Why write bad reviews at all? Good music is rare, and bad is everywhere, but if you do not explicitly identify the failings of bad, most people will find it appealing because it does not interrupt their steady stream of self-centered thoughts and is easier than seeking good. If you like good music and want more of it, you must bash as well as praise, as Machiavelli would tell you. And with that, the latest installment of the Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Article by David Rosales.
Released after Iron Maiden’s golden era, Somewhere in Time is touted by fans of heavy and power metal as a crown jewel of the band, exemplifying perfected expression and streamlined efficiency. This is not immediately convincing for metal hessians. Rightly so as the music became more sterile, hence, less credible. There is definitely a sense of “upgradedness” in both the production and the choice of stylistic voicings, allowing an inclusion of 80s pop coloration into the palette. This unclear, semi-sellout move demanded accountability, while at the same time the band boasted of accumulated experience fructifying the transformation, masterfully avoiding the typical degeneration that could be expected after the climax and summary of their original sound in 1985’s Live After Death.
Article by David Rosales.
I. A Romantic Art
In the past, we have likened the spirit of metal that culminates in death and black metal to that of the literary, romantic movement in Europe. Romanticism was meant to embody ideals of naturalism and individualism in a return to primeval spirituality connecting us with our origins, our surroundings, and a more conscious future. The romantic character of the 19th century stands in glaring opposition to the heavy industrialist upsurge and man-centered utilitarianism of that time. Epitomized metal contrasts with this idea in one important aspect: while artists two centuries ago strived to bring attention to the importance of human subjectivity, underground metal stressed irrelevance of the human vantage point.
In describing metal as a neo-romantic artform we may well be undermining the aspects that define it in its historical and psychological contexts. Historical as each movement is encased in a flow of events linked by causality and psychological, on the other hand because of the relative independence and unpredictability with which leading individuals affront these inevitable developments. Together, these two factors account for freedom of choice within predestination. Even though romanticism and metal were both reactions to the same decadence at different points in time, the latter rejects the former’s inclination towards universal human rights and other products of higher civilization in exchange for a nihilistic realism arising from the laws of nature. Underground metal is a detached representation of a Dark Age; one where power and violence are the rule in which all forms of humanism are hopelessly deluded or simply hypocritical.
The uncontrolled and contrarian character of metal stands at odds with the more self-aware and progressive bent of romanticism. Metal, at least in its purest incarnations, can never be assimilated – something that cannot be said of the older art movement. Pathetic attempts at dragging metal under the mainstream umbrella that abides by status quo ideals often fail catastrophically. When forcefully drawn out before dawn’s break it will inevitably miserably perish upon contact with the sun’s rays like a creature of catacombs and dark night-forests.
Attempting to define metal is as elusive as trying to pinpoint ‘magic’. Outsiders cannot even begin to recognize its boundaries. The mystical, ungraspable, and intuitive nature it possesses attests to this and sets it apart from romanticism in that not even those belonging to it are able to crystallize a proper description. The very substance of the genre is felt everywhere but the innermost sanctum always dissipates under the gaze of the mind’s eye.
II. Romantic Anti-Modernism
Even though it cannot be said that the one defines or encompasses the other, the connection between romanticism and metal nevertheless exists. Aside from the concrete musical link between them which helps us describe metal as a minimalist and electronic romantic art, the abstract connection is more tenuous and related to cyclic recurrence1. Metal is not a revival of romanticism nor its evolution, but perhaps something more akin to its rebellious disciple: a romantic anti-modernism.
The foundation of this anti-modernism is a Nietzschean nihilism standing in stark contrast with hypocritical modernist dogma; it spits in the face of the semantic stupidity of post-modernism. This is a sensible and ever-searching nihilism2 that does not attach itself to a particular point of view but parts from a point of disbelief in any authority. It is a scientific and mystic nihilism for those who can understand this juxtaposition of terms. It does not specialize in what is known as critical thinking but in the empirical openness to possibilities taken with a grain of salt. The first dismisses anything that does not conform to its rigid schemata; the second one allows relativism as a tool with the intention of having subjective views float around while transcending all of them and moving towards unattainable objectivity.
Such transcendentalism connects metal with Plato and Theodoric the Great rather than with Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius. Metal looks beyond modern illusions of so-called freedom and the pleasure-based seeking of happiness. It recognizes that without struggle there can be no treasure and that today’s perennial slack will only lead to complacent self-annihilation. This is why, instead of representing the blossoming of nature in man through the sentimentalisms of romanticism in its attitude above time, to use the words of a wise woman, metal stands stoutly as a form of art against time.
