Black Sabbath – 13

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Black Sabbath’s new album, 13, is a marvel. The first single “God Is Dead?” didn’t adequately prepare me for the experience of the whole work. This album contrasts the old sound and the new sound. The band frequently harkens back to their former work. I’ll note these instances when I treat the individual songs later in the review. In fact, some fans think 13 is too much like the earlier material. But they’re wrong. Surely we want them to recapture their earlier sound to some degree, but this album does much more than that. While surely somewhat nostalgic, this album does NOT fling itself into the market as a refurbished rehashing of used riffs. It’s a GREAT album. The original vibe remains as strong as ever. Fans agree and have propelled this album to #1 on the charts.

Let’s just talk about the players for a minute. Black Sabbath-for better or worse-always rests on the genius of guitarist extraordinaire, Tony Iommi. He has lost NOTHING on this album. He includes riffs and architectonic elements from ALL of his work with Black Sabbath, his recent work with Heaven and Hell, his solo albums, and perhaps even some of the blues roots that preceded Black Sabbath. His solos are as good as, or better than, his earlier work. When they do echo earlier compositions, they echo the very best soloing of his career.

Geezer Butler also plays as well here as he ever has, and a fan would do well to find anything on an earlier Sabbath album any better than his work here. Tony and Geezer seem to be playing for posterity. The lyrics of the entire album hint at the band’s contemplation of their own mortality, and surely Dio’s passing and Tony’s own illness make that inevitable. Ozzy Osbourne sounds pretty strong. His voice gets stronger as the album progresses, and some of the vocal melodies capture an Ozzy Osbourne solo sound — which was already developing on Never Say Die! (1978) back in the day. The synergy that made Black Sabbath a revolutionary band still exists in these three guys.

Brad Wilk’s drumming rounds out the record. The fan base made its displeasure at Bill’s absence very clear. Brad had a very big job trying to fill Bill Ward’s shoes. To his credit, he filled them well. We don’t hear the Butler/Ward swing anywhere on this record. Nor should we. Trying to imitate Bill would have been insulting. Brad did the job well, and he gets a big thumb’s up from this reviewer. All of these musicians in top form.

Musically, this album is VERY heavy in places. As mentioned, several of Tony’s solos equal anything he’s done so far, and his riffing remains the best there is. Lyrically, the darkness of this album stands with anything the band has ever done. The Grim Reaper peers over the horizon in nearly every song, and the tension between God and Satan (or at least the tension between the concepts of good and evil) emerges explicitly many times, as it did in their early work, when even the band were frightened by their own songs!

This review will address only the album proper, no bonus tracks. I may get an argument or two from some fans, but in general, I’ll say that the bonus tracks fail to achieve the same quality as the songs on the album. Perhaps more to the point, they do not “fit” the mood of the album proper.

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“The End of the Beginning” strikes me as the perfect title for the first track of this album. The return of the Ozzy-era line-up marks a new beginning for these elder statesmen of heavy metal. The main body of the song pays homage to the first Black Sabbath song “Black Sabbath” off the album Black Sabbath (1970). This song reflects Tony Iommi’s growth and range as a guitarist. The track opens with a heavy, doomy march of separated chords similar to “Shadow of the Wind” (The Dio Years – 2006) or “Atom and Evil” off The Devil You Know — a rather recent development used here to great effect. There are tempo changes, and the classic break that we hear on the first four albums. Some listeners may remark that they use the same sort of break in four of eight songs on the album, thus leaving them repetitive and even self-derivative. I don’t agree, but I concede they lean on this approach. It’s a part of their style and fits.

He plays two solos, as we see in Dehumanizer’s (1992) “Computer God”, using the same basic architectonics. The solos themselves soar into prominence. The first, at 4:42 or so, lasts 50 seconds, and features not only a fantastic Iommi-style lead but also a tempo change into a bluesy sound at the end. The second solo closes the song, and for around 90 seconds grows in intensity, rising to an effort VERY similar to “Lonely Is the Word” from Heaven and Hell (1980). Again, we are not talking about a mimeograph album. Tony taps into EVERYTHING he’s done. And he plays with abandon, with emotion.

Lyrically, we see a fresh address of the theme Society vs. the Individual, especially in terms of the former controlling the latter. This theme has been interrogated throughout the entire history of the band, dealing with societal issues like family collapse in “Wicked World” off Black Sabbath, economics in “Cornucopia” (Vol. 4 – 1972), psychology in “Johnny Blade,” (Never Say Die!) television in “Zero the Hero” (Born Again – 1983) and the eponymous “Mob Rules” (1983) and “Computer God” ( both self-explanatory). This song updates for the pervasiveness of the simulacrum, urging the “Reanimation of your cybersonic soul” and concluding “You don’t want to be a robot ghost / Occupied inside a human host / Analyzed and cloned relentlessly / Synthesized until they set you free.” This eight-minute opus is pure Black Sabbath.

