A brief retrospective of Slayer

September 13, 2014 –

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Slayer blasted their way into the underground metal scene in 1983. Metal had just shifted; the genre of Black Sabbath got taken over by the Led Zeppelin fans, resulting in glam and arena rock, and was just being taken back by a DIY movement via speed metal. Inspired by that speed metal movement, Slayer took their music in a slightly different direction.

“Heavy metal and British punk, that’s what we are.” The four young men from Southern California shaped their music by instinct, applying the techniques of punk to the most intense moments of heavy metal. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Angel Witch, GBH and Discharge. It all went into the blender and the result emerged more vicious than ever before.

Woodstock – Los Angeles, CA – March 28, 1983

The Keystone – Berkeley, CA – January 27, 1984

The Country Club – Reseda, CA – September 1, 1984

Heavy Sound Festival – Poperinge, Belgium – May 26, 1985

Dynamo Club – Eindhoven, Netherlands – May 28, 1985

The Ritz – New York City – June 12, 1986

Felt Forum – New York City – August 31, 1988

Clash of the Titans – Genk, Belgium September 22, 1990

Show No Mercy reflected more of a heavy metal bias, still hanging on to the grandeur of the 1970s. By Hell Awaits, Slayer forged their own style, inspired in part by the minimalism of the Haunting the Chapel EP. Even more, the band discovered a mythology in Satanic rebellion against a world where the term “good” meant obedient, oblivious and zombie-like in pursuit of individual pleasure at the expense of realism. They hated this world, and branded it with an inverted cross in rage at its existence. This outlook was healthier than the pleading resentment of the protest rock bands and less dead-end apathetic than what punk became. Metal had a new voice.

With the next album, Reign in Blood, Slayer pulled out all stops and most melody to create the ultimate hardcore album. The metal elements infused riff structure and song structure but its energy was pure hardcore punk, the raging album that The Exploited and Black Flag always had wanted to birth. In the 1980s, endorsing Satan and singing about the dark underbelly lurking beneath our happy commercial Utopia was in itself a life sentence of exclusion. Slayer wore it with pride and as people caught on to the new music, the most extreme band in underground metal headed toward the dead center of the genre.

In response, Slayer did what few bands have the guts to do: they backtracked from their nihilistic extreme and made a melodic album, but kept the melody constrained to a sense of dark atmosphere that would not be revisited until black metal exploded four years later. South of Heaven immersed the listener in pure mood and then manipulated it to create an unnerving experience of getting in touch with emotion by leaving behind all that is human. This was the peak of Slayer and represented the end of their emotional involvement with their own music, thus afterwards they pursued ideas that others had made popular and successful, hoping to make their own form of the alien.

Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground by Jason Netherton

July 7, 2014 –

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Jason Netherton (Dying Fetus, Misery Index) created his history of death metal called Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground by letting members of the community tell their stories. This book compiles interviews with death metal bands, artists, writers and label owners. It organizes these into five topic areas which makes it easier to find specifics in the book, and by grouping like stories together breaks up the repetition that massed interviews normally have. The result provides a good background in the history and experience of the rise of the death metal genre.

Netherton’s use of topic areas allows band statements to be taken as a whole on the theme and to expand upon it without becoming repetition of similar questions and answers that un-edited interviews tend toward. Some may be put off by the lack of narrative tying these together, but the upside of that situation is that there is little extraneous text outside of what the actors in this scene said themselves. The only weak spot may be that since the highlight is clearly the old school bands, the inclusion of newer bands becomes extraneous when compared with the old.

The following and others contributed to the content of hte book: Luc Lemay (Gorguts), Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse), King Fowley (Deceased), Stephan Gebidi (Thanatos, Hail of Bullets), Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity), Doug Cerrito (Suffocation), John McEntee (Incantation, Funerus), Marc Grewe (Morgoth), Ola Lindgren (Grave), Kam Lee (ex-Massacre, ex-Death), Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, Lock Up), Robert Vigna and Ross Dolan (Immolation), Esa Linden (Demigod), Dan Seagrave (Artist), Rick Rozz (ex-Death, Massacre), Steve Asheim (Deicide), Jim Morris (Morrisound Studios), Terry Butler (Obituary, Massacre, ex-Death), Mitch Harris (Napalm Death, Righteous Pigs), Robin Mazen (Derketa, Demonomacy), Ed Warby (Gorefest, Hail of Bullets), Andres Padilla (Underground Never Dies! book), Donald Tardy (Obituary), Paul Speckmann (Master, Abomination), Phil Fasciana (Malevolent Creation), Tony Laureno (ex-Nile, ex-Angelcorpse), Alan Averill (Primordial, Twilight of the Gods), Alex Okendo (Masacre), and Lee Harrison (Monstrosity).

