How to get into black metal

April 17, 2015 –

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An experienced music listener who is new to black metal asked for a doorway into the genre. This raises the question of how to appreciate black metal, which like most things in life is mostly mental preparation. Without context, black metal seems like any other loud genre, and it becomes harder to distinguish the newer tryhard junk from the original.

The best way to gain context is to walk through the history of the genre from oldest to newest. This approach, common in art, literature and philosophy, allows people to see what developed from what and what the reasoning for that was and therefore, what the reasoning is behind what is here now.

The result of this query was a simple list to urge people to explore this genre further. This list originates in the history of black metal music, but also in influences that can be identified among the bands as immediately relevant. Toward the end it extends more into general conjecture based on what shows up later in highly different form among the black metal works of relevance listed above it.

I. Proto- Metal

  1. Bathory – The Return
  2. Slayer – Hell Awaits
  3. Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids
  4. Sodom – Persecution Mania

II. Interim

  1. Sarcofago – INRI
  2. Merciless – The Awakening
  3. Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom
  4. Von – Satanic Blood

III. Black metal

  1. Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
  2. Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
  3. Burzum – Burzum/Aske
  4. Emperor/Enslaved – Split
  5. Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon
  6. Beherit – Drawing Down the Moon
  7. Varathron – His Majesty in the Swamp
  8. Havohej – Dethrone the Son of God
  9. Impaled Nazarene – Ugra-Karma
  10. Samael – Worship Him

IV. Second Wave

  1. Gorgoroth – Antichrist
  2. Graveland – The Celtic Winter
  3. Ancient – Svartalvheim
  4. Sacramentum – Far Away From the Sun
  5. Ildjarn – Forest Poetry
  6. Summoning – Dol Guldur
  7. Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
  8. Gehenna – First Spell
  9. Behemoth – From the Pagan Vastlands

V. Extended Contemporary

  1. Demoncy – Joined in Darkness
  2. Sammath – Godless Arrogance
  3. Mutiilation – Remains of a Ruined, Cursed, Dead Soul
  4. Absurd – Asgardsrei

For immediate death metal background to black metal:

  1. At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
  2. Carnage – Dark Recollections
  3. Godflesh – Streetcleaner

For heavy metal background to black metal:

  1. Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
  2. Venom – Possessed
  3. Angel Witch – Angel Witch
  4. Destruction/Tormentor – Demos

For hardcore punk background to all metal:

  1. Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
  2. Amebix – No Sanctuary
  3. The Exploited – Death Before Dishonour
  4. Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel

For electronic music background to underground metal:

  1. Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express
  2. Tangerine Dream – Phaedra

For progressive rock background to metal:

  1. King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
  2. Yes – Tales from Topographic Oceans
  3. Camel – Camel
  4. Greenslade – Greenslade

For classical background to metal:

  1. Anton Bruckner – Symphony No. 4
  2. Richard Wagner – Tannhäuser
  3. Franz Schubert – Unfinished Symphony
  4. Mozart – Symphony 41
  5. Haydn – Symphony 82
  6. Bach – Partita No. 5 in G major

Supuration releases cover image for Reveries…

March 25, 2015 –

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French progressive rock/death metal hybrid Supuration have released the cover for their upcoming album, Reveries…. Created by famed underground metal artist Dan Seagrave, the cover image displays classic death metal symbology in its gnarled and organic textures in a mythological setting.

Reveries… will see release via Listenable Records on May 29, 2015. Mastered by Dawn Swano (Edge of Sanity), the album “is a re_recording of old songs written during the 90s” according to the band. Perhaps the combination of their newer more aggressive technique, classic death metal imagery and their inventive songwriting will forge a new classic.

Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion by Durrell Bowman

February 24, 2015 –

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Canada’s Rush keeps its fingers in many worlds, including that of 70s heavy metal, and as a result often attracts metalheads. Durrell Bowman attempts to explain the appeal of this band through perhaps the best method possible, which is to analyze the music itself and only secondarily and sparingly reinforce what is learned with extracts from interviews. Unlike most rock writers, he focuses on the output from the band rather than the discussion or buzz surrounding it, and as a result is able to pull out intention through the band and its reaction to the changes in the experience of its members of the years and how that translates into artistic voicing.

Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion walks through Rush by eras of the band from its early hard rock days to its more progressive-rock influenced middle period to the later middle period of AOR (although this term is not used) very similar to 80s music like Boston, Asia, ZZ Top and the Eagles. In his analysis, Bowman attempts to answer one of the fundamental questions: is Rush a progressive rock band? If not, what are they? And how does this reconcile with their many different internal influences and the many different external styles, including a technologically-hip 90s format, which have cloaked the music of this band? Bowman gives his conclusions in a short introduction and then analyzes the work of the band song by song, divided into albums and the aforementioned eras. The result is a picture slowly emerging of a rock band with many different influences who wanted to play essentially power pop but with a guitar-driven appeal, like later Yes albums such as 90215. Into this, the self-taught musicians mix material from a wide range of influences as part of a philosophy of the band which Bowman slowly peels away during successive chapters: a leftist-libertarian political outlook, a personal individualism, dogmatic atheism and a studied eclecticism to find support for these ideas across different cultures and disciplines. Like their music, their philosophies are a grab-bag of what supports their fundamental worldview, which Bowman reveals as very much localized to and shaped by their experience growing up.

What Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion offers to the world of music is not so much conclusions, however, as critical points for analysis. The entire book functions as an outline of the output of the artist with vital points addressed such as musical techniques used, including juicy details on time signature and scale/harmony, but also rather intelligently looking into the music as a series of patterns and avoiding a deep immersion in music theory. As a result, Bowman compares abstract patterns found in the music to what they symbolize in life, which works well for progressive rock bands who tend to be mimetic in their approach generally, but works doubly well for Rush, who are differentiated from progressive rock (although they incorporate many of its techniques) by their tendency toward music that is more symbolic or defined in human terms rather than imitating the objects or experiences the humans are undergoing. This rather fine distinction highlights why many progressive rock fans find Rush distasteful, and why many Rush fans find progressive rock inscrutable: the two take different approaches, and the Rush approach is closer to that taken by power pop bands than what progressive rock bands attempt. It both makes the music easier to comprehend, because the meaning in the lyrics is “acted out” by the music, and explains how Rush is able to escape its normative AOR format by incorporating so many different styles as if they were brush techniques in a painting, namely that it uses whatever techniques are appropriate for rendering its vision, much like it picks from disparate philosophies, literature and religion bits and pieces which it can use to illustrate its own philosophy and ideology. Through this insight Bowman stands heads above the other writers on this topic.

Turning from the technical arts of the band to the technique of the writer, Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion shows us what rock journalism could be — some of us would say should be — by digging into this band in the only way that honors their efforts, which is to take them seriously as people by investigating their art for what it attempts to express as a communication between artist and fans. DMU has always taken this approach to death metal which has made us a minority in not just a metal underground but a rock scene which would rather write about where a band is from, their ironic personalities, the production of albums, how much the fans love it, or what trend the band belongs to. This treats artists like simpletons and fans like yeast with credit cards (although some might say this accurately portrays humanity anno 2015). Bowman takes the opposite approach, which is to avoid academic-ese and also rock journalist ideo-jive, and instead to look at this band with an intelligent common sense approach by picking apart each song to see what makes it work, both as a communications device and as an experience to enjoy. With the force of Rush fans behind him, hopefully Bowman can convince more of the music world to join him in this approach, which like the scientific method for materials should be the de facto standard for music.

King Crimson – Red

January 10, 2015 –

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King Crimson demonstrate within older radio rock style how to destroy the limitations of pop music as a compositional style, both removing popular conventions and launching their own musical lexicon with Red. This group is noted to have influenced Black Sabbath and have in turn influenced the black metal and death metal produced a generation later. Although progressive rock differs in aesthetic and ideology, the fundamental spirit is shared with these extreme genres much as despite their internal diversity they find commonality between radically dissimilar acts, much as Burzum and Sentenced do not share an ideology but have the same approach in spirit to life and music.

Red joined us in 1974, after the great hippie meltdown of 1969 but before the truly industrial product music of the 1980s. Harmonic rhythm notes jump across power chord riffs while motifs range across genre techniques from rock to heavy metal music in an assortment of ecclectic jazz beat music. Much as in the solo careers of these musicians, the music acts as a sort of sponge for influences, styles, techniques and ideas, but remains at its core the kind of imaginative progressive rock that drove Jethro Tull, Yes and Aphrodite’s Child. Notably electric guitar feedback loops amplified by acoustic resonance of room sound are used to produce a sonic resonance and lead melodic development, often resembling keyboard orchestra sounds as they define each song by developing atmosphere through the contrast between texture, tone and phrase.

Vocal songs as popular formatted compositions show movement rather than immediate resolution in music. Violent minimalism becomes eerily present as a lead guitar tone, carving sonic landscapes through sustained notes ringing in what would be describes as loops in ambient music, then intensifying these repeated patterns by doubling the guitars with crushing distortion. Songs show use another method of composition as opposed to the conventional rock major chord resolutions of popular music. Harmonically this album relies on half-steps followed by whole notes in a style then typical of the jazz fusion movement in rock. As if paying tribute to ancients, the rhythm is very rich with guitars producing massive sustain, reminiscent of DBC. A power chord motif leads order into disorder as the leitmotif is repeated inconsistently inbetween chaotic passages of large intervals creating sense of horror. Robert Fripp later innovated minimalist music playing his electric guitar through a tape feedback recorder and distortion and the nascent elements of that idea appear here as well.

