Satan won 2013’s Best of the Year award from Death Metal Underground for its album Life Sentence which shows the best of NWOBHM merged into the powerful techniques of the speed metal the band inspired back in the day.
Now, for the first time, Satan is touring North America starting in April. You can catch this classic metal band (which shares personnel with Blitzkrieg) at several locations already announced for the east coast, with more to come.
If you enjoy metal anywhere from the late 1970s through late 1980s models of technical, inventive riffcraft bearing and emotionally complex metal, Satan Life Sentence provides an older and wiser take on that era with just as much invention and perhaps more intensity.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? When people decide that life is worth living, try to make good music. Unless they hope to make a quick buck, in which case they disguise bad music as “innovation.” We separate the good from the bad — with a machete. Come for the misery, stay for the occasional exception…
Divine Circles – Oblivion Songs
The mainstream assimilation of metal continues. This is basically coffeehouse femme-folk-rock like Jewel would have spun two decades ago when metal was still doing something relevant. Instead, it sounds like a Taylor Swift/Janis Joplin hybrid on piano while someone strums a lightly distorted guitar in the background and some bell-bottomed burnout bangs a cowbell. I can appreciate the similarity to neofolk bands, especially Hekate, or even the folk-rock tradition of the Americas. But it’s most similar to the goddamn crap they play in Starbucks or our local “alternative” (read: clean every other Tuesday) coffee shack. A girl sings about fanciful things, there’s some guitar and a lot of slightly exotic rhythm. But when you leave and drive home, you’re thankful for the silence. This has nothing to do with metal and should go back to the coffee shops.
Slipknot – Slipknot
For people who thought Korn was too musical, Roadrunner has saved the day. ANGRY MAN babbling over death metal riffs reduced 100 levels of complexity, with random vinyl scratching noises and sampling thrown in for…some reason. These riffs were lifted from a White Zombie album which lifted them from a Metallica album which borrowed them from a NWOBHM 7″ which probably borrowed them from the rantings of cavemen etched into sandstone near the local juvenile detention center. To these basic speed metal riffs, they have added abundant bounce and doubling the internal rhythm on the offbeat, which gives the illusion of complexity for about ten seconds, and they’ve wrapped them around rock melodies. Speaking of wrapped, why aren’t we calling this rap/rock? It’s obviously rap music sanitized for the people too uptight for even backpack hip-hop, thus it gets injected into rock and to disguise the obvious lameness of this combination they cover it in heavy metal stylings like melted chocolate poured over a corpse. Lyrics are moronic, riffs are moronic, album art is moronic…is anything in this band appealing to functional humans? If a vengeful god were to rain napalm on America for producing this album, it would be justified.
Éva Polgár & Sándor Vály – Gilgamesh
Art music faces one ultimate test: will people listen to it on a regular basis, in regular lives? I’m not talking about the heroin and cigarettes crowd in Williamsburg with their postmodern degrees from Brown, but normal people. Thoughtful, intelligent, realistic, well-adjusted people. Do they listen to it? Or is it something they think is neat, maybe would be good in a movie, and then politely clap and never hear it again? Gilgamesh qualifies as some of the better art music I’ve heard. It is an sonic backdrop to the famous tale, rendering in quickly played piano riffs while other instruments fill in background chording. This has more in common with industrial music and avantgarde jazz than rock, but each track creates a series of emotional sensations corresponding to its chapter of the Gilgamesh saga. It is artfully done and powerful but is too abrasive and repetitive for every day primary listening. Further, it is too arty and conceptual to find a place in the balanced life. It would make a killer soundtrack for a silent film however.
Fear of Domination – Distorted Delusions
Music designed to pander to newer listeners is often excruciating. First, it must have an obvious novelty in style that usually defeats common sense. Next, it must appeal to people whose first instinct is essentially disruption and chaos. As part of this, they favor weapons like repetition and garish aesthetics. This album will not disappoint on those points. Mixing clubby techno (itself suspiciously like disco) with metalcore and crowd-positive industrial like Rammstein, Fear of Domination spit out music that is essential keyboard-led but has background guitar and bass which are entirely obliterated by the harsh, chanty and repetitive vocals. There is not a single metal riff on the album. There is also nothing new to people who have experienced even Ministry, but a form with novelty gives this some of the appeal of more austere industrial bands. Still the repetition level and degree of obvious manipulation makes it excruciating for people who have heard more than a dozen albums.
Benighted – Carnivore Sublime
In the absence of Nu Metal, everyone is rushing to take over the territory of Limp bizkit or Korn. From bling bling tech-core band Despised Icon to recent Napalm Death to streamlined Unique Leader sounding Morbid Angel palm muting riffs, Benighted blend everything that’s hip and br00tal in the scene together as the perfect sonic weapon for the frustrated school kids. This whole album is full of preachy and overreacting jerking noise. The band’s new music video reflect all of these: attending school is bad and teachers are evil, the world is insane, so buying this album is the right way to the first step of revolution. The hilariously out of place cleared-throat howling choruses sound like any metalcore rather than death metal, they make me want to put on the Korn records instead. Nothing from Benighted’s album is remotely exciting to the ear of a longtime metal listener. The volume is louder than Grammy performer Metallica, but the music is just as bland. Benighted and their far relatives Insane Clown Posse and Fleshgod Apocalypse are definitely worth exiling from the metal world.
