Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-26-15

January 26, 2015 –

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Sturgeon’s law holds that 90% of everything is mediocre. This condition occurs because most people are not thinking at all about what they are doing. When they want to be important, they create a metal band to make them look important, instead of trying to make good music. With brutal cruelty and ecstatic sadism we separate the poseurs and tryhards from the real deal with Sadistic Metal Reviews

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Collision/The Rotted – Split

Three tracks comprise this aggressive split. Collision leads in with two tracks of rigid, violent grindcore which incorporates a few ideas from percussive death metal to give it additional crush. These tracks keep intensity through speed and chaotic blasting but harbor no surprises in chord progression of phrase, which makes them fun to listen to incidentally but perhaps nothing one would seek out. The Rotted on the other hand slashes out a single track of old-school hardcore with a catchy chorus, extremely rudimentary but melodically hookish riff balanced against a sawing (but not grinding) verse riff, and genre conventions from older punk. Both of these bands aim to uphold the genres they are from and do it competently but when a genre is well-established, every band is a local band until it rises above from some distinctive personality or idiosyncratic perception. They do not need to be “unique,” since such a thing has never really existed, but they must be their own creation. Both bands here feel like minor variations on known archetypes and, while competent, do not inspire particular allegiance. That being said, they both remain enjoyable for that local grindcore/band experience, and together these tracks enhance each other like memories of the set you saw while drinking craft beer and talking up that sexy Facebook consultant at a bar that has changed hands eleven times in the last quarter. It would be interesting to see what these bands did with a longer recording as that would put more pressure on them to differentiate style or at least expand upon it.

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Decline of the I – Rebellion

Someone raised this question the other day: is metalcore a new style, or simply incompetent death metal? After all, we had bands who tried that Pantera-Fugazi-Nasum hybrid stuff in the past and generally it turned out that they were simply terrible songwriters who had no idea how to focus on an idea and bring it to clarity. Similarly, one wonders about “post-metal.” Is this just idiots dressing up garbage and incompetence as the avantgarde, because that’s what the avantgarde really is? Seriously, I’d love to see one of these artists who makes sculptures of his own feces that interpret the metaphysics of Schopenhauer as quantum physics, for once, just for once, make a classically beautiful art work first so I don’t simply think he’s a Damien Hirsch style conjob. Decline of the I is really hilarious when you realize that it thrusts this question upon us. It sounds like stoned desperation with a home studio: random bits of metal songs that went nowhere, stitched together with what every 90s con man used in his band, the sampler. It doesn’t flow in any direction or express anything other than “moments” of perception, like standing on a street corner while two cars collide and a pigeon defecates on a 24-year-old copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Rebellion amalgamates speed metal, death metal and punk riffs together with a bunch of influences outside of metal. There is no continuity, only a series of exhibits like a subway train going through an art gallery. These clowns use the different styles as wallpaper slides to color otherwise empty music and hide the collection of hackneyed tropes made “new” by hackneyed avantgarde tomfoolery and snake oil salesperson confidence jobs. Even the most incompetent ordinary metal band is preferable because its dishonesty is limited to its music, while Decline of the I brings in every posture, pose, pretense and fabrication necessary to make this hacked-up studio defecation seem like music.

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Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat

It has often been suspected that bands, when they run out of actual motivation, pick one off the shelf to make themselves seem profound. Their profundity means our guilt if we do not buy the album because we have turned down a great gift to humanity, you dig? But the fact is that they went into the big closet of Hollywood motivations — the poor, the downtrodden, the children, suffering animals, drug addiction and being raped — and pulled out one giant compulsion to make you like their empty music. Napalm Death went down this route when after Fear, Emptiness, Despair guitarist Jesse Pintado embarked on a course of alcoholism so crippling he could not bail out the rest of the band anymore. That is too bad, since Pintado essentially revitalized the band and created three of their best albums with his homegrown grindcore know-how. Ever since then, Napalm Death has been wandering in a wilderness of not giving a damn buuutttt something needs to pay for this condo, so they puke out another album. Apex Predator – Easy Meat takes Napalm Death full cycle from a band that protested pop music to a band that makes the worst of pop. This pretense-pop would be OK if it were good pop, because then we could laugh off the guilt, but instead it is a series of very similar riffs that break into very similar choruses which cycle until the end with a few breaks that are almost visual or high school theater department drama because they are so transparent and obviously manipulative. It was embarrassing to be noticed listening to this because it is not just bad, it is inept; its ineptitude is covered up with rock star glitz and production, but it still sounds hollow and horrifyingly empty. Please, give these guys jobs in media relations because they are done as a band and this embarrassing formalization just removes whatever shreds of self-respect they once had.

