The other day I looked up Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. I had seen it before a couple of times and heard it was important. It’s basically some chicks from a brothel with bodies deformed by Pablo’s furious brushstrokes, eyes staring at you uncomfortably and somewhat comically. A painting central to the evolution of Cubism, apparently. The point is that this is where visual art collapsed. The year was 1907; the nightmarish figures of modern art had already been around for decades, but now all traditional assumptions had to be annihilated, paving the way for all modern things to come – for all things post-modern as well. In hindsight, it’s simply the putrefaction of dying tradition doing its job. And we understand you, Pablo; you, the genius, had to show us what this meant, you had to show us the horrors of having no perspective at all. (How do we even start looking at a woman with two and a half arms?) Comedy aside, make no mistake: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is sheer terror. As such, it suffices, it does what it should – it works. Those disconnected shapes told of all modern art to come, avoiding conformity to the most extreme degree.
But as with all such experiments, it fails to tell a story. It’s easy to point fingers at modern art because of its apparent ugliness, but its real weakness is that it’s a simple cry in the dark. Yes, the modern world leaves quite a few existential challenges for man to take on, but making your art as pointless as you perceive the world will make us all end up in a downward spiral. If you have something to tell the rest of us, then wrap it up properly and share the experience. You can’t do that with a “perspectiveless” experiment. But that is, unfortunately, how modern and much of contemporary art has interpreted the world.
(Now, I’m no expert when it comes to modern art and I have no problem saying that all modern art is not crap. But when you’ve come to understand its overall idea, you don’t have to be an expert to dismiss it. As with jazz, the very idea behind modern art is “faulty”, which is why the probability of finding beauty among the rubbish is very modest.)
Heavy metal music chose a different path. Black Sabbath knew the world was not all beer and skittles when they recorded their first album, but they weren’t crybabies either. They didn’t, like Picasso, make an experiment based on how we have nothing to base things on. Instead, they told a mysterious and intriguing tale of what the world had become. Following in their footsteps, bands like Slayer, Deicide and Emperor put all this ugliness in musical narratives which in themselves were paradoxically beautiful. Not as direct mirrors of our world and society, but as stories with a glimmer of excitement.
This is how metal music rediscovered tradition, a tradition of storytellers who have supported our souls through the ages, from Homer to Bach to Rembrandt to old men by a fire in a small hut in a murky forest. Metal was chaotic, especially at a glance, but underneath it all was a spirit that believed in life. This way metal music created a resonant mythos for people in the postmodern era.
But finding tradition seems a happy coincidence in this case, or, more likely, something which metal music realized only through sheer necessity. Deliberately reinventing tradition in art isn’t always a good idea. It has been tried before, and in my experience the results are actually worse than a cry in the dark. If we go back to the visual modern arts and look across the spectrum from Picasso’s wild experiments to the opposite side, we find (among others) the Academics, like William-Adolphe Bouguereau. This is from the wow-I-can-definitely-see-what-it-depicts-but-it’s-boring-me-to-tears school of art. It has no urgency. Great art is almost by necessity always inspired by personal experience in the world and time we live in. Trying to remove yourself from it will turn the art into stories about virtually nothing. And that’s what we see in Bouguereau. An artist trained in the old school, with all the craft of tradition but none of the spirit gained from experience. That experience doesn’t need to be one of terror, but giving an artwork weight demands an ability to pick up what is going on around you and inside you. And we are not talking socio-political particularities here, but an existential understanding. What does it mean to be human during this time and this place?
One may find it hard to believe that the musicians of the most extreme bands in existence ever thought about this, and perhaps many of them never did. But somehow their instincts have sniffed in the air the feelings of the time, remolded it in their heads and had their guitars resound of what it tells – even if they motivate it by, “Listen to this sound, man, it’s awesome!” The artist is told something about the world, and tells it back to us. Bouguereau in comparison sure makes fancy wallpaper, but it’s anything but awesome – it’s lifeless.
Metal music, then, builds anew in accordance with a tradition that the Academics only very superficially mimicked. It also sees much of the same things Picasso saw, but while he screamed with pathetic terror, metal screams with delight.
Once again the streams of ancient songcraft from the kantele of Finnish past extended their freezing grasp across the ages to bring death-skalds from around the world to gather in a morbid mass of heavy sound at Dante’s Highlight, Helsinki, on the wake of the massively successful event one year ago headlined by the supreme warmongersBlasphemy and Revenge. As if gripped by demiurgish megalomania the organizers deemed that two days of black/death hybrids and Blasphemy clones are not enough, this time the event spanned three nights of violence, bloodshed and alcohol while the weak were trampled upon the mossy floor of the woodlands.