III. Essential Reading for the Metal Nihilist
As an attempt to communicate our understanding of the essence and spirit of underground metal, below are some books through which to start the abstract journey through metal and the metaphysics that moves it.
Theodore John Kaczynski – Industrial Society and Its Future
Albert Mudrian – Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore
Homer – The Illiad
The Bhagavad Gita
J.R.R. Tolkein – The Children of Húrin
Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason
IV. Some Music Recommendations for the Metal Nihilist
We have traditionally presented a certain pantheon of underground death and black metal to which most readers can be redirected at any moment. A different set is presented below that is nonetheless consistent with the writer’s interpretation of Death Metal Underground’s vision.
Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir – Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares
Julian Bream – La Guitarra Barroca
Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time
Not being a connoisseur of cinema in general, the following is but a friendly gesture. This is a loose collection for the transmission of a basic underground metal pathos.
Tous les Matins du Monde
The Witch: A New-England Folktale
Until the Light Takes Us
A 2008 documentary film by Aaron Aites
and Audrey Ewellabout the early 90s
black metal scene in Norway.
Andrei Tarkovsky – Stalker
1This is not the re-happening of the exact same universe that Nietzsche is supposed to have been talking about, but a transcendental recurrence of sorts. What I am trying to express here is the cyclic reappearance of abstract and collective concepts among humans, because they are also part of this universe and as such are subject to such underlying pendulum swings in the forces that move it. Perhaps a better descriptor could have been abstract collective concept reincarnation, but that seemed to convoluted, and cyclic recurrence captures the wider phenomenon, irrespective of what definition academia wants to adhere to.
2This somewhat liberal use of the term nihilism deserves to be explained a little further in order to avoid confusion. By this it is not meant that metal’s outlook consists of nihilism in the ultra-pessimistic sense, in the sense of total defeat, which seems to be the expectancy of most people from nihilism. The idea here is that as an art movement born in the post-modern era, in a civilization that has already been ravaged by nihilism, stripped from relevant cults, metal begins from a posture of extreme skepticism that is extended to everything and everyone. This skepticism is nihilistic because no intrinsic value is placed on anything, yet it is scientific because it is curious and will experiment. Metal’s development dances between nihilism and individualistic transcendentalism.
Back in 1999, Iron Maiden released Ed Hunter, a greatest hits compilation that also included a video game of the same name. The game hasn’t aged well at all (and even in 1999, it was underwhelming). 17 years, though, have wrought enormous changes in the video gaming industries, and thusly, Iron Maiden’s second effort (at least, if you don’t count the minigame released for “Speed of Light”) is under development. Legacy of the Beast describes itself as “an epic free-to-play mobile role playing game, set in the expansive Iron Maiden universe,” and like any bandgame it understandably includes many songs from Iron Maiden’s career, as well as some live recordings that will remain exclusive to the game for some time. Little concrete information has been released on how this game will actually play, but a signup for a mailing list on the game’s webpage suggests upcoming information in the near future…
Article by David Rosales
This very entertaining cover of Iron Maiden’s song ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ as performed by a bass clarinet quartet was posted on Youtube a few years ago. The instruments take on the melodic lines of the song, which was aptly selected as it is rich in them. This experiment is not only fun to listen to but interesting in how a different instrumentation highlights one aspect of the music while utterly losing a whole dimension exploited by the original composition.
The clarity of melody and harmony is quite enhanced here and so their study and appreciation by the guitar student seeking to learn and emulate this aspect of the song will greatly benefit from this adaptation. However, the loss of the power chord, and particularly the power chord played on the distorted electric guitar means the loss of an ocean of artificial artifacts that form the bulk of the richness of sound of the instrument and which lend metal and hard rock music one of its distinctive aural characteristics.
The necessary absence of the drum set is seen by the more classically-oriented music fan or musician as, perhaps, negligible, but this is only because of the widespread ignorance (either through pop culture or academic music indoctrination) about the relevance of percussion in metal. Contrary to the now-traditional view of percussion as a less important aspect of music (which, in fact, flies in the face of many traditional folk musics around the world, where it is recognized and studied by academicians yet still seen with derision as “primitive”), this reliance that metal has exhibited in increasing amounts is not a measure of scarcity of content or artistic deficiency, but rather the appearance of an unknown variable.
