Death Metal Underground

Society wants to scare you into quitting headbanging

July 7, 2014 –

headbanging

The relationship between heavy metal and mainstream society, with the burst of popularity of metal among those who seem to accept society at face value and like, has come to resemble a bad relationship. It reminds me of the girl who dates a rocker and starts making suggestions: wash those jeans, cut your hair, stop raging like a maniac, read The New Republic and listen to some Sarah McLachlan with me on Saturday nights instead of drinking blood in cemeteries. Soon he complies, and after that, she ditches him because now he is just like all the other guys.

In the same way, they humbled metal by making it repeat happy statements about how everything will be just fine if we are just nice to each other, then worked in their favor hackneyed and dead genres like lite jazz and indie rock. Now they are attempting to remove its sacred rituals by instilling fear in us that we will damage our brains by headbanging. As Jordan Lite (get it?) at Scientific American writes:

Head-banging can be hazardous to your health…McIntosh and Patton got down to business. Based on the popularity of the up-down style of head-banging at the concerts, and the average tempo of 11 songs deemed the best for head-banging by a minion of local musicians, the scientists developed a mathematical model of how violently you’d have to shake your noodle to hurt yourself. Their conclusion? Head-banging to a song with a tempo of 146 beats per minute can make you dazed and confused (read: give you a headache and make you dizzy) if you’re rotating your head by more than 75 degrees.

…A 15-year-old drummer in his neighborhood band suffered an aneurysm in his cervical vertebral artery, according to a 1991 case report in the journal Pediatric Neurosurgery, and Evanescence guitarist Terry Balsamo had a stroke three years ago that his docs blamed on his head-banging tendencies.

Summary for Realists: One guy suffered an aneurysm, and based on looking at the data, two guys — who have interest in writing an eye-catching paper so they can get known in their fields — theorize that headbanging may cause neck injury if done too quickly.

These masters of the obvious miss the point that we all know this. Headbanging is rarely done constantly and not always to the exact beat of the song. They tell us that “popular heavy metal often has a tempo of 180 beats per minute” neglecting to mention that banging your head three times a second is a physical impossibility. Further, metalheads rarely bang their heads exactly to the tempo, which is why this activity is often described as “chaotic.”

Rest your fears. This study is the usual fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) that people have used to control each other since the dawn of time. We do not know what physical conditions the one guy who had a brain aneurysm after headbanging had before headbanging. But what they want us to believe is that heavy metal will be the best boyfriend ever if we just turn it into nice, respectable lite jazz and indie, and start behaving like all the other guys, even if it removes what makes us unique and makes us boring as concrete in the process.

Satan, bringer of heavy metal

July 2, 2014 –

satan_smiting_job

Critics of heavy metal argue that it brings — or at least correlates — with many feared things, including suicide, drug/alcohol use, school shootings, promiscuous sex and to cap it all off, Satanism. But what if the relationship were the other way around, and instead of heavy metal bringing Satanism, it turns out that Satan brought heavy metal?

We know from Christian mythology that Satan was a musician:

Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. – Ezekiel 28:13

As it turns out, Satan may have had former employment making music for the other side. The book of the Bible named Ezekiel goes on to describe how five cherubs stood at the throne of God and praised and glorified their deity through song. However, the fifth cherub disappears when Satan falls.

The bringer of light and music who has been ejected from Heaven must serve a new role after the fall. He was the brightest of angels, but now he is the opposition. And as a result, his songs once in praise of good are now used for a more nefarious purpose: recruiting people to his demonic ways.

Now, when Satan fell in rebellion against God, he did not lose the natural abilities that God had given him. Therefore, he kept the tabrets and the pipes. But now, he did not use them to bring glory to the Lord but to turn God’s creatures against their Creator. His expertise is seen in the powerful influence he welds today in music. He knows his music and he hates the Lord. This is a dangerous combination.

Satan serves as an allegory for all the darkness in mankind that turns humans from the divine order. Ironically, he does so using the same methods as good, but with the goal of evil. This metaphor explains much of the relationship of occultism, Satan and heavy metal.