“God Is Dead?,” the first single, at almost nine minutes, seems like two songs. The first 4:00 or so offer a kinder, gentler sound. Then the chorus hits at 2:16 and at 2:26 that super-doomy descending lick hints at the Sabbath sound. Then they go back for the next verse. At 4:05 that Sabbath discord starts and at 4:09-4:10 Tony “shakes” the chord as only he does. Then a classic Iommi riff (4:17-4:18), a reprise of the aforementioned descending lick, and an expansion the power chords at 4:10 into back-and-forth riff, classic Black Sabbath-relentless, hypnotic. At 5:38 we get to the chorus with that descending lick again. Then at 5:48 they reprise the power chords from :30 into the song that form a bridge to the break at 6:19 that seems like something off the first album or Vol. 4 (or “Falling off the Edge of the World” off Mob Rules). Then at 6:27 Geezer Butler kicks it into high gear and never lets up. All the musicians do the same thing, classic Black Sabbath. Then Geezer starts what will be one of the best performances on bass guitar in the Black Sabbath oeuvre. Even when the song slows, his playing does not. The 15-second solo (7:38–7:53) has a bluesy, 60′s sound to it. Some listeners may have preferred a longer solo, but the musicianship and intensity so far have been so powerful that a solo isn’t needed for the song to have a high point. In fact, Geezer’s playing behind the solo almost equates with soloing itself as he’s playing much faster than Tony. The final minute is the descending lick behind repeated “God is dead” chorus. The chorus leaves us with a rather definitive statement “I don’t believe that God is dead.” The supremely dark lyrics offer the good vs. evil motif that this band has defined. These lines typify the questions asked in this song: “Nowhere to run / Nowhere to hide / Wondering if we will meet again on the other side / Do you believe a word / What the good book said? / Or is it just a holy fairy tale and god is dead?” Nothing says Black Sabbath like two songs in excess of eight minutes offering pessimism and plodding riffs. What a one-two punch!

“Loner” rocks: a flat-out, straight-ahead headbanger. Some say it reminds them of “N.I.B.” It actually recalls the basic riff pattern of the main riffs from “Black Oblivion” and “Flame On” from the 2000 solo album Iommi. Lyrically, the song speaks of isolation, and the head-banging groove of the song contrasts with the seriousness of the message, tied up in the final verse: “Communication’s an impossibility / His own best friend but he’s his own worst enemy / The secrets of his past locked deep inside his head / I wonder if he will be happy when he’s dead.” Perhaps one of the hallmarks of Black Sabbath and of the metal music they pioneered is an understanding of the angst — even depression – that their listeners experience. The strong of grounding in existentialism in their work makes even an up-tempo frolic cuts into the heart of the listener. The irony of the seriousness of the theme and the elation of the riff-similar in a way to “TV Crimes” off Dehumanizer bespeaks a long-standing Sabbath tradition as well.

“Zeitgeist” immediately reminds us of “Planet Caravan” off Paranoid. In a larger sense, perhaps the beauty of “Zeitgeist” is to recall Black Sabbath’s numerous slower and/or psychedelic tunes, such as the aforementioned, “Planet Caravan,” “Solitude” off Master of Reality, and admittedly, to a much lesser degree “Changes” off Vol. 4, “Spiral Architect” off Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), “She’s Gone” off Technical Ecstasy (1976), and others off Dio-era albums. No innovation exists here vis-à-vis older Sabbath tunes of a similar nature. No doubt people will like this one-especially, perhaps, people who weren’t hardcore Sabbath fans. Unremarkable in comparison to the other songs on the album, it provides a break in the heaviness — much as the other songs noted here did for those albums — this song reminds us that Black Sabbath did this too. Insofar as this album may well become a historical document, “Zeitgeist” proves a worthy inclusion.

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The opening of “Age of Reason” sounds a bit like the opening of “Follow the Tears” off The Devil You Know. Another elaborately structured offering marked by numerous genre and tempo changes, reminiscent of “Dirty Women” off Technical Ecstasy, give this song an almost proggy feeling. The opening riff while really quite doom-laden, is also rather bluesy. While the structure and overall sound of the song unmistakably heralds Black Sabbath, the melody suggests Ozzy’s solo work (not to mention an echo of “Junior’s Eyes” off Never Say Die! which presaged the Ozzy Osbourne sound in many ways). The marvelous solo in this song recalls “Zero the Hero” a bit. Tony takes his time, and the solo carries us away as only an Iommi solo can. At the risk of being repetitive, Tony Iommi has lost nothing. The guitar work here stands up to anything he’s done. Similar to the general theme of “The End of the Beginning” and many other Black Sabbath songs, the lyrics describe a hopelessness accepted by people who have lost their will to be themselves: “Sustainable extinction / A fractured human race / A jaded revolution / Disappears without a trace.”

