The origin of all underground metal

discharge-hear_nothing_see_nothing_say_nothingSuppose that you’re a dying society (“the human race was dying out / no one left to scream and shout” – the Doors) and that you decide to give it one last hurrah. To try honesty instead of manipulation.

You might come up with punk music. It strips out everything that reeks of manipulation. The good production, gone; the complex chords, gone; any pretense of musicianship, out the window.

But then people realize that you’re going about it backward. You can’t change your methods to change your goal. You have to change your goal. That means you’re thinking about composing music in a new way, not just how you’re going to play differently with something rather familiar.

This lets loose the dogs of war.

No longer is music carved from a known pattern; the song is the pattern, and it obeys no rule other than its content. Face value is made secondary to internal value. Like it is in human, whether we have souls or not.

This is what Discharge did to the world of punk — and later, to metal:

Musically, punk’s first wave hadn’t been all that far removed from regular rock’n’roll. “God Save the Queen,” with its hummable melody and simplistic chord changes, is clearly a relation, albeit distant, of Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones. The difference is in the attitude, in Johnny Rotten’s adenoidal snarl.

Discharge’s revamped version of punk bore little resemblance to anything that had come before. It was faster, harsher, and often almost entirely lacking in melody. The riffs were generally three-chord affairs, but they were played at warp speed, accompanied by a rumbling bass and a merciless, galloping drumbeat. The songs rarely topped the two-minute mark. As Garry Maloney, who drummed on some of the band’s best recordings, explained to a ‘zine called Trakmarx, “We just embraced speed—the concept—not the drug—took it to its logical limit.”

Away went the blues scale, playing in uniform musical measures, and having pop song format work for you. Instead, the new vision was the lawless chromatic scale, a lack of key and thus of soaring bridge and chorus, or even any fixed song format. It was repetition made into its own undoing, a type of ambient music made from noise.

Rock ‘n’ roll died with Discharge. Others, like Amebix and The Exploited, followed. On US shores the Cro-Mags and thrash (DRI, COC, Cryptic Slaughter, Dead Horse, Fearless Iranians From Hell) further put metal into punk. With metal’s phrasal riffs and punk’s lack of structure, music got closer to ancient times.

Suddenly, the melody determined the song, and since the songs were topical, the melody was determined by the idea. Like ancient Greek dramas, where the chorus sang poetry as the story was acted out on stage, the new punk-metal hybrid entered the world of motifs and mimetic meaning, where art imitates life to tell the story of a journey or adventure and how it changed those who sallied forth.

The end of the second song, nearly eight minutes in, elicited a weak cheer, a few claps, and a robust chant of “D.R.I.”—a local thrash band on the rise, which had played earlier that night.

This was the new legion, thrash and underground metal (death metal and black metal), and it ushered in a new era. Where music was plain-spoken like punk, but mythological like metal. Where it took metal’s criticism of human behavior and used that to explain punk’s extreme political dissidence. Where people started looking at what they’d die for instead of what they’d live for.

Since that time, metal and punk have both gone through many generations. None have gotten very far from those originals who broke free however. They had to destroy before they could create and, when the dust of destruction and subsequent self-destruction finally settles, creation will begin anew.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DmSbqmJaig

Call of the Void – Dragged Down a Dead End Path

PrintBack in the day, we would have called this hardcore. It doesn’t use metal riffs, and unlike metal songs, it doesn’t build an atmosphere of heaviness. It throws out a sense of distraction and then hammers you with it. Not surprisingly, it’s verse-chorus all the way in riff pairs, and the vocalist does that shouted vocal that sounds like a frustrated drunk person trying to explain something.

Much of it is expansive hardcore in the style of later Disfear with some overlap with newer Napalm Death, meaning that the ranting eventually picks up intensity and you get a trudgy-churny part over which there’s meaningful chanting. It isn’t bad at all. However, more than about four minutes of it results in scrambled brains, because it’s essentially about hammering out one message and then looping it.

This might appeal to fans of bands like Tragedy who want poignant moments of voices raised in protest with their riffs. It makes the mistake all modern music does, which is that by turning all the intensity up to eleven, it ends up with an intensity of a constant one as it drones on in the background. All instruments are competent.

Antigama – Meteor

antigama-meteorHardcore music shows us the paradox of the individual and the group. The more individualistic someone is, the more they want the group to like them. But to do that, they need to fit in, even if being ironically “different.” This phenomenon ate up hardcore music as former anarchists found out that soliciting support for their bands was a lot like, well, capitalism and politics.

