Control (2007)

February 19, 2015 –

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Control looks into the life of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who committed suicide in 1980, through the eyes of his wife Deborah who wrote a book of her experience, Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division upon which the movie is based.

Joy Division remain important for the world of music because most of 1980s indie aggregated Joy Division post-punk guitar technique into bouncy pop-punk and formed of it the post-rock which also influenced the chaotic post-hardcore that is the basis for metalcore and modern metal. Where the newer bands were totally circular, Joy Division created more of an unsettling atmosphere of unsystematic and dissymetric music.

The film pitches the idea that Curtis suicided because his diagnosis with epilepsy condemned him to the side-effects of the drugs he took for the condition, and the tendency of seizures to hit at moments of high emotion made him fear the things that ultimately fulfilled him, like band, family and friends. As a result he became increasingly isolated at the same time his symptoms increased, with the exception of his remora of a Euro-girlfriend, Annik Honore.

It’s an interesting thesis, but suicides are too often blamed on medical conditions instead of an honest perception of the utter misery of life. Control shows us the more innocent and purposeful world in which Joy Division arose, the strong bond between the men in the band, and the left field attack of fame and seductive power. Without being a Joy Division historian, it is hard to say how accurate its perspective is, and it may be 100% true, but Deborah Curtis gets shown in a kind light. To its credit, the film does not extensively vilify others, except perhaps the extramarital affair (I’m told these are now called “side bitches”) which is portrayed as parasitic in this and other sources.

What makes Control worth watching is that it portrays artistic force as the utterly incoherent thing that it is; musicians have no idea how to articulate what they are doing, and yet they do it and often incorporate a good deal of thinking into the end result despite being unable to explain it. If anything, the movie could have done with more band scenes — the actors practiced together and became a Joy Division cover band for the purpose of the movie, with actor Sam Riley’s interpretation of the songs as a more Morrisonian Joy Division sometimes giving them new power — and less of the family drama behind it, but it is good to see that included, as it is to see the environment in which this band arose. Joy Division remains provocative and adored to this day, joining a long line of controversial rock vocalists who self-destructed upon seeing the ruin that is modernity. Perhaps this movie would have been stronger if it, like The Doors, incorporated more of that vision, but as it is it makes for an interesting introduction to Joy Division and post-punk.

Ara – Devourer of Worlds

February 1, 2015 –

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Ara drop into a difficult niche of the metal market, trying to be a fusion between modern metal or “technical death metal” like later Gorguts and contemporary Unique Leader bands who incorporate a mix of old death metal and new deathcore styles. The result causes a necessary re-examination of the difference between death metal and modern metal.

In music, composition can take roughly three approaches which can result in nearly infinite forms. In the first approach, the main urge gratified is the need for repetition and so verse-chorus patterns provide the basis with a possible “ironic” or “bittersweet” contrasting turn-around, transition or bridge. This is the most common song format, which like common tempi and common keys is chosen for the convenience of cognition both by composer and audience. The second approach takes a different view which places form in the control of the song instead of the other way around. In structure dominant songwriting of this type, melody or phrases fit together into a narrative, and this narrative — representative of content — dictates form. The problem with this form is that it is difficult, because each piece must relate to all others, instead of a reduced external standard like merely being in the same key. The third form avoids the problems of the first two by being novelty-based and requiring very little commonality between parts of a song arrangement, and generally arose from the fusion of punk rock and progressive rock, which produced more complex punk rock that often had little relation to its parts beyond rhythm. This brings us to the present time, where the structure-based and novelty-based approaches war it out in metal.

