If you do not assert the truth, idiots come in and talk endlessly about their vision of it, which other idiots accept as truth, and soon a circle jerk starts where just about everyone thinks the lie is the truth. This is what happened to writing about black metal.
As the genre attempts to recapture itself from the theorists who will convert it into an esoteric sub-field of either Marxism or economics, new books emerge such as the Black Metal Theory (BMT) series advanced by the same people behind the symposium Hideous Gnosis. The latest from that group, Floating Tomb: Black Metal Theory, collects writings published on BMT “focusing on mysticism, a domain of thought and experience with deep connections both to the black metal genre and to theory (as theoria, vision, contemplation). More than a topic for BMT, the mystical is here explored in terms of the continuous intersection between black metal and theory, the ‘floating tomb’ wherein black metal is elevated into the intellectual and visionary experience that it already is.”
All-star metal/punk band Tau Cross — with members Rob “The Baron” Miller from Amebix on bass/vocals, Michel “Away” Langevin on drums, and members of Misery on guitars — has released the first single from its upcoming album Tau Cross. The single, entitled “Lazarus,” shows the style of this new band.
The band describes its sound as “the natural evolution of Miller’s work in Amebix,” and “Lazarus” bears this out — with one important detail that most forget. Amebix continued its evolution recently with Redux, which showed classic Amebix tracks with a Metallica Ride the Lightning treatment paired with atmospheric and ancient tribal sounds. Where Tau Cross picks up however is after Amebix Monolith, which sounded like old Amebix run through a filter of AC/DC and Motorhead. “Lazarus” returns to that point but brings to bear the full technical power and songwriting wisdom of these experienced composers.
Death metal fanatics may be hoping for a version of Amebix No Sanctuary or Arise with more technical instrumentation, but Tau Cross takes a more heavy metal approach but updates it with the high-intensity rhythms of punk and then a unique songwriting approach that can only be described as spirit or intent more than technique: a cosmic metaphysical outlook much like that of Tangerine Dream paired with a Celtic tribal feel that would make Absu drool. The problem that Miller and Away face in their “day job” bands of Amebix and Voivod is that those bands have already made a name for themselves in crust hardcore punk and progressive heavy metal already, and those expectations bestow too much baggage for material in another direction to be released under those names. So far, “Lazarus” is the only track released and it shows only a small slice of what Tau Cross will be, but there is promise in this continuation and outgrowth of the Amebix concept to a new level.
The Carcass guys, who started out as grindcore but mutated into heavy metal disguised as death metal, gave an interview in which the topic of motivations came up. Frontman Jeff Walker argued that perhaps heavy metal has sold out:
I think if you’re going to play music, your reason for doing that should be solely that you want to be creative and enjoy it. You should be realistic…Too many people are creating bands as a career choice. ‘Should I be a football player? Should I be an actor?’ Everyone wants to be famous but I think your motives have to be pure…Once in a while, you’re going to hear some killer new stuff but it’s getting rarer and rarer. I think people’s motivations for wanting to do this are not purely artistic.
He is referring to the process by which bands change their sound for money or musicians target a certain sound expecting it will make money, which is the reverse of the natural artistic method of having a message to communicate and picking the style that best expresses that message.
Metal bands can both “sell out” and “sell in” by preaching to the converted, such as the flood of war metal bands making essentially soundalike material because they know people will buy it in order to appear “diehard” underground. These people are known by the name of tryhard and they cluster around certain three-letter internet forums.
On the other hand, metal bands can “sell out” by appealing to the pretense in people as well, such as Opeth which has always marketed itself as both “open-minded” and musically difficult, both of which are tempting labels for a low self-confidence fan to slap on himself. The rest of us are closed-minded and simplistic, but with the help of his Opeth-product, he is open-minded and deep.
In the same way, many bands turn toward “social consciousness” lyrics because people recognize these as a signal that the band is deep, even though every band goes into a social consciousness lyrics phase when it runs out of other things to write about. This also is a sell-out because the band knows in advance that the audience will reward more of the same, even if that form of same re-brands itself as “different,” despite almost every band doing it.
