Interview with filmmaker Ryan Oliver

November 9, 2013 –

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Continuing our coverage about the corresponding nature of horror movies and metal, as well as our continuing content of the Housecore Horror Film Festival, we present an interview with metal enthusiast and filmmaker Ryan Oliver from Deathblow Productions.

What initiated your interest in making films?

It’s a long chain of events starting with me watching the Son of Svenghoulie (local horror host) as a little kid, then making some backyard movies with the neighbor kids to theatre studies in college. At around age 30, I was an actor/writer/FX artist who had moved from Chicago to LA, and become immediately disenchanted with acting. I hung it up and got a job in a film vault at Technicolor, FX freelance work, and I wrote a shit-ton of scripts. Eventually I landed back in my hometown and was determined to stay connected to the industry and adapt the ‘big fish/small pond’ attitude towards things. I decided to start directing my own material, never looked back.

How would you compare your work with mainstream Hollywood types of productions? Are mainstream movies too predictable? If so, how do you overcome this hurdle?

Yes, a great many of them are quite predictable. But I suppose that’s a symptom of having millions of dollars at stake, making ‘safe’ choices. I don’t have to deal with that, so I’m not the best one to ask. When it comes to Deathblow, I can pretty much do anything I want/afford to do. I have no one to answer to. So, I try to write to my instincts and from my gut while keeping things as interesting and unique as possible. As a director who’s still trying to fight his way into the club, I have my own unique set of obstacles. I think it’s wasteful of my time to consider what others have going for them where I should be focusing on my own future. I will say this, I got tired of complaining about movies when I hadn’t gone through the process myself. It’s fucking hard to make a movie and to have people want to watch it, it’s double hard. So many things can go wrong from the music, talent, edit, fx, to your own idea sucking. So now that I made one and people seem to dig it, I don’t feel like the fat guy yelling at athletes from the grandstands anymore.

Being that you were featured at the Housecore Horror Film Fest, which featured both metal and horror movies, how does metal correlate to your tastes in music? Which bands have stuck with you throughout the years?

It’s not the only genre I listen to, but it’s ahead by a land-mile. Since you brought up Housecore, I’ll start with all Phil Anselmo projects. He’s an incredible frontman and I’ve bought everything he’s put out since ‘Cowboys’ I like a lot of Doom- Yob,Electric Wizard type stuff. Naturally, I’m drawn to a lot of Chicago bands like Plague Bringer, Harpoon, Witchbanger, The Atlas Moth, Indian, Pelican, Wolvhammer, Lair of the Minotaur, Bongripper, Weekend Nachos, Sweet Cobra, etc. I seek out a lot of soundtrack/soundscape stuff that is great to write or create to- Karl Sanders’ (Nile) solo albums are terrific. If I have to pick an ultimate inspiration it’s The Misfits, I know they’re not metal, but I really latched onto them from the moment I heard them. I was obsessed with these songs, the lyrics were both brutal and poetically divine and I began to see their discography (77-83) was an audible blueprint of the way I felt about the horror genre in general. For me, it was magical to discover those songs.

Do you think it’s significant that Black Sabbath chose the name of a horror movie for their band? What about that their statement in the past that they saw people enjoyed horror movies, and figured they might enjoy music with the same mood?

Sounds pretty significant to me. I don’t want to question the series of fragile events that led to Black Sabbath’s ‘sound’. I’m just glad it worked out the way it did. They’re so overly associated for pioneering metal that it feels too obvious to even bring up at times. I guess it explains their absence from my response to the last question.

Has horror movie music influenced metal? In what ways? Are there any specific instances you can think of?

I’m not a musician. I can’t play a lick of anything, so I may be totally full of shit, but when I think of, I guess you could say, stereotypical horror movie music I think of brooding moments punctuated by ‘stingers’. You know, slow strings or piano keys before a jarring ‘startle’. I hear that in metal often, bands that utilize a ‘slow to fast’ structure. Organs are another one. When I hear a pipe organ I think of two things: Classic monster movies and King Diamond. It’s a tough question, I guess I feel clumsy answering it.