Metal percussion in its most advanced states, that is, in its use in the more artistically (as opposed to technically) developed subgenres of death and black metal shows a usage and expansion that just does not exist in traditional or experimental classical music. As such, academicians have no precedent by which to measure or qualify this. They should perform field research, they should listen, but they are too comfortable and busy feeling self-important. This is the sad state of the intellectually self-gratifying (and ‘morally’ bankrupt) art that results from two centuries of overarching materialism, corruption and decay.
Many would point to the obvious origin of metal percussion in traditional rock, and that is factually right, yet its use and direction has gone far beyond it and in some cases taken cues even from electronic music (especially in the case of some black metal)and jazz music (in the case of some death metal). Metal percussion incorporates aspects of these and has built a whole new art out of it that could be considered the more spiritual child of the pleasure-oriented and technically-nuanced jazz (Editor’s note: DMU has written about this very hypothesis in the deep past).
The future and refinement of metal this metal percussion should not to reside in the empty groove explorations of fusion as seen in djent nor in the facetious exercises of tekdeth which may even borrow directly from genres such as samba in their search for “entertaining and interesting” bits to play, regardless of how this may affect the character of the music. Also defunct inside are the dead-end and superficial attempts at applications of abstract concepts in nu-black metal and war metal. As in all other aspects of the already-cemented, fully-formed language of metal, the role of its percussion and its abstract concepts have been made known implicitly in the music of the classics. Go, listen, study, learn, apply.
Popularity contests are good for one thing only: determining the degree of decadence the mentality of a certain group. Given the state of sedation and apathy of the general public, it is no surprise that this list shows the contemptible character and inability for self-criticism and assessment the average man is aflicted with. Also, like anything mainstream, very little here is actually metal, even in spirit. Loute Vire especializes in democracy, bringing the average stupidity back to the average person, feeding them their own filth.
1. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
Free us from Glam-rhythm Maiden. Character-wise, this nu mid-paced Iron Maiden is a combination of eighties hair metal, power-doom-epic metal in the vein of Candlemass but with the emphasis of catchy Murican posturing. Structurally, it manages to be both formulaic and pointless in its overextension, basically taking the worst from both worlds. Iron Maiden have become the kings of posturing, and even if butthurt fans complain, one must say that this downfall was evident ever since Somewhere in Time and was pretty evident with Seventh Son of the Seventh Son. Stick to 1985’s Live After Death as a synthesis of the band’s golden era and you’ll be fine. Stop feeding Steve Harris’ ego machine.
2. Ghost – Meliora
Caricature music that disguises carnival thinking by providing a steady, unchanging background. Ghost know how to fool the enemy, the audience is hooked, distracted by fireworks to the right and to the left, without realizing they are paying for an empty but colorful cardboard box. Ghost, master deceivers, everything is so in your face, that the decadent masses love the fake but safe entertainment that ironic bullshit provides. Surely this would also be released in vinyl format, that’s what hipsters do. They need to keep piling up appearances and hip products. The best thing you can do with one of these is break it and use the shards to cut the throats of Ghost fans.
3. Tribulation – The Children of the Night
This hard rock-ish outfit is probably what Opeth would sound like if they focused on their weirdo rock side instead of jumping around genres without musical justifications or proper transitions, or if Ghost took itself seriously and had a little talent. Tribulation’s may be the best album on this list, as pop and hook-based as it is, it retains the basic decency of proper music in its continuity and coherence. The focus is completely on the guitar lines. Unfortunately, songs do lapse as they are overstretched for the false ‘complexity’ appearance that hipsters, high school nerds and college SJWs like. Worthy of from radio airtime, not more, no less.
(Editor’s note: You know a band is bad when it gets double-SMR‘ed.)
4. Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud
I may not have been paying enough attention but, when did this originally Finnish death metal band turn into American high school rock balladers with queer Scandinavian leads? (Editor’s note: It began in 1994.) Amorphis seems to have abandoned all sense of pride for a couple of more greens. This is selling out clearly exemplified. Bands, this is what you should not do. Fans, you will only find plastic here.
5. Enslaved – In Times
Progressive rock for those who lack the subtlety for progressive rock. Black metal for those too soft to brave the intellectual challenge of not being a sheep. This is long-winded pop and rock artificially styled to appear complex for insecure posers.