The opening progression of “Live Forever” bears a similarity to the opening of “Lord of this World” off Master of Reality (with, again, a touch of that march of separated chords noted in “The End of the Beginning”) and then steps up the tempo to a riff strikingly similar to the up-tempo movement of “Cornucopia” off Vol. 4. This one really harkens back to the older groove. Even Brad’s use of cymbals seems rather Bill Ward-esque. While clearly adapting these older tunes, the nuanced use of the newer aesthetic and burnished sound of excellent production renders it a new song. Ozzy sings as only he can-with all the soaring menace of that same era. The lyrics of the song sustain the motif of aging and the looming presence of impending death. This song lacks the depth of the others on this album. For instance, the closing lines, “I may be dreaming or whatever / Watching my life go by / And I don’t wanna live forever / But I don’t wanna die!” certainly do not rise to the more profound, sometimes poetic, expression of the same uneasiness. I’ll neither label this song as filler nor dispute the inaccuracy of said label.

“Damaged Soul” is monumental. Clearly a tribute to their roots in the blues, this song amalgamates everything Black Sabbath not only does, but can do. Black Sabbath has made forays into the blues before, notable on the Seventh Star (1986) and the song “Dying for Love” off Cross Purposes proves a stunning blues song. But Sabbath hasn’t done this anywhere else. My first thought upon hearing it was that it sounds like Robin Trower, but heavier. There are moments in this song that sound like Electric Wizard. It almost demands a genre definition of “Doom-Blues.” Again, the soloing echoes “Lonely Is the Word.” The first solo at 3:49, lasts for about 45 seconds and never deviates from a standard blues structure. He means to play the blues here. Then at 5:26 we get another 30 seconds or so until a break takes us to another tempo. The harmonica wails into this change, and then Tony returns at 6:36 and serves up a solo of his own. While the rest of the players play the blues (and Ozzy even sustains a fine harmonica riff), the exit solo is pure Iommi. Lyrically, this may be the darkest song on this album and in the running for the darkest song they’ve ever made. Lyrically, the song calls up the career-long (or age-old?) subject of possession and reprises this album’s motif of impending death and the tension between good and evil: “I don’t mind dying ’cause I’m already dead / Pray not for the living; I’ll live in your head / Dying is easy; it’s living that’s hard / I’m losing the battle between Satan and God.”

“Dear Father” proves an indictment of Catholic Church’s priest sexual abuse tragedy, every bit as scathing and pessimistic an attack on this issue as “Wicked World,” “War Pigs” off Paranoid, or “Into the Void” off Master of Reality.” This song boasts a rather complex overall structure, featuring multiple tempo and style changes. But nothing in this song equals the rest of the album, musically. The reason for this appears to be that the band wants us to listen to the words. An album this good, with Tony and Geezer playing as well as they have ever played, with Tony playing his heart out in more than one place, would not forgo a solo without a reason. That reason must be to focus our attention on the message. The music changes every time the message changes, intensifying the merciless dissection of those merciless crimes. The closing lyrics sum up the song with perfect clarity: “Dear father forsaken, you knew what you were doing / In silence your violence has left my life in ruin.” The song closes with a repeating “In ruin, yeah” phrase, symbolizing the vile and on-going suffering caused by these atrocities. After this song ends, the rain sound effect from the beginning of the first album fades in for a few seconds, reminding us that this album not only provides a resurrection of the original line-up and sound but also offers a vital viewpoint on religion and music, contemporary issues and timeless questions.

In 13, Black Sabbath reflects both the original Black Sabbath sound, imagery, and philosophy and the influences of all their musical experience from their solo work, other incarnations of Black Sabbath, and their inherent genius. They recast the system of rock music 43 years ago, and in this “reanimation of the sequence,” they have again recast the system.

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Interview: Põhjast

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Having discovered Põhjast recently, the DeathMetal.org team was psyched at this chance to interview Eric Syre (vocals) and Gates (guitar) of this energetic new band.

Combining the atmosphere of black metal with the speed and riffing of old school doom metal, Põhjast revive the classic metal vibe as hybridized with the adventurous and somewhat darker spirit of the northern styles. The result is both satisfying to anyone who enjoys Angel Witch or Candlemass, but might also appeal to those who keep old Darkthrone and Immortal on hand for daily listening.