Are there any similar emotions between metal and horror movies?

You know what’s interesting to me is how tough it is to fit metal into a horror film without overdoing it. You’d think it’d be like peanut butter and jelly but I personally don’t think metal compliments horror that easily. For example, John Carpenter and Allan Howarth composed the music for those early films masterfully, but I didn’t care for the metal score/soundtrack in Ghosts of Mars or JC’s Vampires. I like Carpenter on the Casio Keyboard. All those riffs chewed up the scenery for me. Now, my favorite use of metal in a film is probably Sleep in “Gummo” when the young cat hunters are first introduced tearing ass down that hill on their Mongoose bikes. Gummo isn’t exactly horror…but pretty close!

What other similarities have you found between horror movies and metal?

I have found that, for the most part, the overlapping fan bases are a collective of intelligent, well-balanced people that enjoy their lives and are easy to get along with. At least the ones I hang out with are.

Which horror flicks would you claim have had the biggest impact on your creativity?

Lots of Carpenter, Cronenberg, Exorcist 1&3, Texas Chainsaw 1&2, Everything Argento, Early Romero, Hammer Films, Troma Films, Universal Monsters.

Outside of horror I’m crazy for The Dark Crystal, 70’s cinema, Kubrick, Westerns, lots of Kung Fu & Samuari, Mad Max Trilogy, Cohen Brothers, 50’s Sci Fi, & anything weird or bizarro.

Do you derive inspiration from creating a sort of puzzle, then have the pieces fall together as the story progresses? More than just gore, but something that will stick with the viewer long after they’ve watched?

You said it! Gore, in my opinion, is best used as punctuation to a scene. It shouldn’t be the core content. I mean, it can, but I don’t think that’s wholly effective or the most interesting choice all the time. Situations, story and characters should dictate the terror. The audience will always think of something more twisted than what you can show them. It’s been said a million times, but look at the blood content of Halloween and TCM -a spatter or two at best. But everyone swears they saw it! I subscribe to that, for me it works. Tell a compelling story first, then strategically place your gore. That being said, there are some real blood-bath movies that I’m crazy about, Dead Alive, for me, is the crown jewel.

Thank you for your time. What’s ahead in the near future for Deathblow Productions?

We are in post for a new mid-length film called, “Restoration”. It’s a car culture ghost story about the spirit of a little kid who gets relocated from the prairie to a custom car & motorcycle garage. The place is loud, dirty and not to her taste so she throws a temper-tantrum one night. If you want to see a little girl spree-kill a bunch of Rockabillys then this is the movie for you!

Check out Ryan’s film “Air Conditions”:

“Air Conditions” Full Film from Ryan Oliver on Vimeo.

Interview: Nelson Varas Díaz

November 7, 2013 –

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As part of our ongoing look at metal in academia, we speak with Professor Nelson Varas Díaz, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico and is one of the sponsors of the upcoming “Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience” academic conference.

The upcoming conference will attempt to define “community” in heavy metal and has uncovered some interesting starting points. If nothing else, it shows the broadening of academic interests in metal. For more examples, read Professor Varas Díaz’s description of his research and its practical applications below. Where academia once focused on metal as a narrow field, it is now an inter-disciplinary study used to apply that knowledge back to other specialized fields.

We were fortunate to get a few moments via email with Professor Varas Díaz to discuss the conference, his research, his past and most importantly, his views of and participation in heavy metal as both art form and community.

Are you a metalhead? If so, what got you into metal, and what keeps you into it? What type(s) of metal do you like?

I listen to metal music constantly. I am always looking for something new that helps push boundaries of what I listen to within the genre and that continues to surprise me. I listen to metal music across the spectrum… everything from traditional, thrash, death, and progressive metal.

