“Nothing gold can stay,” reminds us the poet Robert Frost, and this applies to black metal. Its gold occurred between 1991 and 1994, when its progenitors innovated a new style and took it to great heights, but after Burzum – Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, it became clear that black metal was not content to be a normal, rock-style music genre.13 Comments
On the heels of the recent kerfuffle involving Deiphago and SJWs hyping an incident into a politically-driven media event, Hells Headbangers Records has released a statement about the incident. It reads, in part:
In regards to the Deiphago incident, rest assured that Hells Headbangers, the Agora and everyone else involved in bringing you this event are very upset and disappointed. There is NO excuse to justify Sidapa’s action – he fucked up hard. An incident report was filed and the victim declined to press charges. Although the new Deiphago LP is due to arrive soon, this incident will undoubtedly have a negative impact on its’ sale and the bands reputation has permanently been scarred. Such a shame! Further ramifications will be dealt with internally.
Although the label was just trying to do what it thought was the right thing, this statement reveals the core of SJW: it is driven by commerce and designed to signal safety. Just like big corporations spend millions to show that their cars, vacuum cleaners and toxic foods are safe, metal bands, labels and media are trying to expand their reach beyond the “scary” realm of the underground by making it “safe.” This was the same thing that selling out did in the 1980s, which was to take all those dangerous violent heavy metal bands and channel them into glam metal, which was offensive but not dangerous. There was nothing there that would sidetrack your child from going to school, getting good grades and going on to a career. Sure, he might have a bit more sex, and the bands took tons of drugs, but there were no ideas there that fundamentally challenged the bourgeois view of the world.
In the 1990s, death metal and black metal were far from safe as well. They rejected the dominant ideology of their time, committed actual crimes and more importantly, embraced political and philosophical viewpoints that are incompatible with democratic society and bourgeois existence. Forget the petit rebels of hip-hop and heavy metal, black metal bands actually scared people, and by doing so they upped the ante for what a band had to do to actually rebel. In many ways all heavy music has been stagnant since that time because no one can figure out how to be more extreme, and so they sigh and content themselves with being merely outrageous. “Selling out” meant that process where a band stops trying to have authenticity in its music and outlook on the world, and instead settles for whatever brings in a consistent audience.
In our current time, SJW is the method of selling out. If you go SJW, you will offend no one. People feel comfortable around businesses who promise that they are motivated by ideology, not profit. This also seems to guarantee that everyone will be accepted. Of course it does none of those things, being like all public relations exercises a series of cheap promises whose compliance can never be verified, but people like to be told comforting things. It calms them down and then they feel complacently optimistic when shopping at that store. This is why companies — again with shades of SJW — will fire controversial employees, hire private security, put up spikes to drive away the homeless and put up happy signs talking about diversity and how the uranium they use to flavor their food is 100% organic. Safety sells, or rather, lack of safety precludes sales.
Just like glam metal in the 1980s was preferred to hardcore punk, thrash and early death metal by parents who were afraid it was unsafe for their precious snowflakes to hear, and might lead them to a life lived in a van down by the river, precious snowflakes now want to be safe in their music. They want to be rebels… well, no they don’t. They want to appear to be rebels and at the same time, incur as little actual risk as possible. That way they can talk it up at the water cooler at work about how wild they are, and still not have to pay the price for wildness, like endangering their easy transition into the middle classes. It is not surprising that as metal has sold out in the 2010s with SJW, quality has plummeted. Who can make good music about such insincere topics?
Luckily a backlash has commenced. Using the tag line “Make Metal Great Again,” a small group of metal musicians have declared their intent to drive out SJWs by indirect methods, namely by demanding higher quality metal. Sell-out metal is poseur metal, which means that it is both fake and replaces real metal. Metal thrives when it replaces the fake with the real. That could in fact be metal’s mission statement. Poseur metal is fake because it is designed to signal “safety” instead of opening the can of worms of truth, realism, history, violence, disease, horror and existential doubt. Labels love poseur metal because it has high margins: cheap, without risk, and easy to clone, it returns on investment every time even if less than an out of the ballpark hit like a really great band can be. Magazines love poseur metal because they can re-type the same story every month. Web sites love it because no review is ever wrong when all the music is the same under the skin.