If you went to an opera hall for a music performance, “love me do” pop-rock would not provide a sufficient intensity of experience. Redundant and eventually contradicting itself in political dogma, the rock format remained the same — guitar, bass, drums and singing lyrics — as the medium proved adequate enough to express a much wider range of music than what the format was originally intended for, but this required innovation in style and substance as King Crimson set out to do and succeeded with brilliantly in Red. Exceptional guitar works can be found still within parts of songs for those who take the time to listen to the whole album, which creates a feeling of mixed rock, jazz and classical music. The mythological, lyrical content of King Crimson continues a long legacy, reminiscent of much older works of this band, which continues through progressive rock to the underground metal of today.

Cóndor announces new album Duin will be released January 27, 2015

November 26, 2014 –

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South American death metal and progressive band Cóndor will release its second album, Duin, on January 27. This band takes an approach more like that of classical guitarists toward melding death metal with progressive rock, blues, folk and other influences: it mixes them in serially and adopts them within the style, rather than hybridizing the two styles.

In other words, most bands that try to sound like progressive death metal try to act like a progressive rock band playing death metal, or a death metal band playing progressive rock. Cóndor takes an approach more like that of musicians in the past, which is to adopt other voices within its style, so that it creates essentially the same material but works in passages that show the influence of other thought.

Cóndor‘s first album Nadia made our best of 2013 for its mix between primal death metal and other guitar-oriented styles. It will be interesting to see how much the band matured and developed during the past two years and how it will handle what are undoubtedly new influences.

The tracklist is as follows:

  1. Río frío
  2. El lamento de Penélope
  3. La gran laguna
  4. Coeur-de-lion
  5. Condordäle
  6. Helle gemundon in mod-sefan
  7. Adagio
  8. Duin

King Crimson releases teaser of new album

July 2, 2014 –

king_crimson-band_photo

1960s progressive rock band King Crimson whose evolution paralleled that of Black Sabbath in developing melody-based, complex song structure music using moveable chords and other techniques, have returned with a new recording that at just over a minute shows the direction they will take on their new tour, which will cover the US starting September 9.

The recording shows the new seven-member incarnation of King Crimson which includes Robert Fripp (guitar), Tony Levin (bass) and drummers Bill Rieflin and Gavin Harrison. Observers will note the venerable Crimson fusing its 1990s style of complex atmospheric improvisational music with its more acerbic 1970s work.

The difference between metal and punk, rock: it’s not literal

April 10, 2014 –

woodstock

As author of The Heavy Metal FAQ, I have wrestled with the question of how to define metal over the years. Since it uses the same techniques as any other form of music, but used in different proportions and combinations, I have always focused on the idea that unites these uses which makes metal so obviously distinct from rock, punk and other forms of music.

To this I’d like to add another idea: metal is not literal. That is, metal tends to view the world through a symbolic or mythological lens. It does so to reflect our inward sensations about what is going on, plus a historical viewpoint which requires a more high-level view. The details don’t matter as much as the form, in metal, and we pay attention to the form and then put it in a folk-wisdom format.

Archetypal examples of this can be found in classic metal like “War Pigs” (Black Sabbath), “Hardening of the Arteries” (Slayer), “Painkiller” (Judas Priest) and “My Journey to the Stars” (Burzum). In these songs, mythological forces clash to reveal a truth of everyday life. They inform us about our time and put us into a symbolic and emotional framework with it in which we want to fight it out, fix it, struggle and win.

In contrast, most music is either sensuality-based or protest music. Sensuality-based music is exemplified by stuff like Shakira. Protest music really exploded in the 1960s, but reformed itself with punk, which took a more abstract and yet earthy view. Where the 60s bands sang about politics, punks sang about everyday life and the insanity of existence. This finally culminated in thrash, which used hints of metal’s mythology to make the personal into the universal, as in “Give My Taxes Back” (DRI), “M.A.D.” (Cryptic Slaughter), “Minds are Controlled” (COC) and “Man Unkind” (DRI).

Metal does go wrong sometimes and get literal. The worst of these are the ego-based songs, as in Pantera, or the songs about being metal and going to shows and the like, which are generally just dumb. It is not surprising that these are not favorites of the genre because they drop away from that 30,000-foot view and instead become more personal drama like the rest of our society, which explains why its institutions don’t function and its ideas are corrupt.