Walker may have a point. Over the past twenty years, metal has gone from an outsider to society which speaks unutterable truths in metaphor, to an insider accepted by every level of media. Now the concern is how to use heavy metal as a brand for being “edgy,” and how to use that brand to sell products whose owners hope the audience will buy them in order to be “edgy,” from alcohol to motorcycles to clothing and beyond.
Will heavy metal exist in twenty years, or will it be only a “flavor” applied when in a commercial the edgy product is on screen, like triumphant horns for bargains and girls singing Beatles songs for self-care products? Metal may make itself into a product after all, and selling out while making its musicians superstars will destroy the underlying community by corrupting its ideas.
Canada’s Rush keeps its fingers in many worlds, including that of 70s heavy metal, and as a result often attracts metalheads. Durrell Bowman attempts to explain the appeal of this band through perhaps the best method possible, which is to analyze the music itself and only secondarily and sparingly reinforce what is learned with extracts from interviews. Unlike most rock writers, he focuses on the output from the band rather than the discussion or buzz surrounding it, and as a result is able to pull out intention through the band and its reaction to the changes in the experience of its members of the years and how that translates into artistic voicing.
Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion walks through Rush by eras of the band from its early hard rock days to its more progressive-rock influenced middle period to the later middle period of AOR (although this term is not used) very similar to 80s music like Boston, Asia, ZZ Top and the Eagles. In his analysis, Bowman attempts to answer one of the fundamental questions: is Rush a progressive rock band? If not, what are they? And how does this reconcile with their many different internal influences and the many different external styles, including a technologically-hip 90s format, which have cloaked the music of this band? Bowman gives his conclusions in a short introduction and then analyzes the work of the band song by song, divided into albums and the aforementioned eras. The result is a picture slowly emerging of a rock band with many different influences who wanted to play essentially power pop but with a guitar-driven appeal, like later Yes albums such as 90215. Into this, the self-taught musicians mix material from a wide range of influences as part of a philosophy of the band which Bowman slowly peels away during successive chapters: a leftist-libertarian political outlook, a personal individualism, dogmatic atheism and a studied eclecticism to find support for these ideas across different cultures and disciplines. Like their music, their philosophies are a grab-bag of what supports their fundamental worldview, which Bowman reveals as very much localized to and shaped by their experience growing up.
What Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion offers to the world of music is not so much conclusions, however, as critical points for analysis. The entire book functions as an outline of the output of the artist with vital points addressed such as musical techniques used, including juicy details on time signature and scale/harmony, but also rather intelligently looking into the music as a series of patterns and avoiding a deep immersion in music theory. As a result, Bowman compares abstract patterns found in the music to what they symbolize in life, which works well for progressive rock bands who tend to be mimetic in their approach generally, but works doubly well for Rush, who are differentiated from progressive rock (although they incorporate many of its techniques) by their tendency toward music that is more symbolic or defined in human terms rather than imitating the objects or experiences the humans are undergoing. This rather fine distinction highlights why many progressive rock fans find Rush distasteful, and why many Rush fans find progressive rock inscrutable: the two take different approaches, and the Rush approach is closer to that taken by power pop bands than what progressive rock bands attempt. It both makes the music easier to comprehend, because the meaning in the lyrics is “acted out” by the music, and explains how Rush is able to escape its normative AOR format by incorporating so many different styles as if they were brush techniques in a painting, namely that it uses whatever techniques are appropriate for rendering its vision, much like it picks from disparate philosophies, literature and religion bits and pieces which it can use to illustrate its own philosophy and ideology. Through this insight Bowman stands heads above the other writers on this topic.
Turning from the technical arts of the band to the technique of the writer, Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion shows us what rock journalism could be — some of us would say should be — by digging into this band in the only way that honors their efforts, which is to take them seriously as people by investigating their art for what it attempts to express as a communication between artist and fans. DMU has always taken this approach to death metal which has made us a minority in not just a metal underground but a rock scene which would rather write about where a band is from, their ironic personalities, the production of albums, how much the fans love it, or what trend the band belongs to. This treats artists like simpletons and fans like yeast with credit cards (although some might say this accurately portrays humanity anno 2015). Bowman takes the opposite approach, which is to avoid academic-ese and also rock journalist ideo-jive, and instead to look at this band with an intelligent common sense approach by picking apart each song to see what makes it work, both as a communications device and as an experience to enjoy. With the force of Rush fans behind him, hopefully Bowman can convince more of the music world to join him in this approach, which like the scientific method for materials should be the de facto standard for music.
