Towards a Depuration of Metal

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The metal genre has been through an accelerated evolution through the course of 45 years in which it has seen itself renewed once and again. Each reincarnation representing a distillation of its essence. This process of stripping down rock-genre influences and following the path laid down by Black Sabbath in terms of spirit and methodology in composition hit rock bottom with black metal in or around 1994 (a precise date cannot be pinpointed, but this is a good marker). The meaning of this is not that black metal is superior to the rest of the metal genres (or subgenres, whatever you want to call them), this would be incurring in the mistake in appreciation we are here, in part, trying to correct and a misunderstanding of what evolution means. The ideal black metal shows little trace of having had any connection to rock at any level apart from its general instrumentation. This is similar to how rock music uses almost exactly the same instrumentation as jazz but we would never lump the two together. Thus, metal established itself as a completely differentiated genre.

What followed was a constant attempt at superficially injecting doses of alleged boundary-pushing elements that only resulted in either hardcore or rock outfits adopting metal riffs and vocals, or in avant-garde-isms that did away with what makes metal what it is and often did not build something of their own but just made an embarrassing disaster out of the music (see later Deathspell Omega). In part, this has come from a desperate and hopeless allegiance to the Cult of Novelty which comes from a misappreciation of the growth process of metal from Black Sabbath’s debut to the different branches into which it is said to have evolved. It is because in general this evolution is seen as a branching out in which each separate style is guided by a so-called innovation or separation (which in most cases was only a superficial distinction) that it has not been made clear that in fact metal’s real development has been an almost straight line towards death and black metal. Incorrectly including Led Zeppelin and AC/DC in the metal canon is also a grave mistake that leads to a misunderstanding of metal, in fact it is precisely this that leads to the loose definition that metal is a “loud music genre that uses distorted electric guitars and drums to sing about shocking topics”. To move on, we must first do away with such contemptible attempts at construing the genre and look towards deeper and more complex definitions as metal is not, as many seem to believe, undefinable, as it is said of love and hate.

What metal needs is to come into maturity. Contrary to what many still believe, that metal should keep playing the game of trying to present something new, the retro camp got something right in their lazy pessimism: everything has already been done, every riff, every melody, every variation. Well, not right, but it hints to a truth. The truth that there is only so much variation you can achieve through thinking superficially, thinking in terms of making something “interesting” in the sense of being “different” or “catchy”, which in disguise is what even nu-underground bands like Blaze of Perdition are doing. Under it all, there is a very simple backbone to a messy presentation and deplorable organization with non-existing clarity. Rather than concentrating on being “different”, “novel” or “interesting”, metal needs to concentrate completely on composition as a means to communication. Modern bands with some knowledge of theory will say they know this, that they are completely aware of it and that they keep it in mind, although their music tells another story, showing only a basic application of advanced techniques — a superficial understanding. This attitude is often accompanied by a “I know what I am doing, fuck off” implied (or sometimes explicitely expressed) statement that could reflect inferiority complexes that should be properly addressed. Rather than self-indulging and posturing, maturity leads to humbly facing your weaknesses — a looking up and learning from your betters.

But what does this maturing entail, precisely? First and foremost an accepting of metal for what it is through an integral understanding of its nature. Once this is achieved, the notion of bringing avant guarde (in metal, merely a euphemism for careless “experimentation”) into the picture will seem not only outlandish but utterly unnecessary. Second, find approaches to the development of metal that preserve it not only in spirit but in the full musical sense. Honorable efforts faithful to metal can be found in the work of Manilla Road and The Chasm, but both of these lack the ideal bringing-together of techniques and ideas in a clear direction. But a more excellent example lies in progressive and monolithic albums like Incantation’s Onward to Golgotha. Third, and equally important, is the abandonment of this hit-and-miss (miss, more often than not) philosophy as a method to achieve excellence. This, both at the level of a single band and of the metal world as a whole. Stop telling kids that making metal music means performing in any dirty hole and trying to get a deal with a label. That is not how you make music. That is definitely not how you make art. Besides, the Internet alongside improved hardware and tools for personal computers have rendered labels virtually obsolete — you do not need them to get your music out there.

