Hate Mail (#8): The Reviewer’s Response to Steve Cefala’s Comment Spam

Article by Lance Viggiano responding to Steve Cefala’s comment spam on Lance’s Sadistic Metal Review of Nothing Left’s demo.

People really need to understand that reviewing – when you aren’t listing the objective qualities of the music – ultimately comes down to the reviewers taste and experience.

The problem is ultimately that our culture cannot discern the difference between values and facts. More specifically, they treat values as if they were factual statements. So, habitually, they lose their shit over contrary irreducibly individual judgements.

I’m sure this guy can find a hundred other metal critics to praise what I think is lack luster. Still, the most embarrassing bit is that a 40 year old man has to resort to trying to fight at the flag pole after school over differences.

Occult Burial – Hideous Obscure (2016)

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Article by Corey M.

Overall satisfying (but not quite inspiring) straightforward songs with equal parts thrash and proto-death metal present. I don’t quite hear the “occult” sound these guys are evidently going for; their music sounds too immediate and, weirdly, fun. The band members clearly enjoy creating this music and therefore their work is free of pretense; no revivalist coat-tail riding here. Expect to hear fairly similar-sounding riffs throughout, without much in the way of dynamics. Compared to their contemporaries in bands like Nifelheim and Aura Noir, Occult Burial are competent and maybe even a step ahead of the more popular bands that mix thrash with modern metal because they aren’t impeded by gimmickry. Their lack of theatrics may work against them because they will probably continue to be overlooked until they learn to cut loose and let their imaginations run a little more wild with their songs. Compared to the more aggressive speed metal classics from Coroner and Razor, parts of Hideous Obscure are downright boring. Even playing a bit faster and cleaning up the recording could do wonders for the effectiveness of these songs. Some parts sound truly terrible. For instance, the snare drum sounds  in the words of my favorite robot puppet “like a bag of sardines thrown up against the side of a pole barn.” Nevertheless there is promise here and I would reserve more judgment until Occult Burial release a proper-sounding album or I can catch them live.

Gama Bomb – Untouchable Glory (2015)

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Review by Corey M

Having never heard of Gama Bomb before this album, after the first few moments of music I was afraid that I had gotten ahold of some sort of the modern-faux-thrash-revival that is somehow cool to people who don’t listen to thrash bands. But I was wrong; Untouchable Glory is not a forced revival or a rip-off; it’s just dumb music. This not to say that the guys in the band are dumb, because they clearly have practiced their musicianship and are attentive to the dynamics and compositional symmetry in their songs. But the result of what they do is still dumb, and apparently they want it that way.

The basis of Gama Bomb’s style is made up of high-speed two- or three-chord minor riffs over which a vocalist rants and chants cleverly cadenced lyrics with just enough emphasis that his voice never becomes a full-on yell but keeps up (barely) enough energy to avoid sounding bored. A typical Untouchable Glory song starts up at full-speed right out of the gate and rushes through a verse, then hits you with slightly bouncier, chunkier variation of the same riff you just heard (but transposed a few steps up or down) as the drums switch from dense d-beats to a sort of swaggering rock rhythm. After that comes the chorus, which is usually not made up of a more interesting riff but does have some very catchy vocal pattern that, coupled with the rapid-fire lyrics, creates a hook powerful enough to snag a whale. Some songs have guitar leads and these are mostly made of 16th-note blather with no discernible direction other than back and forth because that’s the extent of the movement of the chords. There are a couple of times where the chords underneath the lead shift unexpectedly and the lead follows (which undermines the purpose of a lead! Maybe I shouldn’t be calling the guitar antics “leads”…) and resolves the progression in a viscerally satisfying way. However this satisfying resolution is all too rare and the guitar leads rather serve as marks of distinction among the generally formulaic songs.

So far, I’ve only pointed out common failings of metal albums – probably more than 95% of all metal commits the transgressions that I’ve detailed above. So what makes Untouchable Glory worse than a mediocre album is the purpose mentioned in the first paragraph? Gama Bomb is made up of competent musicians, but they have no ambition. Every song sticks to the same method of structure and dynamic manipulation. Every lead begins and ends in the same way. The band must rely on their vocalist and his method of delivery, which does a great job to augment the repetitious rhythm of the guitars, but this only exposes the weakness in the guitar and drum composition, because the vocals never let up or give the music a chance to expand beyond its immediate template. Typically I’d refer to chord progressions when describing song structure but the chord patterns that make up the songs on Untouchable Glory don’t progress, they just recycle. This tendency in the composition reflects the band’s attitude toward metal (and presumably music) as a whole.