The result is a band that avoids the retro backward-looking sensation of many recent releases, but also bypasses the intellectual forgery that is the assumption that making Sonic Youth ripoff albums with black metal logos is somehow a motion “forward.” You’ll be hearing more of them and their energetic vocalist Eric Syre, who channels three decades of metal talent into a single voice…

When did you discover you had a talent for classic metal vocals? How did you form the understanding of melody and sonic topography that guides these vocals? Who were your influences? Why haven’t we heard this voice before?

I have always been into clean signing and started as a singer in a rock band back in the early 90s. I also did some choir work for different projects in the past. When the time came for me to start my own bands I just ventured into heavier music and adapted my vocals to it. I have very little musical training so I work a lot with instinct and feeling, improvising vocal lines first and then reworking them with a keyboard or an acoustic guitar to make them musically “right.” I try to stay away from copying the riffs I sing over and come up with a melody standing on its own. It complements the music a lot better and expands the palette of feelings the whole song has to offer.

As far as influences, I always liked singers who had some grain to their voices, not the perfect-sounding ones. I have a baritone/bass range and I guess that naturally I prefer singers close that range. I have always been into Bathory and Candlemass so I guess you can find traces of both Quorthon and Messiah in my vocals. Bruce Dickinson remains the ultimate clean vocalist in the metal genre, for me. Dio and Gillan are also vocalists I have high esteem for. I also like the octavists singers. They are out of my range but I admire the power and resonance of their voices.

Tell me about how Põhjast came to be. I am told that the band is scattered across the globe, and you collaborate remotely. How do you do this?

We are scattered here and there, both in Europe and America. I am located in Quebec, Canada. With the technology which revolutionized the recording process in the last decade, it became a lot easier to have such a band. They record the music in Estonia and I do my parts here. We exchange emails and samples and, like in any normal band, we come to a conclusion where everything pleases us enough to release the music. It just requires a bit more time and technicalities. I sometimes miss the whole “rehearsal room feeling” but so far it’s the only way to make it work.

What style of music would you describe Matused as being, and how does it differ from previous Põhjast work? Can you tell us what “Matused” and “Põhjast” mean in Estonian? Does the band have any influences, and do they show on this album?

This new album is a good follow-up to the previous one Thou strong, Stern Death, released in 2012. It has some doomier elements, a little more classic Heavy Metal to it and the references to Bathory are present more than ever. To me it sounds like Scandinavian/Baltic Metal should sound; It’s heavy, cold and pounding. If I am not mistaken, “Matused” means “funerals.” It obviously refers to the lyrics of all songs. “Põhjast” means “north,” or at least that’s the understanding I have of the word. I speak French so you can understand my limits with Estonian.

Maybe Gates (guitars) can elaborate a bit more:

Exactly, Eric is right: “Matused” means funerals in Estonian and the name of the album is connetected with the album lyrics. The name of the project — Põhjast — means both the direction of North and the base or foundation of something — a revival, the end of something old and the birth of something new. Therefore the name has a much deeper meaning, at least for me, than just a mere name of a band.

Definitely the project has its own influencers. I personally have been greatly influenced by such persons as Quorthon and Abbath. Both have paved the way to extraordinary music styles. May these be black metal or viking metal, there’s no difference – everyone who have heard their creation can admit that the music is special and that they have not heard anything like this before.

I am not inspired only by their music. I find their healthy sense of humor and attitude towards life inspiring as well. I have always enjoyed the interviews of Abbath — his interviews from 1991 in Septicore and in 2007 in Inferno are both equally pure gold to me.

However, if I should still generalize, then the music of Põhjast can be categorized under Scandinavian Metal — one can certainly detect similarities to Oz, Bathory, Immortal, Morgana Lefay and Candlemass.

Do you think the “true” styles of metal are experiencing a resurgence? If so, why? Is Põhjast part of this, or building on what it has done? If the latter, where do you think your music is going, both stylistically and in terms of content?

I don’t think Põhjast is part of anything. The music stands on its own on among a well-established tradition of European Metal. You can hear traces of classic metal, probably due to my vocal approach. I do not want to link what we do with any of the current “retro” or “true” trends. If there is a resurgence of classic metal it’s probably due to the fact that what’s current isn’t that interesting for the record-buying public. I am just back from the Maryland Deathfest and I can tell you that the people attending there longed for good old heavy music. Most of the acts there either disbanded years ago and reformed recently or were directly linked or influenced older waves of metal.

I agree with Eric — Põhjast is not trying to follow trends.