Metal also has a big brother it can look up to not only as a source of experience of both dead ends and disasters to avoid but also of pathways to heavenly abodes. This is the quasi-defunct classical music tradition. Classical music bestows upon the modern composer a vast resource of more than a thousand years of rich tradition in composition, analyses and philosophy of music. It would be foolish, to say the least, to ignore it. Metalheads need to get this through their thick skulls: tradition does not mean stagnation, it means experience. Most metal is like an untended 12-year-old kid with boogers coming out of his nose playing at being a knight with a wooden sword, classical music up to the Second Viennese School is then like a veteran crusader returning home from fighting the Saracens. After that, most classical music, apart from a few exceptions, falls prey to post-modernism, just as metal did after 1994. Fortunately, there is a spark of hope for metal, it lies in those bands that have parallels in classical music to 20th century composers with a naturalistic and spiritual orientation like Jean Sibelius and Arvo Pärt. Such an orientation, when paired with trained composition and a high-level view of its applications, helps the composer (classical and metal alike) keep everything in perspective. But like them, these bands are a miniscule minority in an ocean of incompetence and pretension; an overwhelming number of other time-wasting projects that only come in to serve as more fodder for the distraction of clueless consumers.

There is a way to channel the abundant energy and willingness of metalheads from all walks of life. It also comes as a hint from the classical music world. This is the separation of roles according to aptitudes and interests. The first myth I want to bring down is that if you are a metal ‘musician’ then you must publish music. With today’s much more effective communication and far more accessible recording, this leads to an excessive overload of subpar material, even including the great majority of what is professionally-produced. Among the heaps of embarrassingly poorly-written music we find the talent of many technically-gifted musicians, even virtuosos in their respective instruments (see Hannes Grossmann). They are virtuosos because they spent countless hours through years of toil honing their skills on their instrument. In classical music they are called performers and are placed in a completely separate category from composers, who ideally should be proficient at some instrument but spent most of their effort and time in composition. In their world, performers are given as much respect as proper composers. This is also true of music scholars who are usually proficient musicians with deep knowledge of composition as well. This differentiation of roles would benefit metal greatly.

This has several immediate implications. One of them is that each project/band’s music should be the brainchild of a single person, with possible advice from second parties. Statistically, this has produced most of the best metal there is (Burzum, Bathory, early At the Gates, etc), so we have direct evidence in our own camp for the truth of this. Also, performer-bands can be formed that trains in particular styles, and specialize in the outstanding performance of certain kinds of metal works (both past and current). It must be clear that this concept is completely separate from the so-called professional “cover bands” we have today, which are identity-less imitators of a single famous band (see The Iron Maidens, Nemesis). This is not to say that the would-be metal composers cannot be part of the performing ensemble, but that the two functions should be separated for greater efficiency. As a direct result, we can avoid having musicians (performers) wasting their time (and torturing our ears) with music they aren’t prepared to make. If you spent your time learning how to express passages, become faster, improvising but very little on formal, controlled writing, your talents will consequently be lopsided towards the performance area. Composers can be amazingly gifted performers (see Beethoven), but these are rare cases of people who devoted every single moment of their waking lives (and probably their sleeping dreams as well) to music as an art. Modern metal technicality is more of a sport, although, we need not kid ourselves, wanking is nothing new in the world (see the young Liszt, Paganini). In the same manner, this also would allow the metal composer to focus on his composition instead of thinking of “the gig” itself, or worrying that his sweeping arpeggios are not heard clearly enough through the distortion. What we would have is a dialogue between metal composers and metal performers, with permissible and welcome overlappings. Last comes the category of true metal scholars. These should be as versed in history, philosophy and composition as composers, and should have a proficient grasp on performance of some kind. The metal scholar would come to correct the verbal debauchery and banality of the metal journalist, giving the audience a proper and well-deserved look and guidance in appreciation of metal works.

The road is clear for those with a clear mind to see. It is either this or destruction. The bands actually carrying metal forward without degrading it are already doing precisely what is suggested here. Specific methodologies are only possibilities and variations in the general direction. Remember, metal is not a kid anymore, it is time to grow up. This means embracing what metal is (and not adopting politically-correct discourse or becoming rock or jazz), recognizing the boundaries of the genre and great power that comes with the keeping of a clear direction.

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Reflections on Nadia

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I’ve been meaning to write a review on Nadia for some time but even though, emotionally, I am deeply touched by this album, it has been impossible to bring myself to do so for this very reason: the overwhelming impression this music makes on me makes it difficult to develop an unbiased and piece-wise discussion. Listening to Nadia each time feels like falling in love once and again; one’s brain so full of endorphins that any effort to produce coherent verbal expression is rendered futile. I readily recognized this latent danger with Cóndor’s second album, Duin, and rather than try and present a crippled analysis, I embraced my impressions and came up with a description using everything that was on my mind at that point in time. The result was a mish-mash of philosophical and historical references, amateur attempts at designing metaphors and contradiction-based descriptions in the manner of mystics that pleased few people apart from myself and those in tune with that expression. More than a review, it was a picture of disjunct images. With Nadia, I have been afraid of not being able to give her everything she deserves. Just as we may shy away from a platonic love, a stalling of a well overdue caress whose occurrence suddenly becomes reality, inducing irreparable shock.

