Arthouse Hours – All For One

September 4, 2013 –

arthouse_hours-all_for_oneIn the 1980s, the big news was metal-punk hybrids. Now it’s metal-rock hybrids, specifically alternative rock and then its less sarcastic ancestor, indie rock.

Arthouse Hours combines 1970s art rock with 1990s indie rock and throws in stitches of metal riffing to keep the whole thing urgent. Over this, dreamy high-pitched vocals blend with soaring background sounds to create a dreamlike audience not unlike an updated version of The Velvet Underground.

All For One keeps energy high with constantly changing riff forms and textures but still manages to pull out sweet melodic hooks in choruses. With its protean texture, this album creates an experience of delirium that allows these different riffs to meld together elegantly.

The only vital gap is that it is unclear what this band hopes to portray except the experience of being drunk in an afterhours coffeehouse talking about art. Having more of a point of view and less participation might organize it internally as well as externally.

Standout elements are the aforementioned outer-space vocals and the well-studied guitars which are able to allude to, without citing from, forty years of art-rock and shredder delights. It will be interesting to see where this band develops on its subsequent releases.

Is nu/alt/indie metal at the same level of quality as old school underground death metal?

August 19, 2013 –

A reader writes:

Do you think the new underground waves bands like Cryptopsy are good like the old school bands. Or do you think that death metal is the only good option?

The new school metal has not, so far, come close to what the older death metal was able to do.

I don’t think this is stylistic, so much that people are thinking about different things. When you think about things like death metal, the big topics in life like death and justice and war, you are able to make death metal (complex thoughts). When you think about yourself, who are you gonna party with and what your parents are doing that you don’t like, you end up with nu-metal, metalcore, indie metal and other new-wave underground metal band types.

Nu/Alt/Indie metal honors its origins in late 1980s Dischord bands, Fugazi included

August 17, 2013 –

strangelight-9_daysStrangelight, a new nu/alt-metal/indiemetal/metalcore/drone band comprised of members of Made Out Of Babies, Thursday, Red Sparowes, Pigs, United Nations, Goes Cube, Mussels and Kiss It Goodbye, will release its debut EP 9 Days on October 1, 2013 on Brooklyn hipster label Sacrament Music.

Written and recorded at vocalist Brendan Tobin’s own Ice Cream Audio in Brooklyn, New York in just nine days (hence the title), 9 Days aims to be a low-pretense version of the music presently in vogue in the hybrid metal/indie scene.

While their past and current bands share little in common, Strangelight — comprised of Tobin, Cooper, Kenneth Appel, John Niccoli and Geoff Rickly — focuses on the modern indie/metal hybrid ideal of jarring music that is also melancholic and self-indulgent.

But here’s where it gets interesting. The press release reveals the roots of indie/metal:

Drawing heavily upon DC visionaries, Amphetamine Reptile destroyers and Touch & Go noisemakers and named in honor of a track off Fugazi’s last record, The Argument, STRANGELIGHT offers up all the signature makings of an early ’90s Dischord band

DeathMetal.org has consistently offered up the idea that post-Minor Threat band Fugazi, along with Rites of Spring and Jawbreaker, provided the post-punk basis to all modern metalcore, drone, nu-metal, alt-metal, indie metal and tek-deth.

It’s good to see that a band such as Strangelight, which contains influences from foundations of the nu-indie-metal scene such as Red Sparowes, Pigs, United Nations, Goes Cube, Mussels and Kiss It Goodbye, in addition to more recent offerings Out Of Babies and Thursday, acknowledges this fundamental influence.

9 Days Track Listing:

  1. Split And Divide
  2. Mosh Party
  3. High Five Hailstorm
  4. Tiers Of Joy
  5. Xmas
  6. White Feather

Is this the end of all music?

May 12, 2013 –

eskimo_callboy-bury_me_in_fucking_vegasFriedrich Nietzsche posited that at the end of human times there would be a “last man” who cared for nothing other than immediate personal pleasure, and in this vapidity would banish civilization to the abyss.

I believe in metal we have found this moment through the work of “Eskimo Callboy.” This band are metalcore/electro crossover. I use the term metalcore to differentiate music from metal that, unlike metal which likes to string riffs together into a continuity creating atmosphere, likes to make abrupt contrast like “protest songs” do through its jarring, discordant and deconstructed melodic structure.