Fluisteraars – Dromers
What is problematic about post-metal/indie-metal, and rock music itself, is nto that it’s distinctive. Rather, like a good product, it’s created by audience surveys. What do they respond to? — put that in. What got bad response? — take it out. What was neutral? — reduce it. The problem is that you need all the colors of the rainbow to paint a picture, so just because audiences prefer blue over yellow does not mean yellow should be removed. In fact, it aims to create a monotone picture where all of it is the color audiences want in their living room and none is the less favored colors. But art is a communication of a mental journey between two points. It shows us someone emerging from a state to a higher realization and then acting on that for triumph. It reveals a mixture of emotions that signal an ultimate resolution, or at least a clarification in the mind. But what we call “modern metal” — itself a clone of the late hardcore, post-hardcore, emo and indie movements of the late 1980s through middle 1990s (Jawbreaker, Rites of Spring, Fugazi) — is like rock music designed to just be that perfect wallpaper for your life. The right shade of sweater, the right ironic frames for your glasses, the purse that makes you look like a wandering boho hippie who might just happen to have a degree in art history. It’s the cult of the ego, and the ego demands only what serves it in full and denies the experience required to get there. This is because the ego wants nothing to do with the external world, and prefers that which is “human,” namely itself and those it socializes with. Fluisteraars is 2/5 old school black metal like Enslaved and Darkthrone, and the rest the newer material in a dronining long form that uses multiple riffs derived from a single theme, like Pelican. The result is very pleasant to listen to but when it is done nothing has changed in your life. You are back shopping for wallpaper, ignoring anything outside of yourself, and consequently, missing out on anything that can be called soul.
Woods of Desolation – As the Stars
Most of people can’t tell the difference between shallow light-hearted commercial product and art, therefore the conformists can always make some metallic indie rock to troll the underground. Woods of Desolation is the black metal version of Explosions In The Sky; both of them use the highest notes of the guitar chords to outline the weary lie-down-and-die pentatonic melodies while songs build around the sweeping textures. Just like the prototype of this sub-genre Alcest, Woods of Desolation’s music is nice and sweet and flawless, it make one hard to criticize them. But the reality is, three months after the hype, those who praised it like hell initially would throw this album away for these spun sugars annoying them just as the morning wake up cell phone jingles.
Towers – II
Post-rock and post-metal generally mean attempts to recreate emo through expanded minimalist sound. Towers takes an approach more like Swans where they build a drone and then layer it with interesting textures. The result is rhythmically motivational, like a march, but ultimately can’t go anywhere because like the notion of “concept music” it can’t go anywhere but to its furthest extreme. Thus what we have is interesting, but not something you’d want to repeatedly listen to except in the background or as part of a movie soundtrack. It is not terrible in any part, and on the whole it is bland and inoffensive once you get past the “extreme” style. Arguably, Towers is the best example so far of how to make post-rock/emo into something that is not terrible. The problem is that listening to it feels like being driven over by Friday 5 pm NYC traffic, and so it’s unlikely that anyone will turn to this for repeated listens that bring out some positive aspect of being alive.
Sunn O))) and Ulver – Terrestrials
Background drone of distorted guitar vibratto and feedback. Foreground slow chords, standard post-metal. Melody slowly layered, then repeats. It goes on in a big loop. Any given second of it is inoffensive and seems like something cool might be happening, but then, if you listen to the whole thing, you realize its fatal flaw is that it’s boring. Nevermind that Lull and Fripp did this years ago but better. Nevermind that these bands were both wrecking balls to metal’s integrity. Just listen to the music: it’s repetitive, doesn’t development, and basically does nothing but establish a drone and a half of a mood. What would you do with it? Listen to it? No, this is music for you to explain to your friends. The point is that you know something they don’t and you can thus explain how profound it (and you) are. It’s no different than people going to rap concerts to pose at being gangsters or young girls who cry when Shakira sings about her hips. It’s just more pretentious.
Dodsferd – The Parasitic Survival of the Human Race
Despite the ideologically-correct title (for black metal), this band shows us the true death of black metal: it has been assimilated by punk music. This sounds, with the exception of a couple black metal open strum riffs, exactly like the same droning hardcore bands were pumping out in the early 1980s. That music was the source of the stagnation that launched underground metal. I’ve listened to this thing three times and it has no negatives. There is nothing wrong with it. There’s also nothing compelling about it; it’s just more void. Technically, it all fits together. It’s just boring and expresses nothing. It is essentially hardcore punk music from the early 1980s with better drumming and production, maybe a black metal riff every seven riffs. But if you already own Discharge and Darkthrone, there’s utterly no reason to listen to this. Even if you don’t, it makes no sense to try to listen to this instead.
Gris – À l’Âme Enflammée, l’Äme Constellée…
Oh wow. Titles in French, looks misanthropic, maybe Vlad Tepes has returned! Second coming of Loudblast, even? No, it’s emo. Riddle me this: if emo isn’t like the fat girl addicted with meth that you woke up next to in the basement and felt great shame for the next, why do people keep trying to hide it? This is the same droning yet bittersweet minor-key background noise that Jawbreaker put on their albums and before that, that emo bands kept trying to insert into punk. What is emo, after all, but the very basic tonalities of rock music translated over an upbeat groove into power chords with dissonant voicings? When you look at what can’t be used, you see what is left. In the same way that the blues scale is the classical diatonic major scale with the key-centric notes removed (and a blue note for color-note rhythm comp fudging), emo is what happens when you take all the life out of music and translate it into rules to keep an audience in suspense. It doesn’t ever go anywhere, just shifts between these same few interval progressions. And yet, there it is. And people who apparently know nothing about thinking keep buying it. This is very frilly, dressed-up, entertaining variety, but underneath all the stupid pet tricks and gaudy clothing is the same old tedium. This is the sound of a genre dying.
Frost Legion – Death of Mankind
Crossing punk and heavy metal styles with a black metal aesthetic of constant high-intensity drumming and droning riffs, Frost Legion make black metal that often sounds like it is assembled from spare parts but tries to keep a focus on the melody and savagery of black metal. Vocals are a constant rasp that varies inflection as little as possible, over active double-bass drumming reminiscent of later Ancient Rites. Riffs are often drifting melodic constellations formed of a few chords which work through permutations of loss and re-acquisition of a root note. Often the riffs are very similar to each other which causes an unsettling loss of orientation, and frequently they bring out melodies which resemble music from the 1930s, but the effect is to create a sense of longing. One thing this band could do better is dynamics; it uses nearly constant intensity most of the time which is exhausting. While song structure is essentially riff-based, these riffs may need to correlate to something else in order to make the composition memorable. The constant melodic riffing is reminiscent of Carcariass and bands of that ilk who are deeply invested in guitar creativity and sometimes lose sight of memorable songs. This is a good start and it will be interesting to see where these guys end up after they’ve had a chance to contemplate the results of listening to this album several dozen times.