Heavy metal serves the role of Satan in our society. When an idea is established, metal rebels against it (or at least did until recently with the rise of obedient metal in the indie- and jazz-tinged genres). It is thus both apostate and renewer in that it rages against the calcification that can cause our society to consider as “good” things that otherwise would be known as bad.

Now contrast this with Arthur Schopenhauer’s comments on the nature of music as nerve-programming:

Music is thus by no means like the other arts, the copy of the Ideas, but the copy of the will itself, whose objectivity these Ideas are. This is why the effect of music is much more powerful and penetrating than that of the other arts, for they speak only of shadows, but it speaks of the thing itself.

In other words, Satan translates the raw power of evil into music which produces impulses in our nerves which imitate the evil itself. To hear heavy metal is to feel the power of evil growing within you. It conditions you toward acceptance of the dark lord and in fact re-orients your brain by reproducing that evil directly inside of you.

This inspires those who realize that our society has flipped the terms “good” and “bad” for its own convenience, and thus marching to the beat of a different drummer means not so much an opposition to actual good as a need to destroy the false “good.” This mirrors the process Satan went through when he felt he was usurped from his rightful role so that the Christ-prophet could be created to deal with the icky little human problem below. The natural order was replaced by the social demands of humans.

Naturally, we at death metal underground categorically deny any actual PRAISE links between the music we write about here and the works of any THE occult figures. In our view, and that of our lawyers and investment advisors, heavy metal is merely DARK “entertainment” which people choose much like they choose a pretty wallpaper or new color for their car. It has no meaning LORD. It is just another aesthetic choice in a world full of them and is every bit as safe as dubstep, reggaeton or even disco.

Metallica’s Lars Ulrich identifies perceived metal class divide

June 24, 2014 –

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Attitudes toward metal differ between Europe and the United States with the UK in the middle. One thing remains certain: until metal started prettying itself up with accepted genres like lite-jazz and indie rock, and adopting socially cherished “civilized” attitudes, it got nowhere on a big scale.

In vaunted music magazine NME Lars Ulrich (Metallica) attacks the perceived class divide between hard rock/heavy metal fans and the “sophisticated” mainstream rock audience:

In an interview for BBC 6 Music, the Metallica drummer and founding member complained about the media’s attitude to hard rock. He continued: “People have short attention spans in 2014… They like things broken down into easy, digestible sound-bites. It’s like, Metallica at Glastonbury, what’s the sound-bite? ‘Here comes the big bad heavy metal band to our precious little festival.’ I don’t think it’s genuinely like that… but there obviously are people who snub their nose a little bit at hard rock, and look at hard rock as inferior or lower-class, some sort of lower music form or something, and [think] that the people who listen to hard rock are less educated.”

Speaking about the same festival, the Glastonbury pop fest in the UK, Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) voiced a similar viewpoint but more from another angle — mainly an angle of attack:

He said: “In the days when Glasto was an alternative festival it was quite interesting.

“Now it is the most bourgeois thing on the planet. Anywhere Gwyneth Paltrow goes and you can live in an air-conditioned yurt is not for me.

“We’ll leave the middle classes to do Glastonbury and the rest of the great unwashed will decamp to Knebworth and drink lots of beer and have fun.”

American fans are used to this. In movies and books we are portrayed as the blue collar dropouts who work in garages and smoke too much dope to compensate for failure at life. This reveals both a snobbery against blue collar labor that is unconscionable, and the pretense of those making the distinction. They like to think they’re elevated to a higher grade of person because they’ve choked down eight years of education and work in office jobs (and only smoke expensive dope from exotic locales).

This stereotype both serves media interests and belittles metal. It enables the media to have an easy cue for its “bad boy” characters and to sell products based on that “rebel without a clue” image, but it also lets them subtly inform the rest of us that they, the writers and producers, are obviously much higher in the evolutionary chain than us neanderthals.