The topic division of the book begin with the origins of death metal and then branch out to its diversification, and then areas of experience such as recording and touring. The final section addresses the future of metal. The material of most interest to me personally was at the front of the book where the old school bands talked about what inspired them and how the scene came together. It was like witnessing a revolution secondhand. In these sections, the most compelling accounts come from the people who are longest in the game as they are explaining the literal genesis of the process. Within each section, individual speakers identified by band write lengthy revelations to which the editors have added helpful captions. The result makes it easy to read or skim for information. Many of this book’s most ardent readers will find themselves doing a lot of skimming because the information here works as an excellent concordance to many of the other books on death metal or metal history and can reinforce or amplify what you find there.

We were all very much into underground music. Early on we were into Venom, Angel Witch and Motorhead, and later it evolved into bands like Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and Slayer. We wanted to play like them, and that is pretty much why we picked up the instruments in the first place.

With Massacre we were calling the music death metal pretty much from the beginning. We liked a lot of thrash, but to us a lot of it was just a bit too happy and the rhythms were a bit “too dancey.” Of course there were darker thrash albums like Bonded by Blood from Exodus, but even by the first demos we were calling it death metal. I mean, it’s not death metal as you know it today, but those demos were certainly founding releases in the death metal genre in terms of style. Of course, there are no blast beats or anything, but it was a combination of dark rhythms, the dark lyrics, and rough vocals that separated it from thrash. The term death metal had started getting kicked around with Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. We also knew of the Possessed demos, and it was in that tradition that we were referring to ourselves as death metal.

Some of the statements by later bands or bands that are not really death metal seemed like revisionist history but that is to be expected, since every band has to self-promote and include itself in whatever it can. This book utterly shines in the lengthy statements by founders of the genre that explain how it came to be, the thought process at the time and some of the experiences bands underwent. Be ready for blood, vomit and death in the touring section, and prepare yourself for some gnarly old school history in the other parts. By the rules of information itself, it is impossible to craft a metal history that pleases everyone. Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground takes the approach that Glorious Times did and amplifies it by getting longer statements and not relying on pictures, and it adds its unique and vital voice to the canon of books on the history of death metal.

The danger of obscurity bias

April 20, 2014 –

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Obscurity bias arises from our desire to discover hidden essential influences in the past. In metal, it is the search not only for concealed gems but for lost ancestors of our favorite music.

This thinking is a variation on our perpetual quest for more alternatives. We look at what’s there and think we want something better. This ignores the basic rule of life that usually what’s wrong is a lack of quality, not need for another alternative.

When we look back for historical alternatives, we are seeking to avoid the obvious historical truth: there are few ancestors because few necessary steps lie between 1969, when Black Sabbath recorded the first proto-metal record, and today.

Metal, punk and prog evolved in the 1968-1969 period in parallel, and since then have been trying to find a hybrid equilibrium that preserves the heavy worldview of metal, the intensity of punk and the complexity of prog without falling into the bluster, one-dimensionality and incomprehensibility that are the downfall of each respectively. With underground metal, arguably the last genres with any intelligence in metal, we ended up with metal riffing, punk strumming speed, and progressive rock song structures with underground metal, and that worked pretty well.

What happened after the initial invention was a hiccup. The music industry invented proto-glam by trying to make Deep Purple/Led Zeppelin bands “heavy” enough for the new Black Sabbath audience. What happened was that they made rock-metal, and while it was popular, it didn’t satisfy the core audience. After the hiccup metal retaliated with NWOBHM, most importantly Motorhead, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. The next generation combined those to make speed metal; the generation after that mixed in the punk that arose after Motorhead, hardcore punk, which was far more extreme and less musically related to rock music than anything which had come before.

In 1982, Discharge released Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing. The following year, all hell broke loose. Metallica unleashed their first album, starting speed metal. Slayer took off on a separate tangent. While both these bands were partially inspired by Venom, it was more in an aesthetic sense than a musical one, because if you remove the rough playing and bad production, Venom is basically Motley Crue. Slayer in particular took more from the punk side of things and made chromatic riffs and elaborate internal song structures where Metallica followed more of the rock format harmonically and used fairly standard song structures, except for their prog-influenced instrumentals.

Thus by 1985 we had Slayer, Hellhammer, Sepultura, Bathory and Sodom making proto-underground metal; by 1986, Morbid Angel had formalized the style. If anything, the Death and Deicide assault of the next two years brought death metal back toward the speed metal — Metallica, Exodus, Prong, Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Testament, Megadeth, Anthrax — of the previous five years. Death metal took on a life of its own when it escaped that with releases like the first Incantation, Massacre, Morpheus Descends, Massacra, Carnage and Pestilence releases with the turn of the decade. These brought metal back to its Slayer-Hellhammer-Bathory nexus, with tremolo strumming and labyrinthine song structures, and away from the more speed metal song structures of Death and Deicide. Black metal grew out of the melodic death metal bands who started structuring their songs using melodies, not riffs alone, and thus needed less of a drum-dominated approach. That brought them closer to the original punk sound, but kept the metal method of making riffs.

So what’s with the search for missing ancestors?

Black Sabbath creating proto-metal in 1969 was no accident. The band sought to find a new sound. They also realized the hippie movement was in the process of grossly selling itself out, having gone from a form of protest to a lifestyle of dissolution through mental obesity. It was time to kick over that false figurehead and do something new. Coming from a prog-tinged background, they invented something that sounded a lot like progressive rock, if it weren’t addicted to a dark and foreboding approach.