I think that, like most of the people I have met that enjoy metal music, social alienation was an important part of getting into this style of music. I will be the first to recognize that as a young man I felt very much isolated from traditional institutions. It seemed like one had to give up something of oneself to be part of the group, and metal music did not ask that of me. I know this sounds cliché… but at that young age it was very much my reality. There are many other reasons why people become interested in metal music… but that was mine.

Being part of a metal community in Puerto Rico, in the late 80s and early 90s was exciting, and I felt that I could be myself there. Of course, now I can see that process with some years of experience under my belt and recognize it for what it was with strengths and limitations. I am always very careful not to romanticize these experiences, as metal communities can also expect you to mold to certain standards (i.e. dress codes, behavior codes). It is a matter of learning to live within this apparent contradiction between individuality/collectiveness.

I like to think that I have “returned” to the metal community in Puerto Rico as a product of our study with its local scene. The study has been ongoing for the past two years and the first four publications on the project will come out in 2014 as book chapters and papers in peer-reviewed journals. Metal in general keeps me intellectually and emotionally engaged.

You’ve come up with a stumper here: how does metal define community? Is there more than one metal community?

That is an important question… I think people who are engaged in metal music throw the word “community” around as if we were all talking about the same thing. That is understandable because the concept is so frequently used that we don’t take the time to explore its implications.

As a researcher, my instinct tells me to take two steps back and explore the idea in all its potential complexities. A conversation with individuals from different settings will immediately show you how metal communities can be very different depending on their context, and still feel part of a larger metal community throughout the world. So yes… I believe we should always refer to metal communities in recognition of the plurality of experiences that are encompassed in the process of being part of a collective group. But that is not enough… and complexity always shows its face in this discussion.

Some example of this complexity include the role of the market in developing communities that are not organic, gender dynamics within communities, LGBTT issues, just to name a few areas that are currently being addressed by metal scholars working with the concept of community. Academically, concepts like tribes, emotional communities, functional communities, geographical communities, border communities, and scenes are used to describe the idea that we are connected. Some of these concepts overlap, while others include very different criteria for what constitutes a community.

I hope that the conference will allow us to continue a discussion on how we are connected, while also recognizing the complexities that we still need to address in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.

What do you hope to achieve with this conference? Who is coming? Is it open to lay people (non-academics) such as fans, bands, zines, labels and promoters?

I hope that the conference allows attendants to continue a discussion that began in the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference that took place in Ohio in 2013. That was a simply amazing event that pushed the field of Metal Studies to new heights.

We will have visiting scholars from the UK, the US, and Brazil. These include: Keith Kahn-Harris (University of London, UK), Niall William Richard Scott (University of Central Lancashire, UK), Deena Weinstein (DePaul University, USA), Karl Spracklen (Leeds Metropolitan University,UK), Jeremy Wayne Wallach (Bowling Green State University, USA), Amber Clifford-Napoleone (University of Central Missouri, USA), Brian A. Hickam (Benedictine University, USA), Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo (Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, BR), and myself (University of Puerto Rico, PR).

The conference is free of charge and will be streamed over the Internet for those that can’t make it to Puerto Rico (more details soon on our facebook page). I am sure that non-academics will be an important part of the event and that the local metal scene will support this venture. In fact, the Puerto Rico Metal Alliance and Thrash Corner Records will be cosponsoring the event. These are two historically important institutions in Puerto Rico’s metal scene.

We will also have a concert with local artists Organic, Ortiz and Dantesco (more details soon).

What do you think the study of metal has to offer academia at large?

Heavy Metal Studies has a lot to offer academia. The one thing that I think people in academia are surprised to see is that we engage in areas that are truly interdisciplinary. As a social psychologist, I have shared panels with philosophers, musicologists and musicians while we address metal as a subject of interest. I have had to expand my field of inquiry to converse with others. That is something that is severely lacking in academia. Most people are stuck in their fields and have a hard time letting go. I welcome that experience and hope it helps other academic settings see it as a possibility. This year I have a presentation on metal music in a local psychology conference. My presentation is entitled “Letting go of psychology” as a testament to how engaging in metal studies has required me to change how I think about and approach these subjects.