But now, the time has come to take on the undeferrable task of examining this portrait of romantic idealism and longing for a land and people that is not far from illusory. An admittedly Heideggerean notion of respect and admiration for an invisible essence or spirit that is found in all things yet in no single one at all. The related idea of technologies (techniques, approaches) as means to an end as the ungraspable static-immanent essence of things shone through in a sequence of truths that continually come into view and recede into the past permeates this album in its methodology.

First impressions of Cóndor’s debut invariably surround its stylistic menagerie and maudlin character. A basic technical analysis of an album like Nadia should be easy enough for most musicians to carry out successfully. Even without it, we can easily sight its modest means, perceive an almost too-sincere humility that becomes the target of disdain by those who have learned enough musicianship to play an instrument proficiently (and perhaps even developed the basic and undeniably necessary imitation-based creation skills) but not enough about music to grasp its essence, which they confuse with their own emotional reactions alone. One must not only become the receptacle of this essence, but one must also be equipped by experience, insight and meditations with a referential awareness that can connect the music to both its intentionality and context, judging its balance in accordance with its musical premises and contextual relations.

Here, I choose to avoid the incursions behind the the scenes of the music that a good review would normally entail, in fear of causing unnecessary degradation of the illusion that this artwork is in my eyes. This is not to say that there is a lack solid musical substance at the level of structures here. On the contrary, it is a sparse and opaque painting that transmits a story that flows from within the pigments in an ethereal stream of experiences that fade in and out of focus. We could go step by step in each song and show on a score (for a reference to patterns and structural framework) and with the recording (for references to dynamics and other performance-produced factors) how this occurs musically.

Many, many listens and a familiarity from the audience’s (rather than from the analyst’s) perspective with it may still reveal these ‘secrets’, but in a natural way and in due time.It is rather because of the modesty of the individual elements in the music that focusing on them would be an insult to the grand work that is produced from them. Furthermore, a too-detailed acquaintance with every implementation detail also runs the risk of causing the inability in the listener to properly distinguish the living spirit of the music: the unified whole. Deep familiarity with every gesture of the music from the functional point of view becomes an obstacle to perceiving it as ecstatic experience instead of as a collection of contraptions in a device. We must preserve the unified and spiritual dimension of art in mind first before diving further, which is precisely why it is paramount to go about analyzing music in a top-down manner.

In Nadia, Cóndor musically mirrored what the American continent represented for Europeans and other Old World immigrants after South American independence: a new vision, a new path that started at the meeting point of many other paths of distinct origins. This very nature that leaves undeniable traces in the structural dimension of its music, is what lies at the heart of my decision to not dwell in the minuteness of a melody or a riff. It is, nevertheless, worthy of our attention pointing out that the album is full of powerful and memorable such tributaries to its main current. In time the album reveals itself as unified in meaning and style, the erroneous perception of disalignment receding from perspective and displaying the mosaic that makes up the condor’s own featureless figure.

While the special acknowledgement to Felix Mendelssohn in the credits of Nadia may puzzle some and amuse most, the key lies in understanding the album’s relation to the romantic composer’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64. Alas, contrary to what one may expect, Nadia is more dependent on the concerto by Mendelssohn than even Duin is on Smetana’s Die Moldau. But the dependence manifests itself in a different dimension. In Duin we find a band that is differentiating itself, its expression becoming more and more distinct. It is a metal oeuvre utilizing and manipulating Smetana’s melodic themes for its purposes. The first album, on the other hand, took a hint from the Mendelssohn’s concerto as a seed for a physically (structurally) deeper motivation in the music: it learned from it a way to build and structure music, its way of carrying music through. In fact, like a concerto, Nadia is replete with solos that for very long spans of time are actually the music itself while the rest of the instrumentation plays the role of emphasizing and coloring in a sparse and laid-back manner to the point of being strongly reminiscent of the classical way of going about this which reduces accompaniment in many middle sections to almost complete silence.

But Cóndor is careful enough as to not mar its spirit in search of a foreign inspiration and template for structure. Despite all the interludes which are the backbone of the album, the importance of riff sections as tutti sections in a concerto is still prominent and on equal ground as the solos themselves (differentiating itself from both the concerto and from traditional metal methodology). In this and many other ways, Nadia thus remains decidedly a metal album that wisely and inspiredly uses metal and rock techniques with a classical approach to structure within a metal framework and use of texture.

