French progressive/indie/death metal band Supuration has posted a new video, “Ephemeral Paradise,” from its upcoming album Reveries…. This showcases the firm blend between alternative rock of the indie variety, death metal and grind, and progressive notions of concept albums and harmony that has propelled this band since its inception, and its peak with 1993’s The Cube.
Self-preening egomaniac solipsist hipster Brent Hinds, who plays with indie-metal (heavy alternative rock) band Mastodon, accidentally revealed the nature of indie-metal as indie rockers who enjoy metal ironically making imitations of better bands. Speaking between bites of arugula and sprouted garlic sandwich on quinoa bread, Hinds opined:
“I never really liked heavy metal in the first place. I came from Alabama playing country music, surf rock, rockabilly, and stuff like that.
“I just went through a phase in my 20s where I thought it was rebellious to play heavy metal. And then I met Brann [Dailor, drummer] and Bill [Kelliher, guitarist], and they were really, really, really into heavy metal.
“And ever since then, I’ve been trying to get Mastodon to not be such a heavy metal band, because I f–king hate heavy metal, and I don’t want to be in a heavy metal band.”
Playing metal to be rebellious is a hipster gig because it is entirely surface with no deeper connection to the music than to use it, as hipsters use all things, to signal your emotions to a world that could not care less. Metal musicians play metal because they love it, but giggin’ hipsters play it ironically to be rebellious and shocking. Hinds finally admitted his own insincerity, but with him he brings down a genre.
Indie-metal arose from the “alternative metal” of the 1990s which took metal riffs and put them in rock songs using the aesthetics of grunge and alternative rock. Although the result was an artistic disaster, it was more palatable than the hip-hop/rock hybrids and other pop experiments of the era, and so caught on. Unfortunately these bands are not metal, only metal-influenced, and so they bring in all of the dysfunctional mid-therapeutic behavior for which indie bands are notorious. The result has been adulterated quasi-metal like Deafheaven, Mastodon, Isis, Pallbearer, Babymetal, Pelican and Vattnet Viskar which has attracted a new audience of underconfident, neurotic and conformist fans while driving away the audience metal built up from the 80s-90s.
The band I am the Trireme will be releasing Gnosis: Never Follow the Light on June 30. Advertised as black metal, their music is best described as an indie stadium rock appropriating some black metal tropes and stitching song sections with a sense similar to Michael Åkerfeldt’s Pink Frothy AIDS, without exceeding the latter’s penchant for pasting together unrelated musical ideas. The band combine this with mainstream Satanic allusions, a pretty album cover and a personal image resembling a grown up Avenged Sevenfold.
A sure hit among angsty and alienated teenagers, a preview of the album can be heard on Soundcloud.
The secret to excellent marketing is found in the word “different.” A successful salesperson puts a surface on an ordinary product so it appears new, luxurious or otherwise distinctive. In music, the best method is to put a new surface on whatever is trendy at the time. Thus cloaked, it allows its listeners to appreciate the same stuff everyone else is listening to, but with its different appearance, they can claim they are different and unique special snowflakes.
Deathspell Omega took the idea of the metalcore dominant at its time — mix up dissonant and technical or jazzy riffing with metal riffs in carnival-style rotational song order based on internal interruption — and put a black metal face on it. For black metal, it relied on what Ulver and Satyricon did, which was to create long melodies that start impressively but go nowhere and require the song structure to intervene “dramatically” and interrupt before people realize that the melody is like the rambling of a drunken person. On top of this, they put choppy technical-style riffing and dissonant chords, but keep the focus on the vocals to distract from the carnival music nature of this randomness, tying it together with rhythm and the strong vocal as post-black bands like Behemoth did.