Around a decade ago, the funderground types (NWN/FMP) started a campaign to include Venom as the “first wave of black metal,” even though before that time nearly all sources agreed that Venom were NWOBHM and probably less influential on black metal than Motorhead. But suddenly this huge push existed to bring Venom into black metal; why? Listening to Ravencult, it is clear: so that they could make mediocre heavy metal, speed it up like a punk band and add rasping vocals and call it black metal. This created an instant doubling of product to capture that boom in clued-out kids trying to buy into the black metal hype.
Ravencult drops firmly within this camp. They keep the constant forward rhythm of a war metal band and underneath it re-visit riffs from the 80s and 90s which, despite their chromatic nature, often have a basis in the rhythms and tonal changes of hard rock. The result is something that you want to like but it is too simple-minded and repetitive ultimately to provide anything but a sting of nostalgia and then lots of comforting background noise. It will never motivate anyone to any particular greatness like the old bands used to do. As they say in the funderground, at least it is true… or is that so? It might be better to sever from the past, and create something new instead. Or at least something with the same intensity of death/black metal, instead of trying to make lower intensity versions of the classics so that people can enjoy them like easy listening music or lite jazz, sitting on their comfortable sofas sipping Chivas and “appreciating” black metal.
and of course the unholy genesis of underground metal — Hellhammer, Bathory, Sodom and Slayer —
In the process of turning everything into a product, Ohio’s Heavy Metal Church combines Christian worship with heavy metal, and in the process reduces both to caricatures of themselves.
To put it in a nutshell, we are a non-denomination, Bible-based Church in a comfortable atmosphere with great music! Our congregation consists of people from all walks of life and age groups. We don’t care what you wear because we just want you there! Our Church has no racial, ethnic or gender barriers and we could care less about your past or present life. We only care about your FUTURE life in Christ! Most people want God in their lives, but think they must clean up first before coming to Christ… You don’t clean up before you jump in the shower, do you? God wants you EXACTLY the way you are at this very moment. As long as you actively seek God, He will actively seek you, and the Holy Spirit will gently clean you up along the way.
This shows a shift from traditional church logic, which is that religion represents a spiritual force (“God”) which is unchanging and immutable, and that humanity has never changed since its inception, so there is a stability in the constancy of belief and its conventions. Back then, the goal was to get the individual to move closer to God. Now, as if selling cheeseburgers, the goal is to sell the church to the individual by making the church more like the everyday life of that individual.
Hence… Heavy Metal Church.
Christian purists and heavy metal purists alike will feel repelled by this abomination that combines a music dedicated to being separate from social conventions and a religion that at its heart feels it should not bend to social conventions. On one, the social convention imposed is a genre of mostly-entertainment, and on the other, the social convention imposed is church and being nice to people even if they’re idiots.
As Vice magazine reports, the heavy metal church is not that far removed from other “contemporary” worship services which feature rock music and the word of Jeeezus all in the same handy product package:
“We’re going to have healing, redemption, salvation, and deliverance take place here today,” says assistant Pastor Ron, from the front of the auditorium. Pastor Ron is a bearded guy who, if he were in a motorcycle movie, would probably be nicknamed “Tiny.”
“Woo!” goes the crowd.
Then the music starts. It’s a head-thrashing, blood-pumping tune, with decidedly Jesusy lyrics: “I believe / How about you / I believe / It’s true / I believe in him!” We bang our heads.
“Get your hands clapping! Come on!” says the guitarist wearing black who plays Judas Priest–style guitar with his combo.
Riot founder and guitarist Mark Reale died in 2012 after releasing the consistently engaging Immortal Soul. Under-appreciated for their entire careers, Riot never quite managed to do as well as they should have in the underground credibility sweepstakes. Manilla Road and Virgin Steele have both acquired formidable reputations with the passing of time, and deservedly so too, but Riot has been relegated to a footnote in metal history for the most part.