The message of Black Sabbath more than anything else was that truth is staring us in the face. People make a lot of noise to cover everything in flowers, sex and brotherhood, but really underneath it all a darker reality threatens. Most people are crazy. Most ideas form mass delusion of the herd. And these people have nuclear weapons, and control of economies, and other methods of taking these screwups to an exponential level. Every teen rock ‘n’ roll band sings about how the world is crazy, in part because it is crazy. Punk bands expanded upon this with an outlook of total nihilism at first, and later a kind of comfortable anarchism combined with genteel progressivism. These outlooks helped drive the evolution of genres to express a sound that was more rootless (punk) and more apocalyptic (metal) as time went on. This made it clear to each generation what the next would sound like.

The scary fact is that we can navigate metal based on a few nodal points. First, Black Sabbath, King Crimson and Iggy and the Stooges; next, after the proto-glam years, the NWOBHM triad of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Motorhead plus the punk music that simultaneously wracked the UK (Discharge, Amebix, The Exploited) and US (Cro-Mags, Black Flag). Death metal would have arisen from these alone, but Venom accelerated the process aesthetically, although took a step back musically toward the bad old days of proto-glam. It was natural that death metal bands would experiment more with melody, and so black metal was an obvious outgrowth of this.

All of that leads me to today’s topic: Terminal Death, whose 1985 demo and other recordings have been released as Terminal Death by Shadow Kingdom Records. Their press release states:

TERMINAL DEATH: One of the first DEATH METAL bands 1985!!!!!

When you talk about the earliest Death Metal bands, we think of SEPULTURA, DEATH, POSSESSED (all stemming from VENOM) right off the top, but there were a few ripping bands that quickly fell into obscurity and TERMINAL DEATH is one of those bands. This is not just an obscure band; they could have been a HUGE Death Metal band if they were signed to the right label back then. They certainly had all of the talent the aforementioned bands did. Their 1985 Demo tape screams with energy and intensity! This is a re-mastered collection of their complete and very short-lived career. The CD booklet is massive with a very in-depth and lengthy interview done by Laurent from Snakepit Magazine. There aren’t that many Death Metal bands can come close to how amazing these songs were. This collection is another snapshot of that amazing early Slayer-esque Death Metal. Co-founder Shaun Glass, whom also co-found SINDROME later joined the more well known classic Death Metal band BROKEN HOPE in the early 1990’s. Shadow Kingdom Records teamed up with Hells Headbangers Records to release this lost gem as a Double LP. If you’re into vinyl, keep your eyes peeled for it will be a glorified presentation.

Let’s look at this historically. By 1985, the big three of death metal — Slayer, Hellhammer and Bathory — had already recorded. Then we listen to Terminal Death. For the most part, this is simplified speed metal at a punk pace, more in common with early Sacrifice than the death metal to follow. Not only that, but Deathstrike had already beat it to the punk/metal hybrid of that era. OK, so what? I don’t consider that important, other than that it somewhat contradicts the marketing. Let’s look at the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s also not very inspired. Lots of chromatic riffs, drums kind of struggle to keep up, and heavy repetition with standard song form. There’s a reason this band took a back seat to the other influences on the rising death metal movement. It’s not bad, but it’s not great.

The DLP doesn’t look bad, but it’s unnecessary. It’s basically the 1985 demo plus three unreleased songs and several other versions of the demo songs. It might make more sense, since the album is appealing to people who want early proto-death metal, to release the 1985 demo with the three unreleased songs for a CD that presents this band at its best. Hopefully SK will do that in the future. But the question for metalheads now is why to buy this. Its historical significance is not really that great, and the music is not exceptional either. With that in mind, I’d say Terminal Death is something we can bypass.

Defending metal before the internet

February 13, 2014 –

apple_iic

The Internet grew out of 1960s DARPA projects and has been with us a long time. Most of us however only began to explore it after September 1993 when AOL began mailing out all those free disks that allowed anyone (and they meant, Satan help us, literally anyone) to get on the internet. After that, the Internet became public property.

But before those times, in the days of the late 1970s through early 1990s, the BBS was king. Someone would set up a home computer on a second phone line, install and configure (or hand-code) some software, and then send out the word to others friends on their own BBSs. People traded files and wrote messages to one another, both private (email) and public (forums).

During the later days of that phenomenon, a user named Starmaster opted to defend heavy metal against accusations laid against it in a text-file known as Heavy Metal: The Untold Truth, translated here from the raw text file:

Intro:

They say it is devil music. They say it is Satanic. They also mention it being the source of many teen-age suicides. Why, do you ask? Well, this file is hopefully going to bring that point to light. Finally, just when you thought everyone was against you, you have found the truth in Heavy Metal: The Untold Truth.