If the vocals were removed, good portions of this album would appear to have come from recent Cynic albums. Often a jazzy break goes right into hard rock riffing that comes from the pop canon, but as if the band becomes self-conscious, a more violent riff intervenes. The real problem here — as in all rock-derived music — is that unlike metal, this is vocal-driven not riff-driven. The riffs tag along for the ride as the voice tells you things it thinks you want to hear. As such, Paracletus is not only a pretender to the black metal throne, but worse, is musically incoherent which results in mental confusion and boredom.
In the dying days of black metal, people imitate it from the outside-in by adopting its techniques but not understanding its inner core. Peste Noire combines heavy metal and indie rock with black metal stylings and produces a demi-opus of distracted listening: if attended to with half a brain, as when watching television, socializing or working, it seems fine and hits the right spots of black metal nostalgia. When listened to intently, it reveals itself as having relatively random structure and imitation of tropes that go nowhere.
The surface influence on this work that immediately comes to mind is Graveland, with a side dish of the more desolate Nords like early Gorgoroth and Immortal, but as an experienced listener of metal might guess, the closer one comes to self-pity music (depressive, doom) the lower quality of music becomes. A typical Peste Noire song begins with a black metal riff which it repeats in a cycle, ending in a chord progression reminiscent of bittersweet neurotically happy and sad at the same time indie rock, then drops into heavy metal tropes like the chaotic solo extending into a lead rhythm guide to a bounding riff.
Initial aspects of this album appear favorable: instrumental prowess, deliberate production, a study of black metal. At its heart it is disunified first by lack of purpose except egotistic lamentation, and second by a refusal to structure songs around anything but a visual perspective that hides itself by constant interruption (sort of like the “disruptive” trend in business). What remains, after the listener filters through appearance and randomness, could not fill the teacup of a black metal fan.
The audience for this album are the same people who are fooled by magic shows at carnivals, speak in tongues at revivals, buy the latest iGadget sight unseen, and smoke in bed. If you claim to like this album, you are either not paying attention or merely a fool. Like every sell out, it is designed to cater to the lowest common denominator, which generally recruits idiots.
Thantifaxath combine trivialist “progressive,” minor key black metal riffs, and indie rock to make what they call “depressive suicidal black metal.” Songs start with basic black metal-ish riffs, but instead of featuring a varied internal texture, these are uniform with an equal number of strums per chord and chords generally changing on the beat, creating a drone effect. The band then play “progressive” riffs that amount to showy but not all that complex guitar and sonic technique used as distraction, and then get to the main point, which is minor key indie-rock riffs that feature the hook to the song. If you can imagine LSD guitar practice plus a basement black metal band ending up in a cover of someting off Daydream Nation, that is the sum total of Thantifaxath.
While the sin committed by Sacred White Noise is insincerity, its musical failing comes from being essentially contentless and relying on fireworks or pop techniques to fill in the void. What does this album communicate? According to people who claim to love DSBM, they find an emotional rush from this in realizing how horrible life truly is. But how is that different from emo? Late 80s emo achieved the same thing but it kept the pop more visible, so it could cry through the tears, as the saying went. This band wallows in its sadness and then plays random music over the top to distract from how fundamentally simple it is.
Thantifaxath use questionable “black metal” riffs. The riffing is essentially static such as that which bands like Nile or Necrophagist used, where the point was to play a chord in a certain rhythmic pattern and then add an extended fill so it seemed like a death metal riff, despite having more in common with Elvis or Lynyrd Skynyrd than death metal. These parallel the “progressive” playing, which seems to focus on finding a whacky guitar technique (whacky: odd, ironic, rarely used — because it is useless for expressing anything but musical confusion) and repeating it at different notes quickly and erratically. Sometimes this becomes comical when these patterns resemble familiar phone numbers or radio jingles. Its indie rock is clearly its heart, because the full melodic hook comes out here, but it does not distinguish itself from thousands of other bands in this area.