Indie rock and lite-jazz appeal to such people. The more precious and deliberately weird their music is, the more “educated” they assume they are. In the meantime, it’s metal fans out there who not only keep music from falling into an abyss of self-congratulatory clones, but also keep our infrastructure running. Whether we’re blue collar or something else, we’re realists… and we make sure stuff works while the rest of these clowns are posing.

Why the art world rejected metal

June 22, 2014 –

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Metal took its time to be accepted by social institutions. At the outset, metal appeared to most as another variety of rock. But with NWOBHM it distinguished itself and then went underground with speed metal. During those years, society rejected metal first for its repugnance to conservative moral ideals, and next for its alienation of liberal social ideals. It thus made itself friendless in a time where having political clout matters.

One reason for a lack of acceptance by some areas, such as the art world, is that metal is not controllable. As Bruce Dickenson (Iron Maiden) said in a recent interview:

The closest the “art establishment” ever came to embracing metal was punk. The reason they embraced punk was because it was rubbish and the reason they embraced rubbish was because they could control it. They could say: “Oh yeah, we’re punk so we can sneer at everybody. We can’t play our fucking instruments, but that means we can make out that this whole thing is some enormous performance art.” Half the kids that were in punk bands were laughing at the art establishment, going: “What a fucking bunch of tosspots. Thanks very much, give us the money and we’ll fuck off and stick it up our nose and shag birds.” But what they’d really love to be doing is being in a heavy metal band surrounded by porn stars.”

During the 1980s, Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) demanded warning stickers on music with content that advocated drugs, casual or perverse sex, violence and mayhem. Naturally this included most of heavy metal (sex) and most of speed metal (violence). Until rap music came along and blew those old standards out of the water by making most of heavy metal’s worst moments look tame, a real threat of economic censorship — forcing up the cost and legal risk of selling heavy metal, thus encouraging record stores to quit selling it — hovered over heavy metal.

Although the transition to online sales (1998) and resulting lack of control helped, another factor changed which put metal into hyperdrive as far as social acceptance: it found an audience in mainstream politics. As the Washington Post wrote in “Heavy Metal Gets Socially Conscious”:

More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords.

The art world did not accept metal in the past because it could not be controlled. Neither did the moral world, nor the political world. Now metal has created a hybrid of itself — the indie rock, lite-jazz and grindcore infused postmodern metal genres — that is artistically acceptable, morally tame and politically acceptable. The question remains: does that mean that it is now controlled?

Heavy metal as an industry

June 21, 2014 –

ac-dc-tour

Anyone who lived as a metal fan in the 1970s and 1980s remembers The Line: some bands were rock enough to make it into the newspaper, others were “too metal.” Major newspapers never covered Slayer, rarely covered Metallica, and generally drew The Line at anything heavier than Guns ‘n Roses. Thus even major bands like AC/DC got cut out of the mix.

No more. As the image above illustrates, the front page of goody-two-shoes news network CNN shows us the latest about the AC/DC 40th Anniversary Tour. Even the biggest megaphone for mainstream news which spends most of its time nagging us about our bad habits or flashing sensationalistic messages of world decay finally acknowledges heavy metal. In the 1980s, this would have been unthinkable. And yet, now we’re here.

What’s behind metal’s legitimization? It’s not so underground anymore, being one of the bigger non-rock/pop genres. It’s also not so extreme, since rap opened up the lyrical gates to violence, lust and obscenity and nu-metal got radio accustomed to heavy crunch (and lyrics about parental neglect). But most importantly, metal is now an industry. With enough consistent fans and labels behind it, and those labels having found a way to “metalize” or “metal-flavor” just about anything (indie, rock, jazz, blues, industrial), metal now provides one of the pillars of the entertainment industry.

Even more, heavy metal is now a recognized part of our culture. Rap music represents a certain kind of rebellion or a certain kind of irony. Heavy metal raises the flag for a certain kind of rebellion that is both cluelessly adolescent and “old soul” world-weary and informed. It’s a feeling we all have, and its appeal seems to be increasing.

