Xendra was a heavy metal project from the Central American country, Honduras. Rumor has it that their only album was recorded within one week around the turn of the century. The simplicity of the production would never put this into doubt as it is just barely satisfies the requirements of the music to be listenable.
As Brett Stevens said in a previous article, one could make the experiment of imagining music played through a primitive or simple device or format like a midi output and then see how interesting the music becomes then as a measure of the actual resulting power of the composition. It is in this respect that the barely satisfactory production in this album becomes a test for the music. Despite the production, the compositions’ musical qualities shine through, modest as they admittedly are in the very-large scale of music appreciation.
Xendra’s brand of late heavy metal also takes on speed metal characteristics with melodic tendencies. This is a typical 1990s mid-paced, simple melodic heavy/speed amalgam that is exemplified today by Cruxiter. Most of the most iconic and prominent Central American metal bands played in this style. Its raw yet singable character being particularly apt to work as a channel for a kind of urban folk style. I often use a word callejero(“of the street”) to describe the particular brand of heavy metal that developed in Central and northern South America. It is a folk heavy metal not because it makes use of old aboriginal melodies for motifs, but rather because it is the language of the young people in touch with the crudest reality of their modern countries. As such it tends to be be full of socio-political protest, prone to melancholic bouts and occult visionary prophecies. We should stress that the latter is appropriate and perhaps even mandatory for any respectable underground metal genre. As a kind of folk music, a few simpler songs in verse chorus manner are sparkled throughout the sixteen tracks of the album. These do not sound pandering as indulging themselves or the singer but are veritable laments voiced impersonally.
Claiming to be influenced from the more mainstream rock and hard rock progressive outfits like Rush and Dream Theater, someone listening in a slightly distracted manner would miss where and how Xendra makes these influences manifest. While we hear Dream Theater making technical acrobatics and the contrasts from one section of the music to the next the main point of the music, a more sensible and humble band like Xendra uses them in key points as tools towards smooth expansion or creative and beautiful articulation between sections. The rendition of the heavy metal callejero as presented in 2000’s Xendra is one of the best of its kind. Displaying elegant songwriting, subtlety and the restraint of talented instrumentalists using their technical abilities where the music needs them, rather than when their ego fancies it.
Today, May 2, in 2013 founding Slayer guitarist and composer Jeff Hanneman died.
During his brief tour of planet Earth, Hanneman fused the boundaryless songwriting of hardcore punk with the riff-based narrative ideas of heavy metal, producing what became an important template for all metal to follow. Punk, by reducing music to modal strips which fit within a percussive framework instead of accentuating it, and metal, with its phrasal tendencies that required internal dialogue between the riffs, gave rise to a new language with the first four Slayer albums which were mostly composed by Hanneman.
His music also took on a different form because of its perspective on the modern world as exhibited in both sound and lyrics. In his eyes, modern life became not a struggle for technology and politics to dominate the beast within, but a mythological conflict between what humans desire is true and project upon the world and a hidden layer of realistic truth in denial of which humans — and human civilization — self-destruct.
For these innovations, and the spirit that caused them, many of us feel indebted to Hanneman and honored to celebrate his art:
Having someone like you to lay down a realistic but transcendentally imaginative view of the universe really helped. I will never forget, and I am certain I am not alone. You spent your days reprogramming the cosmos with fiendish guitar riffs and that has made all the difference. Even though we never knew each other, in a way, we were best of friends.
This second of May, celebrate Jeff Hanneman not only with his music, but by carrying forth his legacy of clear-sighted realism matched to transcendental mythology, in all that you do.
Longstanding US speed metal/death metal band Deceased has completed work on its upcoming two-disc album of covers, Cadaver Traditions, which will be coming out on Hells Headbangers Records this summer.
Cadaver Traditions will include 53 tracks in total, with two of those being brand-new recently written Deceased songs which had previously been released on vinyl. Judging from the wide range of influences on this disc, it will not only be fun for Deceased fans but for metal historians looking for the roots of early death metal.
53 tracks in all 2 cd set… look for it this summer on hells headbagers ‘cadaver traditions’. cover song mania and the 2 newest deceased songs finally on cd. up til now it was only vinyl.
