internet, except information overload makes it even harder to find the information of real importance, which is focus on the good metal bands whether vastly popular or not.
As I observed in a review of a rising zine, the days of big internet media are giving way to the return of zines:
Many of us old school death metal fans watched the rise of zine Codex Obscurum with growing interest because it, like Glorious Times and Underground Never Dies!, represents an attempt to look back at the underground and figure out what made it as powerful as it was. Part of the answer is selectivity, which is a gentle person’s form of “elitism,” meaning that one selects quality over quantity and vigorously promotes and defends the quality. This is what zines did, what radio shows did, and what labels did, back in the day, by choosing some bands over others. The vague smell of blood in the air is the shadow of long-forgotten predation and natural selection that also shaped us as humans, which means not so much “survival of the fittest” but that all who make a meaningful contribution get kicked upstairs and everyone else is forgotten.
Most people had a problem with this. After all, it’s one lone guy screaming at the last 20 years of media consultant wisdom. But sometimes nature favors the brave (and correct) and so this idea is gaining traction. Witness this recent piece by Marc Andreesen, one of the authors of NCSA Mosaic (Mozilla Firefox’s great-grandfather) and now a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley:
On the Internet, there’s no limit to the number of outlets or voices in the news chorus. So quality can easily coexist with crap. All can thrive in their respective markets—and there’s a market for garbage, too. The good news is this: The more noise, confusion and crap, the more the need for trusted guides, respected experts and quality brands.
The vital sentence there is: The more noise, confusion and crap, the more the need for trusted guides, respected experts and quality brands.
The “noise, confusion and crap” applies to the broken ecosystem where blogs depend on label publicity for support and thus the only blogs that rise to the top are the ones who run the party line. The bigger internet sites are useless unless you want label propaganda. This includes Wikipedia and Metal-Archives, who insist on “verified” information which means a predisposition to believe the press releases over actuality.
The “trusted guides, respected experts and quality brands” describe those who make a name for themselves by knowing good from bad. Trusted guides are like reviewers at your favorite zine; respected experts are book authors, radio DJs and other people with intense knowledge of metal history; quality brands are labels that “can do no wrong,” much like Osmose Productions during the early days of black metal or Drowned Records back int he death metal days.
What this points to is a resurgence in zines and niche/specialty websites that are not sponsored by labels or media. Those represent the true promise of both the internet and the DIY publishing revolution that launched zines back in the 60s and 70s. Even more, it points to a “singularity” where the internet is recognized as not being what it was sold as, and consumers retreat except for a relatively small group of people who inhabit the net like nerds (4chan, NWN/FMP, Facebook).
One possibility is that like many industries before it, the metal industry is flush with cash and has more coming in if it just keeps shipping product regardless of quality. Thus a bubble has been created where money is going toward strategies that don’t actually work or only work with a limited or captive audience. This bubble produces a disconnect between the audience the labels and blogs see, and the larger audience of real-life (“IRL”) people who actually enjoy this music and will buy it — if someone points them to the quality stuff, not just whatever crap the labels are pushing this week.
All of this means that zines have an expanding audience before them. People want experts. Metal zines that are writing consistent reviews that sort good from bad on the basis of the music alone, and that don’t follow the underground trends that are the parallel equivalent of the big label propaganda, will be in high demand. My guess is that they will abandon most of the “underground-style” aesthetic and streamline it into something more reproducible, and focus on more issues at lower cost rather than big ornate rarities.
For metal, this means great opportunity. Metal thrives where it is highly selective. This is because it is easy to make metal, but hard to make good metal. Further, unlike “pure music” genres like jazz and fusion, metal is highly content-driven. This means that songs must imitate and explicate some phenomenon found in the world or in our minds, and thus must be more poetic than the simple jams of other bands. All of this means that we need more of those “trusted guides” in metal than are currently being offered.
This issue is about to explode into public discourse because the rise in new-style metal bands has forced this question upon us all.
What is the underground?
Before even reading this article, keep in mind that there are some excellent resources. First, The Heavy Metal FAQ provides a complete answer. Second, Underground Never Dies! is a whole book dedicated to this topic through the eyes of metal bands from the 1980s-1990s underground era.
But we can come up with an even quicker definition.
The 1980s through early 1990s were a different time. Not only was there no internet, but music distribution was fairly strictly defined. Mainstream stores got what the big distributors had from the big labels and a select few smaller labels that pushed their way in. If you wanted a wider selection, you went to an “alternative” music store which stocked smaller labels. Often you bought imports, at a 50% markup. Most stores were completely uninterested in stocking something such as death metal, because it appealed to a small and antisocial niche audience. Why bother with selling a single copy of a Deicide album when you could sell 20 copies of Motley Crue without even trying?