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MoshKing Southern California metal concerts site returning

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Southern California institution MoshKing.com, which has faithfully reported the metal concert events in that region since 1997, went on hiatus some time ago, but now has announced plans to return. Last year, the personality known as MoshKing posted the following notice:

Greetings Southern California Metalheads,

I want to wish everyone an outstanding new year.

As you may have noticed, Moshking.com has not been updated in some time.

I have decided to take a break from the site to pursue other interests.

I intend to start up the site again sometime in the future, bringing back an improved version of Moshking.com.

For now, I bid you all the best and thank you much for the support throughout the years.

Denis P. Recendez (Owner & Chief Editor)
Moshking.com
For The Southern California Metal Scene

Many of us were saddened, having relied on the site for years and appreciated Dennis’ editorial judgment. Luckily, the site appears to be returning, as indicated by a Twitter message (tweets are for birds) posted on July 14:

The phoenix to be resurrected soon. What features would you like to see on http://Moshking.com v.3 ?

To encourage him devilspeed in this endeavor, hop on over to MoshKing.com to see what a “for metal, by metals” concert listing site looks like.

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Dying Humanity Reveal Deadened Album Details

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German Death/Thrash Outfit Dying Humanity have revealed the details for upcoming album Deadened. The album is set for a June 12 release on Bastardized Recordings.

On fourth record Deadened, Dying Humanity unveils a more versatile approach to songwriting, not the least of which is due to the new vocalist Marcus Friedrich. Deadened is fast, tough, and gains attention through sophisticated arrangements. The album, which was recorded in Jörg Uken’s Soundlodge, features horror-style artwork and is jam packed with powerful songs dealing with mental disorders. The new material plants its hooks in the front of the cerebral cortex and there it will remain.

Tracklist:

  1. Deadened
  2. Delusion
  3. Beyond Redemption
  4. I Am King
  5. Psychotic Illusion
  6. Feed Him To The Lions
  7. Oblivion
  8. Ashes Of Destiny
  9. Devious Greed
  10. Bloodshot Eyes

www.facebook.com/dyinghumanity

http://www.youtube.com/dyinghumanity

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Calgary Metalfest IV

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Big Nate Productions presents Calgary Metalfest IV June 3-7, 2015 with over 40 bands, kicking offJune 3rd at The Ship & Anchor Pub featuring: The Electric Revival, Bloated Pig, Lucid Scream, The Outer, and Woodhawk.

June 4th at Vern’s Bar will feature: The Cadavor Dog, Frightenstein, SS Doom, DethGod, Penitentz, After The Prophet, and No More Moments.

June 5th the Main Stage at Dickens Pub will feature: Villainizer (Edmonton), Begrime Exemious (Edmonton), Without Mercy (Abbotsford BC), Neck of the Woods (Vancouver), Vile Insignia, Every Hour Kills, Riot City, and Moosifix. Lord Nelson’s Bar features: Mortillery (Edmonton), Dead Asylum (Vancouver), XUL (Vernon BC), Sentient, Path to Extinction, Altars of Grief (Regina), and Skymir.

June 6th the Main Stage at Dickens will feature: Kobra and the Lotus, Into Eternity (Regina), Caveat, Untimely Demise (Saskatoon), Viathyn, Sparky (Saskatoon), Noire (Winnipeg), and Apprentice (Vancouver). Lord Nelson’s Bar features: Lavagoat (Saskatoon), Kataplexis, Chieftain, Doberman, Numenorean, Triton, and Okazaki Fragments.

June 7th CMF IV Hangover Party at Distortion – Live Music Venue. Bands to be announced.

Every year Calgary Metalfest has auctioned off a giant 4’x6’ festival poster signed by the bands to raise money for Make-A-Wish Southern Alberta. This year will be extra special as Reverend Rock (Ross Ingall) of the Metal Nation Radio program Too Metal For Church (Mondays from 10am-2pmand Fridays 12pm-3pm EST) has generously donated a Schecter Twin Tribal Double Neck Guitarfor the auction. The guitar and poster auction will take place before headliners Kobra and the Lotus go on stage at Dickens Pub on June 6th.

The Ship and Anchor Pub is located at 534 17th Ave SW, Vern’s Bar at 622 8th Ave SW, Lord Nelson’s Bar at 1020 8th Ave SW, Dickens Pub at 1000 9th Ave SW, and Distortion at 3828 MacLeod Tr. S, Calgary. All venues 18+. Doors for all shows will be at 8pm. Tickets and passes are available online at http://calgarymetalfest.com and at Dickens Pub, Sloth Records (Calgary), The Soundhouse (Red Deer), and from the Calgary bands.