If you wonder why metalgate has hit such a nerve, it is that it has threatened the profit model of the entire industry. Metal ca. 2015 depends on a constant flow of mediocre poseur metal bands to make sure that all the journalists, label people, PR people, bands and studios get paid. The market has shifted from the smaller, more agile environment it was in the middle 1990s. Now metal is big business, and like Microsoft or Apple, it’s in middle age. It aims for conservative successes that do not alter the formula and will not take the risk on anything outside of the norm. Since the music is crap, the labels need some other way to sell it to people, and they came up with “safe rebellion”: it looks all leather and motorcycles, but in fact it is a PC nanny who will tell you that everything is fine so long as you keep buying SJW products and ignoring the obvious signs of impending social collapse.
There’s a lot of pushback out there against those who push against boundaries. This is to be expected, but you can tell who are the cowards in the room by the people who won’t call it what it is. It is resistance by those who are growing fat and lazy off of the easy money chain formed by mediocre metal. It is no wonder they get nasty. This is why David Ingram has a temper tantrum when other people commit the grave sin of failing to agree with him. It’s also why Viranesir, the band banned from BandCamp, found itself on the receiving end of quite a bit of vitriol:
In theory, SJWs and the like would be above such behavior. But that is the key to understanding them: their political opinions are advertising, not something they actually believe, just like what businesses say in television commercials are things designed to make you buy the product, not truths. The advertisements lie and SJW is an advertisement. This is why SJWs are so hell-bent on controlling what others see, hear and think. It would be a corporate wet-dream to have mind control, but with SJWs, they have a type of advertising that simply takes over like a virus or plague. Is is to surprising that many SJWs have connections to racist and fascist groups? As authoritarians, they appear to have switched sides, but really what they have done is changed their justification from ideology to commerce, and are now getting paid to advertise for their new corporate masters.7 Comments
“Nothing gold can stay,” Robert Frost famously wrote, referring to the tendency of all things in life to break down and become eroded versions of themselves. In addition to the obvious tendency of aging and death, we moderns have become familiar with the term “entropy” for the proliferation of possible options that then then renders choice almost impossible. Underneath all of this a more virulent tendency lurks, which is the human habit of destroying everything we encounter, including — especially — our own best creations.
In heavy metal we think of this through the decline of bands from excellent and striking to a version of what we already know is popular, like the steady unraveling of Metallica from the band that made Ride the Lightning to a country-fried version of Motley Crue or Led Zeppelin. We see it other places as well. For the last two decades, I have relied on a certain British company that makes teapots as a source of reliable gifts. People friggin’ love a quality teapot. But a few weeks ago, the company was sold, and the MBAs moved in and quickly figured out how to add a stylish handle to the teapots and make them of cheaper material and less of it, translating into fragile and less-effective teapots.
This parallels what happens to interesting movies from Highlander to The Bourne Identity which is that after an interesting premiere, the sequels emerge and they are of not only lower quality, but outright stupidity. The decision-making and leadership choices behind these movies are just of a radically lowered degree, such that if the first movie was a genius the followups have the abilities of a moron who works as a bureaucrat. For example, The Bourne Identity gave us a fast-paced and intricate but interesting script which maintained the emotion of a character lost in a world where he has no roots, but the sequel managed to not only hit every Hollywood cliche but present them in a series of improbable scenes which were clearly derived from better versions in the earlier film, all while creating the emotional flatline that is the result of cardboard characters and nonsensical motivations. We might even target Star Wars which, after an initial foray which mixed humor, sci-fi, religion and a classic quest narrative, dove into the edgy but pointless followup and then threw in the towel and headed for the gift shop and standard Hollywood dreck with the third.
It would be nice to be able to blame Hollywood, whether of the movie or music industry variety, but the grim truth is that this pattern shows up in more than teapots and speed metal. It appears anywhere humans attempt to organize themselves. The large tech companies who were visionaries and rebels a generation ago are now stodgy corporates, albeit with the appearance of being insightful and life-positive, whose products are designed to manipulate us to buy more of their high-margin offerings. Even the most necrotic of underground metal bands fall prey to this syndrome, but for miniscule amounts of money and fame, suggesting that the classic narrative of “selling out” — changing your sound to be more like Motley Crue or Led Zeppelin, both rock/metal hybrids that allow people to purchase edginess of metal within the familiar and non-threatening music of the herd, like jeans or Jack Daniels or other “extreme” products that in fact reflect extreme conformity — is incorrect and money and fame in itself do not explain the motivation for this choice.
