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.

How to make a digital promo kit (DPK) or electronic promo kit (EPK)

January 9, 2015 –

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Bands: if you want to get signed, you will need to send promos. First you will send them to labels, which will sign you eventually. Then you will send them to media, including record reviewers. Labels: you will do the same. Promoters: ditto. So how do you send a promo in this day and age?

The current standard, which thankfully does away with piles of physical promos, is to send an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) or Digital Promotions Kit (DPK) which mean roughly the same thing. Your EPK will be a zip archive containing your release in MP3, photos and a press release/biography. Each of these parts offers its own challenge.

MP3s should be of a decent bitrate, usually 256k or Variable Bit Rate (VBS) equivalent, and should be tagged appropriately with band name, album name and track name correct and consistent. The MP3s themselves should be in a folder within the archive named Band Name – Album Name. This enables writers to extract it completely and view the files as they write. If you are using Exact Audio Copy or a similar program, settings allow you to specific correct tagging by default. I also recommend installing Windows Media Player 11 and using the Fraunhofer MP3 codec which is superior to the LaME codec which tends to make heavily distorted music sound plastic. I use the following naming scheme in EAC:

Individual artist:

%artist%\%artist% - %albumtitle%\%artist% - %tracknr2% - %title%

Various artists:

various\%albumtitle%\%albumtitle% - %tracknr2% - %artist% - %title%

Press releases should fit standard format, which is an entirely different article, and include full contact information for the label and promotions agency. If you include band contact information, people will contact the band; if the band does not reply, do not include this information and have them contact the band through the promotions agency. Include the biography in here, generally a paragraph or two but not more. Also useful to include are all band public sites such as Facebook where the band might post more images or information as needed.

Images should include at least the cover art and a band photo, but many bands include logos as well for use as headers. These pictures should all be large (800px+) and in a format such as JPG or ideally PNG, which is not lossy like JPG.

Once you do all of the above, put the files into a zip archive and make it available to reviewers. Many use services like Haulix to make it easy to limit downloads to specific reviewers, and to embed codes in the work which identify who each package went to in case it gets leaked. In my view, labels should worry less about piracy from this angle because the release will inevitably be pirated and your only real recourse is to DMCA search engines to keep it out of the listings so that people are encouraged to buy it or stream it through a licensed streaming service like Spotify, Pandora or Last.fm. For this reason, lately more labels have simply been linking to their DropBox folders in acknowledgement of the impossibility of stopping all leaks, and it takes just one to spread it everywhere — or someone at a record store who drops the album into a computer for ten minutes to rip and upload it, as seems to happen in Russia and Latin America much to the delight of downloaders worldwide.

The above is written in the hopes of receiving fewer incomplete or botched promo packages. As stated elsewhere, most labels spend little time on getting these right because they want reviewers to spend as little time on the music as possible, and because the people who write the reviews the labels will republish are those who are making a personal connection with staff at the label in hopes of future hiring or collaboration. But for a starting band or label this advice may be helpful.

How music reviews are made

January 5, 2015 –
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If you must (“must”) watch television, probably the best thing on continues to be the Canadian program How It’s Made which shows the process by which everyday objects are manufactured. A similar program for the music industry might attract fewer watchers but be similarly informative.

The basics of the industry are that labels produce records, media write about those records, and artists — a pretentious term for musicians and bands — try to get chosen by either or both. Most records produce almost all of the profit they will create within a relatively short duration of their release. Labels need to constantly produce output so that they stay in the news, and media needs to constantly produce favorites (or drama) to sell news. Artists, on the other hand, are trying to create long-term audiences, but only if the artist believes they can produce quality material for a long period. Otherwise, their goal is to cash in and drop out, so they can go back to being the cool barista in a seaside town known for having put out that edgy metalcore album back in ’06.

When labels send out promotional packages, their goal is to ensure the reviewer spends as little time on the music as possible. They would prefer that the reviewer spend most of her time on the press release and biography, writing about the “unique” background to the band and how their album release is a news event, not a musical event. Ideally, the writer will focus on production and style more than substance, since new variations in production and style are easily produced while quality music is limited to a certain percentage of artists and striving for quality makes artists more valuable and labels/media less valuable.