Since that time, stretching from the dawn of the 1980s to late in that decade, hardcore has been contorting to find a new voice for itself. The best candidates came out of the late 1980s post-hardcore bands, who essentially “got postmodern” by deconstructing music into lots of simple bits put together into something bigger. But instead of becoming complex, it became disconnected, dissassociative and chaotic.

After that point, and the onslaught of grindcore, hardcore headed further into the breakdown model. How chaotic could something be before it fell apart? In the late 1990s, they reinvigorated the genre with a dose of metal, which gave it more complex riffing, but still the songwriting aspect of this new genre was elusive. One reason some bands around here get praised is that they’ve tried to make songs coherent again.

Into this drops Antigama, who use the techniques of the current time but are trying to get back to the punk ideal of simplicity. They use the math-metal slash “progressive hardcore” (emo/indie) riffs as much as the next band, and they feature the frenetic vocals that match eight syllables to each beat and stay slightly ahead of the beat as if commanding it like propaganda through megaphones. However, these songs are at heart very much in the classic hardcore vein of verses and choruses and, when a point has been established, some kind of break (not breakdown) before repeating.

The problem is that the “collage” mentality afflicts them still. Under this mentality, it’s bad to have too much focus on any one thing, but better to be open to everything. Thus you mix it all in your music, throwing in as many radically different things as you can to maintain high contrast. Antigama do this more as the album goes along (was this written in studio?) tossing in bits of hard rock, jazz, blues, and other genres.

The first half of this album is really the part to listen to, which is some good and focused hardcore dressed up as metalcore (the hybrid of metal and hardcore that focuses on high contrast through abrupt changes to unrelated riffs). If this band thought through this situation further, they might pick up where hardcore left off actual experimentation, and try some more complex but structured song forms or more articulated riff styles.

Like most record reviews, this one is essentially a “it’s good if you like this style.” This means the band are competent, but when dialogue is about style only, it means that the content wasn’t there enough. What did this record express? Better than average participation in metalcore by a band that should’ve written hardcore music instead and completed the album before getting into the studio.

Integrity – Those Who Fear Tomorrow

integrity-those_who_fear_tomorrowIn the early 1980s, punks had a wary attitude toward metal because they saw it as commercializing their music. As I finally get around to hearing Integrity’s Those Who Fear Tomorrow, I see their point, although it’s not an important one.

Merging punk and metal, Integrity add faster riffing and more complex song structures, as well as lead guitar noodling and a vocal attack that sounds like it is designed to be a more extreme version of the “Age of Quarrel” vocals from the Cro-Mags. It ends up sounding like something Phillip Anselmo could have used as his blueprint for his vocals with Pantera, in that it adds more of the confrontational shouted and chanted vocals and de-emphasizes anything like singing.

Staccato riffing with the choppy-edged sound of muted strum down-picking in the style of speed metal rounds out the package. Integrity likes to add broad spaces in their songs, such they hit with a riff and vocal attack, then pull back vocals and downplay instrumentation so there’s a pocket that draws in our attention. It is catchy but its repeated use lessens its effectiveness.

While there is probably nothing to be feared from commercialization here, as it makes for songs with more hook and polish, it is also in a genre different from punk and metal. These songs mostly follow pop song format, are mostly hook, and lose the total alienation of punk and the transcendental imagination of metal. For a hard rock or pop punk listen however, it’s a channel of rage that many will find appealing.

Neurosis “Of Honor Found in Decay” European tour

neurosis-honor_found_in_decayNeurosis got a bad rap among metalheads because most of us got introduced to this innovative band at the peak of their career, when metal journalists and radio were pushing the metalcore trend and wanted us to consider Neurosis part of that movement.

The reality is more complex. Neurosis started out as a terrifying hardcore band with completely alienated approach to modern living, and has since then continued to grow and develop, forging a new style of hardcore-metal hybrid.

Music around them has tried to catch up, but when you’re ahead of your time as much as Neurosis has been (consistently) over the last two decades or so, patience is required. However, more people are warming to the radical sounds and ideas of this innovative band.

Of Honor Found in Decay, the most recent Neurosis album, has spawned a European tour worthy of such a vast musical effort.