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The Chasm – Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm

Although Daniel Corchado is obviously one of the most talented composers in underground metal, The Chasm does not present his best work. The appeal can be immediately seen: epic metal band with lengthy songs that play out internal conflicts in a way the audience can identify with. Under the hood, while there are some touches of DBC-style riffing, what greets us here is the cliches of 1980s speed metal with added progressive-ish fills that demonstrate guitar talent and knowledge of harmony. The songs remain basic when you factor these out, excepting the longer instrumental passages, which also rely on riffs from the past dressed up or lots of rhythmic downpicking that adds little other than keeping a place in the harmony. Additionally, occasionally comical vocals and a number of hackneyed metal stalwarts mar this release, but the real crisis here is the lack of interesting riffs, the shamminess of the songs in dressing up the mundane as exotic, and the coup de grace which is the inability of this album or its songs to convey an emotional experience outside of the music itself. They resemble nothing other than constant variations in a style of technical speed metal riffing that bands like Anacrusis made great by putting around evocative songs, but the latter part is missing here. Individual moments shine with the brilliance that can be expected of Corchado, and moments in songwriting show insight. The problem is that there needs to be more of the random or evocative in riffs, which would allow Corchado’s song structure ideas to take on significance, and less of the highly talented progressive tinged touches that are impressive on a guitar-playing level but compositionally, serve the role of filler. On the whole, this album resembles the kind of tuned-up musical entropy that all of us ran to death metal to escape around 1989 or so.

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Edge of Haze – Illumine

In theory, this should be hated: a hybrid of Gothic music, power metal and djent-inspired percussive speed metal. In reality, Edge of Haze restore balance to these genres by putting them in the right context. Speed metal is the hard rock of the 2010s, thirty years after its release, and updating it with a smary 1980s Gothic pop vocal and power metal “inspirational” choruses gives it the right context as the popular music of the age. It may be cheesy, as one might expect from these populist niche genres, but Edge of Haze seems at least comfortable in its own skin and the removal of the usual death metal vocals gives this album both greater levity and a greater intensity, as well as removing the crowding effect of harsh monotonic vocals. In addition, this re-introduces the voice as a melodic instrument which allows guitars to focus purely on rhythm and rudiments of harmony without losing direction to a song. Edge of Haze executes this hybrid well by capturing the dark pop aspects of Gothic and creating for them a framing of boldly abrasive metal that runs the gamut of styles from the last three decades without creating an oil-on-water effect by having those styles dominant the rhythm and song structure for a segment so that other parts seem like extra organs in a cadaver, puzzling the drunken pathologist at 4 AM as he files the report on the latest Jane Doe. Edge of Haze present something as intense as nu-metal but with a darker aesthetic that carries more gravitas than the dad-hating victimhood affirmation that nu-metal conveyed, also removing the rap/rock beats and making a form of popular metal that can be not only relatively heavy, but have a grace of beauty in darkness, and still write some quality pop songs. Aesthetically, this makes my skin crawl; musically, it is well-done and should be praised for putting this style of music in the context it warrants and deserves.

Various Artists – Basic Needs

January 19, 2015 –

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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.

Amebix – Redux

January 11, 2015 –

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“You know kid, uhh, usually when someone pulls shit like that my first reaction is I want to punch his fucking lights out. But you know something? You’re all right!” Most re-visions of older works by popular musicians end in tears and terror. This one re-creates three classic Amebix tracks in a form the band suggested was always intended but was not possible owing to the primitive production and living conditions of the day, and Amebix surely knew that their fanbase — who grew up on the versions as they were — would approach this with trepidation and skepticism. But there is no easy review for this disk.