The gig as a music reviewer is to say as little as possibly that is not blindingly obvious about the music while working in as many details as possible. The most successful reviews talk mostly about the biography, then about production, then style, and only finally in passing about the music itself. By the music itself I mean the composition, such that if you transferred it to midi or kazoo you would still recognize the song(s) but all of the production values from guitar sound through effects would be removed and you would see the composition as it is. If you have ever listened to someone playing acoustic guitar and realized the music sounds familiar, then figured out which song they are playing, you have had the experience of connecting with the music itself. The music itself however is the one part of music as a commodity that cannot be easily quantified and reproduced through systematic means (think of a recipe or instruction book). As a result, the music itself makes no one any money during the short period in which most albums generate profit.

You may see familiar names when you switch between your favorite magazines and your favorite music labels and the promotion companies that service them. The goal of most music reviewers is to get promoted within the industry, either as workers at the labels or writers in the media. They do this by making personal contacts, which generally happens when they are helpful to those people and promote whatever release they are working at the time. Very few people stay in the industry for long because it rewards a certain type of highly sociable person who writes whatever is needed to promote a record. This is why when you read record reviews, they normally take on a breathless tone that borders on praise. The goal of the reviewer is as a marketer, not a writer. Their job is to make you want to buy the album, but in such a way that you think it is your own idea, and so you blame no one when two weeks later you stop listening to it.

Most people are not words-people. They operate by gut feel, which is how their brains make a synopsis of all of the impulses they have in response to something. They tend to respond enthusiastically to new things but as time goes on, they respond less to them. For this reason, very few fans are aware of bad albums versus good ones. They know only that they bought something, they were excited about it, and then… it just sort of faded out of their consciousness. It became less interesting. The methods of art and music are well-known after centuries of exploration and what makes an album stay with us is no mystery. A good album is both musically adept, even if primitive, in that it is organized and produces something pleasing and non-obvious out of what it has to work with, and evocative, or representative of some feeling in ourselves or experience we have had in the world. Very few albums do this, but lots of albums can hit us with the pure physical sensation of listening to them, like acrobatic guitars, intense production, a bizarre or fresh style or even pure sonic intensity. These fascinate for a short while and then fade from our awareness.

As a reader, you must now be thinking this article is somewhat apocalyptic. I have just told you that the music industry has interests contrary to your own; they want to pump out formulaic stuff with new style/production, and you want to listen to music that stretches your time, money and energy by rewarding your listening minutes over many years. Actually I consider myself on the side of the music industry, because without labels to concentrate money that they can invest in production and promotion, good bands would remain unheard and without the budget to bring their promising music to a point where it is both pleasant as composition and pleasant to be heard. Few would listen to Beethoven if the only albums were played on kazoos and recorded on iPhones in subway restrooms. The music industry represents its own worst enemy because whenever something new — a band, an idea, a genre — makes a fan base, industry grows in response to it and produces more stuff “like” it that does not deliver the punch of the original. They thus ride trends for profit and then self-destruct when the trend is over, excepting a few labels who rise above the rest on the basis of having more profit, thus more money to put out new releases. The industry would be healthier if it could stop riding trends and instead focus on what makes bands and labels wealthy, which is the long tail or long-term relationship with fands.

The archetypal long tail band is Metallica. When …And Justice For All broke into the top 200, it brought every previous album of the band with it. During its classic era, when Metallica put out a new album and made a new fan, that fan tended to go out and buy everything else the band did, plus tshirts and concert tickets. It is the same way with massively successful acts in every genre — they cultivate a dedicated fanbase — but metal is a standout in how clearly it is defined in this way. The labels that dominate are the ones who get behind a band that cultivates a long-term audience. However, these bands are few and far between so labels make do with what they have. Unfortunately for them, the market is contracting as online availability of music reduces the power of novelty (“newness” + unique production/style). People can simply listen to the new fascination online for two weeks and then move on without having bought it.

To counter this, I propose a new model for the music industry: licensing. Under this model, bands would retain their copyright in an album and take out a license from the label, which would have the right to retain the album as long as they kept it in print. Big labels would license this content from smaller labels, creating a pyramid where the top reflects the bands with the best long-term audience potential and the bottom reflects new entries who are trying to build that audience. This would put more of a burden on the bands, who would be essentially taking a loan from the labels to produce their albums in exchange for that extensive promotion, but would enable labels to focus on the true breadwinners with their long-tail artists. In addition, because artists would be forced to assume direction of their efforts, there would be less of the kind of childish behavior of superstars in the 1970s and 1980s that caused labels to become strict in how they control their artists. This model also fits with the de facto standard of online music sales as they will become, which is the granting of a license to “own” the music regardless of form to the consumer. When physical form is no longer as important, we switch from a “goods” model to a “services” model, and the sooner labels do this the sooner they escape the overhead of defending a past business model and can move on to the future.