In addition, there were forces of opposition to any metal that was not radio sanitized (which meant speaking on code words, probably encouraging deviant behavior to a greater degree). Very few people now remember when Tipper Gore and her Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) were a powerful lobby for parental warning stickers on questionable albums. In addition, the threat of such people caused record stores to actually card people for buying violent rap or occult metal. You had to be 18 and prove it, or they would not sell to you.
And getting it on radio? There was college radio and also a handful of independent radio stations but these faced the same problem. Why play death metal when you could throw on a few sets of Sonic Youth and Rites of Spring and have 20 times as many listeners? Even among alternative music, death metal was unpopular because it was abrasive and did not have a large social movement behind it which made people like it. NWA was a violent, misogynistic and hilarious rap group that got banned just about everywhere, but there was a large social movement behind their work. It was easier to find that than your average, or even your top-selling, death metal band.
What underground meant back then seemed to be that it was offered through alternative channels. A few record stores, some college radio stations, tiny record labels run on a basically non-profit basis, and photocopied hand-assembled zines made of a pastiche of typed content and tattoo-style margin drawings. How did most people find new music in the early days? They hooked up with pen pals who would mail them cassette tape mixes of new music they found, often dubbed from cassette demos from the bands. Sometimes these tapes were many generations down the line and you could barely hear the band under the crepitant tape noise! But they did the job that mainstream media, record labels and magazines would not.
Toward the middle of the 1990s, this situation relaxed. First, the rise of used CD sales meant that smaller labels were making it into bigger stores via a backdoor. Second, magazines like Spin eventually gave coverage to death metal. Finally, changes in the way music was distributed opened up the middlemen who supplied record stores to the smaller labels. This meant that the traditional split between underground and mainstream was going away. Record labels, scared by the possibility of used CD sales eating up the profits from big mainstream releases, which relied on novelty to sell and interested their audiences for only a few months, started looking toward “niche” sales. But what really blew it out of the water was the notoriety of black metal.
Starting in the mid-1990s, rumors of the black metal movement in Norway and its legacy of violence — church burnings, murders, and stockpiling of military grade weapons — began to leak out through the zines into the magazines. Then the whole drama exploded with the trial of Varg Vikernes, who conveniently also ended the old black metal era with Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, an album so deeply nuanced and impossible to follow that most musicians shrugged and went back to three-chord, “punk style” black metal instead. He raised the bar at the same time bands like Darkthrone codified the genre with Transilvanian Hunger, an album that was difficult to create but easy to mimic. As mentioned in the documentary Until the Light Takes Us, black metal witnessed the decay of an idea. This decay happened through emulation that, because it looked at the outward traits like distortion and blast beats, missed the actual meaning of the genre which caused musicians to make such similar music in the first place.
It’s hard for people to realize now but black metal was initially viewed as slightly touched in the head. Death metalers often hated it violently; almost everyone else seemed to criticize it for its lo-fi approach and almost childish use of blasphemy and antisocial imagery. Many of the albums sounded like they were performed by people who had barely picked up an instrument and might have zero social graces. It was roundly mocked… until it started to become popular. Then the tables were turned. Within five years, black metal was in mainstream record stores (this shift happened in about 1997) and became really popular with a new generation.
After that point, the term “underground” seemed to lose meaning. The internet had come and made music and information about it universally available, and the proliferation of high-powered desktop computers meant that recording an album, running a label or making a zine involved far less labor and looked and sounded a lot better than the DIY labor of the 1980s (or even 1960s-1970s, when proto-punk and punk bands innovated it). At this point, people started going for an “underground sound,” which meant artificial lo-fi, simple three-chord songs, lots of ranting about antisocial topics including the occult, and a deliberately offensive resistance to any positive reinforcement.
The other issue that’s sparked controversy is exactly which bands get press — take Deafheaven and fellow shoegaze black metal band Alcest, who both benefited greatly from non-metal-centric coverage in 2013. The idea of using these bands to open of the gates of metal and let readers discover a new musical genre (or actually take it seriously) is a contentious one. One of the issues is the promotion of palatable metal bands that could potentially reach the masses with a sound that isn’t “metal” in the classic sense. Instead, these bands have been referred to as “extreme,” a catch-all, provocative phrase guaranteed to attract listeners who are looking for a more intense metal fix – and to satiate that self-satisfied outsider-metal “cool factor” that insecure metal fans love to laud over the pop-music contingent.