I personally do not listen to a very wide variey of stuff – I listen the things that I used to listen to in my “youth”, be that either Bathory or The Smiths. I have never had an ambition to “invent a bicycle”. I have always wished to create the music that I admire. I wouldn’t call it plagiarism, rather as a bow and a hommage towards the musicians I admire, hoping that the music we make is worthy enough. If not, let it sink into the obscurity of ages…

When you sing, how do you pick the notes and textures you use? How much of it is based on the music as written, and how much is your own interpretation of where it should go? Are the rest of Põhjast flexible about giving you space to create?

In Põhjast, everything is already written and recorded before I even start working on the vocals. I work on finished songs so I need to adjust everything I do to the reference files I get. I usually start improvising vocal lines and then refine everything using keyboards or classical guitars as guidelines. I try to have everything in tune but also keep a lot of notes “on the edge,” if you know what I mean. Quorthon used to do that a lot (voluntarily or not) and I like that. It’s important for me to write according to my vocal range but I also try my best to fit the vocals with the mood of the songs. This is the highest in pitch I ever went on a record so far as I am more of a baritone/bass singer. It’s a good thing to have completed songs to work over as I can get the whole feel of it a lot better. Sometimes I hit a wall trying to fit in patterns and melodies as the lyrics are also completed. It’s a maze I come out of with time and a lot of demo recordings. I get total creative freedom from the rest of the band and I truly appreciate that. They trust me a lot as they rarely or never hear anything up until I send them all the vocal tracks at once.

What do you think makes a good metal band? Is there an outlook, content or stylistic direction that is uniquely “metal”? Can this be lost such that a band could use metal riffs, techniques, etc. and still not be metal?

If you keep aside the usual instrumentation (guitars, bass, drums, vocals), metal has this abrasiveness and weight you rarely find in other genres. Heaviness isn’t all about tuning down and playing loud, it has a lot to do with the whole package built around the music, the themes, the vocals and even the artwork. Metal is this visceral manifestation of the darker side of human nature trough music built around riffs played on electric guitars and accompanied by pounding drums and intense vocals. It requires passion and dedication to make it sound right and it’s no wonder enthusiasts of the genre smells the fake ones miles away. Listen to Front Line Assembly’s Millenium or Skinny Puppy’s The Process to see if using metal riffs automatically makes metal music. I like those albums but they’re definitely not Metal.

Why do you think that black metal (which seems to be a partial influence on Põhjast) exploded as it did? Was there a mental state required to bring it about? Or was it all just music?

I like to think that there has to be more than just the music. The innovators of the genre believed in more than just “music,” at least when they began. A lot of death metal bands were just into it for the music and you see where the genre ended in the late 90s. The same happened with black metal with the turn of the millennium. You can’t get great art from trend-aspiring musicians writing typical riffs. Black metal exploded because it was the latest genre representing integrity and involvement transcending creation. It looked and sounded fierce and the leading figures behind the genre made everyone feel like they meant it. Some truly did and some didn’t, as history proved to us. The metal scene needed this level of “involvement” after the debacle of death metal. It still does today, now that most genre has been swallowed by the mainstream. Doom metal is the current trend and I never expected it to be…

I think also that there should be more than music – why not friendship? I believe that for example The Smiths might as well never have been, if Mr. Marr and Mr. Morrissey had not met… or Abbath and Demonaz.

How was this album recorded? Did you use a studio, and if so, which ones? Did you have any idea of what the final product was going to sound like when you did the vocals?

I will let Gates answer parts of this question:

Both Põhjast albums are recorded in Estonia, in Roundsound professional studio under the baton of Keijo Koppel. Cooperation with Keijo has been very productive and we hope that it will continue, as there are more Põhjast records on the way. I personally have had a very concrete idea about the material until Eric comes along :)

As for the vocals, everything was written and recorded so, yes, I had a good idea of where I was heading with the vocals.

What’s next for Põhjast? Will you all unite somewhere to tour, or continue recording? Do you have a label for Matused? Was this a recent signing?

I will let Gates answer this question:

We thought that Põhjast would always remain a studio project. But we have to probably eat our own words, since, if everything goes according to the plan, Põhjast can be seen already in summer 2014! At the moment we are looking for a worthy record company, with whom we could develop an effective cooperation.

If people like Matused, where should they next turn for more Põhjast or related acts?

People can check our previous album Thou strong, Stern Death (Spinefarm, 2012) — www.pohjast.com They can also check our other bands: Metsatöll, Sorts, Barren Earth, Rytmihäiriö, Ajattara, Beast Within and Thesyre.

Thanks a lot for your support and involvement. It’s appreciated!