Akashah – Eagna an Marbh

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Akashah starts with Iron Maiden styled heavy metal and mixes in diverse influences ranging from the speed/death metal of Absu, the lengthy melodic passages of Dissection, the grandeur of viking-era Bathory, the odd grooves of 80s Gothic rock and the strange sad simple melodies of neofolk. Add to this choruses that are more infectious than Ebola on a bath house water fountain and you have the fundamental Akashah approach. Songs do not reach for unrealistic symmetry as bad music in the 1990s did, but find a catchy phrase and then expand upon it in a circular way that gratifies all of the emotional potential it has without delivery release.

The music that pours out as a result is sentimental like heavy metal but with the more advanced technique of putting energy into the riffs themselves and using them in a dramatic way. It approximates the narrative stream of newer death metal and black metal as a result, but the band clearly favors emotional moments — and this band is more outright and unconcealedly emotional than most bands on the heavier side of rock — and so goes back to a satisfying verse-chorus pair to hash that out, interrupting this loop to introduce tension with new riffs but not as frequently as might prevent a certain sense of being worn down by the listener. At times it resembles the black metal/heavy metal/doom metal hybrid of early Varathron in its riff phrasing. While the band writes excellent riffs both within known forms and of a nature entirely unique to themselves, songs follow the heavy metal format and so do not vary internal riffs as much, which leads to a loss of inertia on some of these longer songs; in addition, some melodies are too evenly balanced which creates overly-symmetrical phrases paired to repetitive vocal rhythms that are too obvious or too complete, giving the songs a jingle-like nature.

Inevitably, people will compared Akashah to Absu: the same speed metal infusion into heavy metal marks the heavier riffs on this album, as does the reliance on what feels like Celtic or central European melodies with insanely catchy choruses. Moments on Eagna an Marbh compare favorably with the best from black metal and heavy metal, but this album badly needs an edit to keep from feeling repetitive and to develop some of these ideas outside the chorus cycle. Nonetheless, there are riffs on this album that show up nowhere else and many moments of fine songwriting that, if properly channeled, could make for an A-level metal album.

How to kick metal into overdrive

January 1, 2015 –

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In a saner world, all children approaching the age of purchasing their own music would be given the 2-disc set of Andres Segovia entitled The Art of Segovia and made to listen and understand it before moving on. This collection of songs reveals not just how good music can be, but how to think about music both as technical musicianship and as art.

A collection of songs arranged and performed by Andres Segovia, this set shows instrumental prowess at its best where it seems more controlled. Most of these pieces came from composers who originally wrote either for guitar or small ensembles, and Segovia laid them out so he could play multiple melody lines on guitar over the length of each song. As a result, these songs are dense in a way that most popular music is not, in that each part relates to the previous material in the piece but seeks to not just complement but expand upon what is there. Melodies grow from a few notes to a full-fledged expression and then modify themselves with material from contrasting voices in each song, creating an effect like reading a great book where every character changes over the course of their adventures while simultaneously influencing the course of that journey. What at first sound like fills and turn-arounds are not spurious material but continuation of the song, with every note played serving some purpose and nothing extraneous or for the sake of showing off. This alone puts the lie to technical music of the current time, where a simplistic song if dressed up in recognized “hard” techniques becomes “technical,” even if those adornments contribute nothing to the song itself. The technical art here is in the writing and arrangement of the music in addition to the performance.

In addition, The Art of Segovia forces us to look at what makes a song — one medium among several for the mental process we call “art” — strike us as great instead of simply adequate plus novel. Each of these songs evokes a feeling that is both unique to the song and can be found in life itself, not a subjective sense but more a subjective perception of the objective translated into a form that any logical mind can process. This transcends the limitations of not only the medium but the human mind itself, creating a commonality based on an accurate view of reality that is nonetheless interpretive, instead of pandering to the lowest common denominator that a crowd would find pleasing. All of the tools of art — rhythm, melody, harmony and phrase — apply themselves to revealing the inner essence of a complex experience, not so much distilling it to a simple statement as walking us through its evolution and reaching a moment of clarity, then allowing it to fade away as we absorb what we have sensed.