In summary, Thantifaxath create directionless melodic wandering at a slow pace with a hookish atmosphere in three styles, doing none well and fooling only those who have no particular ability to pay attention for prolonged periods of time. At its best, its melodies resemble the wandering style that Celestia brought out, but this style owes more to lack of purpose than to any idea or feeling it communicates. An astute observer will notice that for all of its supposed variation, this album expresses only one mood and it never changes — only is interrupted by distraction — and that it applies technique uniformly to create sonic wallpaper from even the most “different” pieces. To its audience, who apparently are so deep in self-pity that “depressive suicidal black metal” seems important, I have a word of advice: cut harder.
French progressive rock/death metal hybrid Supuration have released the cover for their upcoming album, Reveries…. Created by famed underground metal artist Dan Seagrave, the cover image displays classic death metal symbology in its gnarled and organic textures in a mythological setting.
Reveries… will see release via Listenable Records on May 29, 2015. Mastered by Dawn Swano (Edge of Sanity), the album “is a re_recording of old songs written during the 90s” according to the band. Perhaps the combination of their newer more aggressive technique, classic death metal imagery and their inventive songwriting will forge a new classic.
I had hoped that the busload of squalling drama that was #GamerGate (see here: pro | con) would not come to metal, but #metalgate has arrived courtesy of the same people who intruded into the gaming industry despite a striking lack of actual contributions:
Metal is still dogged by the issues that arise from its deep-seated conservative values, but thanks to an increase in conversations about racism, politics, and feminism, those on the right side of history have gained solid ground. – SPIN
Before we get involved in this partisan squabble, consider that metal is beyond the left-right divide. The left wants individualism through equality, and the right wants individualism through lack of social obligation. Neither recognize that societies, like metal genres, are organic entities where more is required than individualism; we need cooperation.
It is easy to see however why someone might want to — as writers have in the past — call heavy metal conservative. Metal avoids “social issues” and other internal questions of a society and instead looks at the health of a society as a whole, or in other words, how sane it is. We see a world gone insane through a refusal to pay attention to reality. The methods of that are beyond an artistic genre and should be injected into it, but since 2006 at least trying to reform metal has been a pet project of certain groups:
More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords.
Cattle Decapitation vocalist Travis Ryan said his San Diego band’s mix of charging guitars and an animal rights message is drawing a diverse crowd that includes activists as well as traditional metal fans. – The Washington Post
The grim fact is that metal has split into two groups. When the newer group encountered the older group, they were appalled that it did not share their opinions, not just on politics but how to live. This new group is inherently “social” and they share opinions which make their friends feel warm and fuzzy about them. That is at odds with the older metal tradition of not caring what society thought, telling the hard truth, and being obligated to no one because most people are crazy.
It is only when you get involved in a managerial role with society, like a kindergarten teacher insisting that we all play nice together, that you care at all about making sure that everyone is included. Metal does not. Metal looks at society from the view of history and whether it is healthy or diseased from within. The metalhead view is consistently anti-managerial, since metalheads recognize the deficiencies of people and want to keep most of them at a great distance. It is not that we want to manage them, like political people do, but that we want to be free of them.
For years people have tried to make metal more sociable. They first tried in the mid-1970s when they mixed Black Sabbath with Led Zeppelin and produced hard rock, hoping that they could sell it to more people. “Sociable” sells. Then they tried in the 1980s with rap/rock, funk metal and other abominations. Finally they hit on nu-metal but that turned into an extended conversation about the impact of child molestation. And then, during the early 2000s, they rolled out a metal/hardcore fusion that had sociable lyrics like hardcore punk has for many years.
Notice that none of this was brought on by metalheads. It was created by people who wanted to be metalheads, but felt they could not be metalheads unless the genre agreed with their existing social, political and lifestyle biases. At this point, the metal community has entirely split between those who like the old school and those who want to be “nu-skool.” This is because they are two separate genres. Metal is metal, and the indie-metal/metalcore wave is someone else trying to use us for their agenda. #MetalGate is just the latest salvo in this fight.