Do you think the study of metal has picked up lately? Why, if so?

I think there are several reasons. First, we must recognize the work of pioneers in the field like Deena Weintein and Robert Walser. Those books set the stage, at least from my perspective, for the growing number of academic endeavors in the field. Second, more recent books published by Keith Kahn Harris on extreme metal and Jeremy Wallach, Harris Berger and Paul Greene on the global aspects of metal have pushed these reflections even further.

Also, the continuing number of conferences that have been organized played a vital role in strengthening metal studies. Take for example the Heavy Fundamentalisms conference organized by Niall Scott and Rob Fisher for Interdisciplinary.net and the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference organized by Jeremy Wallach, Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo, Amber Clifford-Napoleone, Matthew A. Donahue, Brian Hickam, and Esther Clinton at Bowling Green University. Those were excellent conferences that have yielded great discussions (and upcoming publications) that have strengthened the field.

In terms of organization, the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) has played a vital role in promoting metal studies. Also, the new journal Metal Music Studies edited by Karl Spracklen will help strengthen the field in terms of publications. I am part of the editorial board of the journal and am really excited about where it will lead. These are just some examples of individuals that are collectively working very hard to promote metal music studies through different mechanisms. They are joined by so many others that systematically engage in research with little support and resources.

Can you describe your own studies, both in metal and outside of it, and what you think they have contributed to academic knowledge?

Most of my research outside of metal music is related to social stigmatization and health. It has focused on developing strategies to train health professionals to address the needs of marginalized populations without letting prejudice influence social interactions. Now you will say… what does that have to do with metal music? Well, I frequently use heavy metal lyrics to discuss how social stigmatization influences people’s lives. So metal music found a way into my classroom long before I engaged in metal studies. After attending the Heavy Fundamentalisms Conference in 2010 I decided to engage heavily in metal studies as a central area of study and focus on the Caribbean region where literature on the subject is scarce.

My current project aims to explore the development of Puerto Rico’s metal while focusing on the social, historical and cultural factors that have helped shape it. My team is composed by Eliut Rivera, Sigrid Mendoza, and Osvaldo Gonzalez who are graduate students. The study has a mixed methods approach using ethnographic observation, qualitative interviews, and quantitative questionnaires to documents our subjects of interest. We are using these findings to complete a documentary on the local scene, which should be out in early 2014. You can follow our progress through our facebook page entitled Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies. Our first data-gathering trip to the Dominican Republic will be in 2014, to continue expanding our study to other Caribbean scenes.

The relationship between metal and horror films

October 25, 2013 –

carnival_of_soulsWe all know why we distrust public statements by musicians. To be popular in this world, you first must endorse the lifestyle that most people lead, and this usually means praising something from the “edgy” mainstream so everyone knows you’re controlled (and thus “safe”) just like the rest.

Ironic, isn’t it. A whole group of people wanting to be rebels, but unwilling to go past that line that no rebel dare cross and still have the support of the peanut gallery which is encouraging him to rebellion. Reminds me of why the James Dean character finally offed himself in Rebel Without a Cause.

But Ihsahn, formerly of arch-rebels Emperor, is now a safe rebel and he’s giving some interviews praising stuff that you’d expect, if you watched your TV attentively, that “edgy” characters might like. However, some of the subversive is still left in him, so he sneaked in a few goodies in a recent interview:

The dynamics and emotional impact of soundtracks have been great influences on me and much of the reason I wanted to implement orchestral sounds in my music. Jerry Goldsmith’s work with the Omen movies has been an absolute highlight and still is. Also, his use of non-orchestral sounds in this context is very interesting.