Black Metal (Venom Cover)
Deathrider (Anthrax Cover)
Corporate Death Burger (MDC Cover)
Dis-Organ-Ized (Impetigo Cover)
Right Brigade (Bad Brains Cover)
VoiVod (VoiVod Cover)
Doomed By The Living Dead (Mercyful Fate Cover)
California Uber Alles (Dead Kennedys Cover)
Wrathchild (Iron Maiden Cover)
Here To Stay (Sheer Terror Cover)
Headhunter (Krokus Cover)
SATO (Ozzy Osbourne Cover)
Do Or Die (Znöwhite Cover)
Violent World (45 Grave Cover)
World Peace (Cro-Mags Cover)
Eliminator (Agnostic Front Cover)
Die By The Sword (Slayer Cover)
Witching Metal (Sodom Cover)
Social Security (Excel Cover)
Violence And Force (Exciter Cover)
The KKK Took My Baby Away (Ramones Cover)
No Compromise (Xentrix cover)
Chemical Warfare (Slayer Cover)
Bodies (Sex Pistols Cover)
Not To Touch The Earth (The Doors Cover)
Reaganomics (D.R.I. Cover)
Torn apart by werewolves (Deceased )
Mad Man (D.R.I. Cover)
Fire In The Sky (Saxon Cover)
2 Minutes To Midnight (Iron Maiden Cover)
Die Hard (Venom Cover)
V.A. Rocks Your Liver (Verbal Abuse Cover)
Blower (Voivod Cover)
Wiped Out (Raven Cover)
Stay Clean (Motörhead Cover)
Tormentor (Kreator Cover)
Nuns Have No Fun (Mercyful Fate Cover)
Agents Of Steel (Agent Steel Cover)
State Oppression (Raw Power Cover)
Bombs Of Death (Hirax Cover)
New Age Of Total Warfare (Warfare Cover)
Metal Church (Metal Church Cover)
Subliminal (Suicidal Tendencies cover)
Zombie Attack (Tankard Cover)
You Stupid Jerk (Angry Samoans Cover)
I’m Not Jesus (Ramones Cover)
Nothing (Plasmatics Cover)
Iron Heads (Running Wild Cover)
Stand Up And Shout (Dio Cover)
False Profit (English Dogs Cover)
Ultra Violent (N.O.T.A. Cover)
The Ballad of Harry Warden (My Bloody Valentine soundtrack cover)
These offer true creative writing and some venture further into musical criticism of Pantera or even analysis of metal as a subculture. That makes for some stiff competition, with no one that rises erect above the rest because so many of these are so well-executed. However, choose a winner we must, and so it’s time to go through the candidates.
Grails_Mysteries offers one of the first qualifying entries and a short story that explores the pathology of sexual identity denial among heavy metal musicians. In addition, it gives us some insight into the type of personality that might power a band like Pantera. Compelling. steven foster offers a short piece with a Kerouac/Bukowski vibe with a strong conclusion. SEIG pops up next with a more violent offering that explores the visceral and organic side of Pantera eroticism. It reminds me of the Marquis de Sade outraged that the marketplace/polling-place for heavy metal had been taken over by mediocrity! LostInTheANUS offers an almost Huxleyian analysis of how the seductions of money, power and fame can lead to a different kind of seduction… disturbing, and I mean that in a good way. Then thisoneheredude satirizes every Didion-inspired experiential piece of rock journalism ever, creating a lingering sense of unease and distaste. Good work. Vnholy Loa gives us a lengthier look into the effects of timid poseurdom combined with aggro-brocore in a piece delightfully riddled with puns. Following up on that, Eli Murray shows us an unsettling view of psychological manipulation for sex in the context of rock fandom. That’s New Yorker territory but we’ll take it. As the contest gained momentum, Iconoclast wrote a Jungian exploration of the subconscious in attitudes toward existential crisis and how it manifests in the hollow carelessness of pop music like Pantera. This one is really worth reading. Next Dave reveals the paradox of sexual surrender paired with a tough guy exterior, in a story that may portray either rape or someone finally achieving satisfaction, or both… White Powder Activist typed up a whole bunch of stuff so disturbing I can’t comment on it here. Captain Penis Cheese presents a short poetic piece on the parallels between pop music and awkward sex. Turning the contest to a more introspective level, Marcus Antony Frattura explores the psychology of Pantera and their critics and finds some similarities. And if you made it through all of those, you will need professional help.
The competition is tough but some clearly came out ahead. Our winners are:
Gentlemen/ladies, please claim your prizes by emailing editor at deathmetal dot org with the IP address you used to post your piece. Include a mailing address, US only please. I appreciate the contributions of all who participated and the many, many creative entries we received.