Aethereal – Faceless Messiah
We walk among you. We are legion and yet can travel unnoticed in the midst of your cities. We are those who try too hard, and many of us ended up in black emtal. Aethereal brings many strengths but suffers from trying too hard. Coming from the wilds of the USA, the amazing thing about this demo is that it attempts to shape the melodic architectures of a European band. It seems caught between a more vicious Behexen-style assault and a traditional melodic metal attack shaped around Sacramentum, Dissection and perhaps even Sentenced. Most would argue this into the black metal camp on vocals alone, but it has aspects of many genres of metal. Technically precise and musically coherent, these longer songs more resemble the ambitious music before the Great Partition in black metal which set the classics in the past and brought a deluge of imitators to attempt to pollute the genre. The first track, “Scornful Skies,” launches from a battering assault of melodic chords resembling rainfall in sheets to a neo-Celtic style intricate lead riff, fading into a Dissection styled mood piece before evaporating into an interlude of gentle strumming without distortion and a return to a contortion of its origins. The second track, “Qliphothic Reflections,” resembles much more of the black metal of the post-initial era, with low use of dynamics and high intensity blasting with transitional melodic riffs leading us through a semi-circular structure. Both tracks show promise if developed. But again, the problem is trying too hard: looking at what all the great songs have, and trying to make your own version without knowing what connects them. If these guys trust their gut instinct and what they like to listen to rather than what they think they should be creating, they would do better. Take it from a guy who tries too hard in his biggest failures as a writer.
Asking Alexandria – Stand Up and Scream
If any of you were to discover that your testosterone levels were too high, and your doctor advises you to take estrogen injections: before doing that, consider listening to this album – in approximately 3 minutes, you will feel immediate results. An album like this could be created only by the results of a CIA project designed to make people believe malls are desirable. (Somewhere, Bill Hicks is turning over in his grave.) For the rest of us, upon hearing this we wish that we were in that grave. This band has the uncanny ability to not only make every song sound identical, but also every riff. Then again, most people listening to this are undergoing “spiral learning” – the repetition is something they’re used to. Please don’t listen to this. If you don’t have enough respect for yourself to avoid this, just go all the way: go to Starbucks, pick up a la- oh alright, that joke is overused. This band sucks. That’s all.
Metal-related publisher Bazillion Points (of Metalion and Only Death is Real fame) is furthering its extensive catalogue, this time with a book chronicling the exploits of heavy metal movies.
Written by Mike “McBeardo” McPadden, Heavy Metal Movies covers over 1300 films, ranging from movies explicitly about a heavy metal theme (obligatory This Is Spinal Tap entry), to movies that were metal in spirit and thus became involved in bands’ artistic development (notably Lord of the Rings and Conan the Barbarian), in addition to various violent slashers and metal documentaries. Reviews are accompanied by color photographs and promotional artwork.
Continuing the explosion of metal documentation, the book aims to appeal to both the devoted metalhead and general fans of popular culture. If this upholds the quality standards of Bazillion Points’ previous releases, this will be an excellent coffee table book for metalheads to show off to those who may be unaware of metal’s reach as an artistic phenomenon.
Today, Jeff Hanneman would have been fifty years old. The man who helped invent the sound that underlies all of underground death metal did not, as the people around him in the LA suburbs tend to do, waste his life away in repetition. Instead, he forged his own path and we celebrate him for it and the results of it.
Way back in 1983, as now, the holy grail of alienated music was the fusion of any two of its genres: metal, punk and industrial. Specifically there was great interest in using its guitar-based genres to create a new sound. Many people attempted to fuse metal and punk, and many credible sounds came out of it. One path was speed metal, which Metallica unleashed with Kill ‘Em All. Another was thrash, which DRI cut loose with Dirty Rotten LP. But still another was the foundation of death metal and black metal which was introduced by Slayer and refined the following year by Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom.
Slayer took two things from punk and injected them into the prog-influenced songs structures of NWOBHM: they borrowed the constant tremolo strum, used by punk for drone, and the open drum patterns that allowed guitar to take the lead. Now a new style of music emerged. Rhythm guitar became the lead instrument, rapid-firing changing riffs at the audience while drums framed but did not lead the development. Riffs did not have to perfectly fit the drums which kept going in the background as a kind of timekeeper but not, as in most bands, a way of signaling the guitar to change. Further, riffs became phrasal, building on the longer chord progressions of Black Sabbath to become fully small melodies, developing in response to on another like classical motifs.
Music teachers, who were raised in the rock/jazz idea that drums lead and riffs should emphasize harmonic and a static melodic role, with the primary melodic role and lead instrument (and thus impetus for song “development”) being the voice, found Slayer to be unmusical. The record industry was appalled at this creation that unleashed the demonic side of life in such clarity; they make their money from selling happy illusions, not grim realities translated into elaborately conceived mythologies.
And yet it is this mythological tendency, dating back to “War Pigs,” that saves metal from self-consuming and burning out like hardcore punk. It is not literal; it is imaginative. It turns our focus from ourselves to the nature of power, history, nature and other forces larger than the individual, and then lets us imagine the greatness of participation in those. Where punk turned reality into a protest weapon and source of alienation, metal has turned it into a source of individual desire to do something epic with our lives. Slayer gave that mythological tendency a new voice, not just by singing about demons, vampires and The Holocaust, but by translating the sound of raw power into something you could throw on your bedroom hi-fi and be transported to a different world.
For this reason, Slayer captured the imagination of a generation and continues to enthrall us today. The early albums, which are completely written in horror movie mythology, incite in us a desire to see the hidden possibly occult underpinnings of a society gone insane. The Reign in Blood and afterwards material shows us a more punk-like grasp of all that terrifies us and sends us searching for reasons why, and if not why, how to use such things as war, murder and sadism in some constructive way. Slayer is not protest music; it acknowledges the horror, but doesn’t want to band us together into a drum circle to “stop” these horrors. It recognizes they are eternal. Instead, like the religion it loathed, Slayer drives us to find a way to accept these things as part of life itself, and look for a philosophy that shows us a reason to survive despite all these horrors.