We, the listeners of heavy metal, have been called many a thing. Metalheads, headbangers, pieces of scum. But, why do people continually call us that? Is it because we are a minority among other listeners of music? Is it because they think we deserve it, because we refuse to listen to “their” music? Whatever the reason, for two decades now, people are still believing that everyone who listens to heavy metal is Satanic or something along that line. Have psychologists proven that striking a chord on a guitar with distortion causes the mind to turn into an uncontrollable atmosphere of evil thoughts? I think not, and the reason many think they way they do is because of the lyrics to the songs.

The lyrics are often portrayed as the root of the evil in heavy metal. One might call it is the root of all evil is in the music that the children listen to. The lyrics themselves do not imply anything such as Satan worshiping or suicide. More times than not, the lyrics sing about the cold harsh reality that befalls us all in this world. Destruction, corruption, and many things pertaining to the real-time life of people are what cause these rumors of heavy metal. Megadeth for example sing about the destruction of the planet and the corruption and manipulation of a person’s mind. Why would “normal” people listen to the horrors of real-life, when they can live in a fantasy world created by Debbie Gibson?

The harsh reality portrayed in Metallica’s tape And Justice for All is another example of the manipulation and corruption of a politician’s mind. The lyrics often speak of revolution also, such as in Queenryche’s tape Operation: Mindcrime. They imply, “Why should we have to live in a world ruled by those who can afford it, when we could be living in a much better place?” If you have read any of Metallica’s, Megadeth’s or Queensryche’s lyrics, you’ll know where I am coming from.

Another coincidence that is often blamed on heavy metal is suicide. Think about it this way. When real-time life hits you through a song, and you’re not prepared for it, you might just say fuck it, and go off the deep end. People need to be more prepared to face reality when they turn on Megadeth or Nuclear Assault.

The music itself is often and crunching to the mind. One might call it noise, but to those of us who understand it as music, it often resembles the lyrics in many ways. A good example of this is in And Justice for All. When listening to this tape, the music often prepares the listener for a cold and harsh representation of life. Such as in “One,” the intro with the helicopter puts the listener in Vietnam. The music then turns from a sad, painful melody into a hard, cold, highly distorted melody that depicts the character’s hatred toward life. This is a remarkable example of what the music part of the songs is all about. It is to set the mood. Want to live in fantasy? Go listen to Milli Vanilli. Set to take a first class ticket tour through real life? Listen to Metallica.

Slower music sets a nice pace for the slower, less knowledgeable minds. One might call a headbanger “dumb,” but nine times out of ten, the guy will survive the onslaught of political mindgames better than the smartest “normal” person would. It is much harder for a “headbanger” to be brainwashed by politicians because of the music he or she has listened to for years.

If you are a metalhead, read carefully the last few paragraphs. It is the true reason heavy metal, acid rock or whatever you call it, came around. To make people aware and to keep people from being brainwashed into mindless cyborgs that revolve around one who can afford the company. Believe me when I tell you that heavy metal is not all the noise that it seems to be; it is much more than that. It is a way of life to many.

From: Starmaster… To keep those who want to be knowledgeable full of knowledge. And to keep the pricks, pricking.

While this piece may have been written by a non-professional and inexperienced writer, he or she makes some good points. Let’s look at some of the highlights:

  • The lyrics sing about the cold harsh reality that befalls us all in this world. This is not protest music, where people complain, or idealistic music, where they sing about what might be. It is descriptive music that portrays the world in a way people cannot see through the fog of consumerism, politics and socialization.
  • The lyrics ask, “Why should we live in a world ruled by commerce, when we could be living in a much better place?” This paraphrase cuts to the core of the underground metal argument: as soon as money shows up, our priorities shift from reality to money and bad results come of that.
  • [The music] often resembles the lyrics. He makes a good point here. Metal’s harsh riffs are often shaped into song by the lyrics, and the two work together. It is as if the music is a delivery system for the lyrics, like ancient Greek theatre where music and drama were used to convey essentially philosophical messages.
  • [A headbanger] will survive the onslaught of political mindgames better than the smartest “normal” person would. This is the actual theme of the piece: politicians/money preach obliviousness and most people choose that path because they’re afraid. Metal is for those who want to go beyond and result the false world created by politics, money and popularity.
  • And to keep the pricks, pricking. This one is up for grabs. If you have a plausible interpretation, post it in the comments.

For what it was, a single text file uploaded onto a BBS somewhere in 1990s America, this document covers a wide range of topics and has a fairly depth-seeking thesis. Perhaps metal was stronger when more people thought like this.

Why Hellhammer’s Satanic Rites is possibly the most important metal record ever made

July 4, 2013 –

hellhammer-satanic_ritesMost people place the birth of black and death metal somewhere between Venom’s first album Welcome to Hell (1981) and Bathory’s third full-length Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987). The exact moment of divergence from ancestors depends on the speaker’s level of metal puritanism and their favorite albums are from that era, and can sometimes seem a trivial dichotomy. Moot though it may be, my pick for the first discernible piece of death/black metal music is also, more importantly, the moment at which metal realizes it can be more than just warmed-over rock music.