In the years from 1995-1998, the underground basically rehashed itself. It had no ideas, and more importantly, the bar was raised. To be a good death metal band, you had to be at the level of Morbid Angel’s Covenant or Suffocation’s Pierced From Within. To be a black metal band of note, you had to be at the level of Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss or Enslaved’s Frost. Not many bands could do that and so an alternative underground built up based on fan-driven metal. Most of this was in emulation of the previous years and took the form of three-chord simplified versions of the more complex originals. The result was that, outside of a small cluster of people hanging around internet forums, this music went nowhere.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so from 1999-2006 or so, metalcore took over. This was also music designed to be easy to make. It took the randomness aesthetic of late hardcore punk and combined it with death metal riffs, making chaotic songs that made no sense but were plenty distracting and extreme. The music industry flogged this dead horse walking (to brutally mix metaphors) for five years before the trend started to die. Then from 2006 through the present, the music industry took a different tack: instead of trying to make a new genre, emulate something that has worked in the past. They found the fertile ground of the post-hardcore years where indie rock, shoegaze and post-rock coexisted in the same sphere of influence. This was generally what was called “alternative rock” before “alternative rock” became a brand for flannel wearing bittersweet droning hard rock bands from Seattle.
Deafheaven is a polarizing band becomes it comes from this tradition. Listening to it, it is not clear there is any metal in it at all. But labeling something “metal” or “underground” or “extreme” excites interest, mainly because few people trust the aboveground media. Thus there is a huge financial incentive to classify Deafheaven as metal, and for smaller blogs and magazines to go along with this fiction as well, if they do, they get advertising revenue and possibly a shot at the big time.
This leaves us with a complete quandary: does the term “underground” have meaning anymore at all?
My suggestion with my last article, “In defense of elitism,” was that underground is a misused term. The point is that metal has a spirit which defines it and separates it from everything else. That spirit must be expressed but it is of a nature that does not trust the dominant paradigm. Black Sabbath wrote their music to rain on the hippie parade of love, drugs and pacifism; their point was that altering our perspective does not change reality. Underground metal had a similar message and was unwilling to alter it in order to fit with the expectations of people who would rather hear about the denial fictions of love, drugs and pacifism (underground rap did the same thing in parallel, but with a different set of issues and a different set of denial fictions).
What makes a metal band underground is that it is unwilling to compromise its vision of truth for what people want to believe is true. It is unwilling to compromise its aesthetics for what people believe is comfortable and pleasant. It is committed to the idea that the only legitimacy comes from the art itself, not its popularity or album sales. Some would identify this as the ultimate non-“bourgeois” statement, in that it casts aside comfortable oblivion in favor of a raw blast of cold hard reality. This sense of underground is more fundamental than how the albums are sold or which zines write about them. It is an attitude and discipline. Underground means that which puts truth first and popularity second, which is a dramatic reversal of the way everyone else goes about it.
Metal is not the only genre to have an underground. Punk was originally underground but as it became fashionable in the late 1970s hardcore punk bands started vanishing into squats, playing midnight parties in abandoned foundries, and selling their music on 7″ records out of shirtsleeves. The noise movement in Japan remains underground to this day, with artists like K.K. Null constructing elaborate and beautiful pieces from raw noise, instead of making harsh blasting rebellious stuff like record labels had hoped. Robert Fripp, former guitarist of King Crimson, uses electronics to make his guitar sound like an organ and plays small concerts across the world. Underground is not a term specific to metal, but a term to describe any activity that is not encouraged in society at large yet believes it has ideological, artistic and/or political value.
You aren’t going to hear about any of these artists in big media and you may not be able to buy their CDs in regular stores. However, that is the symptom, not the cause. The reason they’re not in regular stores is that they’re not only niche, but also not given to comfortable oblivion. In a time when people can choose the artistic equivalent of a cheeseburger over the more challenging and substantive art, people tend to do so, which marginalizes actual art. As a result, the actual art is alien and threatening to most people, which makes it a terrible product, which means that it ends up in small record stores, small zines, and small labels.
If anything, the internet has exacerbated this tendency. In an age when we can find anything by googling it, the real problem is knowing what to google. Even worse, Google uses a search engine algorithm that moves higher links up the chain, thus burying marginalized results. We have all the information in the world but without a guide to it, none of us know what to do with it. It is for this reason that traditional media has won out on the net and the sites that attract the most eyes are the ones that are promoting essentially mainstream music.