Redux does not fall into the usual trap of making a glamorized and overly-slick version of the past. Instead, Amebix restyle their foundational songs more as if Metallica and Prong had collaborated to emit a dystopian metal album. Double-picked muted downstrumming and faster tremolo strumming all make an appearance, along with approximately half the vocals which are a hybrid of the Amebix style of Motorhead-influenced distorted vocals and the bassier, gnarlier death metal vocals to follow. But what is really surprising here is how these songs work very well given the high intensity treatment, which transitions them from a kind of contemplative and mournful look at our world to a savage Nietzschean attack of those who want to hoist the black flag and slit some throats. There are times when, much as happened on the first Burzum LP, these vocals are simultaneously so vulnerable and savage that they convey a sense of total commitment to desperate acts.

In addition, the more rigid playing of these riffs and uptempo approach gives the entire EP a malevolent vibe. These songs were great in the past, and they would be known as great here as well had this been the past. That being said, it will offend many punk purists and metal purists alike, despite having faithfully upheld the spirit of both genres. Not only that, but the haunting and unsettling sense of peering under the skin of our society and seeing underneath the makeup and credentials a swarming mass of crawling horror remains and may be intensified by this more assertive re-creation. While I liked the album that followed, I would gladly sign up for a full album of Amebix songs in this style as well.

Sympathy for the Hipster

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I write a lot about hipsters because I am fascinated by subcultures and how they attempt to find meaning independent of the center. You can join the ska kids, Goths, rivetheads, wi-fi hobos, ecolos or channers. You might have a thedic identity, a de facto tribe combined of ethnic pride and politics, or an outright political group like the earth firsters, crypto-coms or far-right. In a time of no actual commonality to our deconstructed societies, you know you will be a cog in the machine: working a job, paying taxes and housing, and doing all the day-to-day stuff like shopping at Costco that is about as romantic as math homework. To counter-balance that, people seek an identity which shows why their lives are important. All of these are extensions of the original “keeping up with the Joneses” that saw people trying to out-consume each other, but now we are consuming the image of ideas instead of pure product.

Modern life represents at its core a long slow grinding compromise. Any idea is taken from where it is found and made into a product by simplifying it, exaggerating its surface features, and then presenting it for mass consumption. Joining an identity first involves a shopping trip for music, books, clothing and personal accessories including tattoos, piercings, scarification and hitting the gym. Through this process, unique identities are gradually “assimilated,” or made into variants of the mainstream. Every ideation operator declares the gradual entry of those who perpetuate this process into their chosen identity — the falses, the poseurs, the day-trippers, scenesters and imitators — because when enough of them arrive, the unique group becomes overwhelmed and as happens in democracy, what is popular and easily understood wins out over the original idea, which then fades into a distant memory and a cartoon of itself.

Hipsters represent those who have given up on the idea of idea itself. They realize early on that this society is a kicked clip, empty of ammunition and fit only to be returned to the pocket and another retrieved, starting over. But discovering what we want for a future represents a good deal more ambiguity and risk than knowing simply what we detest, and in the meantime, people need an identity to distinguish themselves from the faceless mass. The hipster was born out of this situation by Generation X, who combined slacker culture with counter-culture and added the suburban desperation of their parents, who were only to happen to discuss in detail how the world was going to hell, in front of their children. As a result a new identity formed based on those who have dropped out of society but still seek a way to distinguish themselves, and instead of doing so through strong group identity, they base their concept of self on self-image alone. Thus the hipster opposes the idea itself, and instead seeks a different kind of center: what everyone else is doing, but with some unique conceit for the individual itself. Hipsters are bog-standard people who have hobbies in craft beer, tattooing, making artisanal objects, odd collections, activities chosen for their apparent randomness, and of course art, art and more art, because nothing makes a person look profound like the boho artist lifestyle.