Considering the nature of this problem as universal or nearly so, it makes sense to analyze it at a level lower than the reward itself, and instead to look at motivations. People are fundamentally social creatures; we are pack animals, allegedly at a higher level of evolution than the apes but retaining their most fundamental behaviors (and if you disagree, I’ll hurl a turd at you while beating on my chest and howling). We motivate each other with social guilt and shame, but that is only the stick; the carrot is that we offer inclusion to others who do things that please us, and create “heroes” out of those who do what many of us find appealing. This is the underlying mechanism of the sell-out, which is not so much profitable — since it exists as attempt without certainty of reward — as it is sociable.
When Metallica switch from “For Whom the Bell Tolls” to “Nothing Else Matters,” they are offering a simplified version of their edgy sound that more people can understand. This gives everyone the warm fuzzies, since it offers peace through pacification of others, and makes Metallica appear more altruistic and friendly. It also retains the surface appearance of extremity, which lets ordinary conformists play the charade of extraordinary (and possibly visionary) non-conformist without any risk to themselves, since what they are actually doing is buying a product which is just another flavor of the same ordinary rock everyone else litens to. Selling out is offering a product that is designed to please more people by giving to them what they already think they want, and by not challenging them, allows them to confirm their status as having valuable lives without raising the bar and forcing them to exceed their normal, self-interested and self-referential or narcissistic behavior. When you see something good go bad, it is almost always the result of this phenomenon, which consists of self-interested producers expanding their market by lowering the different-ness of their product, and in turn allowing the social group to feel pleasant illusions about its togetherness.16 Comments
The Carcass guys, who started out as grindcore but mutated into heavy metal disguised as death metal, gave an interview in which the topic of motivations came up. Frontman Jeff Walker argued that perhaps heavy metal has sold out:
I think if you’re going to play music, your reason for doing that should be solely that you want to be creative and enjoy it. You should be realistic…Too many people are creating bands as a career choice. ‘Should I be a football player? Should I be an actor?’ Everyone wants to be famous but I think your motives have to be pure…Once in a while, you’re going to hear some killer new stuff but it’s getting rarer and rarer. I think people’s motivations for wanting to do this are not purely artistic.
He is referring to the process by which bands change their sound for money or musicians target a certain sound expecting it will make money, which is the reverse of the natural artistic method of having a message to communicate and picking the style that best expresses that message.
Metal bands can both “sell out” and “sell in” by preaching to the converted, such as the flood of war metal bands making essentially soundalike material because they know people will buy it in order to appear “diehard” underground. These people are known by the name of tryhard and they cluster around certain three-letter internet forums.
On the other hand, metal bands can “sell out” by appealing to the pretense in people as well, such as Opeth which has always marketed itself as both “open-minded” and musically difficult, both of which are tempting labels for a low self-confidence fan to slap on himself. The rest of us are closed-minded and simplistic, but with the help of his Opeth-product, he is open-minded and deep.
In the same way, many bands turn toward “social consciousness” lyrics because people recognize these as a signal that the band is deep, even though every band goes into a social consciousness lyrics phase when it runs out of other things to write about. This also is a sell-out because the band knows in advance that the audience will reward more of the same, even if that form of same re-brands itself as “different,” despite almost every band doing it.
Walker may have a point. Over the past twenty years, metal has gone from an outsider to society which speaks unutterable truths in metaphor, to an insider accepted by every level of media. Now the concern is how to use heavy metal as a brand for being “edgy,” and how to use that brand to sell products whose owners hope the audience will buy them in order to be “edgy,” from alcohol to motorcycles to clothing and beyond.
Will heavy metal exist in twenty years, or will it be only a “flavor” applied when in a commercial the edgy product is on screen, like triumphant horns for bargains and girls singing Beatles songs for self-care products? Metal may make itself into a product after all, and selling out while making its musicians superstars will destroy the underlying community by corrupting its ideas.22 Comments
Written by Pearson, Devamitra and ObscuraHessian
All historical events at some stage pertain to a barrier, or a Rubicon that when crossed marks a watershed in the life cycle of an organism in which an achievement cannot be matched in terms of it’s overall qualities. In particular instances, these successes are such that what succeeds can only be a steady decline, or an outcome that pales in comparison to the glory that prevailed at a particular stage of time. This feature aims to give insight into some known examples of the ‘Pyrrhic Victory’ in the metal genre and give light to releases that represent strengths of once great acts, and at the same time foreshadowed artistic saturation.