The ultimate failure of this album is not in its compositional shortcomings but in its intentional stupidity. Song subjects cover kitsch and cliche topics such as getting high, getting drunk, hating authority, burning witches, being a ninja, and being undead. That these topics are dealt with is not enough to warrant criticism, but the self-consciously ironic attitude that Gama Bomb takes towards the topics is what separates them from quality acts that they are aping. Metal and punk bands have been covering these topics for decades but they didn’t have their tongues in their cheeks while doing so. Since those topics were taboo, metal bands explored new methods of song construction to fit with such uncomfortable or repulsive themes and great music was created as a result (and I always refer the uninitiated to Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast” or Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” for an example of how musicality and lyrics support one another to establish and expand on a theme). Meanwhile, Gama Bomb have nothing new to say about any of these topics and so it would logically follow that they needn’t invent any new music to support their take on the topics. Thus all we get to hear is basically a parody of speed metal and thrash. If you think that type of music deserves to be joked about, then Gama Bomb might be right for you. If, however, you appreciate and honor the innovators who brought extreme subjects into popular music and brainstormed methods of expressing them musically and lyrically, then you’d best move along, because Untouchable Glory is an affront to honesty.

VI releases De Praestigiis Angelorum preview track

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VI, the French black metal supergroup comprised of members from Antaeus and Aosoth, has released the improbably-named “Il est trop tard pour rendre gloire. Ainsi la lumière sera changée en ombre de la mort.” sample track from De Praestigiis Angelorum, permitting a short review.

Like later Antaeus, this band is hollow. It is not outright fake, but it aims to control your mind by pleasing you with surface characteristics and missing what lies beneath. Much as the first Antaeus had possibility in that it attempted to upkeep some of the ideas of the past that worked, but never quite got there, and then the band backed off of that direction with later releases, VI has a strong surface of old school black metal — fast rhythms, the right minor-key riffs, the right texturing of melody and grinding — but at its core there is nothing. You might look at this as simply a better take on Deathspell Omega, but there is no transcendent passion in these songs, only a somewhat cynical knowledge of how to make music sound brainy and violent at the same time.

What propelled original black metal was a strong emotionality based in a worldview inspired by logical analysis, not social feelings, about human problems. VI reverses this with a song about the social feeling of belong in black metal and thinking how austere, relentless and different you are just for listening to this, and yet it has no substance. The band ably combines two riffs and variations for the initial part, then drifts off into a patchwork of ideas that fit together rhythmically but crush any chance for expressing a consistent or developing theme. What you get is like American beer: it has all the right ingredients, in the wrong order, with no idea uniting it all except to please the average fool for long enough that he will buy it again. Avoid this FMP/NWN release.

Dysentery – Fragments (2015)

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Self-identifying with the “Slam” tag, Dysentery play a mid-paced, groove-oriented deathcore. The music is based on two poles. The first is very simple grooving rhythms either in slow tempo or in blast-beat-ridden sections with very obvious and simple stress points. The second is the use of pinch harmonics (aka squeals) to round off some phrases.

The music shows a single-minded ambition: grooving brutality. Simple rhythmic indulgence in a pleasure-oriented music. As such, this music is little more than the reggaeton of “extreme” metal. The band might as well change their guitars and drums for a computer software simulator of a mixer and start playing with beats and singing about big-ass girls and how macho you are and what not.

Ravencult – Morbid Blood

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Around a decade ago, the funderground types (NWN/FMP) started a campaign to include Venom as the “first wave of black metal,” even though before that time nearly all sources agreed that Venom were NWOBHM and probably less influential on black metal than Motorhead. But suddenly this huge push existed to bring Venom into black metal; why? Listening to Ravencult, it is clear: so that they could make mediocre heavy metal, speed it up like a punk band and add rasping vocals and call it black metal. This created an instant doubling of product to capture that boom in clued-out kids trying to buy into the black metal hype.