Heavy metal’s relationship to religion

June 18, 2014 –

church_ablaze

If you ask a metalhead about the relationship between heavy metal and religion, you’ll no doubt get a few different answers. Some will tell you that it stands in firm opposition to all religion, some will list off a plethora of Christian heavy metal bands, and some have no opinion on the subject and just wanna headbang and tune out.

Perhaps there is half-truth to these assessments: Deicide’s militant anti-Christian message is obvious even to the most passive listener, but on the other hand heavy metal with Christian themed lyrics has existed since its inception with Black Sabbath. In addition, many bands use occult imagery in either an artistic or neutrally atheistic way.

But maybe there’s another road to take, maybe these assessments are analyzing the relationship incorrectly.

I was an atheist for four years of my life (age 12-16). I was fairly vocal and enthusiastic about it as well, looking upon anything religious with scorn. I was very stereotypical when it came to my atheism too: I posted anti-religious memes on social media, went into silly debates with random creationists, and I had no real understanding of science, I just vomited forth Richard Dawkins’ philosophy.

But sometime within my 16th year, my outlook changed. I began to listen to heavy metal more actively, and my atheism slowly faded into wonder. It seemingly lashed at my inflated ego and made me face the possibility of something greater than myself. It challenged me to be more ambitious with my existence, and to want more out of life.

Prior to my revelation, I had a very human-centric view of the world, but Hellhammer’s “Only Death is Real” concept made me look at this in a whole new light. Death will take everyone regardless of their status in life; in the end, it is the only victor. This is important because it weakens the ego of the individual, and forces them to look elsewhere for meaning. Humility before something more powerful than yourself (death) is an undeniably religious concept, and has grown to be the core ideology of death metal for decades.

Religion itself is very important to heavy metal, where would legends like Slayer and Morbid Angel be without it? Metal has always expressed a deep reverence for power, and what greater power than the omnipresent force of the cosmos? Some perceive it as God or Gods, some perceive it as Satan, and some perceive it as nothing more than a functional force that keeps the universe rolling. All of these possibilities are astonishing, and have inspired the greatest sense of awe and wonder in mankind throughout history.

Heavy metal has become not only my passion, but my guiding light to a life that I may not understand completely, but that I’m learning more about every day. It has taught me to appreciate and find beauty in all aspects of the world, from the worms in the earth to the birds in the sky. It — like every other aspect of an intense life — is a form of worship in itself.

So if, as a parent, you see your son/daughter with a copy of Slayer’s Hell Awaits, fear not. Heavy metal inspires a sense of wonder and passion. That wonder may very well turn their eyes to the stars, and that passion may very well ignite their flame of life.

How the internet changed heavy metal

June 15, 2014 –

wargames-global_thermonuclear_war

Many of the old school metal fans observed how the rise of the Internet coincided with the death of the underground and its replacement with the “funderground.” They opine how one-click access to music removed much of the challenge of finding music and created a culture of casual acceptance, not aggressively finding and hoarding quality material. There’s truth in that, surely. But there are other effects as well.

For example, easy access to music limited the emphasis on quality. When you buy music with limited funds, you tend to care about the best and/or cutting-edge material only. When the cost of trying out a new band is nothing, the tendency is to listen once and then file it by aesthetic category. “Sounds about like regular death metal. I need something different, maybe with a flute or jazz licks.”

Two more subtle effects occurred as well. First, the Internet in its post-AOL incarnation become fundamentally a social place. Metal on the internet became regulated by this social influence because the people talking about music on the Internet did so from a social outlook. They wanted to meet other people, and the music was secondary to that. As a result people began searching more for the ironic and music with novelty, leading to a rise in hipster-metal and related forms.

Second, the Internet made basic information about technique and style easily available. Learning how to write death metal no longer required listening, learning and working with other bands, zines, radio, etc. The user could visit a forum or any number of blogs and get a quick overview, which encouraged people to migrate over from other genres and adopt metal technique to the composition used in those other genres. This was not so much a genre mashup as an extraneous genre disguised as heavy metal.