A common thread that seems to run through these turning points in the careers of metal bands is the apparent contradiction between a musician’s personal evolution and the progress of the musical style into more authentic and expressive forms in service of the concept. We all understand that a maturing musician is not going to be satisfied with the same apparently simple techniques he mastered upon his first year of guitar practice for ages. He probably has musical heroes he is looking up to and he always wanted to learn that Eddie Van Halen or Ritchie Blackmore solo.
Vital musical forms rely on creativity, spontaneity and message over matter. It is the curse of the artist that often the best of their work is at the behest of youthful lunacy and drunken madness, the early recordings where they grasp at the straws of vision without quite having formulated the techniques for achieving them – so they improvise and as Nietzsche would say, “give birth to a dancing star“. ‘Human‘, ‘Tales from the Thousand Lakes‘ and ‘Heartwork‘ are all perfect examples of a band with the full arsenal of accumulated weapons, evolved to near its maximum potential in knowing exactly how to compose all the contemporary forms of metal, from death metal and grindcore to pop progressive, even soft rock.
But here comes the paradox. Instead of sounding updated, the recording sounds more dated every passing year, because what has happened is that the band has incorporated a plethora of archaisms to a sound that used to be cutting edge. The bludgeoning dark tremolos of ‘Leprosy‘ that used to climax in nearly atonal solos become melodious post-modernist “cut up” riff salads; the doomy Wagnerian grandeur and slow movements reminiscent of historical battles in ‘The Karelian Isthmus‘ is stealthily exchanged with stoner rock and circular meditations that happen after a couple too many smoked joints; the to-the-point socio-anatomical parody of the hilariously grotesque and twisted ‘Symphonies of Sickness‘ gets discursive and bloated with instrumental worship, as if the band suddenly turned from anarchists into voters. The core question would be: did the band think these are more sensible ways of composition and a better illustration of the topic at hand – or did they forget the composition and the topic altogether in the name of randomly generating “music” with cold technique?
Coming off the back of the raging, deathly, speed metal of ‘Beneath The Remains‘, Sepultura stay true to the compact musical execution that began making itself clear on the ‘Schizophrenia‘ album onwards. There is more variation in pace, with the lower tempo compositions often resemblant of the riotous and anthemic cycles of of ‘Beneath The Remains’ played out in suspended animation. The introduction of the now ‘tribal’ meme that first makes itself present in Sepultura’s music introduces itself through in various songs, and whilst here it is applied in a more than tasteful enough manner it sometimes gives the idea that whilst this indicates an ‘open-mindedness’ to the average listener, on deeper insight it gives light to the possibility that the band by this time may have been starting to run short of creative ideas. Whilst this is a very good record by Sepultura, prevailing characteristics get the upper hand, and in a year where speed metal had long had it’s glory days, and death metal attaining new peaks of aggression in a period of artistic blossom, it’s no surprise looking back that the dumbed down and singularly ‘angry’ mosh-fodder that was ‘Chaos A.D.’ would suceed this work. –Pearson
A controversial pick, Metallica’s excellent third album fulfills the incorporation of progressive themes but seems to crystallize them to such an extent that no more creative spark would emanate from their later works. Cliff Burton’s presence in the unit, and his bridging of neo-classicist influences into their progressive speed metal was a defining feature of what many hessians and metallers saw to be the main component of their excellence. Having let this seep in on ‘Kill Em All‘ and fully realise itself on ‘Ride The Lightning‘, ‘Master Of Puppets’ steps further towards punchier and anthemic songs, with a steeping emphasis on percussive, palm-muted rhythm riffs which are the dominant motif in the album’s musical execution. This is structurally still in the exact same mould as ‘Ride The Lightining’, in that despite a different order of where songs are, we get aggression in ‘Damage Inc.’ and ‘Battery’ where there was once ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ and ‘Trapped Under Ice’. Songs such as ‘Sanitarium’ continue a rock music inclined sense of songwriting that continues what started with ‘Fade To Black’ and inevitably foreshadows the growing commercialism of Metallica on later releases. The excellence of ‘Orion’ also signals a continuity shift that began with ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)’ and fulfilled itself with the ‘Call Of Ktulu’ instrumental. This is a great album that solidifies the importance of Metallica in the genre’s history, though the death of Cliff Burton and the lack of creative steam that ensued signalled the artistic decline that came in 1988 with ‘And Justice For All…’. –Pearson