As the definitive article on this topic says:

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

People who seek an idea loathe hipsters because hipsters are the anti-idea. They reject the notion that we can have purpose outside of ourselves, and instead make their time by adorning the self with new fascinating attributes which are always bizarre because their sole goal is to distinguish themselves from the rest, and so whatever is sensible and normal is verboten. The hipster seeks to be unique, individual and different (UID) so that they do not get mistaken for the rest. Part of this is a counter-culture style protest saying that they do not endorse or enjoy the mainstream, and in fact oppose it so should not be held accountable for its failings; the rest comes from the simple need to distinguish oneself in a social scene flooded with people who are all trying to be noticed. Where in the 1920s doing stunts on the lawn might have worked, and in the 1980s it was enough to join an indie band, for the people who come after the reunion of right and left in the 1990s there is no longer an obvious majority culture to oppose. There is only the gradual compromise, and trying to stand out in its midst.

Hipsters suffer for the time into which they were born and the lack of easy and safe ways to rebel against it. Smoking weed and living in a VW van involved relatively few risks; at worst, an arrest occurred in some random little town in Ohio and dear old Dad had to dispatch money and lawyers to fix it. But opposing the conglomeration of democracy, capitalism, liberalism, consumerism and patriotism takes some guts and some time on the thinking couch, because it is not like The Establishment an easy thing to identify. Who can blame these people for laboring as poor cogs just trying to have normal lives? They can laugh at them but not indict them as the problem itself. The focus of the hipster becomes not reform of a society that is already lost, but saving oneself by at least being socially competitive through appearance and having a life independent from concern about the inward collapse — an idea — which might obligate one to sacrifice time otherwise spent on self toward some purpose.

That tendency reveals the problem with hipsters: they are perpetual entryists. Their only idea is the self, so any identity they discover they will turn into a product just as surely as their grandfathers did back in the 1950s. In essence, hipsters are the same consumers that people have always been, except now they are casting around for an appearance of having an idea and thus always sacrifice the idea itself because they are fundamentally opposed to ideas. Subcultures fear the hipster because to admit the hipster is to abolish the subculture and allow it to live on in zombie form as another branch of the great compromise but now as an adornment, like the “French bread” flavoring in the industrial-processed bread aisle or the “exotic scales” used in bog-ordinary rock music to dress it up and disguise its ordinariness. The hipster is indeed the dead end not of just Western civilization, but all civilization, because civilization requires an idea and with hipsterdom, all ideas have been sacrificed to the self.

At the same time, hipsters deserve our sympathy. They are the people on the deck of the Titanic, watching the unstoppable disaster that will inevitably compose them, choosing to get another pint from the bar and bum another cigarillo while bravely chatting about the inconsequential. The water grows incrementally closer and the lifeboats are long gone. Nothing remains except to live it up a little, stand out from the crowd and have your fun, before the darkness inexorably takes over. If you wonder why hipsters look as stressed and miserable as their parents, even when they have trust funds (and an alarming number of them do) and hip indie bands with the flavoring of metal, it is because they too see the approaching disaster and have found nothing to do about it.

Calling #metalgate what it is

December 13, 2014 –

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We all went to high school. #MetalGate reminds me of those dark days when there were cool kids and un-cool kids, and if you weren’t in the former group you were just nobody.

Growing up with a single Mom who kept our budget tight, I never had the cool clothes. Since I worked after school and then did homework until bedtime, I didn’t know the cool stuff on TV or in movies. Not having been raised around the cool kids, or having a parent with the time or energy to show me how to be “cool,” it never occurred to me to try. And suddenly people were pointing and laughing and then my head was getting bashed into a locker.

When one of these people approached me and started making fun of me, my instinct was to cower away and assume that they knew something I should know which gave them some kind of “authority” in the high school social scene. Over time I realized that this “something” was nothing important, and their real goal was savor the Schadenfreude of making someone else miserable for being who they were. I learned that there is one way to stand up to such people: do not apologize, do not back down, but go straight to the biggest one and hit him as hard as you can. They usually backed down and often apologized after that. I let the matter drop at that point since most of these bullies came from troubled homes: Dad drank too much, Mom ran around with the neighborhood used-car salesman, or there were money troubles. Some of them ended up being lifelong friends, after we settled our differences on the schoolyard.

When I look at #MetalGate, I see a whole industry cowering before these people who want to make metal “socially conscious” and politically correct. We, as metalheads, have refused to call these people what they are, so I will: bullies. They are bullies whose weapon is guilt. In high school, it was guilt for not being “cool.” In the hipster-nerd infested metal scene, it’s guilt for not having the “right” opinions. Haven’t we all matured past this?