However, this isn’t the first mention of horror movies as an inspiration. Just this week, Warbeast’s Bruce Corbitt opined that most of his work was inspired by horror movies. Entombed used horror film riffs in their own work. Black Sabbath tooktheir name from a horror movie, and wrote music to emulate the scary sense of suspense in the dark films they enjoyed.

At what point do we acknowledge this pervasive musical influence, with its own debt to modernist classical, as perhaps the foundational influence on metal itself?

World metal maps reflect density of metalheads

October 13, 2013 –

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Above you can see a world metal map that shows number of metal heads per capita in the nation-states of the world, originally found on public whiteboard space here. However, one researcher noticed a fatal flaw to this map.

That is, the original map measures by nation-state, but not by populations within those states, such as the independent Quebecers who brought us Voivod, Gorguts, Obliveon and other “Canadian” bands that don’t have much in common with the English-speaking parts of the country. Thus, Dominic Arsenault made his own map, which you can see below, or see on his own his web site.

metal-bands-per-country-quebec-canada-addition

This brings to mind a fascinating question: does metal reflect national culture, national circumstance, or is it a “nation-state” issue like political system (for example, rebellion in the Reagan 1980s) or political instability? Our own international metal map shows metal bands by nation-state and reveals that some small countries definitely outperform larger ones on the metal scale.

Ancient Modernism: An Exhibition of Letter Art and Illustration in Heavy Metal and Beyond

September 2, 2013 –
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ancient_modernismNoted black metal logo designer Christophe Szpajdel is featured in an upcoming exhibit in New Zealand of metal and other illustrators and the logos and embellishments they create.

The exhibit will run simultaneously in Auckland at Nature: Art + Design and in Wellington at The Rogue & Vagabond from September 28 – October 15, 2013, and will feature Szpajdel as well as four New Zealand-based designers.

As underground metal expands its reach and influence, events like Ancient Modernism: An Exhibition of Letter Art and Illustration in Heavy Metal and Beyond will contribute further to understanding the meaning beneath the menacing imagery and sonically terrorizing music.

Heavy metal saved my life

September 1, 2013 –

rabbi_darby_leigh-heavy_metalHow many of you feel that metal music saved your life?

When I was suffering through high school — boring assignments, ludicrously uptight authority figures, absurdly judgmental peers, and crushing ignorance about the world and myself — heavy metal indeed saved my life.

It had several methods that saved me. The first was that it let me escape into a mood that was bigger than my everyday concerns. This helped me establish values, center myself and see day by day stuff in context. The second was that it gave me a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself, which both freed me from the judgments of others and my own tendencies toward self-obsession. Finally, it was a gateway into history and literature, philosophy and art. It was a more exciting entry point to those disciplines than the rote ancient material taught in school.

From others I have heard similar stories. When your parents are dysfunctional, heavy metal is like a window into a much wider world beyond where things can make sense even if they don’t right now. When instability is all around you, “metal never bends” or “true metal it is, or no metal at all” are not just comforting ideas but mission statements.

To some, however, heavy metal has a different mission: it states it’s OK to be different. Witness the words of this heavy metal Rabbi:

Growing up as a Jewish teen in Manhattan, he was drawn to listening to heavy metal bands. Leigh’s body found joy in the chords and musical vibration that emanated from the emphasis on bass and percussion. He also found community and faith when he attended concerts.

“I found God in a mosh pit,” said Leigh, who attended his first concert, a Twisted Sister performance in New York, when he 14. “Heavy metal saved my life. The experience of growing up deaf in the hearing world means that you grow up as a minority. So many of us have the experience growing up where we feel like we don’t fit in, or we don’t fully belong.

“I found in heavy metal a music and a culture that supported individuality and rejection of the social norm. I found a culture that said, ‘you don’t have to be like that. You’re not. It’s OK to be different, it’s OK to be you. And guess what? There’s a whole army of metal heads out here like you, that are “freaks” and don’t fit into normal society.’ And the celebration of that and the outlet for anger and frustration as a teenage adolescent male just totally resonated with me.