Jeff Hanneman’s influence pervades the Slayer story. He wrote many of the band’s most epic and enduring songs, contributed the mythological outlook, and invented the musical changes described above. While he may be slighted by the Grammy’s, or ignored by a world of people seeking Shakira tunes instead of imaginative but realist metal, to those who can understand his trip — already a naturally elite group — Hanneman’s work is not just a source of wisdom, but of inspiration. In a world asleep, he stayed awake. In a world of imitation, he took his own path. Where most just wanted to participate for reward, he took on life at its most basic level and triumphed. For that reason, we’ll always celebrate his life and work.
An age of distrust.
For their performance at the Grammy awards, Metallica paired up with Chinese pianist Lang Lang for a performance of their dramatic protest song “One” originally from …And Justice for All.
According to VH1, the bond was formed in just 45 minutes of practice time the day before the performance. As you can see below, the result was smoothly integrated despite this lack of extensive practice.
Metal and classical share a defining trait in that both use narrative composition, or knitting together riffs to develop a theme over the course of a piece. This is in contrast to pop music, which is essentially binary, formed of a verse-chorus pair and a “contrast” via a bridge or turnaround. Thus Metallica’s knotwork of riffs and Lang Lang’s melodic development through structured composition are entirely compatible.
The question remains whether metal will adopt this outlook as anything other than a surface aesthetic. If it does, expect metal songs to get more densely riffy and longer with contorted structures like progressive rock, which derived its song structuring principles from classical as well.
Billing itself as a conference focused on contemplation of the social aspect of heavy metal, the conference will discuss areas such as the ethics and politics of heavy metal, judged from a background based in philosophy.
It’s difficult to formulate a judgment on the philosophical orientation of heavy metal as a whole, however what all strands of metal share is a sense of meaning and purpose in something which is outside of what is comfortable to the post-1960’s general populace – this can be considered the “heavy” within the term “heavy metal”. From proto-metal bands such as Black Sabbath scaring hippies with a reminder that getting stoned doesn’t solve humanity’s problems, to the present day; the genre manifests something which is misplaced in time, leading many within the genre to develop in interest in the past, whether that be politically or musically. How this relates to the present is an engaging topic of discussion, if chosen.
Another realm of discussion will focus on the preservation of the history of heavy metal, especially within the medium of visual art. While the music has always taken primary importance, metal has a long tradition of valuing album art, logos, and quality live photos. The conference will ask the audience for participation in a yet-to-be unveiled project for collecting and displaying these resources.
Interestingly, there will also be a “women’s studies” discussion in relation to metal. This is relevant as it represents the inclusion of heavy metal into an already-established field of inquiry, which is respected within the current academic milieu – perhaps indicating that heavy metal is beginning to be viewed as a genre serious enough to be considered for inclusion among other fields, such as theater or literature.
Those interested in keeping up to date with the conference can visit its Facebook page. Niall Scott, a speaker at the event, released a short video detailing the discussion, which can be viewed below.
Academia did not always embrace metal. When I suggested the idea in the early 1990s, it was mostly laughed off, with some notable exceptions. But the point remained: heavy metal is a unique art form in our society and a powerful indicator of our unfolding history.
Metal is unique among popular music genres because it is not dedicated to the individual, but that which is beyond the individual’s control, such as power and fate. It is also unique in that it does not preach pacifism, love, social behavior and comfort, but instead alienation, independent thought, feral amorality and nihilism. It is in short that which resists social control and rejects the notions of sociality, like guilt and love, that are used to keep social order. Metal is the lone wolf of all music.
Starting a few years ago academia began to dig into metal. Most of them are looking at it from the surface, using familiar tropes from academia, but they are starting to dig deeper. The next step is to see heavy metal for itself and to understand it on its own terms.
As a brick in this long and winding road, MIT’s Heavy Metal 101 is an attempt to introduce metal through history and musicology. The course has been going since 2006 and incorporates a number of metal albums with a somewhat “the best sellers write history” viewpoint, but otherwise hits all the right notes or at least bands.
The future of the class isn’t in doubt but the question remains whether MIT will open it up further as they have done with other classes. As MIT’s alumni page notes, “The remaining seminars will be held January 23 and 30 from 5-6 p.m. and are free and open to the public.” If we’re really lucky, they’ll make them into open courseware so anyone worldwide can participate or at least watch.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? It’s when we decide that good things should happen to good people and bad things should happen to boring music. Most music is either imitating a trend, or totally without purpose or content, and that makes it boring. We can find trends and purposeless noise anywhere, for free. We are cruel to the stupid, and periodically, find something worthwhile to hold up above the river of feces…
Adrenaline Mob – Men of Honor
It’s grandad’s heavy metal, kids, but with a rhythmic kick and Alice in Chains vocals. A Pantera influence in the bouncy riffing represents a modern retrospective on glam and heavy metal from the 1970s. Droning diminished scale choruses and a similar riffs stacked in a way that is both not random and not song development fleshes out the mix. Songwriting emphasizes the Big Pop Industry tendencies toward hooky choruses and distracting, somewhat aggressive verses with emphasis on stitching out the chorus rhythm in as many forms as possible, so in case you missed it the previous sixty times it will pop up again to remind you that you’re listening to “music.” People have made heavy metal version of power pop before (like Yes’ 90125) but they aimed for quality; this aims for conformity with someone snapping their fingers and being ironic behind the scenes. Warmed-over 1970s riffs 1990s influences make this a classic record company attempt to make the present generations worship the cast-offs of the past. Despite attempts to be edgy, this is a museum piece from the Hall of Boredom.