Revolver published its list of metal bands who define the future of metal, and naturally people are a bit taken aback. The dominant trend on the list: metal bands that look like 90s bands who play with more distortion.
They come in several types: Marilyn Manson style hard rock goth, lite-jazz merged with Dream Theater riffing made technical in the math-metal style, black metal hybridized with shoe-gazing soul-searching solipsistic indie rock, tepid stoner rock, and the descendants of nu-metal who have mixed elements of the above in to hide their rip-off of hip-hop melded with bouncy radio rock.
In short, the list reveals a dearth of ideas, and instead of forging forward, these bands are heading backward toward past “successful” genres and mixing them together with a few metal riffs to make the claim to be the future of metal. Like the great metalcore revolution, and Napalm Death’s attempt to go indie with Words from the Exit Wound, this will succeed with the audience the industry has cultivated and fail with the wider audience for metal.
Metal thrives when it tackles the forbidden. In any civilization, that excluded taboo is the nihilistic approach of literal reality: the inevitability of death, the vast unknowability of our role in the cosmos, the necessity of war and violence, and the innate hatred that exists in humanity as some individuals break away from the herd and try to rise above. Metal is naturalistic and feral, aggressive and amoral, violent and morbid. It is everything we fear in life.
On the other hand, this new list presents nothing we fear in life. Tattooed hipsters in sweaters and goofy cartoons of uniforms do not induce fear. They induce tolerance and a shrug. They tell us nothing we do not hear from the many media outlets and rock bands of past. Unlike Black Sabbath, who dived bombed the flower power circlejerk with their own dark vision of the evil within us all, and the necessity of conflict, these bands offer us what Good Housekeeping might if dedicated to the quasi-“edgy” urban culture of guys with media jobs looking for a purpose so they can be unique at the local pub.
If you want to find the future of metal, go to its roots. Metal does not change because humans do not change. We fear death and the possibility of it coming for us, so with the aid of social conventions we exclude terror from our language so that we can exclude it from our minds. This is what metal rebels against, and its philosophy originates in rejection of this denial in order to discover what lies beyond the realms of sociability and polite conversation. The future awaits there at that horizon, not safely within the boundaries of existing culture.
Black metal band reformed as nu-metal powerhouse Mayhem released their latest album Esoteric Warfare on June 6, 2014. Much like late-career albums from Triptykon and Massacra, the latest Mayhem shows that as a metal band ages the probability of it becoming Pantera or Southern Fried rock approaches one.
Although the album communicates little to no artistry or depth, it offers a strong example of how to successfully appeal to one’s commercial audience by being both digestible and using lots of hard and heavy sounds the audience recognizes as dangerous… if they came in any other form than a commercial product. Esoteric Warfare creates a blueprint for success by appropriating nu-metal’s populist simplification of the speed metal style of mono-dimensional lower-string muted riffing and sprinkling it with the pixie dust of commercial black metal aesthetics..
The band thus builds its appeal entirely from catchy central riffs which are so reduced in complexity that one is capable of comprehending them on first listen. The rest is garnish: the introductions, acoustic breaks, spoken word sections, black metal fireworks, seemingly random caesuras and even some death metal technique that randomly flares in the midst of the thudding rhythmic hook. This album belongs more to the exoteric, or easily and equally grasped at first contact, than the esoteric like older black metal, which deepened in revelation the more the listener devoted his or her consciousness to exploring it.
With the latest generation, the rock-metal hybrid that industry has always wanted rears its ugly head here. The new innovation is this tendency to break up the monotony with garnish, which allows the monotonic lower register riffs to drone on with strategic breaks to remind the listener that the entirety of an album does not necessarily need to sound indistinguishable however much the band may be seemingly trying to lead it in that direction. Complete sonic pointlessness does not dissolve, but rather mutates into a more friendly and funky exterior, thus allowing the listener an escape from a complete degradation of metal as an art form into a complete degradation of jazz as an art form. Whether that constitutes progress will be left to the view of the reader.