Not surprisingly, Leigh has been known to write his sermons while listening to heavy metal.

That commotion you hear is our entire staff converting to Judaism. Leigh has an interesting view of metal, in that it is acceptance for those who don’t fit into society.

Others take it even farther, and see metal as a rejection of society itself. Or rather, the tendency of society to make rules to protect the herd, at the expense of those who actually know something.

If you let social forces predominate in any situation, you’ll get the usual feel-good stuff that we hear in most rock ‘n’ roll music. If you are antisocial and untamed like a metalhead, you get instead a different kind of morality, based on results and passion instead of obedience.

Recently, Erik Danielsson of Watain took some flak for his views on black metal:

If you want to be in a black metal band, you take yourself as an adversary of society, because that’s what black metal is.

An adversary of society. Society means both civilization, and people socialization with each other as a form of civilization order. It refers to the social groups set up that keep a society together.

Historically, black metal has opposed the socialization process. It stands against the “we can all get along” viewpoint, endorses enmity and Darwinistic predation, detests a morality of protecting the weaker and makes itself almost impossible to listen to with bad production and extreme elements. Black metal is antisocial because it sees socializing as an illness.

Traditionally, the genre has identified with the demonic to explain its rejection of social feelings:

Black metal music is music that, in essence, is diabolical and has diabolical energies…we’re talking about the wild, the untamed, ferocious, predatory aspect of it, the tribe within this music.

Perhaps it isn’t as simple as heavy metal validating non-conformity. Perhaps it does that and goes a step further by pointing out that conformity itself, as part of socializing, is what makes our society so unbearable.

Think about everything you know in this life. A new idea, band or place comes about. Few know about it and it’s great. Then others discover it. Soon it accommodates them, and it changes. What made it great is lost.

For all the time that people spend on politics, philosophy, religion and art, it’s possible that the key to the human problem is simpler than we thought. It could be in how we form societies itself, and this explains why no matter what we do we have the same problems.

Even more exciting is the possibility that heavy metal holds the answer: be less social, and less conformist, and more focused on the “wild, the untamed, ferocious, predatory aspect” of our nature instead of our civilized, let’s-all-get-along social training.

Dialogue with a reader

August 20, 2013 –

An interested reader wrote in, and so we continue our discussion of whether modern metal is important at all, and whither the future of metal.

So, metal music is over? Or do you that have a big journey to happen?

No, it’s not over. It needs to find new content. Its form is a refinement of its original form, and it can be refined further, but not by hybridizing it with other genres. Jazz-metal is dead, math-metal is dead, blues-metal is dead, indie-metal is dead, alt-metal is dead because these were always old and tired ideas. Alternative rock is punk mixed with 1980s indie rock. It’s self-pity music. Indie metal is emo and Fugazi mixed with d-beat and black metal. Post-metal is just slowed down indie metal. All of this music sounds more like Nirvana, Jawbreaker, Fugazi, Rites of Spring, etc. than metal. All of that stuff was born dead. What’s alive is the metal spirit. From Black Sabbath through Judas Priest through Slayer through Incantation through Immortal, it’s a continuum. Metal has just finally left rock behind with death/black metal and it needs to continue that transformation. It needs to finally become its own musical language entirely separate from everything else.

What is your opinion about mathcore (Botch, Converge)?

It’s an extension of late hardcore. Black Flag “The Process of Weeding Out” is the grandfather, and they ran it through the Fugazi filter. Neurosis was a better direction but the people who’ve cloned that don’t understand what Neurosis was on about. They can imitate the music, not understand the soul.

And what will happen with the black metal genre?

It died in 1996. Since then, with maybe five exceptions, the new bands have been imitators. Their goal is to make music that’s like black metal on the surface, but like regular indie rock underneath, so they can sell it to the kids for weekend rebellion but not so much that it sets them off-course and they can’t return to school, jobs, watching TV and voting for idiots during the week.