Bullies always have a clique. This clique agrees that they are right and everyone else is just not cool enough. They need an excuse that other people will accept for their bullying, so they come up with a reason that sounds good. They do not care if it is true. They just want to rally other people around them who will agree that you deserved getting your head pounded into that locker. Like all cliques, their little group works by every member validating every other. It is the worst aspect of humanity which we saw at the Salem witch trials, at Nuremburg, even in lynch mobs hanging African-Americans. This is the psychology of prejudice, and bullies struggle to conceal their prejudice by arguing that they are defending their ingroup against an outgroup:

What Tajfel discovered is that groups formed on the basis of almost any distinction are prone to ingroup bias. Within minutes of being divided into groups, people tend to see their own group as superior to other groups, and they will frequently seek to maintain an advantage over other groups. – The Psychology of Prejudice, Professor Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

In other words, if you group people together by any arbitrary means they will quickly act like a tribe and enforce their rules on others. This is how bullies operate: they gather together people, offer them entry into an ingroup, but the price for that entry is that they must join in the bullying of the outgroup… and so kids get heads slammed into their lockers for wearing cardigan sweaters (hey, it was a hand-me-down) which is totally uncool.

The #MetalGate people, who I am told call themselves “Social Justice Warriors” or SJWs, are bullies of this type. They will claim they are against prejudice, but really what this means is that they are using that argument to conceal their own prejudice. They just want someone to bully. The reason is probably the same as with the high school bullies, which is that their lives are miserable and they want to take out their frustration and anger on others. This pattern occurs time and again, with the most famous being the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC):

On August 19, 1985, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee of the United States Senate opened public hearings intended to gather expert testimony on “the content of certain sound recordings and suggestions that recording packages be labeled to provide a warning to prospective purchasers of sexually explicit or other potentially offensive content.” Widely known as “The PMRC Hearings” after the acronym of an independent group—the Parents Music Resource Council—advocating for the “voluntary” adoption of warning stickers on record albums whose lyrics it deemed to be offensive, the hearings did not, in fact, end up leading to any kind of legislative action.

This group also wanted to bully metal because they were looking for a scapegoat for what they saw as a decline in public morality. They figured they could pick on metalheads because we are not the wives of Senators, we may not have education and money, and we are prone to be silent when society bullies us. But metalheads stood up against them, whopped them in the nose, and refused to take it. Another group of bullies back in the 1980s were the Dead Kennedys fans who decided that Slayer was really, really bad for singing (with clear disapproval) about Auschwitz and the horrors of the Holocaust. “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” was their theme song and they used this as an excuse to beat on random fans wearing Slayer tshirts. Punk had just gone through its own #PunkGate at that point, I guess, and the politically correct people came out on top.

There are plenty of groups of bullies in metal today. The pretentious hipsters who think you are unenlightened if you do not “appreciate” Deafheaven are one, and so are the people who think that if you are not a full-on SJW you are a bad person. So are the “tryhards” who insist they support diehard underground music but use that as an excuse to troll anyone who does not exclusively listen to three-chord Blasphemy or Incantation clones. In each group, the solution is the same: tell them where they can shove their pretense and guilt because you know their secret, which is that they are just bullies.

The difference with SJWs is that they act like they are revolutionaries who are re-educating us in important topics. But guess what, guys: you are not disenfranchised anymore. You get positive press and in fact most of you work in the press. The US government agrees with you, as does the UN. Your ideas are not revolutionary because they are the norm. Like most bullies, you are cloaking yourselves in the ideals of the mainstream in order to punish us outliers. This is no different than what happened in the Soviet Union or Nazi regime, where people who “thought differently” got shot at dawn. You are the new Nazis.

Metal should fight back because metal should not become a vehicle for the control agenda of any group. Metal is its own group, and people police this because we know that many other groups would like to assimilate us and use us for their own purposes. It has been tried before, with hard rock in the 1970s, punk in the 1980s, and now post-punk in the 2000s. Like all bullies, they want to stop us from being different and make us more like them, which is to say the bog-standard generic mainstream. Their bands are all second-rate and their ideas warmed over slogans from the 1960s. Metalheads should feel no guilt about acting in our own self-interest, which is to keep our music away from this group of bullies and refuse to let them dominate us.