What Deafheaven represents to a metaler is the triumph of mainstream music. There is nothing in Deafheaven that challenges the listener to even a second of soul-searching or discovery, or whatever it is that art does — that’s a separate debate — in contrast to what death metal and black metal provoked in us. Deafheaven in fact is the listening equivalent of wallpaper, a pleasant series of repeated images that make us think about shopping, perhaps. Whether it is bad music or not is irrelevant. “The medium is the message,” we’re told, and in the case of Deafheaven, the medium is inoffensive pop pretending to be “extreme.”
Since then, anything “new” and “innovative” done in metal has involved musicians stepping outside the boundaries of the genre more and more. Shoegaze, industrial, post-punk, krautrock, progressive rock, jazz, trance, dubstep. It’s been happening gradually over the past ten years, but Deafheaven’s 2013 album Sunbather just might be the first major splintering that will eventually see “extreme music” separating completely from actual heavy metal. Although my opinion on the album has already been published and will not change, it remains the most critically acclaimed album of 2013, of any genre, marking the first time an album that has occupied that grey area between “metal” and “extreme music” has captured the attention of so many mainstream critics and audiences. Some critics still call Sunbather “metal”, but to do so is to forget what makes heavy metal heavy metal in the first place, merely clutching to the few metallic threads in an otherwise richly varied musical fabric. In reality, Sunbather is a tremendous example of extremity transcending the metal ethos entirely.
In other words, there’s a reason Deafheaven doesn’t sound like Beherit, Demoncy, Imprecation, Blaspherian or any of the other bands which have resurrected the underground sound over the past five years. Deafheaven represents the mixing of mainstream sounds into underground metal, while Beherit represents underground metal growing and developing on its own terms.
If anything, the underground is in a renaissance because it has finally escaped the old standard of lo-fi music sold on cassettes/vinyl through dodgy mail orders and reported on only by small zines. We have gone from alienated from society to accepted (grudgingly) by society, and so now we are “niche” music. But what defines this niche is that it is underground. We face the hidden truths and evoke concealed emotions, and thrust a fist in the face of oblivion. That is what makes us underground, and it’s why the masses chose Deafheaven over Demoncy to report on as a face of extreme music.
Today, Jeff Hanneman would have been fifty years old. The man who helped invent the sound that underlies all of underground death metal did not, as the people around him in the LA suburbs tend to do, waste his life away in repetition. Instead, he forged his own path and we celebrate him for it and the results of it.
Way back in 1983, as now, the holy grail of alienated music was the fusion of any two of its genres: metal, punk and industrial. Specifically there was great interest in using its guitar-based genres to create a new sound. Many people attempted to fuse metal and punk, and many credible sounds came out of it. One path was speed metal, which Metallica unleashed with Kill ‘Em All. Another was thrash, which DRI cut loose with Dirty Rotten LP. But still another was the foundation of death metal and black metal which was introduced by Slayer and refined the following year by Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom.
Slayer took two things from punk and injected them into the prog-influenced songs structures of NWOBHM: they borrowed the constant tremolo strum, used by punk for drone, and the open drum patterns that allowed guitar to take the lead. Now a new style of music emerged. Rhythm guitar became the lead instrument, rapid-firing changing riffs at the audience while drums framed but did not lead the development. Riffs did not have to perfectly fit the drums which kept going in the background as a kind of timekeeper but not, as in most bands, a way of signaling the guitar to change. Further, riffs became phrasal, building on the longer chord progressions of Black Sabbath to become fully small melodies, developing in response to on another like classical motifs.
Music teachers, who were raised in the rock/jazz idea that drums lead and riffs should emphasize harmonic and a static melodic role, with the primary melodic role and lead instrument (and thus impetus for song “development”) being the voice, found Slayer to be unmusical. The record industry was appalled at this creation that unleashed the demonic side of life in such clarity; they make their money from selling happy illusions, not grim realities translated into elaborately conceived mythologies.
And yet it is this mythological tendency, dating back to “War Pigs,” that saves metal from self-consuming and burning out like hardcore punk. It is not literal; it is imaginative. It turns our focus from ourselves to the nature of power, history, nature and other forces larger than the individual, and then lets us imagine the greatness of participation in those. Where punk turned reality into a protest weapon and source of alienation, metal has turned it into a source of individual desire to do something epic with our lives. Slayer gave that mythological tendency a new voice, not just by singing about demons, vampires and The Holocaust, but by translating the sound of raw power into something you could throw on your bedroom hi-fi and be transported to a different world.