Like W.A.S.P. and early Manilla Road, Riot spent the early years as a fun-loving hard rock band teetering on the edges of heavy metal, without compromising their knack for tasteful songwriting or acute, insightful storytelling. Greater musical awareness dawned with the classic Thundersteel, no doubt influenced by the heavier, more intense developments in the contemporary metal of the time. Their run since then till the present day contains many undiscovered gems sure to appeal to all lovers of classic heavy metal.
How does one judge an album like Unleash The Fire? Created by those that have survived Reale’s death, and containing no original members, it is a tribute to a fallen comrade whose essence yet permeates all that is contained within it. As opposed to the more extreme strains of metal, everything in this music is geared towards a culmination in the big vocal chorus, new singer Todd Michael Hall recalling the late Guy Speranza’s clean, distilled tones. Riot’s talent, however, has always been to imbue this deterministic course of things with intensely melodic — but never melodramatic — embellishments and minute detours, thus greatly enhancing the overall fabric of songs. A wealth of detail lies hidden within the simplest of chord progressions, allowing the listener to enjoy the moment regardless of general predictability. Picking technique relies on tighter, speed metal chugging for creating and maintaining tension, and conventional, open power chords to convey a sense of epic release. Neoclassical virtuosity finds comfortable home amidst an undeniable individuality that is touched with the harmonic sensitivity of old practitioners like Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, and Iron Maiden.
Albums like this are the reason why it is possible to be optimistic for the future health of metal despite much evidence suggesting that the rot has already set from within. There is a naive, guileless innocence to be found here, refreshingly free of the cynicism that reduces the best among us to surly curmudgeons at times. Unleash The Fire is a well spring of inspiration for all real strains of metal, as disparate as they may feel on the surface, if not always through its cosmetics then most definitely in what it aims to represent.
In its spirit, the way forward for metal can be seen much more clearly, by opening the eye at the back of the head, and keeping steady sight of what has gone before. What may appear as anachronistic or overly sentimental are actually the eternal universals; honour, beauty, pride, a respect for the past and, above all else, the debt to oneself to live up to these notions in the best way possible. These ideas may seem to be out of vogue in a transitory world but that doesn’t make them singular; it only means that they lie buried under the detritus of sensory overload and cultural conditioning, most people being unable to detect them or give them sufficient credence, and, if they do, unwilling to act on them due to conflicting interests. Their embers, however, occupy a perpetually smoldering space in all human consciousness, waiting to be stoked into the fullest of fires. As long as this stays true, heavy metal will endure.
The SJWs keep up a simple strategy for dealing with #metalgate: pretend it never happened and, if it did happen, it died an early death.
Instead, #metalgate is ramping up as the collision between Political Correctness and heavy metal intensifies. Recently metalcore band All That Remains’ vocalist Phil Labonte made some comments that riled a few basement neckbeards:
In 2005, on the ‘Sounds Of The Underground’ DVD I said, ‘PC is for f–gots.’ That was the first time people went, ‘Whoa, what did he say?’ I have nothing against gay people. It’s just a word. Honestly, I think the only people that have a legit grievance when it comes to any racial slurs is the black community. I know the homosexual community has problems with it and I understand their hurt feelings.
But homosexuals were never property. They’ve had a rough time and I’m not trying to minimize that, but I think the black community has a whole lot more room to be upset about a word than the LGBT community.
Apparently this outraged and upset Rob Flynn of alternative-metal band Machine Head, who seems to spend a lot of time on Facebook. He carefully assembles a series of clichés and strung them together into a post which raged against Labonte:
Where are the god damn protest songs? Where are the “War, What Is It Good For’s”? Where are the “Fight The Power’s”? Where are the white metal bands protesting about Ferguson and Staten Island? Why don’t metal bands stand for anything anymore? When did we reach this point in society where it’s unpatriotic to question our military or our police? Why are so goddamned proud to just fall in line?
Here we see the underlying issue that propelled #metalgate rising to the top: the PC people recognize only certain issues, but metal is in fact fighting back against the actual problem, which is a religious approach to reality denial through secular (but unrealistic) politics. In the PC view, if we just change our thinking, we have changed reality. This is why for SJWs it is essential that everyone think the same way, speak the same way and act the same way regarding political issues. We will be in lock-step like good Nazis/Communists/Christians and since we will all be uniform, no deviation can occur. Problem solved! …right?