6. Between the Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic
Dream Theater meets Avenged Sevenfold with a strong Pink Floyd influence. How do these guys manage to sound exactly the same again yet be so vague in content? All semblance of continuity here, apart from tonality, is only maintained at some cerebral level in the imagination of the band or of the fans who will like any catchy & ‘complex’ turd that distracts them from their monotonous lives. The music itself is a disparaged parade of funny moments.
7. High on Fire – Luminiferous
Speed metal on the outside, borish NWOBHM on the inside. This gets old quick and leaves no mark. Like many others, it tries to be an updated, more tough version of Motorhead, and use the old excuse of just “wanting to play good ole rock”. Forgettably redneckish.
8. Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman
It is difficult not to laugh when listening to this macho-man bullshit for young, white posers. However bombastically pop and girly these songs are, they flow well. On the downside, the band never develops or resolves songs, meaning they are only good as groove and hook inducing. Radio garbage.
9. Paradise Lost – The Plague Within
Boring as ever, or perhaps more than ever, Paradise Lost is still trying to make the album they almost achieve with their earliest music. Never rising above potential mediocrity, this band is a collection of dull moments peppered with pleasing leads. An unexpected heir to this hooky combination of candy and nutrition-less filler is Sylosis. Anyone looking for a casual hit may dig into some of the tracks here, otherwise, refer to classic underground so-called doom metal.
10. Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things
Alternating angsty with pretty boy vocals, the mark of immaturity. Groove-based music without a clear thematic line, the mark of an empty mind. So, this is basically unthinking, puerile nonsense for people who want to “feel” metal but do not actually like metal. Destroy not only any copies of this but the factories and corporate buildings in charge of producing this mindless heap of catchy garbage.
Iron Maiden’s main strength in their 1980s heyday was their ability to incorporate progressive rock tropes (and therefore useful techniques for song variation and extension) into what was otherwise a fairly standard, if well executed poppy heavy metal sound. Not the rarest trick in the book, but more than enough to turn the band into a commercial juggernaut whose influence can sometimes be heard even in the deepest dregs of the underground.
On first impression, The Book of Souls ages gracefully, offering an aesthetic mostly similar to the band’s earliest recordings with Bruce Dickinson if understandably and obviously brought up to modern production standards. Like the rest of the band’s latter day material however, it leans ever closer towards its prog-isms, resulting in several enormous tracks and inflating the content into a full-fledged double album. The unfortunate weakness of these epics is that they are replete with filler of questionable value to a track, and as the length of these albums and tracks grow ever longer, so does the tedium, as Iron Maiden’s ability to extend a track beyond 7-8 minutes or so has not advanced along with them. Tracks end up overwhelmed by moments stunningly reminiscent of old hooks and hit singles (for instance, the intro of “Shadows of the Valley” seems to channel “Wasted Years” from Somewhere In Time), and the true nature of the band’s recent weakness reveals itself.
Iron Maiden has become a band split between two souls that they are unable to effectively reconcile. Their urge to extend their songwriting and write metal epics is held back by their need to continuously sound like Iron Maiden and the corresponding need to push hit singles. Paring down some of the worst excesses would probably be the most profitable option, since the band has demonstrated many times through their career that they can handle some degree of extension. Even then, Iron Maiden is competing with their own past; a past that is more virile (if not as slickly produced or musically experienced) and still easily experienced at their live concerts. I expect this album to jump off the shelves of record shores for still being recognizably Iron Maiden, for having some memorable and well-written moments and for being a valid way to financially support the band, but as a work of music, I don’t expect it to retain much listener interest after its marketing blitz subsides.
Sounding like an Iron Maiden with the annoying voice from Queensryche’s vocalist from back in the day, Iron Kingdom make melodic heavy metal with the flexibility and propriety of conscious progressive rock. A very clear image of the character, lyrical theme and direction of the music arises through discrete but carefully-considered decisions to express the next clause with a literal musical change to match its change in words.
While the music could be described as progressive upon first impression, the result is closer to an extended and twisted pop-song format in which the pieces and functions are maintained but considerable variety is introduced. While some would object to this description, this is precisely what a progressive music arising from verse-chorus-bridge music should sound like: music that evolves to underpin the lyrical events taking place in the story being told. The vocals are kept within the framework of the music in a unified way through a composition of the melody line that strictly adheres to the moving harmony under it, rather than flying around in opera-like expression that takes a slow-moving support harmony as licence and liberty to stand out on its own. In here, the voice is a melodic instrument working in between the guitars and riding them (see Ozzy Obourne), not jumping on them as if they were trampolines (see Bruce Dickinson, Ronny James Dio).