NEUROSIS Honor Found In Decay European Tour

  • 5/24/2013 Primavera Sound Festival 2013 – Barcelona, Spain
  • 5/25/2013 La Grande Halle de la Villette – Paris, France w/ Swans
  • 6/21/2013 Hellfest – Clisson, France
  • 6/22/2013 Eurocam Media Center – Lint-Antwerp, Belgium
  • 6/23/2013 Substage – Karlsruhe, Germany
  • 6/24/2013 SO 36 – Berlin, Germany
  • 6/25/2013 Grey Hall / Christiania – Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 6/26/2013 Betong – Oslo, Norway
  • 6/27/2013 Byscenen – Trondheim, Norway
  • 6/28/2013 Bravalla Festival – Norköpping, Sweden
  • 6/30/2013 Palladium – Warsaw, Poland
  • 7/01/2013 Lucerna Music Bar – Prague, Czech Republic
  • 7/02/2013 UT Connewitz – Leipzig, Germany
  • 7/03/2013 UT Connewitz – Leipzig, Germany
  • 7/04/2013 Magnolia – Milano, Italy
  • 7/05/2013 L’Usine – Genf, Switzerland
  • 7/06/2013 Rote Fabrik – Zürich, Switzerland
  • 7/07/2013 Eurockeennes Festival – Belfort, France

Vomitor – Bleeding The Priest

On first listen some would easily assume that this release were a mere product of nostalgia of underground metal of the 1980′s, at least indicated so by the production and indication that are present here. However this is death/speed/black metal firmly rooted in the underground crossover tradition of the 80′s and retains a firmly Australian sound to it. A good description of Vomitor‘s output would be the the epic thrashing of national pioneers Slaughter Lord and the crusty, retrograde execution and production that was witnessed on Spear Of Longinus‘ brilliant ‘Domni Satnasi’ album. Seeing as Vomitor have two members of SOL in their line-up this overlap is of no surprise, and gives Bleeding The Priest a similar quality of riffcraft and execution, which is atavistic but is well versed in older styles of metal. The attitude of this release evokes German speed metal, doing the early works of Sodom and Kreator strong justice, and the manner in which catchy guitar sequences are utilised sometimes evokes Razor, had they been influenced by Possessed rather than Motorhead. A thoroughly consistent work, Bleeding The Priest stands strongly as a milestone of Australian metal, a like a few other traditionalist acts within this genre serves as proof of ability to make new waves from trodden water, rather than being a ‘re-hash’. Very good.

Pearson-

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

Amebix – Arise!

amebix ariseComing from the anarcho-punk school of musical and ideological tradition, and finally releasing this, their debut full length in 1985, Amebix had already released a series of excellent EP’s in the early half of the decade. The unique character of their music was a sound that fused the violent hardcore punk of Discharge with the circulative, repetitious song structures that were a staple of post-punk acts such as Killing Joke and Public Image Ltd. Escaping the social-activist themes that were a staple of hardcore, and transcending the melancholia and fatalism that was a common theme of post-punk, Amebix took on board the musical apparatus of both substyles and turned towards a contemplative, naturalistic direction that subverted the generalisation of how we associate themes with forms. Inspiration comes additionally from the NWOBHM of early Motorhead and Judas Priest in the crunching, percussive guitar playing that made itself a staple of speed metal and subsequently death metal. Drums batter clearly as if to stadium anthems, and boom with an echo one would clearly associate with said decade. Droning riffs make an appearance and have a harmonic depth to them that evoke the archaic and the dystopian much like Burzum and Godflesh simultaneously would do in their most prominent work. Whereas the metal subgenres of the 1980′s slowly influenced one anothers musical language, Amebix single handedly introduced new themes and formats that would become the structural basis of future acts to come, and alongside their compilation album No Sanctuary, this important work deserves it’s applause.

-Pearson-

Nuclear Assault – Game Over

Taking the NWOBHM informed song structures that defined speed metal and the muted, percussive power chord led riffs that were the pattern language of the speed metal underground, Nuclear Assault incorporated elements of crossover punk and thrash into their music. Guitars have a sharp, grating and garage like-tone amidst the clear sounding and well thought out bass guitar lines of Dan Lilker. John Connelly’s punk falsetto is excellent, a gravelly yet apocalyptic wail that amuses yet inspires.

Lyrically this takes the satire one could associate with crossover acts such as Adrenalin O.D. and Fearless Iranians From Hell, and rather than solely attempting to amuse us, makes for relevant social commentaries that reflected and mocked the issues that were heavy on the American subconscious, amongst mildly apocalyptic themes that still were embedded in the Cold War’s late phase, warning of post-nuclear desolation.

Short, humoured and abrupt songs such as ‘Hang The Pope’ and ‘My America’ resemble a more aggressive take on the thrashings of DRI and Millions Of Dead Cops, whilst ‘Sin’, ‘Stranded In Hell’ and ‘Brain Death’ are richly melodic and have a brilliant sense of irony, and almost reminds of Iron Maiden stripping themselves of romanticism in the wake of an uncertain, primitive future.

This is commonly also available with the follow-up EP ‘The Plague’ on CD format and compliments the excellence of their full-length. In addition, this is a timeless and influential metal album that summed up the hopes, dreams and fears of 1980’s America in less than an hours worth of material, and is absolutely essential.

-Pearson-