Disfiguring the Goddess – Deprive
There’s no death metal to be found on this supposedly “brutal death metal” release, nor any concept of songwriting. Choppy, percussive riffs are thrown next to nu-mu thudding in random sequences that do nothing but “groove.” It comes off as variations of rhythm guitar picking exercises played on an 8-string guitar and stitched together in ProTools. Like most of these rhythms, it’s only a matter of time before the “out there” becomes the predictable, so there’s no promise in these flights of fancy, only a return to something as mundane as the cycling rhythm of a diesel truck engine with a loose belt. Occasionally, an actual riff gets played for almost three seconds before more inconsequential rhythm chugging comes in to pacify the indie/Hot Topic demographic who use this stuff as a surrogate to nurture relationships with other idiots by sharing an interest in “wacky muzak” that makes them “different and unique”, but under the surface, is Korn with tremolo picking.
Alehammer – Barmageddon
Life is an IQ test. Your choices determine really how smart you are. If you picked this band, you failed. These guys should hang up the electrics, strap on acoustics and do children’s television. This is sing-song music for people without direction in life. Even when I was a clueless 14-year-old buying his first albums with grubby pennies I would not have considered this dung-heap of bad musical stereotypes. It sounds like the kind of stuff that characters at Disneyland would sing, or maybe a bad world music band from the background of a car commercial. It’s catchy vocal rhythms over guitars that basically serve as slaves to pounding out the catchy vocal rhythm, but it’s repetitive catchiness. It’s all hook to the degree that there’s no sweet spot, only cloying repetition. Most bands of this nature are basically bad heavy metal with jingle music at its core. Barmageddon is basically a grindcore take on the kind of simplistic fare that got called “Pirate Metal” recently. I propose a new name: Headshot Metal. If you get caught listening to this, you should be shot through the face with a high-powered rifle. It’s an insult to anyone in the genre who tries to get anything right.
Lamb of God – New American Gospel
Upon viewing this title, the prospective listener might be intrigued to ask “what is this new gospel?” Answer: the gospel of insincere mediocrity. Half-assed guitar riffs combine the worst elements of a moron’s interpretation of hardcore (autistic caveman rhythms) and speed metal (obvious riff sequences) with a fruity veneer of constipated teenager vocals. Tracks start nowhere and lead nowhere, with nothing connecting one moment to the next; a stream of irrelevance. Expect plenty of repetition which Lamb of God, like all metalcore bands, tries to disguise by being as random as possible. You know who else uses that strategy? Nu-metal bands. This is basically a kissing cousin to nu-metal anyway. It’s music designed for distracted teenagers to distract themselves further until it’s time for a lifetime career in something brainless to match their braindead approach to life. How anybody with above a single-digit IQ could enjoy this escapes me. Sadly for all of us, this title is accurate: the future of America is a populace that considers this a valuable piece of music.
Anal Blasphemy / Forbidden Eye – The Perverse Worship of Satanic Sins
Anal blasphemy starts off with three tracks of simple death metal with a strong melodic hook. It is however rather straightforward in structure which leaves creates a sense of uniformity. Riffs are very similar. The final track uses a melodic lead-picked counter-riff which adds some depth but ultimately these songs are one step removed from their beginnings, so despite the compelling rhythm and melodic hooks they might not survive repeated listens. Forbidden Eye produces a more lush approach to melodic metal which is clearly in the droning black metal camp, but avoids the pure sugar-coated repetition common to the Eastern European variant. Its weakness is that there is not much in the way of a unique voice; we’ve heard these tropes before and recognize the song patterns well. If you can imagine a Dawn or Naglfar approach with more intensive drumming that is roughly what you’ll get here, well-executed but undistinctive both melodically and stylistically.
Descend – Wither
The rock ‘n’ roll industry is a successful industry that attracts players who are highly professional. They know what the product is, and how to do do the minimum to achieve it; this practice, otherwise known as shaving margins, is based on the idea that the other guy will cut his costs to the minimum too in order to both lower price to make the product more competitive and maximize his own profit. If two guys make a widget, and one does it for five bucks less, that’s pure profit. In the same way, rock ‘n’ roll is based on fast turnover and following current trends so you can catch the media wave. I hear death metal is big now, like trendy. This album attempts a facial similarity to death metal with the whispery vocals of Unique Leader bands and lots of runaway blast beats followed by metalcore riffs, but after a while, they drop this and out come to the jazzy riffs based on a scale bent to a series of offbeats of offbeats in a complex pattern, and the soft-strummed ballad chord progressions and melodic hooks. The problem is that the guitar rhythms, like those of the vocals in hip-hop, are based on subdividing a rhythm and thus rapidly become highly repetitive, both internally and between songs. The result is that it all all fades into the background, as should this rather unambitious and directionless release.
Reciprocal – New Order of the Ages
A “thinking man” band name written in a sterile font and a “politically informed” album cover. Is this more metalcore in death metal clothing? You bet. While this band is claiming influence from Deeds of Flesh and other Unique Leader bands for legitimacy, this has more in common with Necrophagist or The Black Dahlia Murder. Mechanical groove riffs are “spiced up” with sweep arpeggios and generic Slaughter of the Soul riffs appear over blast beats for the “brutality”. This is boring music with nothing to offer. Perhaps musicians this good need a better concept to work with than shouting out Alex Jones podcasts over Guitar World lessons from metalcore guitarists played at 220 bpm. I couldn’t tell the difference between this album and any other modern tek-deaf release. If these guys were to spend less time on conspiracy websites and more time thinking about why people still turn to their old Morbid Angel and Immolation albums instead of these tek-deaf bands (or how to structure their music to not be a series of discontinuous parts), maybe they could create something useful. Otherwise, this is Origin with propaganda attached looking to steal some time from metal fans while keeping Xanax addled brofist D&B homeys (Rings of Saturn fans) satisfied with more inconsequential ADHD music which will be forgotten a week later.