Succeeding over the grandpa metal with progressive pretensions of post-2000 Iron Maiden by injecting a dose of proper progressive music with the influence of Queensryche, Iron Kingdom give us songs that actually progress and not just long, over-drawn affairs with over-extended bridge sections. While Ride for Glory is undeniably a song collection, the amount of content, its purpose within each song and their consistency track after track in all aspects while giving a distinctive-enough identity to each song give the album a chapters-in-a-story-like feeling of succession that while not altogether literal, can be felt from the music. Obviously an experienced band, Iron Kingdom know exactly what they are doing and more importantly the music is full with purpose, giving Ride for Glory a strong feeling of meaningfulness.
Following the example of Kreator in Phantom Antichrist, Scythian unite riffing approaches from different metal subgenres under the banner of traditional heavy metal and growled or barked vocals, with a result along the lines of the so-called melodic death metal. In contrast with the noteworthy release Thy Black Destiny, by Sacramentum, Hubris in Excelsis does not coalesce into a thing of its own but just floats around as the result of spare parts being put together to form an undefined, impersonal and disparate heavy metal record. In this, and its revolving around the vocals it is more akin to the Iron Maiden – inclined heavy metal which sets one foot on hard-rock land, using disconnected riffs only as rhythm and harmony to carry the voice.
We hear doom metal proceedings and textures typical of black metal, but these are usually encapsulated within sections. These sections are used in conventional rock-song functionality. What determines this rock versus metal approach? Basically, the total relationship of riffs and sections to voice and in between themselves. Rock (and hard rock after it) carries the music after the vocal lines (thus we can see the slight influence of hard rock over Slayer in South of Heaven even though it doesn’t fully give in to the tendency to disqualify it as a metal record). The key tell-tale sign after this is the lack or at least a downplay of motif-relation between parts of the song, the support for main melody or vocal line becoming the most important and prominent element. The effect of this often results in something similar but in the end different from metalcore: disparate parts tied loosely by a certain background consistency (usually harmony for rock and rhythms or motifs drowned in an ocean of contrasts for metalcore).
The plentiful references to many different genres extending all the way to cliche-ridden pagan black metal may throw off the attempts of most to nail down what Hubris in Excelsis actually is, what it consists of and what its essence ultimately is. Hubris in Excelsis is indeed a title that reflects this album beyond their intended concept. Hubris, an excess of self-confidence, often at the expense of prudence and seemliness, is placed in a position of glory, giving way to veiled expressions of ego that disregard any sense of coherence and little consistency beyond the most superficial.
The terms bardic or minstrel metal have often been used to describe bands that usually sing in a clear voice and with anthemic overtones, often imitate medievalesque motifs and write lyrics in the manner of romanticized ancient legends. Generally, the metal subgenre most readily associated with bardic expression is power metal because they advertise themselves as modern-day minstrels and theirs is the kind of catchy and upbeat music most people can latch on to most easily. The bardic spirit along with the culture it transmits, however, requires a sturdier medium that is able to etch its runes indelibly without detracting from the importance of their message.
Power metal could be described as a blend of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden mixed with the energy of speed metal. The influence of Ritchie Blackmore cannot be overstated either. In time, they developed their own tropes and particular voices that set them apart from their Briton godfathers. Bands making music in this style are known for an overt expression and presentation that falls just a little short from that of the despicable glam metal. More often than not, these theatrical habits and indulgences overshadow both the content of the music and the words, both of which come close to becoming only an excuse for narcissistic expression. The persona takes precedence over the message.
A sensible division of terms would be advisable here since the words bard and minstrel actually denote two very similar but different traditions. The bard was said to be an itinerant poet who, with the help of music, kept traditions and values alive through stories and legends written in meter. The minstrel made its most significant appearances in courts. Its main job was to entertain the nobility. The latter job’s description often overlaps with that of a jester whose curriculum included clownish acts like juggling. Here is where we find the most apt description for bands like Helloween or Blind Guardian, who willingly and naively took the latter term for themselves.
In lieu of this minstrel metal, a bardic one, with enduring power to carry and transmit the word by giving it the place of honor, is needed. Firstly, any musical tradition with this aim must achieve an optimal balance between being both evocative and submerging yet enveloping the words so that these are propelled forward, emphasized, given contour and colour. Secondly, this is metal. And as proper metal, the riff must lead.