CMF IV is sponsored by Last Rites, Heroes & Villains Tattoo & Piercing, Beatroute Magazine, Absolute Underground Magazine, UA LOCAL 496, and Metal Nation Radio.

 

Official site: http://calgarymetalfest.com

Nathan Renaud: info@bignateproductions.com 403.404.6283

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A Comment on Bardic Tradition in metal

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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.

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Sydney Slayer Day 2015

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Any metal fan should hang their head in shame for missing out on Promotorheads ”Slayer Day”. Pissing down rain, a two hour train ride, followed by a 20 minute bus trip, set the afternoon in motion (no pun intended).

Arriving at the Bald Faced stag for my first time, I must say it wasn’t as pretty as I’d imagined it to be, BUT Damn, what an AWESOME $10 lunch. 3.30pm usually my time to be getting washing off the line, feed our mini zoo, and hear all about the days events in the primary school yard .

First to grace the stage was Billabong of Blood. Their mixture of soft/hard vocals had some boots stomping.

Next was War of Attrition, and holy shit did they have my camera shaking. Vocals to make your ears bleed, and have any good Christian running for their crucifix. I must admit my favourite of the night, and still have me rambling on .

What was to follow, could not be described by mere words. My pen surely is not mightier than the sword. I still can’t believe it myself, the sheer talent, out of this world sound and the stage presence. You’d be thinking “why the hell aren’t we in some big arena worthy of such a musical encounter?” However, looking at the crowd, seeing patch work denim, black leather jackets and more hair than all of Dolly Parton’s wigs put together, made me proud to be a metal head from the 80’s.

Strangers lined the front of the stage, arms over shoulders of strangers banging heads, timing to perfection. As the line moved, knocking an older head banger to the ground, everyone stopped & offered assistance, picked him up and then returned to their original position. Proving yet again, never Judge a book by their tattoos ,long hair or the strange clothes they wear.

Of course no Slayer Day would ever be complete without some actual Slayer being played. That my friends, was where Murder-World would have left Gordon Ramsey speechless. You’d be hard pressed to find any more “”metal horns”” raised by a whole room full of people. Two fingers have never meant so much, nor held so high, as they were during one of the most outstanding kick in the guts covers of Slayer, I’ve ever seen, let alone heard .

Now, no review would ever be complete without a word or two about the Promoter, Promotorhead Bookings . Firstly, Trudy, your knowledge of metal, your way with words, passion, hard work and dedication, holds you at the top of your field. Slayer Day has set the bar so high, others will need a javelin stick just to see what you did. Forget inviting bands to play at your next gig I’m sure they are already calling you.

 

A short clip of Murder World at the show can be watched here.

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National Cat Day playlist

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According to my calendar, October 29 is National Cat Day, or a day for celebration of all things feline. As mentioned in earlier posts, metalheads love their kitties and bands have been known to put their felines before careers.

In the spirit of this holiday, here are some songs that while not kitty-themed, at least seem tangentially related:

Motorhead – “The Chase is Better Than The Catch”

Asphyx – “Evocation”

Cathedral – “Picture of Beauty & Innocence”

Imprecation – “Nocturnal Feast of the Luciferians”

Obituary – “Intoxicated”

Suffocation – “Anomalistic Offerings”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYIuKfQxbBE

Uncanny – “Indication vitalis”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNaKrs8YrbQ

Belial – “The Invocation”

Catalepsy – “Compulsive Bestiality”

Blood – “Hecatomb”

Deicide – “Revocate the Agitator

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-18-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? As you lie on your deathbed and look over life, you will divide everything you know into things you will miss and things you have forgotten already. Some metal is worth remembering, but the vast majority is just background noise. We hail the former and smite the latter, salting their wounds with our sardonic laughter…

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Internal Bleeding – Imperium

After Suffocation got big in the mid-90s as the next big direction for death metal, lots of bands took the Cannibal Corpse hint and started imitating the easier parts of the Suffocation percussive death metal approach. Unfortunately, doing so creates music that is dumber than malformed concrete, and Internal Bleeding quickly distinguished itself as the death metal version of Pantera: brocore for bros who like to you know drink beer and punch their heads into walls. Checking in with them 19 years later, it seems little has changed. These songs are hook-laden and not fully random, but the hook relies on the most basic of rhythms and their expectation, sort of like watching a chihuahua chase its tail. The band tries to compensate for their basic and unexciting music with really active vocals and occasional melodic touches on guitar, but nothing changes the fact that these songs are based around extremely basic patterns designed to numb and erode the mind. The famous breakdowns are back and serve to break up some of the constant muted-strum chugging and ranting vocals that shadow the rhythm of the guitar riff, but even if they dropped occasional symphonic parts into this Internal Bleeding could not hide the fact that most of this music is designed to destroy brain cells or appeal to those who have already voluntarily obliterated their own minds.