Very few people who listen to rock, metal, jazz or blues have sat down to listen to a great work, understand it, and understand outside of its medium what makes it great. As with a great book, a great piece of music reveals something in life that we have not discovered or denied. It shows us the truth within, not creating another surface category, and in doing so makes us consider how this experience is universal to those who invest the time in understanding it. Truth meets us halfway between our perspective and the world. Great art lifts us out of the subjective, transforms the objective through not just the power of personality but the insight of talent, and delivers it to us in a form that re-discovers life with freshness through a vividly accurate portrayal that shows the hidden possibility lurking even within the mundane. When we have that level of expectation for art, the trivial novelty and diehard pandering to comfortingly familiar sounds fades away and instead we seek something of greater clarity, power and ultimately meaning. Naturally this is not popular with record labels, for whom discovering a Segovia each month is impossible, but for those who value their time and want to listen to music that shows the best of what humanity can do, The Art of Segovia gives us a yardstick against which all great albums must compare.

Not all of these will be as technical as Segovia’s playing or the writing of the composers he arranges. They do not need to be. If they uphold the same spirit of discovery and revelation that makes this art so profound, they can do so with fewer musical techniques. But if they do not live up to that understanding of what art and by extension music can be, they sound hollow in comparison to Segovia and stand no chance of comparison. The best of metal lives up to this standard and it refuses to be controlled by those who wish to dumb it down so they can sell more of it or use it to push a message. As we go into a new year, and the second half of a dubious decade, demanding metal that live up to this standard ensures that we will have less to listen to, but enjoy it more.

Crucifyre – Black Magic Fire

December 26, 2014 –

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Late entries in the attempt to partake in the retro-Swedish death metal sound, Crucifyre comes with an impressive pedigree of B-level Swedish death metal bands contributing members to this new project. To realize this vision, they combined heavy metal verses with Sodom-style chanted choruses and melodic death metal touches using the Swedish death metal modified d-beat under the skin. The result is not stylistically terrible except that it satisfies none of the cravings associated with its constituent parts, and instead makes a very “modern metal” collage which makes sense linearly but taken as a whole expresses nothing.

In addition, the melodies and vocal rhythms used here are simple in the way radio jingles are (as opposed to the “broken air conditioner that needs oil” way that Cannibal Corpse-derived bands can be) and the combination makes this music simply annoying. Catchy rhythms, sing-song melodies and a jumble of riffs thrown together seemingly both hastily and craftily creates a sensation of being in a Disney ride where each new riff is a new attraction and each represents a general gesture at an idea, not an attempt to unite a theme through all the different parts. This creates a feeling of rotation to the songs as they cycle past.

Making retro death metal is not easy, nor is it usually advisable. Death metal does best when motivated by a strong vision and hence a clear aesthetic voice and thus selective use of the techniques available to it after three generations of metal and punk. What happens with Black Magic Fire is instead the an attempt to make music like one would make a burrito: dump in some death metal asada, top it off with heavy metal cheese, then scatter some d-beat rice and German speed metal lettuce through the mix and wrap it up. Then hope it makes sense. This album does not, and does so in the most brain-liquefying simplistic way possible.

Nachtmystium – The World We Left Behind

December 22, 2014 –

Nachtmystium - The World We Left Behind

When you say you like black metal, people will speak band names to you and it takes the same amount of time to figure out that one is horrible as it does for them to suggest ten more. It is a literal infinite stream that is mostly worthless but there is always the elusive possibility that one might not be terrible and sometimes, very rarely, a great one exists among the waste. Nachtmystium is not that rare greatness.

Other than the vocals, utterly nothing on this record suggests in any way that it is related to black metal. For the most part, this is an Iron Maiden clone album that, if it were aesthetically decked-out like the original, would be immediately filed with the B-rated bands on the far shelf. It specializes in soft rhythms that trudge to a familiar cadence and have catchy melodic hooks overlaid, but its real power is its ability to set up a chorus with verse repetition. The primary instrument is the voice, which through varying texture enables it to imbue the verses with emotion. And if you like 1970s overblown lead guitar soloing that keeps going on and recapitulates the dominant vocal theme in five different ways, you are in for a treat.

The World We Left Behind is newsworthy only in that it is not newsworthy yet was seemingly in the news for a long time. Musically it falls into the mid-1970s with some updated technique but nothing else, and artistically it appeals to people who want droning boring music to sit through on their days off while they think about what victims of the world they are, and how this justifies buying another cherry tart at the bakery and eating it with wine while watching Notting Hill. It is not incompetent like early USBM missteps but in its competence there is an emptiness driven by an attempt to attention whore certain “deep” emotions it identified in black metal. As a result, this serves as a fitting epitaph for a once-worthy genre now swallowed up by mass taste, and nothing else.