During the 1960s, rock fragmented into multiple forms. One of these, starting with experiments by The Beatles and other big pop acts, was the progressive form in which song arrangement was dictated by the needs of a narrative to the music itself; not surprisingly, many of these works were built around literature, mythology or an intricate story arc of their own. This in turn spawned the most ambitious experiments with structure which came from the space ambient bands like Tangerine Dream who did away with drums and any of the fixed aspects of progressive rock that made their songs at least initially represent standard song form. The parents who bought this material were Baby Boomers, whose music buying years of 18-28 occurred mostly between 1964-1984, and their children — who generally hit maturity from 1984-1994 — were the Generation X musicians who created death metal and black metal, and many of them inherited their parents’ albums, which since underground metal seemed to attract a fairly intelligent crop, represented the more interesting music from the previous generation. Much of the influence of progressive rock and space ambient or cosmic music came through in this generation of metal, much like the influence of aggro-prog bands like King Crimson and Jethro Tull emerged in Black Sabbath the generation before. In addition, the instrumentals from Metallica such as “Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth)” and “Orion” as well as the lengthy “epic” compositions of some late-1970s progressive-tinged heavy metal and guitar rock influenced the new generation. For this reason, when proto-underground metal combined heavy metal with hardcore punk, it also added the type of composition used in progressive rock, from which came the process by which Asphyx calls “riff-glueing” where riffs are mated to each other on the basis of a dialogue between the phrases used in them, discarding harmony as the sole basis of compatibility along with the late-1980s “progressive punk” idea of novelty-based composition. This gave death metal its most unique aspect: prismatic composition, or the ability for riffs to be repeated in successively different contexts, such that each new iteration reveals a new interpretation based on what came before, much as in a poem that uses the same technique with repeated lines like a villanelle. While this is often a relatively minor influence, as with Morbid Angel, it remains an influence on all death metal and the dividing line between it and the imitators.

The most significant influences on Ara look to be the post-Suffocation thread of percussive death metal culminating in Unique Leader bands like Deeds of Flesh through a more complex interpretation of late-90s bands like Internal Bleeding and Dying Fetus, the 2010s interpretation of that as hybrid indie-rock known as “technical death metal” or modern metal, and old school progressive death metal like Gorguts Obscura and Demilich Nespithe. These influence style, not necessarily content, although when bands lose direction they reverse the compositional process and have style determine content, as opposed to the better method of having content select style. Ara show an insight into both riffcraft, or the act of writing riffs themselves, and the type of transitions in song that give meaning to previous riffs by shifting context. Unfortunately, they attempt to make music within the novelty-based style which interrupts itself to provide contrast instead of relying on the inherent contrast produced by such transitional moments. Bassy vocals ride herd on a stream of relatively unrelated riffs, sometimes culminating in a moment of parallax transferrence where a new riff makes the past seem to mean something entirely different, over precision technical drums. Riff forms borrow from “technical death metal,” itself a fusion of post-hardcore and lite jazz with the degraded simplified forms of late-90s death metal, and so a great variety of technique serves as the basis of these riffs, but unfortunately often this makes the riff a function of the technique and not vice-versa. If someone were to give this band good advice, it would be to look to those transitional moments and the riffs that really define each song and make all of the other riffs lead up to and support that moment even through opposing themes, which is a better method of contrast than attempting to shock the ear with radically difference or irony to the previous riff through technique alone. They have clearly mastered technique, as flourishes and fills which show influence from Gorguts and Demilich as well as a host of other metal and non-metal influences reveal, but it is the underlying structure of a song in such a way that evokes meaning which eludes them.

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Devourer of Worlds contains a good album waiting to get out, but as it stands now, it forms painful listening because of its internal disorganization and reliance on technique alone. That makes it so much like two aspects of modern society, marketing and ideology, which serve as denial of reality using the mechanism of language and image to convince people that there is a way around the obvious realities of life. One can either focus on reality and deal with its limitations and implications, or look to symbols as a form of reality and manipulate those and then claim the result is the same as one innate to reality itself. All marketing, including advertising and propaganda, and all ideology, which combines prescriptive reasoning with propaganda to make the recipient feel pleasure at the rightness of a decision instead of its likely positive results, fit within this range of form dictating content and not the other way around. If reality is content, the form we should admire is that which fits to reality; when form is content, reality becomes secondary and we retreat into a ghetto of the human mind and forget about implication for what will result. As with all art, in music when the surface becomes predominant over content, it requires the core of each song to simplify itself or become near-random, at which point the work loses any sense of being memorable or meaningful and must content itself with novelty. These songs tend toward circularity, or cycling between two or three ideas which serve as a backdrop for the main action which is expressed through technique. This quandary calls to mind the break between the third and fourth Pestilence albums: Testimony of the Ancients increased the technicality of each song, but this put more emphasis into technique of each riff and less into the riff itself, which caused the band to rely on anchored harmonic positions much as in rock and embellish those with fills, which created relatively static phrases and as a result, simplified songs. On the album that followed, Spheres, Pestilence attempted to correct this with more guitar/synth leads and riffier songs, both returning to their earliest work but still remaining stranded within the simple-core complex-surface approach that the outward-in method of using technique to compose creates.