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Oppression – Sociopathie & Gloire

This band will be overlooked by many because the production on this album makes it hard to hear anything but bass, vocals and metals (cymbals and high-hat). However, what lies beneath the obscurity is a quality melodic punk album that verges on Oi and shows us what emo could have been in the hands of quality songwriters; you could compare this to the Descendents and the Misfits because this band write quality vocal melodies over melodically hookish riffs and rhythms, producing a sense of familiarity and yet a sense of weight like that of history or topics that pop up in every life no matter what age. Vocals alternate between a black metal-ish rasp and sung punk vocals, with the latter being more convincing. As with Misfits, the composition of these vocal melodies defines the song, combining old world melodic intensity with a casual punk sense that favors the simple and almost childlike. Touches of metal technique accentuate the harmonic space created by these rather open melodies, but generally, what you hear is punk that sounds as much like Blitz or Reagan Youth as something more recent. The result brings together the best of punk in its attempts to combine its energy with depth, and provides for a good listen, if the listener is able to hear past the abysmal production.

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Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at Royal Albert Hall

Among the 1970s progressive rock bands, Genesis is frequently mentioned but often forgotten. It seems to me that the reason is that its vocalist, not its guitar-keyboard duo, dominated the composition and thus it drifted closer to the regular-rock tinged Pink Floyd style of “light” progressive rock, without getting as populist and compact as Pink Floyd or Rush did. However, it would be a mistake to overlook the first few Genesis albums which were ambitious although steeped in a self-righteousness which seems more pretentious than the usual self-indulgent musically masturbatory egoism of progressive rock. On this live recording, Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett revisits the older Genesis material with the benefit of an extensive solo career and an entirely different band. The result makes Genesis sound more pastoral, with greater emphasis on vocals and mood in the style of later-1970s big radio rock bands, but also brings out some of the more aggressive guitar that got buried under keyboards and vocals on the originals. Vocalist Nad Sylvan manages a more soulful and less starchily self-referential voice than the original, and all accompanying musicians are excellent including a cast of highly talented players who, while not fully noticed by name in the mainstream, have demonstrated their abilities in complement to larger acts in the past. While all of this shines, the fundamental problem with Genesis remains the “oil on water” feel when it switches between something that sounds like Queen and a sort of extended figurative structured jam. While highly musical, Genesis often seems atopical and thus lost between its rock drama and its progressive underpinnings, and in many ways, having Hackett reinforce the role of guitar both reduces this gap and highlights what is left. For Genesis fans who wondered what this band might have been like with a different internal balance of power, these re-envisioned tracks will provide hours of exploration.

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Wolf – Devil Seed

This album takes the speed and intensity of a speed metal album, adds in Accept-style power metal vocals, but underneath the skin is something more like a hybrid between the first albums from Motley Crue and Queensryche. The result is… well, there’s no nice way to say this, but: annoying. Highly skilled and highly repetitive, vocally demonstrative and vocally over-dramatic, catchy and infectious and yet cloying, it hammers out the earworm qualities of glam metal at the pace of speed metal with the production and sound of power metal. If this is your first album from this style, it might be interesting to own, but probably difficult to listen to on a regular basis because of the similarity of the tracks and the consistently high levels of sentiment and bounding energy. The 1980s varied moods of glam metal have been replaced with the aesthetics of techno or punk, and it just keeps going and eventually even drowns itself out. Musically, nothing here ventures outside of the camp of what has worked before and become established, although a few adept variations give greater power to the framework. As with most metal/rock hybrids, what brings it down is the need for vocals to lead which crowds out other instruments, in turn squeezing the space available for song development. While the vocals are impressive, when they become too predominant like this they lose some of their power; Halford or Dickinson (or Di’Anno) would have been more selective in the use of their full-bore intensity and emotional depth.