For this reason, Slayer captured the imagination of a generation and continues to enthrall us today. The early albums, which are completely written in horror movie mythology, incite in us a desire to see the hidden possibly occult underpinnings of a society gone insane. The Reign in Blood and afterwards material shows us a more punk-like grasp of all that terrifies us and sends us searching for reasons why, and if not why, how to use such things as war, murder and sadism in some constructive way. Slayer is not protest music; it acknowledges the horror, but doesn’t want to band us together into a drum circle to “stop” these horrors. It recognizes they are eternal. Instead, like the religion it loathed, Slayer drives us to find a way to accept these things as part of life itself, and look for a philosophy that shows us a reason to survive despite all these horrors.
Jeff Hanneman’s influence pervades the Slayer story. He wrote many of the band’s most epic and enduring songs, contributed the mythological outlook, and invented the musical changes described above. While he may be slighted by the Grammy’s, or ignored by a world of people seeking Shakira tunes instead of imaginative but realist metal, to those who can understand his trip — already a naturally elite group — Hanneman’s work is not just a source of wisdom, but of inspiration. In a world asleep, he stayed awake. In a world of imitation, he took his own path. Where most just wanted to participate for reward, he took on life at its most basic level and triumphed. For that reason, we’ll always celebrate his life and work.
An age of distrust.
As people who enjoy heavy metal in all its forms and wish it to succeed, we keep an eye out for upcoming metal journalism and history projects that have a realistic yet spirited portrayal of the art form and its origins. One such project was , written by author Salva Rubio, who has now launched his newest venture, Stormbound Books.
Unlike most metal publishers so far, Stormbound Books aims to bridge the gulf between academic metal writing including histories, and the type of popular metal literature that exists for the music fan whose interest is primarily in the music and not the study of it. Read on for a description of the publisher, its team, and how it plans to conquer the world of metal journalism.
What will Stormbound Books offer that is not currently available to metalheads?
On the other hand, we will publish books dealing with larger subjects, and we will offer the English-speaking readers translations such as “Extreme Metal” by Salva Rubio, which has gotten great reviews in the Spanish speaking world, or “Slow Metal”, an study in doom, drone, sludge, etc currently in the works by the same author.
Who do you think are the people who will be interested in your texts?
But also, we think experienced metalheads will find studies of their interest, such as the aforementioned “Diabolus in Arte: Satan in Western Culture and Extreme Metal” and other thematic studies currently in the works, such as “The Universe of H.P. Lovecraft in Extreme Metal” and the tentatively called “Battle Cries: War themes in Western Culture and Extreme Metal” which will be finished in the next months. Also, we are very open to the idea of publishing other authors. Check our guidelines and let us know of your projects.
You have an unusual business model involving “giving away” texts and asking people to pay for them later. Can you tell us how this will work?
This is actually a very common strategy in the e-book market: we plan to freely give away some titles to use them as promotion samples and we aim to have interesting “special sales days” in which we will drop the prices and give freebies for a limited time. This is a rather difficult thing to do in the “paper book” industry, but it’s really manageable in the e-book industry.
If you are interested in receiving these freebies and promotions, we sincerely advise you to join our mailing list, since it will be our main tool for communicating them.
Reviewers, bloggers, journalists, etc interested in getting copies for review should contact us here, making sure to tell us which magazines / zines / webzines you write for.
What’s the background on Stormbound books’ staff, and how did all of them get involved with metal?
We like to think of ourselves as one of the many small, underground record labels in Metal (only that we will publish books instead of records), created by a musician (writer, in this case) to distribute our own, and others’ material. This is our ethos and of way of working.
Right now, Stormbound Books is comprised of me, Salva Rubio, author of the majority of the books to be published for now. I am into Extreme Metal since the early nineties, I am an Art Historian, I have played in a couple of metal bands and I am the author of the book Metal Extremo: 30 Años de Oscuridad (1981-2011) which is currently running at its 4th Edition in the Spanish speaking world. Should you want to know more about me or the book, check my profile at DeathMetal.Org.
As for my partner, Jimena Díaz Ocón, she is mainly into Black Metal and Industrial and she is a graphic designer, layout artist and website / book programmer, so we are a really small yet complete team.
We are fortunate enough to have an experienced writer such as Brett Stevens from DeathMetal.Org (as you know, “the net’s oldest and longest-running metal site”) taking care of the copy editing and style correction.
Do you think we’re at a turning point for heavy metal texts, such that there’s more interest than say ten years ago?