Rock music hates metal and wants to assimilate it

December 17, 2014 –

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has again slighted heavy metal by including musicians from all genres except metal while some of metal’s longest-running, widest-selling and most-acclaimed acts go unnoticed. As one metal writer pointed out:

“This is a symptom of the disrespect across the board toward hard rock and heavy metal,” says Trunk. “The Grammys haven’t gotten any better since they gave Jethro Tull a Grammy instead of Metallica (for the first ever Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Performance trophy in 1989).”

Exhibit A of that lack of respect: late, great Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman was a glaring omission from this year’s “In Memoriam” segment at the Grammy Awards.

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, rock was the bad boy of popular music.

Then in the late 1960s the hippies took that to a new place where rock was not the bad boy so much as the voice of protest.

Punk stole the bad boy crown again by ducking out of the hippie world and becoming antagonists of everything people wanted to believe.

Metal did the same thing but in a different way. Where punk said our society was rotted and dying, metal pointed out that our souls were rotted and dying because we were in denial of life itself.

Ever since then, other groups have been trying to reclaim the bad boy title, with hip-hop the most plausible candidate. The only problem is that all of them follow the late 1960s model, so their bad-boy-ness is tempered.

Rock ‘n Roll has not forgiven metal and punk for stepping out in a different direction. They are still those who strayed from the pack, and ideally would be assimilated (rock music with a metal or punk surface) or destroyed.

Don’t hold your breath, metalheads, that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will recognize metal. To them, we are the enemy and we are either conquered and made into rock, or must be excluded from their special bad boy club.

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.

Witchfinder General – Death Penalty

November 29, 2014 –

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After Black Sabbath invented proto-metal, people mixed together hard rock like Led Zeppelin and came up with a new hybrid they called heavy metal, but it lacked the intensity of Black Sabbath. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) fused the energy of punk and garage rock back into the music to restore the alienated energy, and Witchfinder General numbered among its strongest arguments.

Bands making music of this nature face a challenge: the entire rock community is based on making things sound smooth and grandiose in the kind of narcissistic ecstasy that people who want to be the center of attention for their 15 minutes exhibit, and this clashes with the need to sound like a combat unit taking a break to bash out a few tunes. As the Witchfinder General Live ’83 release shows us, this band had great intensity when they could focus their energies in that fashion.

While Death Penalty features the same excellent songwriting, matching vocal melodies that evoke the ambition without regard for convention that made Ozzy Osbourne the favorite Black Sabbath vocalist, and powerful riffing that expanded beyond the rock vocabulary to the side door of speed metal, the more refined production convinced Witchfinder General to play these songs more slowly and to layer on additional lead guitar and production effects to “enhance” the sound. The result is that much of the energy dissipates into a 1970s rock filter, and the production emphasizes a thin guitar tone to which the band adapts. Other than this disadvantage, Death Penalty shows us Witchfinder General at their most powerful.

Like the best of NWOBHM bands, Witchfinder General used shorter riffs than Black Sabbath and focused more on melodic guitar composition that echoed the previous generation of British heavy guitar rock. In addition, the band injected fast rhythmic riffing using a muted strum, and fast lead fills that allowed more flexibility in riff placement, but also borrowed from many of the progressive bands a more flexible sense of song structure. There will be the verse-chorus cycle, but it often transitions with a break that emphasizes some aspect of the song and allows the band to use variants of riffs for great contrast, before returning to the original cycle. To death metal fans, it may seem tame, but in the day it was a revolution against heavy metal convention, and these songs still stand tall with a power that all those artists who wish to be more polished than pugnacious cannot capture.

Much of the focus of songwriting wraps around the vocals which guide each song ably by taking the high register and infusing just enough melody into these riffs to give each passage a hook. Sometimes this limits what the band could spend its energy on, as we can hear through many of the incidental guitar passages such as the fade-out instrumental break in “Death Penalty,” but it also helps hold together these sounds which are bursting with energy and musical creativity. Much of this album sounds like later Black Sabbath with more caffeinated leads, but that is its voice and not its essence, which is a flexible view of songwriting that never loses the need for a charge of the light brigade in power chords against the pleasant illusions of the average rock fan, then or now.