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Vardan – Enjoy of Deep Sadness

This band combines “suicidal black metal” with the shoegaze/emo/indie variant that specialized in certain minor key chord progressions turning upward at the end of each phrase to convey a sense of misplaced “hope,” much in the way early 1990s emo-punk bands did. The result is merely a new aesthetic slapped on top of very ancient and pointless music, since the “mixed emotions” sensation has been popular in rock music since the 1960s and produces the type of emotions one might want in the background of a movie about losing your favorite race car, but apply not at all to any life with depth, where the emotions are more than mixed but intertwined in some way more than a balance of sadness/joy that seems like it came off a greeting card. This isn’t bad in execution; it’s soulless in intent. While the former is forgivable, the latter renders this music irrelevant to anyone who is here to live for the purpose of living, because to such a person confused self-pity and weepy “hope” is completely non-applicable. In the same way it is entirely possible to listen to this entire EP, nod once, and then read a book on database administration and be more thoroughly moved by its depth and emotion than anything Vardan will ever record.

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Savn – Savn

Anyone else remember The Gathering? They had a female vocalist, a quite good one name Anneke something-impossible-in-Dutch, and she was not only adorable but also could sing. But that’s the distraction. The question of whether a metal band can have a female vocalist is never asked when the female vocalist goes the route of Doro or another high performer. It’s when the presence of a female vocalist changes the sound of the band that people start wanting to talk about that instead of the music. And Savn cleverly starts out with very black metal sounds, then the keyboards kick in, and then very pretty female vocals intrude. Excellent production. There’s even a harmonica, for the sake of Zuul. The whole nine yards. But if you stop hearing the distortion for a moment, you realize you’re hearing standard folk rock that has been 100% consistent from the 1960s through the present day. It fits the female vocal and range but even more, it fits the needs of people in boutique shops that sell crystals to feel vaguely empowered, slightly sad and yet charged with some kind of great Meaning that has lifted up their insignificant lives of watching television and answering phones at work to the focal point of some vast collision between human emotions that form the basis of the cosmos itself. You can imagine Jewel belting out this album, or Linda Rondstadt, or even Taylor Swift. Savn would do better to just run Doris Day vocals over old Burzum albums. I do not contest the assertion that they are talented, good players, imaginative, and that the production here is amazing. I just question what it has to convey. The answer is feeling good while you shop and pretend that the universe is not a cold empty place, and that somehow your emotions derived from pop music are totally relevant and might even determine the future. On an emotional and artistic level, this release is poisonous; on any other level, it is simply a product that doubtless will sell many crystals, possibly cube cars and haircuts too.

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Provocator – Antikristus

Joining on the primitive black metal thread which bands like Von thrust to the forefront, Provocator crafts simple sawing black metal based on extremely rudimentary chord progressions that are nonetheless not pure chromatic, giving it a more accessible base of tones to expand upon. Like Acheron or Ungod, these riffs rely on building momentum and then redirecting it with quick rotational motion, but the repetition of this technique wears thin. Extensive demonic vocals crowd over the top but instead of giving this depth, simply distract from both the underlying guitar and the effect of the vocals to the point where it sounds like trying to listen to a portable radio in a busy train station. Nothing on this is terrible or misplaced, but it also provides no particularly compelling content and no reason to revive this style as a result. While it plays, the comfortingly familiar Sarcofago-style drone and chaos at the right BPM will make most black metal fans accept it without a further thought, but the real question with any release is whether you will seek it out again. In this case, nothing is offered that cannot be found elsewhere in a less repetitive form. Although this is no reason to choose an album, the blasphemous song titles and Blasphemy-style prison escape vocals add to some enjoyment but cannot compensate for the fact that this is like listening to a throttle test on a ’78 Camaro.

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5 albums that ruined metal

idiocracy-metal

If you create anything of beauty in this world, people will be attracted to it. They will want what it has, but because achieving that would require them to change themselves, they will instead make a version of your beautiful thing that fits their needs. This will become popular and soon idiots everywhere will adopt their dumbed-down version of your beautiful thing, effectively ruining what you have created.

Over the course of metal’s lifespan, it has several times been afflicted with the curse of popularity. During the middle 1970s, bands began cloning what Black Sabbath did and mixing it with the more radio-friendly sounds of Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who and Deep Purple. The result gave metal such a bad name it required an underground genre, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, to renovate it with punk energy and DIY spirit. Then in the late 1980s, speed metal bands started selling out and making radio-friendly jive that quickly destroyed the genre because no one wanted to associate with it anymore. Only a few years later in 1994, underground metal imploded as clone bands and outsiders began making imitations of the new sound that used songwriting conventions and “values” from other genres. Most recently in the 2000s metal became “socially acceptable” and became basically a cover story for lite jazz and indie/emo which now could claim they were groundbreaking and authentic.

But I digress. Let us look at a brief history of bands that helped ruin metal and see if we can figure out where their influences ended up in today’s milktoast hybrid metal.