Caliban – Ghost Empire
Occasionally I’m amazed that something actually got signed because it’s so terrible and then later I see it on the bestseller list. The taste of the herd will never fail to shock and amaze, mainly because what they like is simple: (1) the same old stuff but (2) in some radical new format that’s easy to see through so they can appreciate the sameness of it. Modern society is about anonymity and personal convenience, so why not music that you can project yourself upon, that requires you to know or feel absolutely nothing except the most transient of emotions? Caliban have it for. Ranty Pantera verses over djent-inspired harmonically-immobile riffs lead to sung alt-rock style choruses with lots of hook and lengthy vocalizations, but essentially no melodic development. As a result this is super-repetitive in that its song structure is circular to the point of linearity and the songs at their core consist of two-note clusters in riffs stacked up against four-note chorus vocal lines. Every now and then they get tricky and play rhythm games with riffs that were well-known before Metallica formed. The main factor that kills me is the repetition. It’s as if the whole album is a conspiracy of details designed to hide the fact that it’s basically the words of a drunk, repeating himself unsteadily and then doubling his volume and saying the same thing. This might be good music to listen while doing laundry or some other task that numbs the brain because the effect of this music is to validate tedium, repetition and simplistic pounding. Unless your brain fell out long ago, avoid this reeking turd.
Blutkult – Die letzten deutschen Ritter
I always wondered what would happen to the formal nationalists in metal. We knew that founding bands like Bathory, Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem, Immortal, et al were nationalistic in the sense of national pride and perhaps more. But it’s a leap from that to connect with the organized far-right parties and mentality, and for a long time, NSBM seemed like it would remain in that world. Then hipsters started like Arghoslent and Burzum and so now being a Nazi is a “lifestyle choice” like being vegan or buying a Prius… the hardcore nationalist music has changed too, as this album from Blutkult shows us. It’s a three-way split between the old Skrewdriver-styled sentimental punk music, Renaissance Faire styled Celtic-y noodly melodic music, and the droning of punk-influenced black metal such as Absurd. As someone of profoundly anti-racist and egalitarian character, I find this to be alarmingly catchy and emotional. Die letzten deutschen Ritter brings out feelings of hope in me, and I don’t like it. It’s like a surge of elegance and an old world emerging from the ruins of this one. But that makes me uneasy, as do the Wehrmacht soldiers on the cover, the black suns and the vocal samples that sound like the man with the funny moustache himself. Regardless, this is where Graveland and Absurd have been trying to go for years. If they got rid of the stupid spoken intros and just focused on letting the music rip, this might be a really compelling release.
Amoral – Wound Creations
While their current output is being lambasted for being radio friendly rock/metal, this “technical death metal” debut album is given unwarranted praise for being some kind of masterwork. Too bad this is just metalcore. Chugging groove riffs played in mechanical stop-start sequences make room for AOR “extreme” stadium metal melodies like Soilwork, and little else. While the playing is adept, the music is annoying and makes their latest album sound favorable by comparison for being honest commercial radio muzak that’s not congested with unnecessary ornamentation and fake aggression. If Nevermore made a mash up between Soilwork at it’s most commercial and Meshuggah at it’s most mechanical while Chimaira make MTV edits out of the recordings, you might end up with an album like this: sub-par music, but at least they know how to play. Too bad they sound like any other generic metalcore band signed to Century Media circa the 2000s with growl vocals (done in the metalcore faux-aggressive style). A terrible excuse for metal that without a doubt brings great shame to Finland.
To those who have watched metal for some time, it presents a paradox. To the public, it seems like a railroad, where a line of cars stops and then we see what is in each, one at a time. To an experienced watcher, it more resembles an ocean, with currents swirling below and influenced by air above, and periodically the crest of a wave emerges before being dragged down by the rest, obliterated and recycled.
One of the warmer undercurrents in the metal ocean is “true metal,” which is that which stays true to the solid line of evolution leading from metal’s origin. As part of this movement, bands across the globe are continuing to make music that we associate with earlier decades, except that it’s newly created and generated from a contemporary impulse if not contemporary influences. Cruxiter, a Texas heavy metal/guitar rock band, is part of this movement.
We first reviewed Cruxiter’s self-titled first album in these pages a few scant weeks ago, but already the band’s spirit and dedication to its style have piqued interest with our worldwide readership. To go more in-depth, we interrogated vocalist Joe Gonzalez at length via a very modern iPhone yet with classic heavy metal spirit.
You formerly played in Hammer Whore, a death metally band. What prompted the switch to a heavy metal style versus a death metal one?
HammerWhore was a big mix of a lot of metal genres; because each band member comes from different eras and has their own taste in metal music we had to compromise and we created an album that contained a bit from every sub genre. In 2007 HammerWhore broke up because of personal differences, so I kept some of the songs I wrote and started a new band that was more hard rock/heavy metal. In 2009 Miggy Ramirez and Rick Ortiz joined the band and this is really when we started to develop our sound. Then in 2010 we had personnel issues again losing our bassist, drummer, and guitar player. This is when we recruited the rest of the old HammerWhore line up to help us out. The “switch” to heavy metal just came naturally after spitting from HammerWhore and working with such a great group of musicians. I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, and that’s sing in and front a heavy metal band!
What is the Cruxiter? Is it a concept underlying all of your work?
The Cruxiter is a fictional alien computer that works through touch, connecting to the users nervous system and to the mind. The thing is, it doesn’t quite work with human biology and drives anyone who attempts to use it insane, but the Cruxiter is only a small part of the Cruxiter universe. It’s one of the few artifacts that we have here on earth from the faraway alien planet that is the subject of most of our music. So far we have not made contact with these extraterrestrials on our first album. First contact will be made on “Madness of the Void,” a track that will be released on our next full length. A look at this faraway world is probably similar to seeing ourselves in the distant future where technological advances have only made life more complicated with longer life spans and more inventive ways to kill each other.
This is a two part question: (a) what are your influences, musical and otherwise, in Cruxiter? (b) what bands do you think sound closest to Cruxiter?