Põhjast
Eric Syre – vocals
Gates – guitars
Vesa Wahlroos – bass
Marko Atso – drums

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Sacramentum – “Fog’s Kiss”

This classic band finally got around to making a video. While there were many Dissection clones back in the day, with Dark Tranquility and In Flames leading the pack, Sacramentum always had something different going which was more like where Sentenced and Amorphis were heading: a nocturnal romance with the potency of existence and the power of the unknown.

Poetic in their approach, and beautiful in the result, Sacramentum launched an initial EP of highly artistic intentions before moving on to their full length, Far Away From the Sun, which suffered from a cover too close to that of Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse and hit just before the melodic metal explosion but just after the Dissection clones debunked themselves. As a result this band never quite got the attention they deserve, which would be to always be mentioned in the same breath as melodic metal greats like Dissection, Sentenced, Necrophobic and Unanimated.

You can buy the re-release of this CD for $10 from Century Media.

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Does heavy metal have broader social or political implications?

heavy_metal_and_politicsAs part of my morning ritual, reading the news while half-asleep is important mainly because of the exceptions. Among the usual parade of murder, corruption, incompetence, failure, etc. there’s the occasional article that sends the coffee-cup tumbling over the edge of the table as I gasp and pull the screen closer.

Today, such an article was from the UK and entitled I’m a Conservative who loves heavy metal – here’s why, and made me spit coffee all over the sideboard. But if you read on, the article has some areas of interest.

First, like all good inner activism within politics, it begins by “outing” every single heavy-metal-loving conservative in UK politics. This is on the whole a good thing, as these people won’t be voting against their secret social identity in the future. In fact, they may be forced to actually own up to not only tolerating but enjoying heavy metal.

Next, the article contains this interesting assertion:

[H]ard rock appeals to a certain breed of Conservative. It’s not into navel-gazing; it’s rebellious, anti-authoritarian, full of strength in both the beats and the lyrics.

Although I’m not sure I know exactly what this writer means here, I think I get the general gist. Most of society is a pleasant cloud of mental images based on people selling you stuff, and that includes most politics. You’re afraid of war? I’m selling peace. You’re afraid of poverty? I’ve got a program for that. And so on, building coalitions of voters based on what they fear, and pleasant images of how these things will be fixed by government.

As a full-time cynic of course I don’t believe most problems can be fixed. In fact, if they’ve been around more than a few years and there’s not an explicitly technological solution, they probably can’t be fixed. But that’s my cynical self talking, so don’t let it bother you. I could be wrong. Most days I hope I am.

But that brings us back to the point. Metal affirms all that mankind fears, including war, disease, injustice, violence and murder. It’s not navel-gazing at all. It’s the music of those who are ready to go in there, get covered in blood and banged up, and fix things the old fashioned way, which is by killing the idiots and protecting the good people.

Then again, it may not. It may just be about shreddin’ tunes, a bong hit for the afternoon and drinks until the early hours of the morning. It could just be about hating your parents, like my parents said it was, or about dropping out of society. She has a point with the anarchic but full of strength part. Metal is like a strong leader, maybe not a political or social viewpoint however.

Maybe she has a point or maybe she doesn’t. Maybe this is conservative, although it seems universal to me. Unless you’re an avowed navel-gazer, in which case I apologize and hope you’re not on the board of my HOA. Either way, it’s an interesting question from an oddball article.

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International Day of Slayer becomes a yearly holiday

international_day_of_slayerOn June 6, 2006, a new holiday was born in commemoration of the 6/6/6 of the date. Inspired by the American political movement National Day of Prayer, this new holiday was dedicated to the most extreme of metal and was called the “National Day of Slayer.” Since others outside the USA wanted to participate, it soon became the Inter-National Day of Slayer, and has been celebrated enthusiastically every year since.

This year, sobering news hit: On May 2, 2013, founding guitarist and major songwriter Jeff Hanneman of Slayer died from arachnid-induced liver failure. While Slayer re-camps and tries to figure out this situation, the International Day of Slayer team decided to recognize the obvious: Slayer is an emblem of metal just like metal is a symbol for not letting your sense of reality get stolen away by social pressures. As a result, the team re-dedicated the International Day of Slayer as a generalized heavy metal holiday, focused on Slayer as a symbol.

In addition, the same group is launching a new project called the Hessian Association for Identity Legislation (H.A.I.L.) whose goal is to get heavy metal recognized as a legitimate cultural group much like most religions, ethnicities, lifestyle choices and national cultures. We are metalheads, and we are legion worldwide, and we are a culture separate from both the mainstream and the counter-stream. We are going our own way… the most intense way, the way of reality and the way of METAL!