The metal point of view takes an entirely different approach. In the metal view, problems do not go away until you find the root and fix it. People do not “just get along.” In fact, the more you push people to publicly affirm an idea, the more they resist it in private. In the metal view, there are no magic bullets like laws, rules, and speech codes that fix problems that have persisted since the dawn of humankind. In the metal view, it seems reckless to — knowing that these problems exist — bring them into our communities by demanding that we “tolerate” the endless clashes that result.
Flynn’s rant is stupid because he refuses to acknowledge that metal has for years endorsed sensible responses, but they are not ones that are politically correct because they do not affirm the public paradigms that everyone else is affirming. Every major corporation, police department, court, Congressperson, media outlet, and metal magazine agrees with Rob Flynn and will enthusiastically say so. They do this because people act as a herd, and while the herd is always wrong, the herd rewards its own. His opinion is not radical, it’s the norm. Metal has resisted the norm and this is why it upsets him. He even admonishes us to be more like Bob Dylan and John Lennon, two hypocrtical Baby Boomer communists who quietly enriched themselves while talking up the working classes.
Let’s face it: in the highly politicized decade in which we live, songs about social justice are the equivalent of love songs in the 1950s. They offend no one. They shock no social norms. They give people something to bond over, which is how terrible gays, lesbians, women, minorities and other groups who should be pitied are treated by the bad white people. Because, see, SJWs are the good white people — and the vast majority of SJWs are college-educated whites who didn’t quite hit the jackpot, the same audience that creates all the hipsters. Being into social justice is their way of showing you that they are “good” (and thus concealing all that is bad about them behind that symbol of goodness) like politicians kissing babies or celebrities giving money to the homeless. SJW metal is like Justin Bieber except instead of using candy pop to sell records, it uses candy opinions and recycled hippie cons to make you think the people behind it are “good” even though you know only one thing they think or do and the rest is concealed.
Metal says that society is illegitimate because it denies reality. Whether that is through its approach to religion, politics or social activity, it is all lies: it would not be popular if it were not a lie. That is not the same as saying “because it is popular, it must be a lie,” because some things are popular for simply being catchy and vapid, and sometimes society is even correct. But it says that only lies or other things which do not threaten the human pretense at the root of our rotting society become popular. Thus, if you see that all the dunces are in confederacy in favor of something, be suspicious.
SJWs have a simple plan. They will censor through guilt. This allows them to avoid using Nazi-style government tactics to enforce speech codes when they can simply make Soviet-style speech codes mandatory by attacking anyone who does not agree. Rob Flynn is the witch-hunter here, the same sort of person who 200 years ago would have burned witches when the crops went bad, hung black people without a trial when a rape happened, or even a generation ago would have banned kids from school for wearing all black. He is the totalitarian. He and the SJWs are using “social justice” as a means to seize power and subjugate the rest of you. Metal — nearly alone, but with a few brave others in #gamergate — is resisting this authoritarian takeover.
The same thing gets tried every generation. Charlie Hebdo was attacked so that all cartoonists and writers would think twice about criticizing Islam. Despite all the protests by people who were at absolutely zero risk, and all the warm fuzzies from media about how free speech will save us, the result of the attacks is more crackdown on people who criticize Islam, both from governments and their insurance companies who do not want to pay out for preventable deaths. The PMRC’s campaign to have record warning labels made law failed, but the legal campaign won because it intimidated record labels into putting the warnings on those records or they could not get them into stores. SJWs will do the same thing by labeling some metal as “verboten” because it did not join their politically correct view of the world, and then it will be unable to be sold openly. That is their goal: censorship. Their method is a 2.0 to book burnings, public executions and other censorship 1.0 techniques, but it aims at the same thing and is more effective.
You can see how Bieber-like it is when you look at this comment on Mr. Flynn’s comments:
You just GAINED one more fan. I don’t even know what you sound like yet.
The SJW outlook is not new. It is not revolutionary. It is what governments of the USA and EU endorse. It is in fact conformity. They however want to convince you that their ideas are “revolutionary” so they sound unique, different and exciting. They want to look like brave outsiders denying the will of shadowy oppressive forces and liberating us all. In fact, they are attempting to enslave us all — wonder who our Al Sharpton will be — and they are every bit as mainstream, ordinary and socially accepted as Justin Bieber. They appeal to the herd by telling it what it already accepts, just like Bieber offers music with absolutely no surprises that resembles every big pop act that went before it. But if you listen to them, they are heroic Christ-like bearers of enlightenment and the rest of us are just idiots in comparison and should be silenced as a result.