That is correct, I definitely think there is more interest because most of the texts published until now about Extreme Metal have been written mainly from the journalistic or critical points of view, but there are many cultural fields (literature, aesthetics, philosophy, politics) that can uncover many interesting points in Extreme Metal and Heavy Metal and which fans and readers are willing to discover and discuss. That is our goal.
Salva Rubio: author, screenwriter and metalhead. From his website.
Underground Never Dies! is a look at the nascent death metal movement through the eyes of zine editors, musicians and writers from the mid 1980s-mid 1990s era when the genre was birthed. For more information about its genesis and content, you might want to check out our interview with Andrés Padilla and read the other half of this review, which includes a 3-page sampler of the book itself.
What makes Underground Never Dies! exceptional is that it does not attempt to be anything but a subjective and in-depth exploration of what the author and those he knew found to be meaningful in the death metal underground. It explores what the term “underground” itself means, and what motivated these musicians and other creative people to set up an underground and nurture the music in it.
The book itself is a crown jewel, with glossy pages reproducing the original flyers, zines, band photos, demo covers and other artifacts of the age, plus extensive commentary by people who were active in that time, with big names appearing alongside obscure but insightful contributors. Visually, it is overwhelming to the point where it must be digested over many days with appreciation for all of the details, much like one used to peruse Mad Magazine for the Antonio Prohias cartoons in the margins.
The accompanying LP is also a masterwork of old school underground extreme metal joy. Side B begins with the most famous track by Necrovore, the band who in 1986-87 took the raw ideas of early death metal and gave them an aesthetic of apocalyptic rage that was later influential to Morbid Angel. Invocator and Armoros follow with tracks that show us the speed metal roots of many of the most popular riff themes in death metal. Sadism contributes an older school track that shows the mentality shifting from speed metal’s logicality to death metal’s feral rage and structural obsession. Finally, Poison and Mental Decay reveal some of the more hardcore punk-influenced work in the underground, showing us both the weirdness and commonality of purpose between the two genres in their original form.
In addition to the tracks streamed here and on Side A, the CD/MC version of the accompanying music contains a bonus side with more tracks from famous, infamous and obscure bands.
What does any band deserve? A fair review. If the band is good, it should be said so, to what degree. If it just sucks, it also needs to be said. And that’s why we’re here with the latest edition of Sadistic Metal Reviews.
Weekend Nachos – Still
If their stupid name didn’t already clue you in, the atrocity that is Weekend Nachos represents a lesser acknowledged evil in the underground music scene: nu-grind, or powerviolence played by MTV2 jockcore fans. Similar to other Relapse bands like Benümb, except all the fast strummed “anger” is a holdover for later day “tough guy” or straight-edge 90s hardcore “everyone mosh on the dancefloor” gimmickry that preys on low IQs who don’t listen to music beyond “breakdowns.”
Hate Forest / Ildjarn – Those Once Mighty Fallen
The title on this may be ironic because it can apply only to Ildjarn, and only if the band ships something bad. This isn’t bad, but it’s an entirely different form of music. Where older Ildjarn was an idiosyncratic expression in equal parts ambient black metal, drone hardcore and forest Oi/Rac-influenced metal like Absurd, this new material is clearly designed to sound like black metal. Its songs use typical black metal intervals, develop according to the pattern, and even use vocals in the same rhythms as early Dimmu Borgir or other first-and-a-half wave bands. If you’re tuning in to Ildjarn, you expect something at least as lawless and feral as his later work on keyboards; this will be a problem for many listeners. As far as quality, it’s not bad at all and in fact is very natural-sounding, sort of like the first Dimmu Borgir or Graveland albums. Some have hypothesized that Ildjarn did not write the material, and the production changes and incorporation of additional instrumentation, in addition to the stylistic changes, suggest either a casual interest in this as a project to “stay in the game” or delegation of many musical tasks to a new team. Production sounds more recent than the early 1990s Ildjarn material. Use of background keyboards, faster bass riffing, textural discontinuities and other distinguishing effects show an interesting set of musical tools emerging, but the band may need to rediscover its voice. Hate Forest never struck me as being all that significant, but they make a very credible effort here, with production that matches the Ildjarn but is very carefully adjusted to sound as distinctive as possible. Their songs are fairly regulation black metal with an attempt to insert complex fills and transitions, and then to balance that, simplify the chorus riffs. The result is not atmospheric per se but achieves a relaxed atmosphere in which the focal point becomes the interruption, like a sunny sky with an intriguing cloud cluster. None of it is particularly distinctive but it’s not bad either. Songs maintain atmosphere well but there’s not a huge amount of development here, so the band sensibly rely on circularity to keep from appearing jagged. A rumored Ildjarn interview claims that this release was an early 1990s project between himself and Ihsahn of Emperor, which could explain the resemblance to post-Reverence Emperor material.