What makes music great as opposed to passable or adequate for a few weeks’ listening is this ability to both reflect reality and give it meaning by showing a response to it that sings of its strengths and reveals purpose to its weaknesses. All songs are in actuality songs of praise for the existence which we lead, avoiding the reaction of the human being — a type of surface-level form instead of content — and looking toward the effects on our lives as they are. These can take the form of harsh criticism of that which is unrealistic, including methods of control like ideology and advertising, and can even indulge fantasy which is different from reality but reveals it through metaphor, but they rarely include the “Vote for me and all will be perfect forever!” and “This product will make you smart, sexy and successful!” that surface-level thinking promotes. Ara are caught forever between the two and are facing the mortal certainty of choice by which the individual goes down one path to the exclusion of all others, and thus defines their life as surely as death itself, and this buries their strengths among their least auspicious tendencies. While Devourer of Worlds shows vast improvement over 2013’s The Blessed Sleep, its tendencies toward what is called metalcore — which is either a hybrid of death metal and late hardcore, as I argue, or simply incompetent death metal as others have asserted — prevent it from reaching the heights possible for these songwriters.

Personnel:

Adam Bujny – Vocals
Jerry Hauppa – Guitars
James Becker – Bass/Vocals
Erik Stenglein – Drums

Sympathy for the Hipster

January 11, 2015 –

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I write a lot about hipsters because I am fascinated by subcultures and how they attempt to find meaning independent of the center. You can join the ska kids, Goths, rivetheads, wi-fi hobos, ecolos or channers. You might have a thedic identity, a de facto tribe combined of ethnic pride and politics, or an outright political group like the earth firsters, crypto-coms or far-right. In a time of no actual commonality to our deconstructed societies, you know you will be a cog in the machine: working a job, paying taxes and housing, and doing all the day-to-day stuff like shopping at Costco that is about as romantic as math homework. To counter-balance that, people seek an identity which shows why their lives are important. All of these are extensions of the original “keeping up with the Joneses” that saw people trying to out-consume each other, but now we are consuming the image of ideas instead of pure product.

Modern life represents at its core a long slow grinding compromise. Any idea is taken from where it is found and made into a product by simplifying it, exaggerating its surface features, and then presenting it for mass consumption. Joining an identity first involves a shopping trip for music, books, clothing and personal accessories including tattoos, piercings, scarification and hitting the gym. Through this process, unique identities are gradually “assimilated,” or made into variants of the mainstream. Every ideation operator declares the gradual entry of those who perpetuate this process into their chosen identity — the falses, the poseurs, the day-trippers, scenesters and imitators — because when enough of them arrive, the unique group becomes overwhelmed and as happens in democracy, what is popular and easily understood wins out over the original idea, which then fades into a distant memory and a cartoon of itself.

Hipsters represent those who have given up on the idea of idea itself. They realize early on that this society is a kicked clip, empty of ammunition and fit only to be returned to the pocket and another retrieved, starting over. But discovering what we want for a future represents a good deal more ambiguity and risk than knowing simply what we detest, and in the meantime, people need an identity to distinguish themselves from the faceless mass. The hipster was born out of this situation by Generation X, who combined slacker culture with counter-culture and added the suburban desperation of their parents, who were only to happen to discuss in detail how the world was going to hell, in front of their children. As a result a new identity formed based on those who have dropped out of society but still seek a way to distinguish themselves, and instead of doing so through strong group identity, they base their concept of self on self-image alone. Thus the hipster opposes the idea itself, and instead seeks a different kind of center: what everyone else is doing, but with some unique conceit for the individual itself. Hipsters are bog-standard people who have hobbies in craft beer, tattooing, making artisanal objects, odd collections, activities chosen for their apparent randomness, and of course art, art and more art, because nothing makes a person look profound like the boho artist lifestyle.

As the definitive article on this topic says:

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

People who seek an idea loathe hipsters because hipsters are the anti-idea. They reject the notion that we can have purpose outside of ourselves, and instead make their time by adorning the self with new fascinating attributes which are always bizarre because their sole goal is to distinguish themselves from the rest, and so whatever is sensible and normal is verboten. The hipster seeks to be unique, individual and different (UID) so that they do not get mistaken for the rest. Part of this is a counter-culture style protest saying that they do not endorse or enjoy the mainstream, and in fact oppose it so should not be held accountable for its failings; the rest comes from the simple need to distinguish oneself in a social scene flooded with people who are all trying to be noticed. Where in the 1920s doing stunts on the lawn might have worked, and in the 1980s it was enough to join an indie band, for the people who come after the reunion of right and left in the 1990s there is no longer an obvious majority culture to oppose. There is only the gradual compromise, and trying to stand out in its midst.