“Hessian” is old-school California thrasher slang for headbangers, metalheads, metal fans, threshers, heshers, etc. It’s derived from the Hessian mercenaries who came over to fight for the British during the Revolutionary War and were both feared and known for their long hair and wild eyed combat tactics. Someone — probably a cynical history teacher — saw the similarity and the name has stuck ever since.

Check out the H.A.I.L. website at www.hailmetal.org and visit the International Day of Slayer while you’re at it. Keep the horns high and the celebration loud, and we could have our own Hessian nation spread out across the globe in no time at all.

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“Altars of Madness” art exhibit opens at Casino Luxembourg

altars_of_madness_exhibitFrom May 18 through September 15 of this year, a new kind of art exhibit is coming to the notable Casino Luxembourg gallery. This exhibit, entitled Altars of Madness, “displays and brings together the works of art of a generation of artists affected by extreme metal” through the use of imagery and content similar to that in extreme metal.

Even better, the exhibit explores the origins of metal and explains some of the purpose behind these genres. “Extreme metal emerged in the second half of the 1980s through three distinct musical genres with different principles, aesthetics and evolutions: grindcore, death metal and black metal. Like all underground cultures, extreme metal is not something that can simply be passed on: you have to experience it on your own,” says the exhibit program. This is a far cry from the media treatment of metal in the 1980s, 1990s and even 2000s where it was viewed as a sort of hard rock with better costumes.

The exhibit is divided into three parts, corresponding to those three genres. “Lucid fairytale,” “Death is just the beginning,” and “Dark matter landscape” each reflect the different values of each period. The grindcore exhibit “emphasises the political dimension of extreme metal,” by which the creators seem to mean grindcore. The death metal exhibit uses memento mori and vanitas symbolism to embrace mortality. Finally, the black metal exhibit explores nihilism, violence, Satan and “the romantic or symbolist note to black metal” which is a recurring theme.

On the whole, this exhibit explores metal in a way that is rarely done and needs to be done more. It’s not surprising that many of the artists listed are either experienced within the genre, used by the genre, or may even be pseudonyms, including Matthew Barney, Nicholas Bullen, Larry Carroll, Grégory Cuquel, Damien Deroubaix, Seldon Hunt, Gregory Jacobsen, Theodor Kittelsen, Harmony Korine, Élodie Lesourd, Juan Pablo Macías, Maël Nozahic, Torbjørn Rødland, Steven Shearer, Mark Titchner, Gee Vaucher, and Banks Violette. You might spot Nicholas Bullen and Theodor Kittelsen right away, as well as metal popularizer Harmony Korine (Gummo).

For more information, see the exhibit program or visit the gallery page.

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Põhjast – Matused

põhjast-matusedCrafting slowed-down heavy metal in a style that verges on classic doom but incorporates some of the vivid dynamics of black metal, Põhjast release their third album, Matused, to a world audience in need of quality metal faithful to the genre.

Unlike most entries in this sub-genre, Matused is not campy hard rock with metal licks and prolonged droning riffs. Instead, it cuts back to the core of what made heavy metal great, with the amazingly adept vocals of Eric Syre guiding a guitar-driven, riff-based band with a sense of how to create and nurture mood like a doom metal band.

Syre’s vocals highlight these riffs with melodies but do not merely duplicate the notes, but instead serve as a separate instrument, winding around the progressions that guide the song and by carefully choosing where to go in that space, both accentuating consistency and foreshadowing change. Like serpents in the trees of an enchanted garden, vocal melodies slowly enwrap each riff and then merge with it, urging the song on to new dimensions.

Matused follows the time-honored metal tradition of complex songs structures adapted to the material in each song, where riffs comment back and forth. Composition resembles a cross between Candlemass, later Bathory, and Confessor, with thunderous riffs interweaving with vocals while drums keep time with workmanlike precision and bass pumps like a nuclear reactor.

What will win listeners over to Põhjast is the quality of this material, which plays with older riff styles but invents just as many of its own, and its tendency to set up songs so that their dramatic development plays out organically and does not repeat. The result, kicked into high gear by the apparently only recently discovered vocal talents of Syre, drive this band to produce an atmospheric and yet powerful form of heavy metal.

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International Journal for Community Music requests papers for its Metal Special issue

international_journal_of_community_musicThe International Journal for Community Music has issued a call for papers seeking research on “the heavy-metal community (and its communities) and the spaces and practices that shape heavy metal music as community music.”