With those two factors, emphasis switched from the music itself to the music as a “flavoring” to be applied to something else. Whether social flavoring, or a way to dress up those post-punk slash lite jazz hymns that your band had been kicking around for a decade, metal became the outlet for those impulses. The tendency of our media and society to see metal as “rebellious” made it a natural target because just about everyone wants to be different these days, in other words, rebels against the normal way of doing things.

In theory — which sometimes corresponds to reality — this would precipitate a focus not on the outward aspects of metal but its inward attributes, like spirit, compositional style and content. That day may come, but now that’s a much harder sell. It’s easier to dress up the same crap, push it down the line and produce it from your desktop, then spend all of your focus on the social and surface appearance aspects of the music. That’s how success is made these days.

Listening single-mindedly is the only way to appreciate metal

June 6, 2014 –

emperor-in_the_nightside_eclipse

Metal worth listening to is worth listening to properly. You listen properly by listening single-mindedly. This means that you set aside everything else and put your focus on the music. Although our society places a false premium on time, this is even more important when you have little time: make the most of your time by making your listening experience the most intense one possible. Since attention spans are on the decline, actual listening is rare. Instead, there’s a hearing of background noise while doing something else. The rise of YouTube has exacerbated the issue.

Ideal listening conditions require one to keep all distractions out of reach and out of earshot, allowing as little other sensory input as possible. This means no distractions, no facebooking, no chitchat, no multitasking — leave that to the kitchen while preparing multiple dishes — and listening to entire albums from start to finish. This is most important and cannot be stressed enough. Create a ritual aspect through the act of listening.

Immersing oneself in the depth of an album, one senses the ebb and flow of momentum, the pacing and construction. Also audible are characteristics — you get to see which are effective and why — and one is able to consider the album as a whole, rather than as a collection of similar sounding songs in the same style. Even an average band sequences songs on an album in a particular way for a reason, even if they have not mastered use of theme and leitmotif. The truly great ones lead you on a journey, enable epiphanies, and insights that go beyond music.

When listened to single-mindedly, In the Nightside Eclipse elevates the spirit into the farthest cosmic realms; Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm plays out like a vision of the coming battle before the fact and a return to genesis with clearer, wiser eyes not unlike the role played by the “Bhagavad Gita” in the Mahabharata. Great metal at its best attempts to communicate facets of the ineffable: the vastness and timelessness of the universe, the pervasive nature of the primal life force.

To even begin to experience this, one needs to make a concerted effort at listening. This effort and immersion also reveals which music is timeless, which albums have almost everything in the right place but do not ascend into the pantheon and which are to be hung on a wall for the “collectors” only. A realization dawns about the elements that make albums great, beyond a purely musical value. Superficialities and externalities go out the window. You see into structure, or how all the parts fit together to make a greater whole.

On the other hand, it has become a common tendency to stream a song on YouTube while doodling on Facebook, watching video and playing video games all at once. The best you can hope for there is to pay random attention to how it “sounds,” maybe notice a few hooks or sudden, jarring changes make themselves felt, and declare it a gem. Then jump to the next song on the list of suggestions, repeat procedure. It is no surprise that so many record reviews now are breathless and full of praise yet notice nothing but surface traits of an album.

Casual listening can aid in the initial discovery of bands like you skim a novel you pick up in a bookstore as you decide whether to buy it (or put it on a mental list for later to get from the library). While distracted listening can aid in initial discovery of bands, prolonged reiteration of the same obliterates your ability to distinguish an exceptional album from a merely acceptable one. Listening habits decay and quality of metal declines in parallel. If your time is precious, reward it by listening to only the very best and giving all of yourself to the experience.