Hipsters suffer for the time into which they were born and the lack of easy and safe ways to rebel against it. Smoking weed and living in a VW van involved relatively few risks; at worst, an arrest occurred in some random little town in Ohio and dear old Dad had to dispatch money and lawyers to fix it. But opposing the conglomeration of democracy, capitalism, liberalism, consumerism and patriotism takes some guts and some time on the thinking couch, because it is not like The Establishment an easy thing to identify. Who can blame these people for laboring as poor cogs just trying to have normal lives? They can laugh at them but not indict them as the problem itself. The focus of the hipster becomes not reform of a society that is already lost, but saving oneself by at least being socially competitive through appearance and having a life independent from concern about the inward collapse — an idea — which might obligate one to sacrifice time otherwise spent on self toward some purpose.

That tendency reveals the problem with hipsters: they are perpetual entryists. Their only idea is the self, so any identity they discover they will turn into a product just as surely as their grandfathers did back in the 1950s. In essence, hipsters are the same consumers that people have always been, except now they are casting around for an appearance of having an idea and thus always sacrifice the idea itself because they are fundamentally opposed to ideas. Subcultures fear the hipster because to admit the hipster is to abolish the subculture and allow it to live on in zombie form as another branch of the great compromise but now as an adornment, like the “French bread” flavoring in the industrial-processed bread aisle or the “exotic scales” used in bog-ordinary rock music to dress it up and disguise its ordinariness. The hipster is indeed the dead end not of just Western civilization, but all civilization, because civilization requires an idea and with hipsterdom, all ideas have been sacrificed to the self.

At the same time, hipsters deserve our sympathy. They are the people on the deck of the Titanic, watching the unstoppable disaster that will inevitably compose them, choosing to get another pint from the bar and bum another cigarillo while bravely chatting about the inconsequential. The water grows incrementally closer and the lifeboats are long gone. Nothing remains except to live it up a little, stand out from the crowd and have your fun, before the darkness inexorably takes over. If you wonder why hipsters look as stressed and miserable as their parents, even when they have trust funds (and an alarming number of them do) and hip indie bands with the flavoring of metal, it is because they too see the approaching disaster and have found nothing to do about it.

The King is Blind – The Deficiencies of Man

December 19, 2014 –
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Of all the modern metal tendencies that can be completely annoying, the insistence of vocals leading the piece takes the cake. Like rap, the music takes a backseat to whatever is being shouted at you like political slogans or advertising offers. Here the band writes a grind-death hybrid distilled to high-energy riffs under a slowly-enunciated cadence of vocals that makes for utter tedium. The problem is that the band is equipped to write two-riff songs and when they go beyond this they sense they are out of their depth and offer instead melodic metal fills.

Like all metalcore, which is as good a container as you will find for “modern metal” which follows hardcore songwriting with metal riffs, The King is Blind comes across as disorganized because it is in metal terms. In rock terms it is highly organized, with verses matching choruses in key and rhythm. The problem is that the riffs are unrelated so they serve the same role as a slow double-strummed open C in a Bruce Springsteen tune: they keep background harmony to the vocals, which are the real focus here. Except these vocals are mostly monotone. Throwing in simplified Slayer riffs just creates a circus atmosphere, as does the use of other metal technique to try to give momentum to this otherwise pointless music.

#metalgate: SJW-metal is the new “Christian metal”

December 15, 2014 –

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#MetalGate exposes human behavior at its most basic level. When someone stands up and refuses to go along with the herd, most people fear that person. S/he is refusing to endorse the same behavior that everyone else engages in, which makes them look like they may be wrong. Even worse, this person has found a way of life which may even be better. This freaks them out and so they attack.

If you went to an American high school, you are familiar with the two types of iconoclasts. The first do everything they can to make sure that you know they are an iconoclast: they wear hats, dress oddly, listen to “edgy” music and give the finger to authority — usually some 64.5 year old security guard — whenever they can. The other type are quietly iconoclastic by cutting out of their lives all the time-wasting stuff other people do so that they can focus on what they want to do. In this group, you find many of the artists, top students, athletes, musicians and other honestly interesting people. The first group tries to be this, but never can be.