The gates of Dante’s church opened wide for the worshipers to enter in the middle of the busy workweek of the middle class, but true to the ethos of Death Metal, it didn’t stop the venue from being filled to the brim with headbangers ’til the late AM hours. The attendance of underground gigs in Finland, especially near the capital area, has steadily grown from the meager cult of the 90′s and this contributes to the possibility of gig organizers to summon up massive events the likes of which are unknown probably everywhere else but Germany and USA. By all criteria, three nights of underground death metal mostly in a similar sub-style is an overdose but we couldn’t help but step up to the challenge. Even though the day already had included work, exercise and painting, I dragged my sorry ass up to the venue to get brutalized by the sounds of the foreign bands who deemed to come across the seas to herald the apocalyptic messages of old school Death Metal once again.
Vorum and Neutron Hammer from Finland are decent bands, but I didn’t care enough to try fitting their ritual into the schedule since plenty of chances to observe them await the locals. While traveling through the nocturnal cityspace, which always seems to bring forward a more grey, industrial, overcast threat when Metal is imminent, I inadvertently also lost the chance to see UK’s Craven Idol, reputedly a doomy, crisp and unpretentious massacre. I did get to see Diocletian‘s more old school incarnation Witchrist though, who spent about an hour conjuring a tempo-flipping contrast between Doom and Grind much like the forte of Finnish cult classic Rippikoulu, except lacking for one thing: intricate melody. Without it, the maiming down tuned web of chords seemed like a mockery of the modern war metal ethos with its Black Witchery spawned “street credible” ghetto hoodie “evilness”; lacking a dimension where essential things are said. Tough without purpose, the heartless spawn of urban netherworlds.
The wait for the main band of the evening, for this reviewer the main band of the entire festival, was torturously long since the Californians Sadistic Intent had but just arrived on their star-crossed flight and carefully proceeded with their soundcheck, as if carefully honing their weapons for the one and only decisive battle. At this point the atmosphere at the venue was expectant but relaxed, much less strung than the hysterical chaos that gripped even the most balanced partygoer in the insanity of 2009. When the sadists got their shit together, there was no evading the invincible force of Death Metal roaring from the stage. Sadistic Intent, who never released a full-length album in their career, had nevertheless realized the essence of Death Metal better than all those blackened bands of the 2000′s who were too caught up in “necro” manifestations of ghastly pallor; this band breathed energy, blasted away as if it was the world’s final hour. One of the central pillars of Sadistic Intent’s dark symphony was the sharply dynamic percussion work of Emilio Marquez, though we must not forget the clarity and precision of Rick Cortez’ and Ernesto Bueno’s dueling guitars. Through this band, the young audience glimpsed a mighty vision of the history of 80′s underground metal, with all its sensible and senseless implications – to me, it meant much more than the routine Morbid Angel gig in this land two years ago. –Devamitra-
This sound is no Nirvana
When arriving at Dante’s, I couldn’t help but feeling this visitation was to only a regular festival in the Finnish capital, for so strongly the walls of the old church emitted still the atmosphere of madness from the Blasphemy live ritual a year ago. That being said, it was time to commence the forthcoming aural hammerings. I didn’t see the beginning act, Stench of Decay, due to overlap in my tactical schedule. Them being a domestic act, I presume many more chances of seeing them in the future. Maveth didn’t ring any bells before the festival, and being the quick replacement for perhaps my most anticipated act personally, Cauldron Black Ram, I felt somewhat disappointed and in the end, Maveth doesn’t ring any even now after the whole event! Next up was Grave Miasma, who delivered their material as well as they could, I believe. Their precise playing and overall presence pretty much reflected the visions I have had from their “Exalted Emanation” EP. Even the sounds of the venue, in some odd way, seemed to back up their aural pathworking in the catacombs of darkness.
The muddy sound seemed to haunt all the bands during the three nights and not everyone profited from its nature. Mainly the rhythm and tempo of the bands seemed to dictate the clarity and catchiness of the acts, if one was without better acquaintance of the material being performed. This facet of reality added a huge positive impact into Hooded Menace‘s first live appearance, for their slower, blind-dead-worshiping, doomy metal profited from the overall muddiness of the sound, and structure-wise, concerning the night’s band line-up, their gig acted as a very functional breathing space between the other, more faster majority of bands, while Karnarium played their Swedish death metal of which I had only a few short experiences beforehand. The wickedness of live situations is that even though some bands do sound quite all right from their recordings, the reality of the gig can be just the opposite. All elements are right, but for some reason, the whole thing just doesn’t deliver. Unfortunately this was the case with Karnarium.