Excel – Split Image

December 8, 2014 –

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Now that our society has fallen apart further, the 1980s like simple and honest like the 1950s did to people exhausted of modern society in the 1980s. A better outlook might be that however our fallen time, it is a more fallen version of the 1980s, with the same pitfalls and failures. Those who lived through it can tell you how much a time of terror it was, with nuclear warfare and social collapse at every turn, and how this propelled some artists to put their most sacred hopes and fears into music. Excel was not one of them.

Excel created this “crossover thrash” back in the 1980s but really, this album belongs in with the Pantera/Biohazard school of bouncy hard rock in punk form with some added metal riffs. The problem with hard rock is that it relies on a simple mentality behind its riffs and that it aims to attract, so it is the equivalent of carnival music or a dinner theater side-show, which is really obvious music that gratifies really basic desires. That keeps the interest less than something articulated and involved like DRI, which offers its own riff style that obviously derives influence from many places, but does not parrot them. The only hidden influence here would be a more pronounced version of the Orange County surf-rock sound that incorporates novelty and party music into basic rock and projects it onto whatever genre can serve as canvas, in this case the basic punk of Excel. The tendency toward riffs based on playing a consistent trope, then interrupting it so the audience can get excited for it to return, while a technique to some degree in most music here becomes a staple in the most basic, drunk football fan throwing feces at the stage way.

The “crossover” part here consists of faster punk riffs that pick up after the chunky bounce-metal riffs and grandstanding hard rock riffs run out. Over this, a vocalist essentially speaks his lines and ends them on a melodic uptake, and although he deserves some note for periodically sounding like Snake from Voivod, these vocals bring out nothing in the music and mostly try to draw attention to themselves with the rest of the music as background atmosphere. Drums sound like a jogger trying to keep up with the vocals and far too often fall into the same syncopated beat that adds nothing but background noise, since the guitar and vocal hooks are nearly in unison and provide all the rhythm we need. While from a distance this album will appear to be no different than DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and Suicidal Tendencies, it lacks the fundamental spirit toward the expression itself as something distinct from and not pandering to the crowd. There is too much pander in Excel, and it dumbs down the music.

Wömit Angel – Holy Goatse

December 5, 2014 –
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Does anyone remember Driller Killer? Wömit Angel joins the tradition of metal bands making novelty releases on the society-hating side. Obviously inspired by Impaled Nazarene, Wömit Angel serves up fast hardcore riffs with a heavy dose of hard rock on the choruses.

And that is about all you must know.

This release makes for pleasant listening in that obviously these guys have been in metal bands for some time and know all the ways to give a song power. There are no random wanderings like one finds with inexperienced bands; everything fits together like a puzzle. The problem is that each puzzle is based around a melodic hook per song, with a corresponding rhythmic hook in vocals, and then nothing really interesting happens even when they inject a bit of riff salad. What fails to hold these songs together is internal, at a conceptual level lower than music. They are all variations of the same idea which is fun background music to hate society and self-destruct to.

Driller Killer was similar but of 1999 or so vintage. It was fast hardcore with melodic undertones but the heavier emphasis on chorus vocal rhythm common to German speed/death metal bands (we’re looking at you, Destruction). It was catchy. No part of it was incompetent. But like Holy Goatse, the Driller Killer album was temporary, transient and quickly forgotten. Music is best when it evokes a feel from life and observes something poetic about it. If that feeling is living on Euro-welfare, drinking $9 beers and hating society — with no motivation to find a reason why — the result will be a nostalgia-tinged journey through influences and convenient songwriting.

Thus rises the epitaph of Wömit Angel. If you found this at a yard sale, it would hold your attention for a couple weeks, but mostly for the novelty of the name and cover. Then you would put it in a box and ten years later drop it off somewhere where it would again end up as a yard sale item. Music must have meaning or it becomes universal pop which is like elevator music at this point: always there, always cheap, and rarely lasting more than an instant.