Heavy metal has always been the interesting kid. It does not need to shout its iconoclasm from the rooftops because when you throw the music on your stereo (or cell phone mp3 player) you can immediately sense that something different is going on here. It does not sound like regular rock music, the 31 flavors and 50 shades of which normal people listen to. This is music that has gone beyond what others are willing to tolerate, and it echoes this idea in its lyrics and imagery. People fear death, disease, warfare, the occult, conflict and evil, so metal sings about these things. It reveals to us everything that we would rather deny, including — especially — the apocalyptic and dystopian factors that point out that our society is over-ripe and likely heading for a fall and decay. Heavy metal is like the person at a cocktail party who will not take the hint and keeps asking about your upcoming corruption trial even though it is rude, unsociable and impolite to do so.

When a true (but quiet) iconoclast stands up, all the fake iconoclasts immediately want to take that person down. S/he makes them look bad in comparison because they are clearly people acting like iconoclasts, not actual iconoclasts. As many people have noticed through the years, there is no bigger group of sheep than those who insist they are not like the other sheep. An actual iconoclast does not need to tell you that he’s different; he just does what he does, and that difference becomes clear. There is also one more thing he possesses, on top of difference, which is direction. He is not different to be different. He’s different because he has a plan, an agenda and a purpose, where everyone else is just dressing up in weird clothes to try desperately to be “cool” (itself an ultra-sheep concept).

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Over the years, many groups have tried to take over metal. In the 1980s the Church felt threatened by heavy metal and so sponsored a form of contemporary worship music known as “Christian metal” which imitated heavy metal bands, but had Christian lyrics. It never felt right as metal and so never caught on with anyone but those who were already Christian. Christian metal peaked in the mainstream with Stryper, whose Amy Grant style take on Motley Crue made fodder for endless jokes but also a fair number of album sales before the band vanished into well-deserved obscurity. The feeling among Christians was that since heavy metal was evil, Christians needed to make a “safe” version of that evil music so they could enjoy it too. The media ate it up, too, because it was ironic just like the high school iconoclasts. Christian metal was the equivalent of wearing a fedora and suit vest over jeans and a Hawaiian shirt while talking about the blue energy fields.

The problem with this agenda shared between the Christian establishment and the media establishment had two heads: the music wasn’t very good, and these two groups were obvious outsiders. They tried to solve this by getting Christian bands to play alongside regular metal bands, but this did not end well as most metalheads recognized this intrusion for what it was. No matter how many times the Christian bands said “See, we’re one of you!” and the big newspapers referred to them as heavy metal bands who coincidentally just happened to be Christian, metalheads did not buy it. Christian metal fizzled after some time. Other groups tried to achieve entry in the same way, including far-right groups, vegans and anti-drug crusaders, but all slipped by the wayside from failure to be accepted. The simple reason for this is that allowing metal to be assimilated to become a voice for someone else’s agenda violates the basic idea of metal itself:

If I could distill metal into a single phrase, it would be this: metal is the musical equivalent of the word “FUCK” aimed at society.

This is why the SJW’s will never win. Their “victory,” if such a thing is possible, would be Pyrrhic. It would destroy metal. It would turn metal into pop rock, and metal is the violent musical reaction against pop rock.

With #MetalGate, what happened was that in the late 1990s a ground of ex-hardcore people decided they wanted to make metal “safe” by having it bleat out their doctrine. Their viewpoint was popular among the new group of hipsters and other iconoclasts who filled American cities. This group created a new type of metal, a hybrid between death metal and post-hardcore and sometimes indie rock, and declared themselves the new underground. To be part of this new underground, you had to have the “right” opinions. The old underground nearly universally rejected them on musical grounds, since the new hybrid metal was both random and highly resembled old, burnt-out 1980s genres. But that did not stop these people from recruiting a new group of fans and trying to edge out the older underground types. They also had media support; most of them worked in media or knew people who did. New labels, magazines, and web sites popped up to sign these new bands who brought in a new audience not of metalheads but ex-hardcore kids. Like people fleeing a big polluted city only to move to a smaller city and make it big and polluted, they jumped ship looking for something unruined to ruin.