Ravencult drops firmly within this camp. They keep the constant forward rhythm of a war metal band and underneath it re-visit riffs from the 80s and 90s which, despite their chromatic nature, often have a basis in the rhythms and tonal changes of hard rock. The result is something that you want to like but it is too simple-minded and repetitive ultimately to provide anything but a sting of nostalgia and then lots of comforting background noise. It will never motivate anyone to any particular greatness like the old bands used to do. As they say in the funderground, at least it is true… or is that so? It might be better to sever from the past, and create something new instead. Or at least something with the same intensity of death/black metal, instead of trying to make lower intensity versions of the classics so that people can enjoy them like easy listening music or lite jazz, sitting on their comfortable sofas sipping Chivas and “appreciating” black metal.

and of course the unholy genesis of underground metal — Hellhammer, Bathory, Sodom and Slayer —

The funderground evaporates and metal goes underground

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Blue skied days make me think of aliens landing amongst us like in the old science fiction films. Except this time, the aliens are disappointed in what they find. “We have analyzed your transmissions,” the vocoded digi-translator says. “We are hoping to contact the people of Aurelius, Plato, Nietzsche and the first Morbid Angel album.”

Sadly there is no one here who can help them. The old Romans are dead, the ancient Greeks long gone, even the days when philosophers wrote about real topics are over, and Morbid Angel have ventured on to different goals and styles. If the aliens came looking for old school death metal, they’d find themselves presented with over a million options, very few of which resembled the glory of what once was.

This leads us to the interesting question: what causes some human endeavor, whether a civilization or a culture or death metal, to collapse? Nietzsche believed the answer to be nihilism; Joseph Tainter thinks it is when groups find diminishing marginal returns in self-organization; Aurelius saw a failure of spirit as the cause. When I was less experienced, I would have agreed with Nietzsche or Tainter that an internal/external source was the cause; the more I’ve seen, the closer I veer toward Aurelius’ view which is that things die when their spirit dies.

In metal, we’ve had a great spiritual death for quite a long time now. Death metal and black metal produced a huge backlog of technique, imagery, creativity and complexity between 1984 and 1994, but then pretty much faded away. In their place first came imitators, then metalcore, and now the emo/indie/gaze crowd of “post-metal” types who are making the same music that was popular back in the late 1980s. History has reversed itself as it always does when collapse comes to town.

Erik Danielsson of erstwhile black metal band and now happy melodic heavy metal band Watain offered his own vision of how this inversion occurs:

I think that throughout the course of history, there have always been very few bands that have been able to live up to my standards, at least of black metal… Then there are thousands and thousands of misrepresentations and misconceptions of it. But true and genuine black metal is always something that will always be a minority in the music scene. A small minority even.

Then there’s all these people that kind of want to… It’s just like punk, you know? You have a few real punk bands, and you have a thousand bands that try to do the same thing, but fail because they don’t have the right spirit and they don’t really believe in it. But at the same time, it fascinates a lot of people, because it is an extreme way of expression, and it is controversial, and it’s therefore also popular and people are fascinated by it.

That’s why it’s also so often, like with other forms of extreme art, whatever it may be, that’s why it’s also so often misused, and just even commercialised, just for the sake of that, horror sells. And extreme metal sells, controversy sells, and that’s why there’s so many charlatans in this kind of music.

He makes a good point but it’s not the whole story. At some point, the genre was stronger and had a higher ratio of actual black metal to imitators. What is an imitator? Someone who adopts the surface appearance of some other thing without understanding its spirit, inner structure, values or motivations. Why do imitators do it? For the social value; that’s all imitation can deliver. If you imitate something, you can sell it, achieve popularity, or even just have some rationalization for your lifestyle and a way to spend your time that you feel doesn’t make you look like a complete l00zer to your friends.

This makes the original ideals of black metal look smarter than they seemed at the same. “No more, no core, no fun and no trends” is an anti-social statement, meaning that it is designed to block the passage of metal into a social movement. As discussed in Until the Light Takes Us, the decay of meaning is inevitable once power passes from the innovators to the art shop displays, poseurs, political types and record label tyrants.

Luckily, there’s also good news. hybrid indie/metal band Twilight is calling it quits:

Black metal supergroup Twilight welcomed a new member in the middle of 2012: Thurston Moore. “We’re not coming together to make music,” Moore said then of the group. “We’re joining forces to destroy all rational thought.”