Interestingly, other genres are not literal either. Progressive rock was famous for songs about weird adventures in fantasy worlds that had striking parallels to our own (compare to JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis). Classical music tends toward fantastic descriptions from literature and history. These are genres of the weighty and impersonal, not the direct and immediate and personal. They have a different scope and internal language.

Jazz is the outlier. When sung, it tends toward protest and sensual lyrics. When instrumental, the sound of it suggests a combination of the two: a kind of secular (no meaning greater than the material and immediate) version of imagination, but applied to literal experience, such that it forms a kind of texture without a unifying core. It communicates the loneliness of modern isolation and a retreat into the personal complexity of the mind.

Where metal stands out among modern genres is that it still embraces this viewpoint, or at least did until the nu/mod-metal started appearing. Part of what makes such a viewpoint necessary is that metal, despite being about killer riffs, is not about the riff. It’s about many riffs stitched together to make an experience so that when the killer riff comes out, it has a meaning in context that makes it heavy. No song is heavy from just one riff. It’s heavy because when you get to that super-heavy riff, everything else has set it up to resonate.

This in part explains the audience of metal. Mythology, historical significance and topics of philosophy do not inspire the honor students, who are busy working on their careers (and the obedience-profitability nexus that these entail), or the average student, who is busy in a world of his/her own pleasures and delights. They do however appeal to the outliers, the dreamers and dissidents, who might find class boring because they find society boring and purposeless, and instead turn toward fantasy and a bigger, more abstract realism to express themselves.

King Crimson spinoff group The Crimson ProjeKCt releases Live in Tokyo

February 14, 2014 –

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A supergroup composed of King Crimson musicians, The Crimson ProjeKCt, will release Live in Tokyo through InsideOut Music on March 18, 2014. To commemorate the announcement of the live album’s release, the band have issued a video of their live performance of the 1974 King Crimson classic “Red” off the album by the same name.

“Red is one of the pre-80s instrumentals that has remained an integral part of King Crimson’s repertoire up until the early 2000s. Our interpretation of this classic piece is uniquely energetic and always ‘on-the-edge’, especially the double drumming from Pat and Tobias. Markus is doubling the main guitar part in a baritone register, which adds a subtle new pushing element to the song. The roar going through the audience when we start playing this is one of the highlights of our shows for us,” said the band in a statement issued collectively.

The Crimson ProjeKCt is organized in the “double trio” lineup that King Crimson popularized from 1994-1997, and features Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Markus Reuter, Julie Slick and Tobias Ralph, all of whom have played with King Crimson during the past. The band mostly focuses on later King Crimson work that was popular from the early 1980s through mid-1990s.

Tracklist

  1. B’Boom
  2. THRAK
  3. Frame By Frame
  4. Dinosaur
  5. Industry
  6. Elephant Talk
  7. VROOOM VROOOM
  8. Sleepless
  9. Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part II
  10. Indiscipline
  11. Red
  12. Thela Hun Ginjeet

Tourdates

  • 5th March – Heichal Tarbut, Tel-Aviv – Israel
  • 6th March – Bingo Club, Kiev – Ukraine
  • 7th March – Usine A Gaz, Nyon – Switzerland
  • 8th March – Amager Bio, Copenhagen – Denmark
  • 9th March – Cosmopolite, Oslo – Norway
  • 11th March – Ziquodrome, Compiegne – France
  • 12th March – O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London – UK
  • 13th March – Trabendo, Paris – France
  • 14th March – De Boerderij, Zoetermeer – Netherlands
  • 16th March – Arena Club, Moscow – Russia
  • 17th March – Palace of Culture Lensoveta, St. Petersburg – Russia
  • 19th March – Palladium Club, Warsaw – Poland
  • 20th March – Klub Studio, Krakow – Poland
  • 21st March – Neuberin Halle, Reichenbach – Germany
  • 22nd March – Konzerthause, Karlsruhe – Germany
  • 23rd March – Frankfurter Hof, Mainz – Germany
  • 25th March – Grughalle, Essen – Germany
  • 26th March – Z7, Basel – Switzerland
  • 27th March – Archa Theatre, Prague – Czech Republic
  • 29th March – Auditorium Supercinema, Chieti – Italy
  • 30th March – Auditorium Manzoni, Bologna – Italy
  • 31st March – Auditorium Verdi, Milan – Italy
  • 1st April – Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome – Italy
  • 2nd April – Viper Theatre, Firenze – Italy
  • 4th April – Kongresu Nams, Riga – Latvia
  • 24th June – Auckland – the Studio – New Zealnd
  • 26th June – Melbourne – The Hi-Fi – Australia
  • 27th June – Sydney – The Hi-Fi – Australia
  • 28th June – Brisbane – The Hi-Fi – Australia
  • 2nd July – Fremantle – Fly By Night – Australia