In other words, this is Christian metal all over again. They want to make metal “safe” by insisting that we talk about life in the way they have defined it, which is a series of “issues” much like Christian metal wanted to talk about morality when metal wanted to write about war. They have media support and want to use that to drown out other voices so that only they have control. Personally, I doubt they even believe the stream of stuff they write lyrics about, but like the fake iconoclasts from high school, just want to sound “educated” so they can be superior to the rest of us unwashed, uneducated, and simple-minded metalheads. Christian metal took the same attitude which was that we were simply ignorant sinners who needed to “receive” the good news of the Bible. Like Christian metal, “SJW metal” is failing and that is why certain media personalities are trying so hard to make us accept it. #MetalGate is the first pushback against the Stryper of the 21st century, and it’s making them so mad they are scrambling all hands to put out denials.

Warfather – Orchestrating the Apocalypse

December 14, 2014 –

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We can look at objects as their surface traits, or attributes they have in different categories at different times, or look at them as shapes (or even forms) which manifest themselves in those attributes. When this logic is applied to genres, we quickly see how complex the term “death metal” can be.

If you ask your average journalist about death metal, s/he will start listing off descriptors, like heavy distortion, guttural vocals, intense riffs, blasphemic and occult topics. The implication will be made that all of these things together make death metal and yet, four average musicians could bash out an album of Dolly Parton covers using those attributes in an afternoon and it would be no more like death metal than the original.

What holds death metal together is its internal language where riffs correspond to structure. The process of assembly, called “riff-gluing” by Bob Bacchus of Soulburn/Asphyx, means knitting those riffs into a narrative where they both comment on one another and lead to a series of mood or atmosphere changes in the whole which suggest some kind of event, realization, journey or gesture. With this approach, the death metal style of riffing is inevitably invented, as is the need to have vocals take a background role and guitars to lead and dominate over drums, bass and vocals. Even if death metal had zero influences before it, if people set out to reinvent it based on that idea alone they would end up with something a lot like underground death metal.

Warfather combines the charging high-speed riffs of Angelcorpse, the abrupt transitions and chanted choruses of Hate Eternal, and the love of sweeps and odd melodic twists of post-metal and metalcore. In doing so, it loses sight of what makes death metal a whole, and instead takes the pieces it finds most convenient and makes out of them something else. Because this something else lacks a centrality, it must choose between being so chaotic it becomes boring or so repetitive that it becomes boring. Warfather choose the latter and pound out catchy choruses and verses with strident rage guiding the vocals, but have nothing to unite them while seeking to break them up with flourishes to disguise the lack of development. Songs do not ramble, but charge in different directions and then resume back at the starting point before fading away. While there are some good riffs on here they are lost in a void of context. The end result is organized disorganization where all the pieces fit together and mean nothing.

On paper, Orchestrating the Apocalypse seems like it would offer everything a journalist uses to describe death metal: the riffs, the vocals, the loudness and perhaps even the blasphemy. As a listening experience it misses the intensity of death metal by a mile through focusing on these surface traits and missing the motivation to put them in a meaningful order that made death metal so terrifying, mindblowing and vertiginously exciting. All that remains is to finish this review and move on.

#MetalGate

December 12, 2014 –

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I had hoped that the busload of squalling drama that was #GamerGate (see here: pro | con) would not come to metal, but #metalgate has arrived courtesy of the same people who intruded into the gaming industry despite a striking lack of actual contributions:

Metal is still dogged by the issues that arise from its deep-seated conservative values, but thanks to an increase in conversations about racism, politics, and feminism, those on the right side of history have gained solid ground. – SPIN

Before we get involved in this partisan squabble, consider that metal is beyond the left-right divide. The left wants individualism through equality, and the right wants individualism through lack of social obligation. Neither recognize that societies, like metal genres, are organic entities where more is required than individualism; we need cooperation.

It is easy to see however why someone might want to — as writers have in the past — call heavy metal conservative. Metal avoids “social issues” and other internal questions of a society and instead looks at the health of a society as a whole, or in other words, how sane it is. We see a world gone insane through a refusal to pay attention to reality. The methods of that are beyond an artistic genre and should be injected into it, but since 2006 at least trying to reform metal has been a pet project of certain groups:

More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords.

Cattle Decapitation vocalist Travis Ryan said his San Diego band’s mix of charging guitars and an animal rights message is drawing a diverse crowd that includes activists as well as traditional metal fans. – The Washington Post

The grim fact is that metal has split into two groups. When the newer group encountered the older group, they were appalled that it did not share their opinions, not just on politics but how to live. This new group is inherently “social” and they share opinions which make their friends feel warm and fuzzy about them. That is at odds with the older metal tradition of not caring what society thought, telling the hard truth, and being obligated to no one because most people are crazy.