While the speed and thrash metal boom was crumbling all around in the wake of Seattle and LA-based clothing styles storming the nation, a few European stalwarts lingered on the fringes and while some of them didn’t dare to take up the arms for intricate, narrative death metal, they were influenced by its vicious aggression and psychedelic subject matter. Coroner from Zürich, around Tom G. Warrior‘s circle of the tyrants, never became a vastly recognized or influential name in extreme metal but superceded most of its peers in technicality and consistency, releasing a discography of five albums ranging from the raging “R.I.P.” to the eclectic “Grin“, where the fourth one “Mental Vortex” is where the playing abilities peak but the ultimate purpose of the band is starting to wane. When the idealism of youth fades and with it the spontaneous power of iconographic assault, the only avenue left for speed metal to challenge the moral preconceptions of hypocritical generations was to turn to psychology and explore lies and paranoia in the internal spheres, cutting up joy and sadness into fusion-esque rhythm riff salads (with the timing of an atomic clock) cut up from brilliant small pieces akin to Burroughs’ or Gysin’s style of literature. Such a hectic style provides an engaging rhythmic tension for this album, arguably one of the last triumphs of the entire genre, but it’s also cold and calculated like a scientific experiment. The vastly more popular but not much better Carcass realized essentially the same things many years later on their hit album “Heartwork” and ended up on the pages of guitar magazines, while Coroner was already entombed to the mausoleums of Noise Records’ speed metal roster. –Devamitra
Among the most ancient, recognisable and influential cults in Death Metal’s history, Morbid Angel’s tale of decline is a prolonged one, and raised continuous questions about the band’s creative state, as though their instruments were being channelled purely at the whim of the Outer Gods. The Floridan giants finally resisted the unearthly impulses that once guided them to create powerful statements of occult awareness bound up with a Nietzschean sense of overcoming and will-to-power, such that with the releases of ‘Gateways of Annihilation’ and ‘Heretic’, the band fell victim to triviality. Incremental lapses in quality can be traced back to much earlier albums however, with the departure of guitarist Richard Brunelle being the first to impact the legendary line-up responsible for two of the finest Metal albums ever recorded, meaning that ‘Covenant’ would initiate the band’s slow decay. In addition, Morbid Angel’s growing populist tendencies were perhaps never more commercially viable than at this time, with the production left in the hands of Fleming Rasmussen, and not one but two music videos filmed to promote the album. Brunelle’s exit would mean that Trey Azagthoth would be fully responsible for filling the suffocating mix with his trademarked guitarwork, to the surprising detriment of ‘Covenant’s sound wherever the album’s conceptual direction becomes overwhelmed by a one-dimensional bluntness. Characterised by unfocused and uniform phrasing and only held in place by Pete Sandoval’s tightly militaristic drumming, the latter half of the album demonstrates little of the dynamism that could be heard on every one of their preceeding songs. The spiritual inversion of Morbid Angel, a transvaluation of religious language to re-vitalise and Paganise the path of transcendence and condemn the submissive and world-denying, corrupt parasites turns into an unaltering, blind rage that’s summarised by the lyric of ‘God of Emptiness‘, “So, what makes you supreme?”, setting a blueprint for the band to follow on ‘Domination‘ and the hordes of imitators that were given an undeserved license to record by virtue of Death Metal’s growing popularity. ‘Covenant’ in this sense is not dissimilar to Deicide’s Pyrrhic fall from the adept demonology of ‘Legion‘ to the dumbed-down ‘Once Upon the Cross‘, though Azagthoth’s wizardry would earn Morbid Angel some redemption with the primordial dance of cosmic energies to be heard on ‘Formulas Fatal to the Flesh‘ before finally digging their own grave without cursing their own reputation quite as badly as the truly shattered idols from the golden age of Death Metal. –ObscuraHessianNo Comments