I cannot speak for the rest of the band because each of us is very different when it come to the style of music we listen to. But for me it’s a combination of classic AOR, NWOBHM, eighties thrash and early seventies prog. Styx, Judas Priest, Lizzy Borden, Torch, Agent Steel, and Overkill were some of the first bands to really get me excited to pick up a guitar and sing. Really every time I hear a metal vocalist hit a high note or a guitar lead it really gets me going. As far as individual artists its Jon Oliva, Tommy Shaw & Dennis DeYoung, David Byron & Mick Box, Schmier, Tom Angelripper, Don Dokken, and Joey Tempest are all on the top of a very long list of talent that inspires me to play music.
The second part of your question is very hard to answer because we are trying to create something different but not straying from what we love. In my personal opinion I would say it’s a mix between early King Diamond, early 90s Mercyful fate, Uriah Heep, Stryper, Judas Priest, Di’Anno era Maiden. We still have a lot of material that we are working on that I think is more advanced and widens the spectrum even more.
Do you think the “true metal” genres like classic heavy metal and old school death metal and black metal are making a return? Or did death metal and black metal get lost in the shuffle?
“Making a return” destroys the true metal genres and spawns craploads of bands that really don’t know where the music comes from, then they make everyone look cheesy and people move on, which has already happened to thrash metal twice. All true metal genres have and always will thrive in the local and underground scenes. What genre is “in” at any given time is determined by what the “cool kids” are listening to, It’s very political, and it will never change.
Cruxiter is a classic heavy metal band, but you incorporate a lot of elements from what I’m calling “guitar rock.” How hard is it to combine the two?
It’s actually pretty accurate for some parts of our music because we are very heavily influenced by progressive music and classic rock but we really try hard to mix it up and make the music we write contain all aspects of rock and metal music. With the tempo changes and melodies of classic prog, guitar riffing from rock and metal, and AOR style choruses, even trying to add a bit of glam to it all.
But each song we write is different and has its own massage so it’s hard for me to explain it all without breaking down each song. Combining all these styles of music happens during the writing process… letting the song pretty much write itself, and allowing the changes to happen. It’s the vocals and solos that are dominant, and take full control during the writing of the music. We do work hard on the proper flow of the song making sure it’s chaotic and complex, keeps the listeners attention, and is pleasant to the ears. We also try to keep the music from being too heavy and noisy, down tuning and excessive kick drum is great for other bands but we like our listeners to hear without trouble how the guitars, vocals, drums, and bass interact musically.
You’ve just released your first and self-titled album. How did you record it, and where? What were the biggest challenges of recording?
We recorded this album at our home studio in a ranch house in Jim Wells County just outside Alice, Texas. Every aspect of recording was a challenge since we really had no experience. I had to watch all kinds of how to videos on YouTube about mic’ing vocals, drums and guitar cabinets, it was a lot of trial and error. The best part of recording was reworking the songs after playback adding harmonies, fills, and leads. But we learned a lot from recording this album and we are currently in the studio again and everything is running smoothly. Our next album is going to sound a lot better for sure and we are pretty excited about it.
If you had to identify the most important element in what makes a good song, what might it be? Do you think it’s energy, passion, emotion, content or some combination of the above?
A great song perfectly portrays a complex clash of emotions of a single moment in time with the appropriate energy pulsing and fluctuating between emotional highs and lows. It also needs guitar and vocal melodies that engrave themselves into the mind and the message and words find a spot to reside in listeners mind. Honesty goes along way when it come to reaching people through music.
What’s next for Cruxiter? Are you going to do small tours through Texas cities, or record more, or go national?
Right now, we are back in the studio recording new music for a second album. Now that we have some experience it should move very smoothly and we will get an even better product. We should be releasing a few demo songs on YouTube and maybe a short demo tape soon. They will not be the album versions of the songs just demos before fine tuning the structure, vocal melodies, and fills. We have already released “Under The Moon” demo on YouTube.
We will probably not be playing very many shows this year since we will be trying to complete our work in the studio. But we are playing in Houston February 8th at the White Swan for our good friend Angel’s B-day (bassist for Owl Witch). It’s going to be a really killer show. Houston is the top place to play metal music in Texas the scene has always been very strong and diverse. I’m alway excited to play in Houston.
Are there any challenges to being a metal band in Texas, with the local scenes being what they are and the distances between towns often being great?
It is pretty hard here in Texas especially since we don’t live anywhere near any of the major city. Corpus Christi is closest but they have no local metal scene and what’s hitting there now is grind and crust which is great but we don’t fit the bill. It’s a struggle for us to be a part of the scene in texas since we are so far and can’t participate in playing or attending shows very often. Playing gigs always means travel for us but its just part of the gig. Texas as a whole is full of die hard metal heads and familiar faces friends that will be playing music and supporting local shows till they die.
Jacobsen has returned to teach another semester of the class, which seems to be attracting more students as word of it spreads. We were able to follow up on our first interview with Professor Jacobsen to get a feel for what has changed between the years.
It was beyond successful. Our local paper did a story on us that went viral — ultimately being translated into 7 or 8 languages, and garnering a spot on Brazilian TV and an Canadian Public Radio. Our 15 minutes of fame. DMU was the first to pick up the story, and we are very grateful for your support of our class.
How have you changed the class? Is the class format the same?
It’ll be a discussion class with lots of music-about 50-50. I have added a lecture devoted to death metal, and I plan to add others about other forms. I’m going to require more writing and much more stringent guidelines for that writing. I’ve also invited local recording and performing artists speak about the lifestyle, the recording process, touring.
What is a typical class period like?
We will begin each day with a student presentation of a song . There will be a required PowerPoint slide with it to show the group, album, lyrics, and so on, in proper style-sheet format. It’s a quantity/quality thing. That will be the first 10 minutes or so. There we will have a lesson in which a sub-genre, group, musician or other germane idea is presented in a standard format: Premises, basically the context behind the thesis; thesis, the point of the lecture; and evidence, documented proof of the point and sample songs to let the students hear it for themselves. I am hoping that we will have a Metal God Profile or two, and if we run across something important as we listen and discuss, we will go with it. We will also, I’m hoping, have guest speakers, and I do plan to bring my guitar in to define certain musical structures and so on.