Tom Warrior and co will forever be canonised in the metal pantheon for the early Hellhammer and Celtic Frost releases, which collectively shaped the sound of metal in a way that is only really matched by Slayer (who were probably influenced by Hellhammer in their change of sound between Show no Mercy and Haunting the Chapel). The first couple of Hellhammer demos however were only really third rate crust punk/Venom rip off played by three young guys who didn’t really know what they were doing. With the third demo and the introduction of Martin Ain to the writing team though, Hellhammer began introducing ideas that weren’t immediately noticed or appreciated by the rest of the world, prompting the band to less than twelve months later reconstitute itself as Celtic Frost and spend most of the next three decades trying to bury the Hellhammer name and the material associated with it.

Many of the tracks on Satanic Rites are in much the same vein as the first two demos, although better played and with greater surety about the morbid chromatic rock riffs. However, with “Buried and Forgotten,” and to a slightly lesser extent “Triumph of Death,” there is a real ‘eureka’ moment. Verse-chorus-verse, single groove writing gives way to longer structures that piece together like musical jigsaw puzzles, reminiscent of the best moments of Black Sabbath made more twisted and involving. The grimmer, more elemental, less blues-rocky riffs of Hellhammer also hint at emergent melodic shapes, whose detail unfurls piecemeal over the course of the track.

“Buried and Forgotten” for a little over two and half minutes builds one riff atop another towards an emotional plateau, each one referencing some element (however small) of the one that preceded it. The rest of the track then recombines and repeats all the material amassed over the course of the opening part, changing the order of and implied relationship between riffs. All except one slightly dodgy contrasting riff towards the end (which stands out by a mile), is built out of the same basic pool of ideas, and so each can be moved about and fit back together again as they are and create a neat, logical song structure.

This streamlined song-writing mentality also filters down quite brilliantly into the track “Messiah,” which is probably the most well-known, heavily covered Hellhammer song, and a borderline genius exercise in metal song-writing fundamentalism. Effectively the entire song is crafted out of one interval (the space between two notes, denoting their relationship to each other): a minor 2nd (or semitone), the smallest interval in regular Western music. Everything from the ponderous two-note verse riff, to the creeping chorus motif of four descending consecutive semitones, to the brief bridge section made up of the same rumbling low E that drives the verse and a major 7th above that (which, deceptively, is just an inversion of a minor 2nd, and so basically the same note relationship as nearly everything that has come before it in the song).

All of a sudden the focus shifted from form (and the resulting dramatic arc it creates) as something that comes from solely juxtaposing contrasting elements, to something that can grow out of only a tiny number of ideas, and through clever variation and development can became something much more journey-like. This makes this music unlike rock, jazz and more recent false-metal, and more like a Beethoven symphony or a Bach fugue. Needless to say, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Hellhammer is equal to the work of Bach. What I am saying however is that both classical music and the more inspired moments of this demo proceed from a similar sort of underlying sense of elegance in developing things methodically out of smaller details into bigger, consistent ideas.

The version of “Triumph of Death” on this demo is inferior to the one on Apocalyptic Raids (which has, surely, one of the greatest metal vocal performances anywhere, ever) and as far as Celtic Frost/Hellhamer goes my favourite work is probably To Mega Therion. Still, it’s hard to understate just how important this demo and the ideas it set in motion are to all of the metal that has followed it. Underground metal not only became scarier, heavier and less po-faced after Hellhammer, but from this demo (and the Celtic Frost/Hellhammer works that followed it) metal inherited a paradigm that enabled the construction of more complex, distinctive songs and would come to define underground metal.

A generation passes on, and the world wakes up to metal

May 25, 2013 –

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Kids of the 1980s were flatfooted out of luck when it came to heavy metal. The newspapers of the time all condemned it as leading kids to Satan, drug abuse, and promiscuous sex. Politicians mentioned it as a sign of the moral decay of our society, and the general view was that metalheads were dirty, stupid, incompetent and probably sociopathic.

But then, much as the 1960s were 20 years behind that time, 20 years and change passed…. and suddenly the kids of the 1980s were the good workers, family people, responsible adults, etc. of the 2010s. Time warps forward and catches up with itself, and suddenly the past is not so misunderstood. It is in fact a platform on which we stand to look at the light of the future.

Some of this involved sad events. The early death of Jeff Hanneman spurred a lot of soul-searching on the part of metalheads. When the wise elders you’ve always counted on to be there for you, and to figure out the hard stuff, are suddenly gone, you realize you’re the elder now. There’s nothing between you and the cold horizon of the cutting edge. Many people recalculated lives in the blue light of early morning, hiding out in bathrooms and attics where they felt for a few moments the world would not discover them.

Unspeakable things have happened however. For starters, the Wall Street Journal discovers death metal history:

Mixing Black Sabbath’s sludge with the guttural roar of Motorhead and adding the jackhammer speed of thrash kings Slayer, death metal bubbled up the 1980s via the decidedly nonmainstream metal underground tape-trading scene. The style then splintered into so many subgenres—black metal, doom metal, stoner rock, grindcore, post-metal—only a metallectual could keep track of them.

Those of us who have labored for years at describing metal find this gratifying; the world is not only awakening to metal, but taking its origins seriously. This is generally seen as a sign of trying to figure out its significance and place within society, which is far different from the “pushing back” of the past. We’re getting the same treatment The Beatles did, just thirty years later and in a lower-key mode.