Documentary film The Distorted Island: Heavy Metal Music and Community in Puerto Rico nears release, reveals artwork

June 4, 2014 –

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Artwork for a new documentary about Puerto Rico’s metal scene by the Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies Group, The Distorted Island: Heavy Metal Music and Community in Puerto Rico, makes its appearance today and in this blog. According to the creators of the film:

This upcoming documentary explores the emergence and maintenance of a metal scene in the Caribbean island. The documentary explores how local bands have survived for 30 years via strong community ties, while also highlighting the cultural and historical challenges faced along the way. Local artist Kadriel Betsen, a digital artist and guitarist for the extreme metal band Humanist, developed the artwork. Nelson Varas-Díaz, Osvaldo González, Eliut Segarra and Sigrid Mendoza compose the research and filmmaking team. Dr. Nelson Varas-Díaz is a metal fan and Associate Professor at the University of Puerto Rico who has led the team carrying out a research study on the local scene. The documentary will see its full release by the end of 2014.

When asked about the artwork for the movie poster, local artist Kadriel Betsen said the following: “This artwork attempts to capture the very essence of Puerto Rico’s Heavy Metal scene. A scene where a particular musical taste influences the way we perceive and express our culture, and where our culture enriches and influences the way we create music. These two powerful factors gave birth to the Distorted Island…”

For more information, see the Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies Group‘s Faceplant page.

Heavy metal as music of rejection, not rebellion

metal_rejects_civilization

The conventional media narrative regarding heavy metal is that heavy metal is the music of adolescent rebellion. Like the Puritan attitude toward sex, this double-faced approach allows media to both trivialize metal and use it as the basis of product branding, or the identification by consumers of the product with an attitude or social group. This attitude reflects the needs of the media more than what heavy metal actually is.

In branding, metal joins a cluster of products like Jack Daniel’s whisky, Marlboro cigarettes, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and other products that are used in mass culture films, books and music to symbolize rebellion. Much as the media sells sex ambivalently, rebellion is also sold as a duality: it is portrayed as bad, yet fun, and so often the compromise is to avoid it on a regular basis but to cut loose on weekends. Smart observers might realize that’s a great method of control, because by “capturing” the impulse toward anarchy and controlling it, you keep the workers showing up regularly every weekday. Similarly, it’s good advertising because it implies a safe rebellion: the rebellion is there, but it’s a product you can buy anywhere, so it’s socially approved and thus there are no real consequences to face.

But what about those who are dissidents? These see our society as going the wrong way entirely and refuse to participate. Much of this infuses metal through the people it attracts, who are either drop-outs or cutting-edge dissidents, depending on who you ask. As Jeremy Wallach reveals in a post to the Music, Metal and Politics mailing list:

The notion that metal is a cause or a symptom of adolescent psychological development gone awry has been roundly criticized for the last 20+ years not only for its practically nonexistent empirical justification, but more importantly. for its unstated ideological assumptions. Too often the “problem” turned out to be insufficient socialization–of working-class kids who refused to be docile, obedient, and unquestioning, and of middle-class kids who refused to be conformist and hardworking. But rock and roll kids have always been, in Simon Frith’s words, working-class kids who reject work and middle-class kids who reject success.

Zoom in on this: working-class kids who refused to be docile, obedient, and unquestioning, and of middle-class kids who refused to be conformist and hardworking.

In other words, if your parents were expected to work as entirely subservient to the system, you reject that subservience; if your parents were expected to lead within the system, you reject the attitude that allows them to do that without questioning the system.

What we’re seeing here is not rebellion, or disagreement with method, but rejection. These are people rejecting civilization as it is so constituted. This started with Black Sabbath rejecting the idea of “peace, love and happiness” — a once-removed proxy for egalitarianism and coexistence — peaked in speed metal’s warnings of nuclear war and apocalypse, and finally in death and black metal saw acceptance of the apocalypse and subversion of its methods of control and emotional passivity, respectively.

Heavy metal does not tell society that its methods are wrong, but that its approach is wrong. We are those who dream of a different world… one where intangible values triumph over those that are material, social, economic or political. Different generations of heavy metal reflect this dream differently and few seem to be able to articulate it, but it remains beneath the surface, peeking out periodically like divinity in an avatar, hinting at the invisible narrative pervading what we know as “normal” life.