Although I expected things from Excoriate, their act suffered from the shitty sound at Dante’s and the whole gig just entirely passed me by, while my comrades praised their straight-forward deathrash brutality and merciless un-pretentious playing. Maybe I get to witness them again at some point in time and space. Also meeting an incognito man of mystery, who bribed me with a 7″ EP of best Finnish death metal and oversees the Finnish underground scene and the happenings from the shadows of the European Union committee, might have added an element of disturbance into following the deeds of the Germaniac necromancers. Nirvana 2002‘s classical Swedish death metal sound echoed throughout the church as the last act of Friday. I was a little suspicious about them being just another band riding the reunion wave. After the gig I really couldn’t tell if it was so. Maybe to some it served as a good soundtrack to beer-drinking, to some it might have refreshed the memories of the early scene of Sweden, and the band seemed to enjoy playing – might have been a reaction to the audience’s reaction. I guess that those not into the Swedish sound didn’t really get much out of Nirvana 2002, although they were supposed to be the very headlining act of the evening. –SS Law-
Towards the mist-enshrouded Infinity
For those who have not inhaled anything like the cold, northern atmospheres of Finland, it’s possible that they have never really taken a breath at all and filled their lungs with so much ancient mystery and natural purity. That these primordial dimensions of the Finnish experience could give rise to such canonical works of the Metal underground as are unquestionably from this realm, in all their brutal and grotesque yet contemplative and spiritual totality, is a unique and unsurprising fact. To be in the company of two proud Finns, journeying through eerie woods of twisted fractal forms, landscapes that crumble before the sea to be swallowed by sinister mists, and sites of the unknown dead, buried by millenia and rocks is nothing short of an education in the origins of Finnish Death Metal. An education that would close with the ultimate but unofficial final statement of this 3-day long Black Mass Ritual, taught by true professors of unholy metaphysics.
The doors of Dante were already wide open and broadcasting the buzz of hordes and other indeterminable bestial sounds from deep within, as one more apocalyptic night of darkness and chaos was underway. The bloodstained figures of Cruciamentum were the first band to be witnessed onstage as their set was nearing it’s end. The familiar polish and precision to their otherwise rumbling riffs, like a more rhythmical Grave Miasma, would be a sign that the sound of the venue would be favourable to this kind of band who played according to a careful dynamic framework, only to leave the blasting War Metal legions that comprised the middle-era of the evening struggling to convey their manifestos with enough clarity to lead any would-be army into battle. Blasphemophager from Italy followed with a set that would epitomise all the technical difficulties of the festival, with a lengthy period of being at odds with the sound before finally commencing their angry and drunken attack; a musical mess but nevertheless potent in the way the band creates a time-travelling vortex of sound, caught between the war worship of Blasphemy and the tropical heat of 80′s Death/Thrash from Brazil. Though not as peturbed by the failings of technology, Diocletian‘s sound would receive no favours from the set-up, with the indistinct noise of raging guitars falling short a much needed quality in this type of band, to justify their existence apart from the countless others who cast global nuclear omens. If there was any positive element of these New Zealanders’ performance, it lies exclusively with the hands and feet of their drummer, an expert in militaristic precision and the cascade of bombed city ruins and rubble.
With civilisation’s demise at least envisioned in some form, the time of more abyssic and introspective prognostications had arrived in the form of the legendary Death Metal band from Loimaa, Demigod, to once again reveal the eternal fate of all mankind. With all but a session guitarist returning as the force that channelled the transcendental ‘Slumber of Sullen Eyes’ album – one of the undisputed masterpieces of the genre – this was something of a special moment for anybody who recognises the importance of Finnish Death Metal and as the introductory keyboard motif of ‘Apocryphal’ finally sounded, this was the signal that the atmosphere of the venue was metamorphosising into a Dead Can Dance state of mystical curiosity. The band’s near perfect, though slightly re-ordered rendition of the album was a masterclass in riffcraft and energy as only the most elite Finns know how to deliver, demonstrating control over the requirements of their complex sound. Most notoriously is their penchant for disharmony which gives the songs their expansive and cosmic sense of beauty, as the blasphemy and discord of tearing down layers of ignorance and the control of human terror only serves to reveal the awakened visions of reality. Closing the set with the ‘Slumber of Sullen Eyes’ song itself, echoing those final words behind the mists of eternity, Demigod had completed a mesmerising and what should have been a headlining performance and dispelled all memories of the last couple of albums associated with this band.