It is only when you get involved in a managerial role with society, like a kindergarten teacher insisting that we all play nice together, that you care at all about making sure that everyone is included. Metal does not. Metal looks at society from the view of history and whether it is healthy or diseased from within. The metalhead view is consistently anti-managerial, since metalheads recognize the deficiencies of people and want to keep most of them at a great distance. It is not that we want to manage them, like political people do, but that we want to be free of them.

For years people have tried to make metal more sociable. They first tried in the mid-1970s when they mixed Black Sabbath with Led Zeppelin and produced hard rock, hoping that they could sell it to more people. “Sociable” sells. Then they tried in the 1980s with rap/rock, funk metal and other abominations. Finally they hit on nu-metal but that turned into an extended conversation about the impact of child molestation. And then, during the early 2000s, they rolled out a metal/hardcore fusion that had sociable lyrics like hardcore punk has for many years.

Notice that none of this was brought on by metalheads. It was created by people who wanted to be metalheads, but felt they could not be metalheads unless the genre agreed with their existing social, political and lifestyle biases. At this point, the metal community has entirely split between those who like the old school and those who want to be “nu-skool.” This is because they are two separate genres. Metal is metal, and the indie-metal/metalcore wave is someone else trying to use us for their agenda. #MetalGate is just the latest salvo in this fight.

Interview with Cognizance

December 11, 2014 –

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Metalcore band Cognizance hopes to make itself a force among the legions of hybrid-metal bands dressing like hardcore kids, partying like millennials and hungry for riffs. With their newest release, _Inceptum, Cognizance unleash two tracks of technical metalcore with a focus on songwriting. Guitarist Alex Baillie gave us a few moments of his time to describe the past and future of this competitive band…

When did Cognizance form, and did you have a goal in mind at the time? Were you from similar musical backgrounds? What about life-paths and outlooks?

Henry and myself started working on a Death Metal song late 2011, we recorded it like 3 times with the help from some other musicians we were friends with. Eventually, it started to sound pretty cool and early 2012 we started (slowly) piecing 4 songs together which later became our debut Inquisition.

Pryce (Big Mac/Henry) and me have been friends for quite a long time, we’ve played in a couple of bands together. We’ve always shared a mutual love for heavy metal, gear and snacks. So kicking off this project was pretty easy going.

Phil joined the force late 2013, we’ve known him a while and I used to play in his band XisForEyes. You can check this out in detail in our “Origins” video:

You’re more experienced musicians than the average person starting a new band. Was this a challenge and how did you overcome it? Did you face any obstacles in uniting your musical styles?

I wouldn’t say we’re more experienced than people starting a new band, but we’re keen players for sure.

I’d say the only obstacle we initially faced and still sometimes do is Pryce telling me everything needs to be faster haha. We eventually compromise on a tempo, I’m down for the faster speeds but sometimes certain parts can just sound a mess at whacky speeds. Plus I can’t play that fast!

As far as musical styles go, we each contribute our style of playing to compliment the song. If our idea doesn’t work or fit then it gets changed. We usually put things like this down to a vote.

What sort of music is Cognizance? How does it differ from death metal, grindcore and metalcore?

Cognizance is modern Death/Extreme Metal. I don’t think we differ that much from the styles mentioned above. Although I don’t think we have any elements of Grindcore in there, yet.

_Inceptum seems to be a concept EP. What does the leading underscore (_) mean? What is the concept?

We wanted to use the underscore to visualise the technological/digital theme in the song “The Succession of Flesh.” The specific word “Inceptum” was inspired by the other single “Aeon of Creation.” The theme in each song share undertones which form the title _Inceptum.

The lyrical themes of each song are set in completely different time frames. “Aeon of Creation” is about the hellish conditions during the early formation of Earth, the originator of consciousness. A natural creation. “The Succession of Flesh” is set in the present and is themed around technology being considered an extension of human consciousness, a man made creation.

Why did you decide to do an EP instead of a full-length?

There are a few reasons why we decided to do this, mainly; Time, our budget and our ambition to keep churning out songs as quickly and consistently as we can.

Currently not being a live band means that we have to go about things in a slightly different method. At the moment this works for us and our sound is constantly changing so this keeps each release sounding real fresh.