Along that vein, a new book called Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal has just been released, and this podcast interviews the writers and metal musicians to peer into metal history. These are nascent efforts, and “definitive” may be premature, but like previous metal books they are a good start toward where we’d like the study of metal to be.

While this is happening, a celebration of the life of Jeff Hanneman, guitarist for Slayer, drew thousands into Hollywood to hear a retrospective of Hanneman’s life and probably, destroy the theater.

But that was always the point. Slayer wanted to point out that society was based on lies, and our falsehood and pretense made us oblivious to the real and important things going on around us every day. This in fact has always been the message of metal, from Black Sabbath waking up the hippies to Motorhead shocking the world with excess. While this sounds like a mission of destruction, it is in fact a mission of belief in life, and enough love for life’s importance to care about telling the truth.

This fits in with our world’s acceptance of Hessianism. Putting our heads in the sand and chanting kumbaya has failed. Putting our heads down and earning money and hoping we can buy our way out of the decay has failed. Reality is still with us, and it’s bigger than society. In fact, if you know the cliche, “Think outside of the box” — society, or the social process itself, is the box and metal is what sets it aflame and casts us out into the cold and terrifying but thrilling night, full of potential and hidden wonders.

Perhaps the most stunning moment of the ceremony:

The only truly quiet moment came when a letten sent by Hanneman’s wife, Kathryn, was read to the crowd. It was both a love letter to her husband, and a lifelong thank-you card to the Slayer devoted, who made Hanneman’s life what it was. “May you continue to reign in heaven,” she wrote.

For all of its darkness, metal is a vision of light. It is clarity, freedom from lies, but even more, an ability to see the possibility of life before we cover it with our fears of being insufficient, inequal, victimized or just coming up short. Metal is bravery, the kind of bravery that comes of worship of life itself. I hope she’s right, and there is a metal heaven, because it won’t be the static place of the storybooks. It will be a land of constant adventure, of ever-greater quests and challenges, and it will be a place where stout hearts reign for eternity.

Hessian Studies

April 10, 2013 –

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The Hessian Studies Center was founded in late 1994 for the purpose of creating an atmosphere for study and respect of the Hessian tradition, folk art, and philosophical background. Over the next year it struggled off and on with authenticity and funding but eventually opted to remain underground because of the freedom given to respect metal’s traditions as independent, rather than integrated, with the western world’s containers for those philosophical and political entities. Additionally, the liberal policies of the Center regarding drug use caused ostracism and exile from the benevolent gaze of the herd.

The work of the Hessian Studies Center consists primarily of materials acquisition and content authorship, as well as think tank work in the continued architecture of Hessian history. Its members have authored numerous documents for this and related political efforts and continue their efforts to this day, striving for an independent Hessian state and the corresponding benefits of legal power (decriminalized recreational substances, an end to loudness ordinances, legalized crime).

The following is a reproduction of the original Hessian Studies flyer that kicked off the chaos back in 1994:

What is Hessian Studies?

Hessian Studies is the academic study of Hessians, Bangers, Metallians, Metalheads, death rockers, and other adherents to the genres of metal and grindcore. The Hessian Studies Department believes that any truly diverse multicultural population will contain representatives of this world-wide underground culture, with its rich and spanning historical and social contributions.

What are the aims of the Hessian Studies Department?

The Hessian Studies Department seeks to establish a presence of Hessians on campus and in campus events, as well as to create a comfortable environment at The College that suits the specific needs of Hessians at a small liberal-arts college. To this end, we have presented a List of Demands to the Administration:

  1. That there be Hessians hired to faculty and staff positions, and that all hair length rules and any form of drug policy regarding Hessians hired be abrogated, as Hessians have a religious need for some currently-regulated substances.
  2. That there be a Hessian Studies Center, complete with both audio and textual libraries and lounge area, for the study and advancement of Hessians.
  3. That the community radio station play more music favorable to the tastes of Hessians during prime-time shows.
  4. That the inscription at the gate of the college be changed to either “Fuckin’ Groovin'” or “You Suffer (But Why?)”.
  5. That discrimination against Hessians as a group of drug-addicted, drunken, long-haired incompetent losers destined for parole at best be eradicated from campus literature and mindset.
  6. That there be Hessian cultural events on campus, including concerts by noted Hessian bands and festivals related to various organic products enjoyed by Hessians.
  7. That the Hessian Studies Center be funded to provide late-night pizza and beer snack breaks.
  8. That Hessians be given equal time to speak at multicultural events, and the right to develop their own curriculum of Hessian Studies Courses.

Hessian Studies Center

Hessian studies is academic analysis of the international subculture of alienated heavy metal listeners and followers of intense music and noise of destruction. Our vision includes tolerance for all people and the right to individual autonomous direction and an end to compulsion and normative behavior.