However, that’s just the start of the description. Metalcore means metal riffs without metal composition, but it’s basically a catch all into which we’ve dumped the last forty years of music: rock, rap, punk, post-punk, post-hardcore, techno and even disco. As if emphasizing this, the song below “Is Anyone Up” fits the disco pattern that techno appropriated, and works into it a second layer where verses are doubled with one double being played as straight metalcore, and the other being autotuned vocals in a club music setting.

What continually amazes me about mass culture products is how competent and diligent they are. Not even in the way that some bands, like Ara or De Profundis (both of whom are metalcore, which is sometimes called “modern metal” to hide its hybrid origins), are competent, which is to say they write songs that on a musical level fit together. No, these bands are competent as products. A McBurger must be sweet, tangy and leave you wanting more; good pop must be oozing with consonance, but bittersweet and minor key in its “mixed emotions” that give it “profundity” or a feeling of “authentic” emotion, and leave you wanting more because for a moment you felt like something stirred actual emotion in your soul (when in fact, all you were feeling was your longing for such emotion).

What pop music represents is not a unique musical style in and of itself, but a style of music designed with a singular goal in mind, which is to be mass accessible. As a result, it has no rules per se, although it has many studied patterns it uses. It also has no soul, no style and no boundaries; it assimilates everything it can, and churns it into the same old stuff. Give it a genre like, say, reggae, and it will invent reggae-flavored pop that on the surface uses reggae rhythms and sounds, but underneath is composed just like all other pop. Give it jazz and you get Dave Matthews, Sting, Yanni or Richard Marx; give it punk and you get Blink 182, Avril Lavigne and Fall Out Boy. When you hand it metal, it can’t handle it, because on a musical level, metal breaks the mold. Metal insists that riffs fit together in some way that maintains atmosphere and mood, and thus that riffs address one another. Pop functions by having its “riffs” address only one thing, which is staying in key and being distractingly clingy and catchy.

The threat to genres like metal is that it will be assimilated. Eskimo Callboy assimilates metal through metalcore, which borrows metal styles and some metal riffing and puts it into the post-hardcore “carnival music” style, but also adds electro (disco/techno/trance fusion) and even a small part of broken suburban rap to the mix. The result is quite good, as pop. Every moment is catchy and simple, and while it seems immature to those who’ve heard more music than a teenager, it certainly isn’t amateur. In fact, it’s totally professional. Every instant on this record is calculated to make people like it, and through that, to make it make money. It’s not like more challenging material, which skims the line of what you can like and expands what you’re willing to recognize; it takes what you recognize, sweetens it and over-processes it, and then serves it to you in heaping spoonfuls. That’s just on a composition level. On a production level it’s really to be admired: everything is perfectly placed, the sound is loud and pure, but with enough effects to give it texture. This is the work of masters at their craft.

Those of you who caught the shocked reaction by the band Ara to being called “metalcore” may now see why the band reacted so badly. Eskimo Callboy is metalcore, unabashedly so, and even embrace the label. However, it’s correct to call both bands metalcore, because both betray the metal principle of riffs commenting on riffs, and as a result are at best metal-flavored rock. Metalcore is that which wishes to be metal on the surface without being metal underneath, and it’s a polite catch all that can be applied to “modern metal” (Necrophagist, Ulcerate), nu-metal, blackgaze, black punk, crabcore, etc. We don’t even need to address these bands as metal because even they don’t see themselves as metal.

As it turns out, the song “Is Anyone Up” has somewhat of a concept behind it. It’s dedicated to the (former) Is Anyone Up website, on which people posted anonymous nude pictures which were then linked to online profiles for ridicule and mockery. The site was like 4chan on steroids with a specific intent to be cruel to the foolish, unwise, promiscuous and generally ill-parented girls of the lost generations in the West. While it seems cruel and destructive to me, it’s hard to feel that much surprise when you people email nude pictures to their latest hookup and in the hope that he won’t become bitter when they move on and email them to a friend. Of course he will — treat a man like a disposable lighter, and he treats you like something that must burn.