A brief retrospective of Slayer

September 13, 2014 –

slayer-classic

Slayer blasted their way into the underground metal scene in 1983. Metal had just shifted; the genre of Black Sabbath got taken over by the Led Zeppelin fans, resulting in glam and arena rock, and was just being taken back by a DIY movement via speed metal. Inspired by that speed metal movement, Slayer took their music in a slightly different direction.

“Heavy metal and British punk, that’s what we are.” The four young men from Southern California shaped their music by instinct, applying the techniques of punk to the most intense moments of heavy metal. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Angel Witch, GBH and Discharge. It all went into the blender and the result emerged more vicious than ever before.

Woodstock – Los Angeles, CA – March 28, 1983

The Keystone – Berkeley, CA – January 27, 1984

The Country Club – Reseda, CA – September 1, 1984

Heavy Sound Festival – Poperinge, Belgium – May 26, 1985

Dynamo Club – Eindhoven, Netherlands – May 28, 1985

The Ritz – New York City – June 12, 1986

Felt Forum – New York City – August 31, 1988

Clash of the Titans – Genk, Belgium September 22, 1990

Show No Mercy reflected more of a heavy metal bias, still hanging on to the grandeur of the 1970s. By Hell Awaits, Slayer forged their own style, inspired in part by the minimalism of the Haunting the Chapel EP. Even more, the band discovered a mythology in Satanic rebellion against a world where the term “good” meant obedient, oblivious and zombie-like in pursuit of individual pleasure at the expense of realism. They hated this world, and branded it with an inverted cross in rage at its existence. This outlook was healthier than the pleading resentment of the protest rock bands and less dead-end apathetic than what punk became. Metal had a new voice.

With the next album, Reign in Blood, Slayer pulled out all stops and most melody to create the ultimate hardcore album. The metal elements infused riff structure and song structure but its energy was pure hardcore punk, the raging album that The Exploited and Black Flag always had wanted to birth. In the 1980s, endorsing Satan and singing about the dark underbelly lurking beneath our happy commercial Utopia was in itself a life sentence of exclusion. Slayer wore it with pride and as people caught on to the new music, the most extreme band in underground metal headed toward the dead center of the genre.

In response, Slayer did what few bands have the guts to do: they backtracked from their nihilistic extreme and made a melodic album, but kept the melody constrained to a sense of dark atmosphere that would not be revisited until black metal exploded four years later. South of Heaven immersed the listener in pure mood and then manipulated it to create an unnerving experience of getting in touch with emotion by leaving behind all that is human. This was the peak of Slayer and represented the end of their emotional involvement with their own music, thus afterwards they pursued ideas that others had made popular and successful, hoping to make their own form of the alien.

Misfits – Earth A.D.

September 11, 2014 –

misfits-earth_ad

The average person likely thinks of punk music as associated with the anarchist punks interested in politics which are the prevailing stereotype of the genre. He may also consider the pacifistic music emanating from the pop punk style. It is rarer to find someone who mentions the ugly, mythology-drenched anthem to horror present in the legendary Earth A.D from the Misfits.

Punk music was already in the midst of a paradigm shift set in motion most notably by Discharge from the UK who introduced a more violent and apocalyptic sound and lyrical path. When other punk bands wrote about the injustices of politicians, Misfits took a much more morbid route, injecting the destructive spirit of Discharge and wrote lyrics about horror movies, demons, and murder. The result is a dark and churning offering of horror punk, a style pioneered by the Misfits themselves which verges close to the metal sense of a mythological view of history as a means of interpreting the personal.

Though still relatively footed in rock music, Earth A.D. is most definitely the Misfits album with the most prevalent metal influence: pulsing rhythms carried under the wings of the riffs that flail in constant motion. Bracing levels of distortion and dissonant tones make this album both memorable through its hooks and blistering in its impact. Where most punk wanted to sound like a protest calling for pity, Earth A.D. delivers a short, biting, and menacing experience from an era that would change music forever.

Hardcore, Punk, and Other Junk: Aggressive Sounds in Contemporary Music edited by Eric James Abbey and Colin Helb

August 10, 2014 –

eric_james_abbey-colin_helb-hardcore_punk_and_other_junk.