Unfortunately, the band itself has also imploded. With news of their new album—III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb, out March 18 in North American and March 17 in Europe through Century Media—comes the announcement that Twilight has broken up. The album will be their last.

I will never be happy for anything that inconveniences Imperial of Krieg in any way, as he carried the black metal flag at a time when the USBM underground had declared itself dead fetus and put up the banner of failure. I also have no enmity for Thurston Moore, who was quite a gregarious and interesting fellow when I met him, or any of the other musicians in Twilight. They’re just trying to have careers. However, they were also symbolic of the downfall of underground metal in that they symbolized its acceptance by the indie rock hierarchy.

The thing about rebels is that they either fail and are destroyed in anonymity, or they become the new Establishment. Since most people love a chance to believe that their problems are caused by oppression, not their own poor life choices, revolutions are very popular; just about everyone loves one, except the cynical and flatulent elderly. Thus as a revolutionary you have a better than average chance but, if you succeed, you live to become that against which new generations revolt. First country, blues, jazz and rock were a revolution against established music, then punk was a revolution against popular music. Then indie was a revolution against punk.

Black metal, like heavy metal before it, was a revolution against the mentality of revolution. It was “heavy” in that instead of promising flowers, love and peace — all appearances, all social things — it promised darkness, warfare, conflict and predation. Metal has always been the music that says our problems cannot be solved by appearances and must be addressed by dealing with reality itself, which is the one thing that most people never want to do.

The message of metal is never initially popular. What is popular is the perception of metalheads being “outside” the social system, and thus able to perceive a truth and enjoy a freedom that those inside cannot. This makes those inside want to emulate the outsiders, but they do so only in appearance, resulting in them making imitations that have the spirit, values, goals and internal structure of the inside. Thus, the independent truth is dragged down into a morass of conformity and the same failed thinking that it tried to escape.

The Funderground irks longtime fans

rttp_fundergroundA tension has been simmering under the surface in metal for the better part of a decade now and shows no signs of calming down. It concerns the division of metal into old and new.

Up through the late 1990s, metal was fairly consistent: it was music based on riff Jenga and distrust of society’s pleasant illusions. It was not protest music, but it was outsider music.

Then came an influx of people who were “alternative,” meaning that they wanted to escape the mainstream, but still wanted what it offered, which was essentially protest music.

In our society, popular music tends to take only a few forms. One is the standard song of individual gratification, usually love or longing. Another is protest at how people are treated.

Hardcore music was a breath of fresh air. While it was opposed to society, it did not protest how people were treated. It protested an insane existence. There was no bad guy, only a dying society.

Metal picked up on this vibe and mixed in the metaphorical and otherworldly approach of early Black Sabbath lyrics. The result was something truly outside of any perspective that was mainstream or alternative.

Now the alternative types have recaptured metal, using their superior numbers to reduce it to something palatable for mainstream and/or alternative consumption.

A counter-revolution against this tendency burst onto the underground recently when pro-OldSchool trolls took over longstanding New England metal blog “Return to the Pit”:

A place where metal is happy and not disgusting. A place where somebody would rather message you on Facebook or text you when you’re nowhere near them in the show.
A place where one man’s smile is another man’s laughter.
A place where the boisterous voices of jokes and YouTube discussion outweigh any serious topic.
A place where it’s okay to have star tattoos covering your flabby forearm.
A place where MetalArchives reviews are that of a fact.
A place where moshing and dancing lost their edge.
A place where everybody knows your name and is friends with you on Facebook.
A place where threads are made about you on a dying board that is absolutely horrible now thanks to the FUNDERGROUND.

While we can’t lend our stamp of approval to the trolling which has essentially devastated this forum, we can point out that there’s some truth in these allegations.

Since 2000, metal has increased in popularity by a vast degree. There are more fans, and more bands, than there ever have been before.

However, these aren’t the same type of bands. They sound more like late hardcore bands, who specialized in putting unrelated riffs together to achieve a “carnival music” or “variety show” effect.

Modern metal seems to have lost sight of who it is, and instead borrows its personality from crowd-pleasers like *core, indie, emo, lite jazz and rock.

The term “Funderground” refers to people who are using the underground as a way to socialize, instead of a way to make music that expresses their viewpoint on the world.

When you think about it, metal has always been anti-social and distrustful of social impulses. We can now see why: when socialization comes out, good music goes away, and with it, the best of metal fans also disappear.