Having shown all the young guys how to do it, even with an aging roster of musicians, Demigod entrusted the stage to one of the few worthy inheritors of true Death Metal spirit that remains in this current age. Greece’s Dead Congregation provided a highly competent and tightly delivered set that surprised the fuck out of the entranced onlookers. The sound was well-balanced enough to facilitate both the most crushing riffs and otherworldly ambiences, showing the strength of melodic composition as spectral leads passed through songs like an occultic storm of neutrinos. Dead Congregation demonstrated how they excel where other bands in this style fall straight into insignificance, putting many acts on this bill in their places. However, holding the supreme position on this night, as the night grew old and entered the early hours of a new day, Necros Christos had the daunting task of not just following two excellent bands, one being exceptional, but also risked lulling the entire audience into a deep sleep. Perhaps it could be said that they did just that, but with confidence and morbid intent, grasping the reins of the creeping, collective subconscious and transporting the entire venue to distant lands and times where the revelations of Hebrew gods are oppresed by the rule of tyrannical death-worshippers. Even Dante’s mists turned into a deep sandstorm as the cyberchrist-like figure of Mors Dalor Ra addressed the bloody, brainwashed crowds and launched into the sardonic dirges of the ‘Triune Impurity Rites‘, while introducing the promising and lengthy compositions from the upcoming Doom of the Occult. This veteran act concluded the night’s ritual with a sense of overwhelming evil power, regality and clarity, leaving the hordes to disassemble in a daze of hypnosis. A fitting end to the festival, and definitely justifying Necros Christos’ headlining status. Only the blackness of the morning unlight remained, to disappear into the mists where, in the words of Amorphis, “men can realise the meaning of life”.
Stylistically and in terms of execution, this is perhaps the most important album that Judas Priest made. Some will argue that the Sad Wings Of Destiny album from 1976 was the record that encapsulated this, though the reviewer picks Stained Class on the basis that it shapes and crafts the periphery of what was yet to come from a still young musical form. The origins of extreme metal are hinted at in pieces such as ‘Exciter’, which elaborates further on the quintet’s advancement towards more aggressive techniques and motifs, heavy on palm muted rhythmic guitar riffs and rapid fire double bass pedals, overlaid with Rob Halford’s banshee-like falsetto and lead guitars which although in terms of patterns and scales are not yet free of the restraints of rock music from previous decades, clearly set a benchmark for the revival of neoclassical technique in the metal genre. This is additionally showcased in both the follow up piece ‘White Heat, Red Hot’ the title track and ‘Saints In Hell’, more adherent to mid-paced tempos though in terms of form, the same development is obvious.
‘Invader’, ‘Savage’, and ‘Better By You, Better Than Me’ are all anthemic, semi-melodic numbers that are more standardized than anything else on this album, and is easily of the quality of the best material that permeated the disappointing predecessor Sin After Sin. As is with much work within earlier NWOBHM, this creates a solid base that allows for the most joyous segments of this album to thrive so well. ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’ which is by many seen to be a seminal piece for this band, is an excellent piece of balladry, to which a clear lineage of the more subtle, ‘slow burning’ work of Iron Maiden (“Children Of The Damned”), Manowar (“Valhalla”, “Bridge Of Death”), Bathory (“One Rode To Asa Bay”, “Twilight Of The Gods”), Metallica (“Sanitarium”, “Fade To Black”) can trace a root. With the exception of perhaps their triumphant Painkiller opus, this remains their most consistent and advanced work, and shows an act at their most vital and relentless. Metal was forged here.
Swedish Death Metal by Daniel Ekeroth is an easy and enjoyable read that recounts the glory years of Swedish Death Metal told in large part through the mouths of those who actually lived it. Ekeroth presents the history of Swedish death metal, focusing mainly on the release of seminal albums and demos, and the means by which fanzines and tape trading played a role in the development and proliferation of the Swedish death metal genre. This is definitely a worthwhile read if one is looking for a chronology of all of the important bands, namely Bathory, Nihilist/Entombed, Dismember, At the Gates, and Therion, that played an important role in the development and consolidation of Swedish Death Metal. Additionally, the layout of the book is such that it is easily navigable, making use of handy headings, subheadings and band headings, which also make this a great quick-reference text. However compelling, it is a slight draw back that the various snapshots throughout the book interrupt the flow of the read, and are laid out in such a way as to provide a distraction. One may be better off reading the book through and then returning to the snapshots at a later date.