Melvins – Bullhead
Entropy embodied, this is the band that provided inspiration for Southern Lord’s entire catalogue of musical abortions. Deconstructive, linear riffs that seek to express nothing except ennui, combined with faux-crooning self-pitying lyrics ensure that this will continue to be a favorite band of mentally vacant children for decades to come. This is the mentality of grunge in a different form.
Code – Augur Nox
For a brief while, power metal (speed metal w/death metal drums) looked like it would save True Metal. The problem is, however, anytime you walk back up the metal family tree, you get back toward the stuff metal was formed to run away from. As I listened to the first tracks on this, I thought, they’ve got some interesting riff ideas — let’s see how long it last — however, they sound like they want to be a rock band that’s primarily about vocal performance and personal identification with the vocalist. About half-way through the album, they shifted to tap-dance rhythm riffs and soaring vocals, the combination meaning no ideas but how to rip through some 1960s material. Eventually it got so bad it sounded like Queensryche on a bad day as a disco combo covering old CCR B-sides. If you don’t have an idea, by definition, you are an imitator recycling the old in a new form, and we have a word for that: stagnation.
Immolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy
Continuing their decline, Immolation return to the bouncy simplicity of Harnessing Ruin, only this time they downplay the “nu” sounds and try to make it sound more aesthetically in line with their old sound. This doesn’t change it from being a predictable verse-chorus version of NYDM and shows Immolation in their most neutered form yet, trying to pander to a metalcore audience whilst retaining their trademark sound. After the last album, I reckon the only reason people see these guys tour anymore is to get a Failures for Gods longsleeve. Linear, predictable, and disappointing considering this group’s potential.
Izegrim – Congress of the Insane
After a few brave people direction-find their way to a new genre, in come the people who want to partake. They often bring superior skills but they don’t understand what they’re doing. Izegrim is a fine example. It’s chanty metal. When metal gets chanty, which is the nerdy equivalent of rapping, you know that a central narrative has been replaced by adherence to appearance and where that doesn’t work, filling in the gaps with the same old stuff. While this band is instrumentally superior to your average metal band, they don’t know what to do with the odd bits and ends they’ve assembled as songs, so they tie it all together with the simplest elements possible. That meants chants, crowd-pleaser but repetitive riffs, and lots of bombast to cover up for the big void within.
Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine
When a band wishes to play black metal without embodying any of its spirit, this is what’s produced. Lethargic, tremolo-strummed droning with ANGRY MAN vocals and uninspired drumming produces an album of tracks that are indistinguishable. Albums like these would be better off as hard rock, because at their heart that is what these musicians are aiming to create…though at least it’s not as bad as the the latest Satyricon abortion.
Broken Hope – Omen of Disease
After failing to become “Oppressor meets Deeds of Flesh” with their last couple albums, Broken Hope return after a long hiatus and have churned out what can best be described as a Unique Leader band covering mainstream hip hop tracks in double speed. Considering their “beefs” with death metal bands and Source Awards concert turn outs, it should be no surprise that this has more in common with Tupac than it does Suffocation, approaching death metal from the same “gangster” outlook that Six Feet Under did in the 90s.
Secrets of the Moon – Seven Bells
“Artistic” black metal, otherwise known as black metal watered down with fruity “post-rock” produces a product that is post-art. Designed for a generation that believes interrupting narration with pointless deviations is artistically viable, in form this shares for more in common with modern metal than with relevant black metal bands. Listen to this only if you enjoy consuming pumpkin spice lo-fat frappuccinos.
Laibach – S
These three tracks — “Eurovision,” “No History” and “Resistance is Futile” — comprise 2/3 of the EP S (which can be streamed here) released in advance of the new Laibach album to show where the band is at this point. Some might think it odd to review industrial music on a metal blog, but Laibach has been supportive of metal in the past, including the notorious Morbid Angel remixes and positive statements made in public. Further, industrial and metal share a root, which is that we deny the happy vision that came about in the 1960s of love, peace and uniformity that would save us from the horrors of the modern time. Our vision is to point out that the beast is within, and as long as humans refuse to discipline their minds, they will end up re-inventing the horror, futility and self-destruction of the near past and the ancient past, before civilization evolved. Both genres also point to a path outside of what is acknowledged as “higher values” or “the right thing to do,” seeing morality as confining and misinterpreted. That being said, it seems that industrial hasn’t changed much since the EBM days of the 1980s. In fact, much as Nine Inch Nails basically made a more pop form of that genre with added guitars, Laibach have simply made a more stern form, albeit a self-mocking one. What you will find: compelling beats, blasts of static, sampled voices, a surly European-accented voice almost chewing out the lyrics in a conversational growl, and even bits of other musics woven through the material. Ultimately, what makes industrial different than metal is that it knows how to pull off a good pop song and make it sound good, even with machine-ish touches, where metal tries to make something beyond what people consider music. As a result, these songs have heavy dead-beat grooves and build up to a compelling motion. There isn’t as much internal development as metal so there’s some question of whether a metal fan would enjoy hearing these repeatedly, but it’s hard to ignore the sheer pop power and terrifying view of the world brought up by this assault of music and (if you go to the site) imagery.