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Pantera – Cowboys From Hell

Before this album came along, speed metal had a certain gravitas to it. Songs were about war, human moral conflict, literature and the apocalypse. Then along came Pantera and injected a bro-sized dose of personal drama into it. After Pantera, speed metal included talking about how angry you are, getting drunk and starting fights about whose jeans are out of fashion this season, and raging about your inability to retain women who are not covered in naturally-growing wool. It was a strike of Idiocracy against the intense music of Metallica, Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Testament, Anthrax and Megadeth that dumbed it down to the Belieber level, just with more angsty testosterone. Not only that but the complex songs got replaced by verse-chorus and lots of “emotional” vocals accompanied by softer guitar parts. The path to death for speed metal started with this watered-down, dumbed-down, ego-drama path to stupidity. Luckily after they had made their money, Pantera disappeared and the band members went on to more reputable projects.

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Cannibal Corpse – Tomb of the Mutilated

In the year that death metal reached its peak, Cannibal Corpse release an album that made death metal accessible and in doing so, made it a satire of itself. This is Dethklok before Dethklok. Borrowing from the percussive style that Suffocation innovated, Cannibal Corpse took out all the complex songwriting and replaced it with somewhat complex riffs in predictable format. It took away difficult rhythms and topics and replaced them with I-puke-blood style blockheaded lyrics. They also introduced Pantera-style songs about sexually mutilating women because women are difficult and sometimes all one can get is a brojob back at the frat house. This album crushed the growing death metal movement by putting a giant IDIOTS AND SYCOPHANTS WELCOME sign over the door to the genre and convincing people that songs with blockheaded gore lyrics and simplistic structures under grunting incoherent vocals were more “death metal” than the complex music of integrity that defined the genre at the time.

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Cradle of Filth – The Principle of Evil Made Flesh

Point your TARDIS back to 1994. Black metal was in full-swing, having just put forth all of its founding works and then exploded in a media-fueled inferno of murder, anti-Christian and politically incorrect sentiments. In come the “smart” people who figure they can make a buck off this new phenomenon. Their formula: make Iron Maiden style metal with the new screechy vocals and make it emo so that kids can feel like it sympathizes with their horrible lives where their parents just totally control them and stuff. Then mix in the usual “teen paranormal romance” rambling about vampires and evil and you have baby food for coddled toddlers. It took some brains to like black metal, but Cradle of Filth asks nothing so challenging of its listeners! Even more, this band introduced the “carnival music” style of putting radically different riffs next to each other so that the listener loses track of song structure entirely. These songs are basically advertising jingles and warmed-over Goth rock stuck into second-rate metal, but all the kiddies brought their sweaty dollars to Hot Topic because they felt it “understood them.”

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Meshuggah – None

Right in the middle of 1994 it became clear that black metal and death metal had left the building. They had said what they wanted to; people had to either top it or find some easier and sleazier way to do. Ripping off the percussive textures of Exhorder, Prong and Exodus, Meshuggah came up with a “new” style that consisted of over-extending ideas from previous and better bands. It’s worth mentioning that Meshuggah’s first album was 80s speed metal with death metal vocals, but that it was extremely boring. Meshuggah figured that if they just made their style more dramatic and used lots of choppy riffs with shiny new “complex” polyrhythms, they could fool a new generation into liking their stuff. Without fail, it worked, and now metal bands find it necessary to incorporate the worked-over 70s groove with two-chord texture riffs and claim a “djent” influence. At its core, this band remains the same bad 80s speed metal that failed on its first album.

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Opeth – Orchid

You can pitch a market one of two ways: on one hand, you can be “just one of us regular guys” and pull a Bruce Springsteen (or warmed over punk); on the other, you can claim that you are so far out and deep that only a few deep people can understand you. The best is to hide the former in the latter so that you are selling the “profundity” of sing-song music for children but it gives them a chance to pop on a Fedora and think they are really so deep, you know totally deep, that no one can be as deep as they are. Opeth sold itself on being “open-minded,” which is this message: we are different from the rest of metal because we use acoustic passages instead of just solid heavy metal riffs. What they choose not to tell their fans is that they are more like everything else that is not metal, so to like this stuff is to admit you fail as a metal listener and go back to pumping radio pap through your Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. But every underconfident basement-dwelling pretentious geek loved this stuff even though it consisted of a simple formula, soft verse and hard chorus, that is most famous for its use among nu-metal bands. Nonetheless, Opeth opened the door for people who wanted to signal to the world how profound and different they were, and now most bands are tinged with the same simpering pander that makes this music sickly sweet and an inch deep.

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