What will happen with metal? It’s over? There new things to create?

See the first question. “Big journey” is more true than “over.”

Metal across borders

July 20, 2013 –

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At a recent concert in Tel Aviv, Israel, a remarkable thing happened: two bands from two different cultures, Jewish and Arab, stood up together and performed a concert.

“We are metal brothers before anything,” Abed Khathout, bass player for Khalas (“enough” in Arabic) said. His comment was underscored by Koby Farhi, Orphaned Land’s lead singer. ” Tonight is the second time we’re playing together — Orphaned Land and Khalas, as Israelis and Arabs. Having a brotherhood, sharing the stage, simply shows that Rock and Roll music is above politics, ” he said.

Farhi added, “The purpose of art is to represent harmony and coexistence in places of disharmony.” This marks the first time the bands were able to do this, after a similar show in Egypt was cancelled in November.

The more pressing question might be whether metal, the music that decidedly is not about peace and harmony, achieves a greater sense of balance by allowing people to speak honestly about their ambitions and desires, instead of hiding behind layers of social pretense.

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.

The underground realizes it is infested with hipsters… from within

June 30, 2013 –

satan_laughs_as_you_eternally_rotMuch as I love the title From Beyond, I think an altogether scarier title would be “From Within.” The things that really get you are the ones you can’t see because they’re behind your eyes. Metal got blindsided by one of these in the last decade.

What happened was that black metal ran out of ideas, and death metal ran out of energy, in about 1995 or 1998 depending on who you talk to. What came after that was metalcore and nu-metal, which are so close in compositional style — both very much closer to rock than metal — that we group them together as nu-core.

The response of metal was unfortunate. Ignoring the advice of sage elders, the metal fans who remained circled the wagons and insisted on ideological purity. No, not of the kind that excludes stuff incompatible with metal, like rock and rap. But literally, a hell-bent desire to repeat the past nearly exactly as it happened.

It’s like tourism. Charlemagne fought here, so you stand here and take a picture. Leonardo da Vinci sketched here, so you eat pizza here and Instagram it to your colleagues back home. Metal tourism involves pretending you’re Darkthone and it’s 1991 for the first time and you’re being a massive innovator by coming up with a new sound.

Except you’re not. It’s 1999 or 2013 and you’re in a bedroom with garage band, making another recombinant album for another recombinant audience. They’ll praise it to the skies for two weeks, then drift on to something else because basically it’s generic, and then popularity becomes a game of making people like your stuff by being their internet buddies.

This kind of toxic environment gave the Full Moon Productions bulletin board such a bad name the label basically quit. FMPers could be counted on to buy lots of records, but that’s like 1000 per pressing, and since they’re so elite and rare, spend a lot of money on them. Other than that, it was favoritism, infighting, backstabbing, and other pointless activity.

Now, in the unlikeliest of places, Nuclear War Now! productions forum has come to face the same problem — and it’s dawning on metalheads that this isn’t limited to a specific place or time, but is a universal human failing like hipsterism:

From the Devil’s Tomb was pretty good imo, but of course the tryhards will disagree. These fags change taste like underwear. Just look at the recent Wrathprayer thread. Now it is “overrated”, but a year ago these same poseurs were worshipping it like it’s the best thing ever since sex. – Candlemass

The vitriol picked up speed:

I’ve come to understand this board is full of kvltist wanna-be’s who are in fact a bunch of hipsters trying to follow trends to appear “elite”, though only a fractional minority truly “gets it”. Thoth

This post isn’t designed to mock the NWN board, or even the FMP board, or the people involved. They’re important because they’ve been perceptive enough to notice something that’s gone wrong with the metal community: it went within, and in doing so, lost its sense of what made it great. Now it’s the emotional equivalent of burnt-out old men, either repeating the past or cynically making derivative crap because they can sell it.

Our future lies beyond these barriers.