Let’s look at these insightful lyrics:

and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
girl it’s nothing personal
I’m sorry for this
but I think you fuck anal so well
that everybody should know
your pussy deserves much more attention
than I could give to you
you said that I’d be the only one
-you are nothing more than a folder on my harddisk
and you are nothing more than the guys I’ve met before
-fuck you little whore I’ve got your cunt in HD
and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
oh lord ,shame on me!
gnargoyles everywhere
I’ve lost my ability
to infactuate hot chicks
you never will expose a girl again
your daddy will be proud of his stupid little girl
shut the fuck up
tonight I’m on a photo date
with the highschool-sexgrenade
and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
I’ve seen a lot of boobies
I’ve seen a lot of cunts
as long as there are hot chicks
there’ll be always men that hunt
#NBHNC
means a lot to me
we cannot stop to stare
so put your ass up in the air

If you live in a world of innocence like me, you probably have no idea what #NBHNC means. It’s a crass term from the above site, on par with the famous Deke chant “no means yes, yes means anal”. Basically, imagine rancid scorn, regret and longing wrapped up into one package of human emotional poison.

Metalcore is a pop genre, not a metal one. Like most pop genres, it is based in the principle of flattering the listener and hoping to appeal to both their egomania and their weakness at once, making them want to become part of your little club. Not surprisingly, the video for this song actually occurs in a club, but that’s not the type of club I’m speaking of. Instead, think of what psychologists call an “in-group.” It’s any group that (like Costco) requires some kind of token exchange to gain entrance as a member. In social circles, it’s often as easy as buying a pop song and knowing the words. Pop is generic music that makes you feel like you’re part of some mass movement for listening along with it, and so it seduces your brain.

All that is needed to complete this review is a bit of comparison. I was recently subjected to The Dark Knight Rises or at least the first twenty minutes of it. Like generic pop metalcore, it is well-produced and written to keep the attention of its audience. Unlike metal and a movie worth watching, the plot is unrealistic and the acting looks like acting, instead of camouflage of their real identities that allows actors to reveal the meaning of the script. More than anything else, the word for this movie is stupid. The script is dumb and implausible, the cartoony characters (“Bane” — LOL) are ridiculous and not threatening, and even every attempt to imbue it with nuance comes across as ham-handed like the truly phoned in acting by Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy. And yet it is popular. The same is certainly true of Eskimo Callboy, which at last count had 75k “likes” on Facebook, where most underground death metal bands languish at 1,500. However, as if often true in life, the rare is the exceptional, which is fortunate as Eskimo Callboy is only exceptional in its endorsement of “last man” attitudes.

What the heck is metalcore?

April 23, 2013 –

fugazi_flyerDuring the late 1990s, a different style of metal emerged in the death metal camp. Starting with bands like Dillinger Escape Plan, Killswitch Engage, Misery Index, The Haunted, Human remains, Ulcerate, Meshuggah and Discordance Axis, this new style was given many names at first.

It’s math-metal, they said. No, it’s technical death metal (later shortened to “tech-deth” to keep people from expecting something like what Pestilence did on Spheres). Finally someone came up with “modern metal,” which many of us use like a catch-all.

The record companies were excited. Musically it was different. This style is accessible to more musicians, in addition to more fans, than the old style. It’s easier to make a reasonable impression of it, at least.

Thematically it was different. It’s everything that rock ‘n’ roll has always been. It’s loud, angry, and chaotic; perfect to disturb parents, which sells albums. Finally, unlike metal, it doesn’t stray into truly dangerous areas of thought. It is more likely to be written from an individual perspective, and less likely to glorify war, disease and death than protest them. Socially, it’s much “safer.”

What made it new was that it wasn’t like the extreme metal before it. However, it shared many techniques in common not just with that generation, but the generation before it. Specifically, many of the composition aspects are similar to those from post-hardcore bands like Fugazi, Rites of Spring, and Botch. These differences distinguished it from death metal in the following ways:

  1. Vocal rhythms. Death metal vocals are more like speed metal, which is to chant out the rhythm of the main riff or chorus phrase. Modern metal vocals are much like hardcore, which uses regularity of intervals between syllables to form a sound of protest. Death metal also prefers monotonic delivery with variant timbre, where hardcore vocals prefer more melodic vocal delivery with invariant timbre.
  2. Riffing. Death metal riffs are phrasal, or written as a flow of power chords forming a phrase or melody, and these fit together to form a narrative with poetic form, meaning that it takes the song from an initial place to a final place with a much different outlook. Modern metal riffs are inherently designed toward circular song constructions, like hardcore, and are based upon radical contrast between each other to suggestdeconstruction, like hardcore. Metal riffs form a synthesis through contrast; hardcore riffs deconstruct through contrast and reject synthesis.
  3. Drumming. Death metal drumming tends to follow the riff changes; modern metal drumming tends to lead the riff changes, anticipating them. In death metal, instruments tend to act in unison. In metalcore, they tend to each work separately and overlap as convenient.
  4. Style. Death metal aims toward unison of all instruments and riffs fitting together to make a larger narrative so as to maintain mood; modern metal, like hardcore before it, seeks to interrupt mood as if a form of protest music.

Critics of the terms “metalcore” and “modern metal” correctly note that these terms are being used as a catch-all. That’s correct, but it’s only part of the story. These terms are being used to describe something that’s not new, but existed before death metal and black metal reached their modern form. It’s an alternate branch of metal’s evolution, upgraded with death metal technique.

For students of metal history, this isn’t surprising. Genres tend to lie dormant in alternating generations, and then pick up on whatever was done well by the intervening generation. For example, power metal is what happens when speed metal and glam metal bands integrate death metal technique. Grindcore occurs when hardcore adopts crust and death metal technique. Speed metal occurs when metal adopts punk technique. By the same token, metalcore is what happens when you mix Fugazi with death metal technique.

This is not an argument against metalcore. If we’re going to like metal, we should understand it; if we’re going to understand it, we should study it; if we study it, we should organize our categories and language so as not to mislead each other. By this analysis, metalcore is an extension not of metal, but of the post-hardcore movement using metal technique, and thus it should be analyzed as more like hardcore instead of having us project our metal expectations upon it.

Soilwork – The Living Infinite

April 12, 2013 –

soilwork-the_living_infiniteIf you ever find yourself wondering why mainstream music produces so many professional and well-produced acts while metal seems pasted-together in comparison, worry no more: Soilwork has invented a new form of radio-friendly metal that competes with the big bands you can hear on the radio.

Much of metal’s heritage is pop. Iron Maiden, Queensryche and even easy-listening death metal like Cannibal Corpse follow the pop formula. What they are not is systematic in listening to their own material, analyzing it, following published research on effective songwriting and thus, consistent. A professional band approaches music like science. Every part of every song must be deliberate, which requires organization and to put it bluntly, work. This anti-hobbyist view threatens metalheads two ways. First, it points out that we could do better, with self-discipline; second, it points out that the world isn’t as simple as “all pop is crap” and “all underground is good.” Pop is musically competent and in many ways surpasses the underground bands.

The Living Infinite manipulates human emotions like a Hollywood mega-movie. All aspects of this work are thoroughly professional. Nothing is left to chance. Every iota is calculated to produce an effect that works together to make a greater whole. Production is also a masterpiece, creating a glassine space that resonates with guitar sound and avoids crowding of the distorted tracks. Every aspect that wants to be heard can be heard, and through the magic of ProTools or an analogue, identical parts are (literally) identical. In itself, the production makes you want to relish this release because it gives it big-radio pop gloss without truly emulsifying the product into uniformity.

The style of the music is designed based on what has become highly popular for metal over the past two decades. If you can imagine Iron Maiden, The Haunted, Rammstein and Amon Amarth in a blender, you can see where Soilwork get their influences. It mixes the sweet dual lead guitar work of NWOBHM with the bouncing riffs and “carnival music” detours of metalcore. You will hear a Blind Guardian influence in the surging choruses and sparkly bright major key vocal melodies, and you could detect later Queensryche’s hybrid of indie rock, glam metal and power metal in its use of vocal hooks and interwoven rhythm lines. There are no ballads, per se; the ballad effect has been swept up in the metal effect, which is itself subsumed in the rock effect.

Soilwork target the audience for guitar-heavy bands like Dire Straights or Rush with the appeal of melodic metal and the positivity of power metal (which has a lot in common with modern Christian rock in this respect). While The Living Infinite may not satisfy the underground or true metal palate, its goal is not to appeal to that audience, but the people out there listening to mainstream rock who are looking for something that goes a bit further without going to a truly dark place. For that purpose, this heavily guitar-oriented band serves as an introduction and baptism into what could eventually become a dangerous metal habit.