So what is “community music”? In another issue, the journal defines “Community Music” by saying “community music may be thought of in a variety of ways, including (but not limited to): music teaching-learning interactions (for all people of all ages, ability levels, and interests) outside ‘formal’ music institutions (e.g., public schools, university music departments, conservatories, symphony orchestras), and/or partnerships between formal institutions and community music programs.” In other words, music as the basis for communities within communities, sort of like as a replacement for the culture we gave up for malls and television.

As the papers request itself says, its focus is on “the communities of heavy-metal fandom and the construction of heavy-metal music in community, semi-professional or amateur settings: heavy metal as community, heavy metal as leisure, and heavy metal as a place that fosters local and global senses of belonging and inclusion in an increasingly commercialized and atomized world.” This fits perfectly with the Hessianism concept of heavy metal as an “elective community,” something demonstrated when the National Day of Slayer showed people a metalhead presence in all parts of the globe.

If you are interested in submitting a paper, contact Dr. Karl Spracklen.

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Killing Joke release video for “Corporate Elect”

killing_joke-the_singles_collection_1979_2012Iconoclastic and idiosyncratic industrial traditionalists Killing Joke release the video for “Corporate Elect” today in anticipation of their new compilation, The Singles Collection 1979-2012, and riding on the heels of their success last year with their newest full-length MMXII released on Spinefarm Records.

Active since the late 1970s (hence the title), Killing Joke explored the murky zone between punk, metal, synthpop and industrial music. Years before Ministry, Godflesh, Nine Inch Nails or Fear Factory, Killing Joke found their own voice in this nomansland of styles and also found their own voice in terms of content, exploring ideas that most pop music couldn’t articulate much less contemplate.

The Singles Collection 1979-2012 comprises thirty-three career-spanning singles over two CDs with an additional third disc of rarities which includes previously unreleased studio tracks. The limited three-CD version will revert to two CDs containing the singles tracks. The three-disc deluxe and regular two-CD version is set for release via Spinefarm on the new date of June 4, 2013 and can be pre-ordered here.

For more information, visit the band’s official website at www.killingjoke.com.

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Slayer

jeff_hanneman-slayerAnd so, after a long time of thinking he was immortal, we have to say goodbye to Jeff Hanneman and hope that all the doubters are wrong and there’s some metal Valhalla where he’s drinking Heineken and exploring all those solos that he did not have the energy on earth to discover.

In the traditions from which I come, the way we handle death — which we handle badly, if at all — is to describe the meaning of the life. This enables us to get away from the person, who is either nothingness or eternity per the rules of logic, and instead look at what they fought for.

In other words, what drove them to engage with life and reach out every day, which are things most people don’t do. Most of us just “attend” to things, like jobs and families, and hope for the best. The giants among us are driven onward by some belief in something larger than themselves or than the social group at large. They are animated by ideas.

For Jeff Hanneman, the idea was both musical and a vision of what that music should represent. He peered into the dystopia of modern times with one eye in the anarchistic zone of the punks, and the other in the swords ‘n’ sorcery vision of a metalhead. When he put the two together, he came up with something that makes Blade Runner and Neuromancer seem gentle.

Having seen this, he came back.

“I have seen the darkened depths of Hell,” the chorus begins. For Hanneman, his sin was too much sight. He saw the failings of his present time, like a punk; he saw how this fit into the broader concept of history, like a metalhead. Putting the two together, he saw darkness on the horizon encroaching and assimilating all it touched.

To fight back, he created music for people such as himself, youth adrift among the ruins of a dying empire. He created music that made people not only want to accept the darkness, but to get in there and fight. Not fight back necessarily, but fight to survive. He helped us peel away social pretense and reveal our inner animals which have no pretense about predation and self-defense, unlike civilized people. Hanneman prepared us for the time after society, politeness and rule of law fail.

This was, in addition to the shredding tunes, his gift to the world: a vision of ourselves continuing when all that we previously relied on has ended. Like all visionaries, he was before his time, and like many, did not live to see his vision realized. However, for millions of us, he gave us hope.

It is also worth noting that Slayer renovated heavy metal in such a way to set its highest standard. In any age, Reign in Blood, South of Heaven and Hell Awaits will be a high point for a genre. They fought back against the tendency of metal to become more like the rock ‘n’ roll on the radio, and to lose its unique and entirely different soul. Hanneman and his team pushed forward the frontier for metal, and pushed back the assimilation by rock music.

In the wake of Hanneman’s death, we are without a king, so to speak. The elder statesman role passes to a new generation, and they must find in their souls the bravery and fury to create much as Jeff Hanneman did, a standard and a culture based in a vision that surpasses what everyone else is slopping through. We are poorer for the loss of Jeff Hanneman, but our best response is to redouble his efforts, and push ourselves forward toward a goal he would respect.

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