Metalheads tend to distrust academia. We distrust the machine in all of its forms, and since the machine accepts academia, we believe the voice of academia is tainted by interest toward social acceptance. Academia also has a habit of finding ways to cram reality into its theories rather than the other way around. However, some academics make insightful contributions to the study of metal and Hardcore, Punk, and Other Junk: Aggressive Sounds in Contemporary Music provides an example of the best of this process.

This collection of essays looks at extreme music in general and extends this to metal, hardcore punk and punk rock communities. Sadly many authors make the mistake many do of incorporating recent pseudo-metal hybrids as some form of legitimate metal, which spams their results with some nonsense. The balance of results however turns out for the best because these academics look at detail-level reproducible phenomena and so are able to avoid the kind of craziness that would happen if they took “modern death metal” to be a legitimate form of the genre. Since metal and hardcore punk share a heritage both influencing and as influences of one another, the multiple pieces on that topic serve to bolster the understanding of metal.

Ross Hagen‘s piece “No Fun: Noise Music, Avant-garde expression and Sonic Punishment” ventures into the world of noise as music and explores a number of theories of its appeal. His most tantalizing riff zeroes in on the idea that society attempts to control noise and categorize it by the containers used to sample it, thus the tendency of irregular acoustic noise is to overthrow the social control imposed for the convenience of society having categorical dominance. While this piece does not seem to be directly on point to metal, it explores the same sonic space that metal uses and suggests reasons for it that may overlap with the psychology of metalheads.

Nelson Varas-Diaz contributes writing that analyzes Puerto Rico as a metal scene and the historical antecedents for appreciation of metal in this unique context. While his research involves statistical analysis, the best part of it may be the narrative aspect where he explains the history of metal in Puerto Rico as a type of struggle to be heard. In this piece also can be found extensive information about founding and contemporary Puerto Rican metal bands.

While it is beyond the scope of this review to cover every piece in the book, several others merit immediate attention by the wandering metalhead. Mika Elovaara looks into the meaning of metal lyrics and finds something akin to the mythical-historical view expounded upon in these digital pages. As if clarifying Lords of Chaos, one of his research subjects from Norway opines:

I feel that it is important that people understand why they have been born and that other people fought for our well-being and to preserve our culture and society. Our cultural heritage is going to die because people ignore it or do not even realize its significance. Viking and Norse mythology have been described as something evil and distant, but in reality, it is close to home and not necessarily evil at all. That it is not Christian does not mean it is evil. I use the mythology to describe situations in the world and politics, actual topics that were part of our lives a thousand years ago just as they are today. One can be proud of one’s heritage and identity without any racist or nationalistic tendencies. And Satanism is quite outside of this.

His extensive interviews bring up other similar flirtations with the taboo which makes sense as metal is “edge music” that exists to push social standards beyond what they normally accept. He probes the filaments of metal’s obsession with the evil and dark, and yet finds a certain kind of benevolence. “They mean critical thinking and encourage independent thinking,” said one fan about metal lyrics. The entire study is too complex to summarize here but at a minimum provides food for thought about what metal is attempting to communicate.

Another metal-related piece by Marcus Erbe looks into the science of producing death metal vocals and what that type of sound might mean in the unconscious and shared experience of being human. He finds that human vocals universally split between a melodic voice and a textural voice, with the latter expressing “monstrous” sensations. He then explores the nature of the monstrous in psychology and finds that it includes both the other and our fears for what is within us. This thought-provoking essay fuels further the question about what it is in metal that is really socially unacceptable, its rejection of social mores or its seeing through them.

Other articles explore more specific topics. On the whole, the book shows a new face for academia in looking into metal that is less afraid of certain areas of metal that are alien to what academia customarily writes about and may reject attitudes held by the majority of academics. The insight offered into the mechanics of metal and the associated symbols that it invokes also suggests new areas for academics and thinkers to pry into this interesting genre. Hardcore, Punk, and Other Junk: Aggressive Sounds in Contemporary Music lives up to its title and presents a window into the troubling questions that most would ignore raised by these dissident genres.