Through the years of scanning endless lists of metal albums one gradually develops an intuition that links band name, album name and artwork to the general nature of what will be heard. Seldom does a tongue-in-cheek name correlate with quality music, since the band designed itself as a stunt. While some serious-sounding names result in pretentious self-important music, most bands with confidence in their ability to produce valuable music choose a straightforward self presentation.
The following question measures heavy metal: what is quality, and how is it measured, including what standard we use? Our answer begins with the often-used but seldom explained (and hence little understood) terms superficial and transcendent as opposite poles in a spectrum. Through the ages philosophers, theorists and artists themselves have made used these terms and in only a handful of instances have they tried to explain them in any way beyong what is deemed self-evident. The young Nietzsche provides us with a useful term and its explanation which can be used to separate the concepts in a way that if not empirical enough at least can be understood as a general concept. The Dionysian, it is said, allows for a connection for the unchanging, eternal oneness. This can mean many things, but guiding ourselves by Nietzsche’s explanation in the context of Greek tragedy and the nature and significance its chorus, we can see that the Dionysian is a subjective measurement requiring the person in question to look beyond the cycles of history and recurring social trends that are a result of the human race constantly altering its surface appearance but not actually “growing” in the sense of improving. Once in touch with this, the artist can represent the essence of things as they always are, not as they appear at this moment in time. On the other hand, being trapped in the temporal interpretation of how something is at this moment, or how it appears to be in its current incarnation is the hallmark of the superficial.
For us to make the distinction between transcendent and superficial in a work of art, we must isolate any insight of human nature that the work expresses. Because all of reality is the same cause, all paths if followed with vigorous examination lead to the same truth. Acquiring the insight that the transcendent artist possess does not mean we ourselves need to have his artistic talents as well. These are abilities of a separate kind altogether. As Nietzsche tells us in the same writing, while the rest of us must use abstractions and complex explanations to arrive at an objective picture of the work of art, in his subjective vision, the artist contemplates the images of his expression clearly and in unexplainable simplicity independently of its degree of superficiality. We can analyze that vision according to what it communicates and whether that address the transcendent, the superficial or the “fake out” of superficial transcendence.
With all this in mind, a first glance at Terror Empire’s album cover and album name is enough to raise some red flags. The cover artwork does not relate to the title. The title further shows a tendency toward cliché and a “cute” manipulation of it. This lack of originality is then reflected in the music itself. The album shows an diversity of approaches ranging from early songs which incorporate related but meaningless constructions with abundant technical acrobatics to late songs which are basically “thrashy” chug-based generic speed metal songs. The former are meaningless in the context that the writers themselves put them in. They make structural premises, but then do not follow them or conclude them structurally. As in many mediocre examples of music, songs end suddenly without being taken to any sort of climax, deviation to a clear point and return. The latter part of the album fails by being an imitation of speed metal (aka “thrash metal”) tropes seen through the modern lenses of retro-thrash.
This book can be judged by its cover, which the band apparently views as attractive to the type of person who will not realize how completely pointless The Empire Strikes Black is as a metal listening experience. Those who seek novelty tend to find it. In the spirit of the master, Bitterman: Vapid. Avoid.
To the untrained ear, classical music and heavy metal couldn’t be more incongruous, but Pine recognized similarities. In her 20s, she regularly played her own virtuosic interpretation of Led Zeppelin on the radio, hoping to lure metal’s head-banging fans to the symphony.
“In practicing and preparing those songs, I discovered that a lot of the heavy metal I’d been listening to was some of the most sophisticated compositionally of all rock music, and very inspired by classical music,” Pine says. “Then all these people in ripped jeans started coming to my concerts.”
While Pine’s tastes run more to the hard rock side of metal, with Led Zeppelin and Pantera being favorites, she clearly knows her way around the intricacies of a doom metal song with violin accompaniment as well as the classics of the early years of metal. For years, she has pointed out how the thematic complexity of metal shows a kinship to classical music, even if on the surface the two genres appear radically different.