Since its inception in 1994, the Hessian Studies Center has supported the international metal subculture through collection, analysis, and dissemination of the music and philosophy of thrashers, metallions, headbangers, metalheads, Hessians, longhairs, cruisers, piledrivers and others who comprise a virtual ethnicity of people inspired by the power of heavy metal, speed metal, black metal and death metal music worldwide. We achieve our ends through peaceful and herbological methods.

In addition to supporting the pantheon of academic and cultural programs above, the Hessian Studies Center aids with time and equipment as well as money the Dark Legions Archive, a repository of analysis concerning the music of the worldwide metal community. Headbangers, metallions, metalheads, longhairs, stoners, and other social rejects apply through means of this email link.

The United Hessian Front

The United Hessian Front exists as an extension of the Hessian Studies Center that seeks to find adherents to the subculture of heavy metal music and philosophy internationally and unify their voices in a forum for communication about future generations of metalion thought. Our goals are to acquire and disseminate information about the Hessian subculture in this process while reinforcing its objectives through our actions and treatment of others.

In order for Hessian culture to accelerate its own growth toward the future it must be aware of its past as well as the likely environment into which it will develop. As the world spirals closer to oblivion, entropy, and genocidal apocalypse, the vast suicide cult that is modern society seeks further methods of denying darkness, chaos, and destruction. Hessians exist so that this may not be so.

The objectives of the UHF are as follows:

  • Establishment of an Independent Hessian State.
    To ensure freedom for Hessian development and minimal intrusion from normals, sober people, and authority figures the creation of an independent and autonomous Hessian zone under self-rule is a primary objective of the UHF.
  • Religious Freedom and Controlled Substances

    The complex sociomystical structures behind the art, aesthetic and mindset of a modern Hessian lifestyle requires the stabilizing influence of chaos-generating psychoactive substances in order to remain efficient and content.
  • Equal Air Time for Nonconventional Music

    Current media tendencies exclude all but the most soothingly inane and simplistically melodic, leaving a void of contemporary music for the intellectual connoisseur or musician, generally attenuating the intellectual readiness of the population; for this reason alone we request more air time for metal and other non-mainstream forms of music.
  • Injunction Against the Christian Right

    Given the evidentiary state within science that concludes that so far agents of discreet brainwashing have not been found to be able to influence humans to extreme behaviors such as suicide, assault, or murder through the simple method of stereophonic amplification, it’s time to call off the Christian right from attacking metal and rap as “promoting violence and depravity.”
  • Flier for Public Distribution and Chaos

    Our reprehensibly straightforward and dissonant fliers bring all of the alienation and some of the isolation home to those you can dupe into reading them, as well as providing hours of family topics for discussion. Spread this bad news everywhere to deconstruct society the networked way!

Our vision is of a world where Hessians can be recognized as a virtual nation of headbangers, metalheads, and thrashers and will eventually be treated with respect to their specific needs and inclinations. Through mutual tolerance we can live together or we will surely die together.

Hessian Life

Introduction
Hessians come from the tradition of subculture, or resistant counter-culture embedded within a much larger cultural container. They have been spotted in almost every country in the world where electricity and a relative amount of personal music technology have been distributed. Most cultures have learned to recognize them and write them off — at their essential nature, they are a pacifistic culture of alienated and/or intellectualized rockers looking for truth in extremity.

Social Conception
Society encompasses their culture, but they treat it with dissonant indifference, realizing that its actions are beyond their control and are mostly ignorant attempts at control or manipulative, fearful and destructive compulsions to duty. The desperate impulse that is afraid of silence (as in silence one must think within) drives normal social activities to be centered around events and to aim at providing comfort. Hessians reject these ideals and instead favor indirection, mayhem, destruction and other chaotic acts in their free (not enslaved by school/job) time. Often they can be found gathered around a bong for interpersonal time, or gathered in small groups to become intoxicated and raise some hell. The heavy party culture that underlies all rock carries its extremities also in the extreme rock arena, where brutal concert violence and fastidious drug abuse are signs of successful interaction.

Philosophical Worldview
Beneath this fury of strange behavior a philosophical foundation supports but does not attempt to justify these acts. The naturalistic philosophy of the Hessians prioritizes justice and ideal at the same time it encourages chaotic fantasy; its essential communication is to live well through freedom from the clutches of neurotic thought, and to spend time in whatever liberating activities can be fashioned from the elements available. The nature of this in the trapped, suffocating world of commercial society (narcotic of the one true herd) is a relative overemphasis on intoxication and freedom from plans, morals, karma, memory, or the will of other people; the consequence is often an overindulgence in rebellion without a clear direction for self-preservation. However, Hessian philosophy as revealed by the metaphors within the music reveal a fascination with information, with fantasy, with power, with destruction, and an obsession with honesty and spiritual power to speak the apocalyptic truth.

Drugs and Mysticism
Hessians tend to believe in both the psychological/mystical power of drugs as well as the spiritual power of their music, although this belief is not shared by all. Often Hessians can be found gathered around a stereo consuming large quantities of marijuana, hashish, or other less-refined forms of drug. By liberating the mind in intoxication the Hessians believe they achieve a stable plane of nihilistic consciousness, where they are closer to the dark gods of winter and more able to comprehend the profundity of death. In this morbid ritual metalheads develop a comprehension of reality that supersedes all other methods of processing life and frees them from the drug of mainstream life, fear and consumption. In this more spiritual state they feel they can comprehend the complex messages transmitted through rhythm and metaphor in the music. Other parts of this ritual involve simple spreading of chaos in the fertile order of society, a mystical act of supreme rebellion and refreshing spiritual heresy.