Sepultura – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart
Claiming to be inspired by the old science-fiction movie Metropolis, Sepultura collaborate with tone deaf AIDS guru Ross Robinson to create an album that, much like recent Sepultura, is high in pretension and low in musical payoff. Death metal sounds are utilized here but only serve as what sounds like Pantera or later Sacred Reich occasionally lapsing into a parody of Slowly We Rot at its simplest than anything from their 80s output. A guest appearance by Dave Lombardo doing a “tribal” drumming outro feels more like a marketing gimmick, lacking any of the imagination found in his instrumental track for Grip Inc. (incidentally, their only good song). Most of the songs devolve into effects laden meandering, which is to be expected considering the producer. Even then, nothing is gained or lost on this album. Sepultura is still like a fish out of water, churning out another vapid reiteration of their 1998 album that will piss off old fans and make no new ones.
Cattle Decapitation – Your Disposal
The first riff sounds like screamo, then clean vocals played over what sounds like a “post-black” abomination, then the breakdown with “eerie arpeggios”… this is metalcore. Looking past the “shocking” image stolen from early Carcass made to appeal to self-loathing Starbucks regulars, Cattle Decapitation now seem to be in direct contact with the same focus group Gojira employ when coming up with their gimmick ridden, indie rock friendly vapidity, eschewing the F-grade death/grind of their past for metalcore acceptance. Beyond the aesthetic drape of underground metal, this is nothing more than a random collage of parts “EXTREME” bands play for mainstream appeal under the pretense of having “matured” as “artists.”
Twilight – Monument to Time End
The “supergroup” of a bunch of hipsters that convinced Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth to ruin the genre alongside them, Twilight perverts black metal by using the treble guitar tone and anguished vocal styling to dress up what is middle of the road “post-sludge”. Members pool their collective inability to write metal into one product that comes off like a brain washing tool Scion would use to convince Gojira fans to purchase SUVs, all the while looking “edgy.”
Cromlech – Ave Mortis
This imaginative release explores the world of Iron Maiden-tinged power metal with an epic metal mindset, preferring extensive clean vocals, lengthy melodic parts and high-speed pickup riffs of the Maiden style. However, it also works in a fair amount of newer technique, sounding sometimes at the edge of later At the Gates. This is interesting material and an ambitious offering. However, this band has a few things it needs to work on. First, the vocalist is too present both in the composition and the approach to songwriting, and needs to go back to being one of the instruments. Second, this CD weighs in at 1:10 and is a B- album at that length, where if they boiled it down to 35 minutes would be closer to an A. (Note to bands: if you can’t listen to your own CD, while doing nothing else, on repeat for several times in a row, make changes). It has genre confusion problems that need to be resolved by getting more comfortable with its own style. Finally, Cromlech should learn from Iron Maiden and focus on making song structures clear: one intro, a theme, a countertheme, and some kind of developmental area where the melody grows before returning to the more predictable parts of songs. This is about their approach anyway, but it’s muddled by uneven application of technique. In addition, it wouldn’t kill them to look through for repetitive themes and excise or consolidate them. All in all, a great first effort, and I tack on all these suggestions because starting bands often need a push to fully develop.
Gojira – L’enfant sauvage
The biggest sham in metal to this day. Being a propaganda tool used by hippies to turn metal into rock music, Gojira continue what they’ve done since the beginning: making “heavy” parts out of rhythmic chugging with pick scraping sounds before playing “soft” parts that sound lifted from A Perfect Circle. Rock made for angry menstruating Deepak Chopra reading faux-guru hippies. Add the cringe worthy “deep” lyrics and it’s no wonder people thought the world was going to end in 2012 when both this album came out and a new record was set the world over in dolphins beaching themselves.