What disciplines does HMLG touch on? It’s a literature class about music; does that influence what you teach?
We will treat music as if it were literature, looking at its structures, motifs, themes. We will identify the features of heavy metal and how those features are altered to signify different sub-genres. There will be a strong trans-historical structure to the class. I like to think of the history of heavy metal as dominoes standing up. Black Sabbath kicked off the genre and their early albums really set the dominoes in motion. But rather than falling, the dominoes rose like headstones.
“Death Metal is an extreme form of metal that tends to privilege growled vocals, blast-beat drumming and virtuosic guitar work. Death metal often uses lengthy compositions featuring minor keys and multiple tempo changes. Thematically, death metal often focuses on violence and gore, but themes of all kinds are interrogated by death metal bands, usually reflecting a pessimistic, even hopeless, outlook. Multiple subgenres exist under the banner of death metal.”
Do you teach such things in the class? Do you realize how totally awesome it is to be quoted in your local newspaper as a death metal expert?
We do work with definitions. And it’s damned cool to be quoted as an expert.
You have become a proficient guitarist over the last few months. What has this taught you about metal?
It is sophisticated music. It’s pushing the edges most of the time. In so many ways, it’s like classical music. It uses tempo changes, it’s riff-driven, it features instrumental virtuosity. Learning how to play again has given me a hands-on, ears-on ability to both understand and interrogate elements that would have been only something I’d have talked about before. I’m thinking about taking my guitar to class for some illustrative lessons. Last term, I had students who didn’t know what a riff is. And amp in the room will quickly solve that. Anyway, It’s given me the musical part of the class in a way no other practice could. Knowing a solo or riff enhances my ability to articulate the ways that such elements differentiate or sustain a genre.
This recent guitar-playing is following up on a youthful musical career. Can you tell us about that? What groups were you in, and what styles did they play?
Career is a bit of an overstatement, but I did play in a couple of local groups. One comprised classmates of mine, and we played mostly pop. I was lead guitarist. The other band was a metal band. I played rhythm guitar. We did mostly well-known metal of the early 1980s-Dio, Def Leppard, Scorpions, AC/DC. It was kid stuff in many ways.
What forms of music do you listen to, when you have no agenda at hand? Does this correspond to what was current when you were of high school – college age?
My tastes have gotten heavier as I’ve gotten older. I didn’t listen to anything really heavy in high school. I started metal as a young adult. I returned to it about ten years ago. I like classic metal best. I’m starting to like death metal bands that end up progressive bands, like Opeth. But I like heavy music. Black Sabbath is my favorite group.
I also listen to a lot of prog, Yes and Kansas being my favorites. I like the Flying Colors supergroup. I like some southern rock, but I don’t have a systematic understanding of it in the same way as I do about metal.
What is heavy metal? Is it distinct from rock music? Is death metal distinct from other forms of heavy metal?
We actually sought to define heavy metal as a a group last time. We ended up with this: “Heavy metal is a form of rock music with a heavy, distorted, menacing sound and concerned with dark, disturbing, and pessimistic themes.”
Death Metal is distinct from other forms. It’s often more thematically disturbing than other forms, but in many instances beside the obviously shock-based bands and motifs, it’s disturbing because it’s asking the questions other forms of art — or even metal — do not ask. I’m also really taken with instrumental virtuosity. Death metal tends to privilege excellent playing. It’s a boundary extension thing. And the structures of good death metal are frequently quite elaborate, even symphonic. I think it’s also interesting that some death metal masterminds, say Schuldiner or Åkerfeldt-become proggy later. It’s another type of boundary testing. As I say so often, metal is in so many ways similar to classical music. It’s not surprising that death metal sometimes veers into other genres. Compare that with black metal, which so often seems to have simplicity and even homogeneity as elements of its ethos.
It totally does. I think of Romanticism as applied Platonic philosophy. Metal at its best offers a way of thinking about music and thinking that breaks the boundaries and lays before us the larger patterns of musical and thematic expression. It’s the boundaries that are interesting to me. And the Romantics did that. They looked at classical sources and wrote (or expressed via many art forms) about their own experiences within that frame.
Has heavy metal changed the way you look at literature?
I think so. I think all art sharpens perceptions and adds ways of experiencing other forms. I’ve taken up the guitar again after a very long time. And while my playing is a work-in-progress, playing again sharpens my listening and adds a critical lens I didn’t have last time. I’m not sure this is a very good answer to your question. I think the way metal expresses itself is literary in its basic constructions, so engaging that enhances how I think. Analyzing lyrics is literary analysis, so from that standpoint I am definitely applying my training to the process and gaining from doing so. And metal also has other ethos-building elements that any humanities scholar would find interesting.
I have bonded with several students from the earlier class, and I’ve actually met some of my future students at shows. Some of my former students play in local bands. I think it’s incumbent upon me to know my local scene. But the local scene here has become much more to me than metalheads I know. They’ve become my community.
Do you think the administration at WTAMU have become more open to heavy metal thanks to the first semester of this class and the response to it?
Yes. It’s a permanent addition to our course offerings in an era when core classes are evaporating.
Do you think or have experience that this class has made students more motivated to check out more literature?
Yes. I was able to get them to think about books and to read closely for class discussion. Again, it’s a humanities class and the title is a little misleading. We are embracing other forms. But in identifying the literary influences in metal, I have been able to get students to try literature they may not otherwise have tried.
You’re now one of the foremost instructors using metal in classes in the world. What advice do you have for other educators along these lines?
Well, thank you. That’s very kind. The advice I’d give is to proceed only if you have the freedom to do it right. My department and university totally backed me. I’ll also say that you should tap into student knowledge. This is a class where the students may know as much or more about “their” metal as I do about mine. It’s a bit of a partnership. A Facebook page is a good idea too. It takes the learning into their lives where metal is a constant and collects their experiences for the class.
Will there be a open course / distance learning version of the class? Have you considered packaging it as videos like the classes on Coursera or MIT’s open courseware?
We can do it. And the idea of podcasts has been bandied about.