Where did you record, and what did you do to get the crisp and crunchy (“Pringles”) sound you got?

_Inceptum was recorded in various locations:

  • Drums: Eyal Levi’s studio in Stanford, Florida. Eyal also recorded his solo here.
  • Rhythm and lead guitars: Henry’s studio up in Leeds; Eyal flew out to record us here in the UK.
  • Vocals and bass: Phil’s studio up in Newcastle upon Tyne. More Eyal action right here.
  • Frank Mullen guest spot- Tommy Jones (Videohammer Studios) who filmed the whole recording process flew out to Long Island New York to track Frank at Full Force studios.
  • Jason Suecof guest spot: Jason recorded his guest solo at his studio in Florida, the mighty Audiohammer studios. They now have a meat smoker over there but that didn’t make its way on to the recording.

About those Pringles you mentioned, the overall sound is down to each of our performances and the final mix Eyal did.

You chose to release the EP to press as a 20-minute film about the making of the EP. How did this “meta-release” come to pass? Was it a greater challenge?

The addition of the documentary fell in place naturally. We wanted to capture the experience of this project as it was a pretty big venture for us having Eyal Levi and Tommy Jones come over from the US to work with us. Plus including a documentary with the release was a nice step up from our last demo, widely know as the “Speed Metal” self-titled.

Tommy did an incredible job of the documentary. Filming in multiple locations/studios can’t be easy to edit into a final product but he’s really nailed it and we’re pumped about how it’s come out.

We will be releasing the documentary for free online alongside the release of _Inceptum on the 22nd December.

What’s next for Cognizance? How should interested fans stay on top of what you’re doing?

We’re already working on a bunch of new material. I’ve pretty much got four songs written at this point. I’m not sure what we’re going to use them for or when you guys will hear them. But we’re starting some pre-production in less than two weeks, should be badass.

We post regular updates on our pages

Cognizance – _Inceptum

December 2, 2014 –

cognizance-_inceptum

The quest for the palatable metalcore album continues.

While doing so is controversial, it makes sense to group all of the metal hybrids which organize themselves as post-hardcore bands did under the metalcore banner. This is because compositionally they are heading in the same direction. That direction involves high contrast stop-start riffing and use of fills instead of connecting riffs together so their contrasts form a narrative, as death metal did.

Cognizance leap into this fray with a new EP, _Inceptum. The cyber-title reflects the mania in metal since ’94 to seem like the next generation, of something. But stepping past this, _Inceptum presents two songs of medium length in the metalcore style. The vocals are open throat and lead the rhythm of the song, which plays off against it jazz-style with the drums and by alternating between percussive rhythmic riffing in the “prog-death” style and sweeps/fills as has been the tendency of metalcore since Necrophagist. Lead guitars take the license they get from jazz fusion in the rock school and break from rhythm, which allows more flexible exploration of related themes.

This exceeds the norm for metalcore. These songs still spend too much energy on being catchy and creating contrast, which reminds me of the 1980s carnival metal they sold as an alternative to speed metal, mixing gothic, hard rock, heavy metal and industrial in these sample platter albums that went nowhere but would distract you with something “new, unique, different” (NUD) every iconoclastic second. The tendency of vocals in metalcore to blurt out a repeated rhythm is offensive not on an aesthetic level but a musical one, as it forces the rest of instrumentation to discoordinate. That was sort of new when Napalm Death did it… twenty-five years later, it plays out as contrived. Where this band shines however is in their ability to tie together songs with a central harmonic theme and thus despite the wide range of technique, still use the craft of songwriting to guide listeners through a musical experience more than an aesthetic one. Lead guitars are far above average and make the best use of their flexible style, although sometimes the melodies and patterns that emerge could be the basis of additional songs in their own right.

As they saying goes, with metalcore “you either do or you do not,” and many of us firmly underline the do not option because we prefer death metal for its greater expressiveness. Among the post-metal hybrids however Cognizance provides one of the better options by keeping musicality at the center of their songwriting and refusing to allow it to be swallowed up by instrumentalism, pushing back against the most wanky aspects of the metalcore genre. Musical performances show competence extended to the point of some comfort with the performance, which allows this band to relax a bit and write some songs instead of spending too much time using Visio to script their riff transitions. While _Inceptum shows us only two songs, it reveals a positive side of this band that may offer new breath for the flagging metalcore genre.

    Tracklist:

  1. The Succession of Flesh
  2. Aeon of Creation