Freedom Manifesto

Conventional social ideals would cast aside the non-ideal, the non-quantifiable and stay with the symmetrical and symbolic, fearing the ambiguous world of obscurity and metaphor. Double meanings, they say, balking in horror like the sheep they are. But what does the Hessian say?

The Hessian rejects insecurity and underconfidence and plunges ahead no matter how insane the project in conventional ideals. By denying the doubt of the people around them and aiming for loftier ideals than the simple “feed thyself” command of society’s trough, Hessians have created some of the most extreme and beautiful music ever to hit planet earth.

Their rejection of neurosis and mocking anti-idolization of society’s scapegoats make them a terror to the unstable and fragile balance of deception that allows our modern society to function.

“Turn off that fucking noise!” — every Hessian that has ever lived has heard it. Many people every day seem not to think about how unoriginal their comments are and tear into the usual insult of how Hessian music is “noise” and not music because it does not fit conventional classifications. The wily Hessian only laughs, and mocks back with even ruder noise — for the Hessian knows that human boundaries are only impositions of human understanding, and not inherent to the outside world — a place known for its nihilism and aggressive destruction as well as its nurturing instinct.

Through their addiction to noise Hessians have discovered a method of chaotic, spiritual, dark and naturalistic living that rejects the distinction between music and noise as it rejects government, religion, control and commodity as frivolous arbitrary containers of human invention for the purposes of competitive success. Who knows why humans think that way? But the Hessian only blasts louder, breaking down distinctions as his music breaks down assumptions and suggests a darker vision for art than the kitsch and design of mainstream consumer tastes.

The anarchistic views of Hessians rest in their fundamental choice to have will, rather than reaction, as their response to life. To be informed and to be of mental presence to make decisions, they say, is a fundamental part of the valuable capacity of being alive. Society is here to make room for the individual to create and to be, they say, not to glorify the process of society and to make it more demanding, more greedily afraid of its own destruction.

Through the needs of our industrial machinery we have enslaved ourselves to bureaucracy and the weakness of human need in the power-deprived state of an anonymous modern individual. We have seen, they say, the order of our grandparents and parents grow stronger every day to enforce its arcane social restrictions yet it cannot stop the problems it bemoans, but only makes them stronger as symbols against its rule. We have seen how soon all was suspect, and anything outside the norm became fearful — we have seen also how easily the scared will run to this strong will of order, begging for their dose of power from the dominatrix, doubt.

A civilization that worships fear is nothing to us, they say, as we like the ancients choose a broader, faster, freer life. We choose our will and our dreams over fear.

Naturally this runs against the order of society: sit down and be sensible, provide for yourself or you might become lost (sheep without pension must retire in poverty, and sheep without property may be beaten by the sheepdogs of the herd). For this reason to most in society Hessiandom is an Icaran falling into the abyss of fire, consumption by internal angst (although most of the inner tension is caused by the external internalized), but to Hessians it is the freedom in the one honest voice they hear, which affirms the nihilism of survival, the degraded state of the human race, the victory of destruction over life, and the uselessness of civilization as conditions of existence.

More than the violence of punk rock or the dissidence of political music, this scares the public because of its ambiguous but menacing message of deconstruction. But ineffective control has led to anarchy anyway, an anarchy of a different sort: the equal response to suppression is rebellious destruction; the power of denial cannot file this off the walls of our memory. And so metal is denied, as it has not yet been broken down into enough of a mainstream consciousness to be accepted as anything other than aesthetic.

In the shadow of this denial Hessians have had to find a new way of understanding their existence, when it is not often acknowledged and never given any credit for being as intelligent and architected as it is. This enforced internalization has reached its peak in the romantic but morbid subgenre of Black Metal, which encourages a fascistic love of self and misanthropic hatred toward the world. Alas, Hessians in this world are tainted by its virus, and this over-extension is sometimes as much reaction as independent direction. However their metaphor speaks its truth plainly, and rebellious deconstructs any rules or beliefs that it can lay a hand upon.

But were there only silence, the spirit of the Hessian would continue, in the same proclamation that life makes oblivious of its communication, a nihilistic acceptance and aspiration toward the light as if to become the world rather than consume it. This translates, through the voices of memory and individual personality, to a universal level of thought that refines to a simple message and harmonizes in the medium of chaos. In this arena, the medium delivers the message: with no order, it is free, and it has proclaimed itself so with the organic complexity of chaotic recombinance.

The dark nihilistic rage of the winter gods of thunder presents the looming possibility of spring, of death beyond life and life beyond the living death of modern society. In the combination of musics at modernistic minimalism and romantic construction, metal brings forth a future that may offer more answers and less emptiness than our current adaptation of our collective existence.