In addition to analyzing the careers of many important Swedish Death Metal bands, Ekeroth indulges the curiosity of the reader and earns additional merit for mentioning important non-Swedish bands such as Master and Deathstrike, and for emphasizing the role of Morbid Angel in the overall development of Death Metal. Interestingly, the author seems at pains to make sure that the reader understands the relationship between Crustcore, Punk, and Metal and adds some welcome depth to his account of Swedish Death Metal by mentioning Discharge, whose strumming style and melody would influence countless metal bands. If you are looking for a chronology of the glory days of Swedish Death Metal, this book proves enlightening. Thankfully, there is little mention of Slaughter of the Soul and second rate Swedish bands such as In Flames and Soilwork that would later hijack, dilute and all but destroy this once living art form.
With that said, readers beware! Ekeroth has a tendency to try and convince his reader that death metal was all about “fun” back in the day and tends to present the extracurricular activities, namely drinking and partying, as the highlights of many bands careers. Although Ekeroth’s goal was to tell the history of important bands, releases and tours, I believe this book could have been improved had Ekeroth attempted to explore the philosophical underpinnings of this genre and refrained from presenting Metal culture as simply an offshoot or replication of self-indulgent rock culture. New frontiers await those willing to explore this aspect of Swedish Death Metal and Ekeroth’s book may in fact prove to be a trailblazer. Time Shall Tell.
Mircea Eliade from Romania is one of the most publically revered figures on history of religion and the philosophy of religion, even though at one point he had an interest in Garda de Fier, the Romanian fascist movement contemporary with Mussolini. Among his vast corpus of work, this treatise concerning primarily what it is that men perceive as sacred, is one of the most read and debated ones.
The point of talking about this book is that it’s the most succinct and lucid introduction to the concepts of sanctity and ritual from a neutral perspective. Theology is obsessed with the Christian material and the occultists are obsessed with whatever it is they are obsessed with at the time. Eliade, on the other hand, is remarking on the intention of ritual and temples, cosmogonical myths and how civilization deals with the problem of adjusting to time, the great destroyer, and nature/environment, the great nurturing force. It is not surprising that one finds a lot in common with the ideals of Nietzsche and Evola, such as the concept of cyclical time and eternal return. In stressing the otherness of that which is perceived as sacred, he has interesting parallels to Jungian psychology and seems to foreshadow Foucault.
I believe this book is most helpful to understanding the character of mystical and religious experience and ritual, which has a definite part in metal culture whether in the hippie-tinged early psychedelia, the archaic revivalism of black metal or death metal’s explorations of the religious-psychotic mind. Eliade’s book does have its problems such as putting forward of very generalized statements, some unclear arguments and stylistically the writing is rather bouncing. Yet it is very descriptive, luscious and inspiring. Besides being a scientist, it’s obvious that he is also fulfilling some artistic, visionary and personal aims with this study.
When it appeared, I thought this book mostly worthless, because from a few glances the factual errors, opininiated attitude and the fact that it’s aimed at hipsters who ironically appreciate the counterculture were obvious. Lately I have changed my mind: this is a valuable book for beginners who are wondering about the new age, cult and heretical obsessions from Lovecraft to Crowley, Manson to Castaneda and parallel topics that inflitrated heavy metal from the beginning and even more obviously death and black metal. The writer Lachman has previously contributed to the underground through his work in early post-punk bands Blondie and Television. He comes across as a honest and astute writer, even though his ultra-liberalism causes him to be very unobjective when facing topics such as nazism and murder – it seems he sometimes chooses not to see the context.
The best part is that obviously he himself was very much oriented from a young age towards the topics of the occult in the same spirit as old death and black metallers were: picking up those parts that seem to benefit the empowerment of man, reveal the experience of the mystical in life and reach towards transcendence no matter how “crazy” deemed by the public. And despite the aforementioned shunning of brutal elements in Western culture and counterculture, his conclusions tend to be sane and without the excessive burden of moralism. Overall, while labeled as a book about the 60′s, possibly for marketing reasons, in describing the threads that connected popular culture to esoteric practice throughout the whole century it’s a better guide to reveal the spiritual tendencies behind death metal, from Morbid Angel’s deities to Deicide’s blasphemy, than books that are actually about death metal itself.