Despite efforts by nearly all parties to deny it, the underlying tension in metal that created #metalgate continues: the “new fans” who want music more like indie rock or punk versus the metal fans who want metal for metal’s sake. The metal fans realize that to be metal is to be an outsider to society and all of its rationalization for its own failure, including “reforms” and “revolutions,” while the punk/indie fans want metal to endorse some of those rationalizations.
The most recent victim may have been Pantera guitarist Darrell Abbot’s grave, which was referenced in an instagram post by the (ex-) vocalist of a crust/black band which embodies the worst of both veins of metal sell-outs, both the sensitive guy indie rocks who like crustcore and the tryhard war metal types who pose as being as hardcore as possible. According to the desecrator:
We paid douchebag darrell a visit, we spit on his grave, stole a pair of cowboy boots, and i wrote “FAG” on his grave… im not a homophobe but i hope all the panturrra fans see this and shit themselves with anger… FUCK DIMEBAG, buncha racist hillbillies
Only forty-eight hours later, the apologies were flowing forth:
The fact of the matter is I feel awful and guilty and this will stick with me forever, just like the Seinfeld guy using the N word… I can not express how sorry I am to Vinnie Paul and the Abbott family for the distress I caused, and the other members of Pantera and other acts Darrell was a part of. I owe everyone an apology for my actions because they were uncalled for, and horrible, despicable, and I went way too far. Some jokes are NOT funny and this is one of them. I took a joke way too far with a piece of paper and some hurtful words and as I’ve expressed, I don’t expect any sort of acceptance or sympathy…I hope at least someone will accept this and I hope for a better future for everyone…
What is shared between both of these sentiments? They are SJW ideas. He attacks Darrell because he thinks Pantera fans are a “buncha racist hillbillies” and excuses using the word FAG because he’s not a “homophobe.” This is SJW language here, first being concerned about policing whether or not other people approve of homosexuality and second in justifying violence or worse against those who are not pro-diversity, a.k.a. “racists.” When he apologizes, he uses the term “hurtful words” and compares his actions to “the Seinfeld guy using the N word” and then states he hopes for “a better future for everyone.” His motivation as a sensitive guy with social justice ideals is revealed in both of his statements.
I will not use his real name in this article, for the record, because public shaming can cause repercussions in this person’s real life, including career and social ostracization. No honest and decent person tries to do that because it is a passive but effective way at destroying the life of another. Nor will I name or link to his band, which has been utterly forgettable and forgotten from lack of any originality as well as blatant bandwagon-riding, because this like the sucker punch at Danzig is simply a publicity stunt that generated more notoriety than was expected. Let the media trick fail on its own.
But this leads us to an ugly point: a metalhead may well be divided by this event. It would be hypocritical for metalheads to start complaining about grave desecrations now after several thousand band photos in cemetaries. It is also nonsense to complain about damage to Darrell’s grave because, as noted by a number of sources, as with Jim Morrison’s grave the majority of the damage comes from fans of the artist and not enemies.
At the same time, however, many metalheads do not feel all that great about this desecration. The reason is that the motivation behind it is wrong. Like the rest of the SJW incursion that prompted #metalgate, the desecration of Darrell Abbott’s grave was justified by SJW-logic: Pantera fans are (allegedly) racist hillbillies, and “homophobes,” so it’s not only OK but “good” (like, in the Church sense) to desecrate his grave because he and his fans are bad. This alone makes the desecration stand out as not wrong in a moral sense, but broken. Someone is using society’s logic against metal to justify making metalheads second-class citizens whose graves may be desecrated, at least for reasons other than the usual war/satan/death that make a good grave desecration. Like the metal fans who object to grave desecrations in general, or the metalheads who claimed that Pantera fans are “nationalist Juggalos”, I feel this misses the point. Society hates metal, and it uses terms like “nationalist” and “homophobe” to justify bullying metalheads, much like it used claims of Satanism and murder back in the 80s to do the same. Its goal remains unchanged: destroy metal.
We should also draw some parallels between Pantera and SJWs. Like the SJW incursion, Pantera was an invasion designed to sell-out metal so it could be assimilated by rock music, with profit for all. Metal sells well, but rock music that has the “rebellious” cachet of metal would sell even better, because rock music has been designed from its inception to be the most easily-digested and emotionally simplistic form of music ever created, like music made into baby food. It sells well because it is a compromise, both inoffensive enough that most people will tolerate it, and thoughtless enough that people like to project onto it their own emotions and needs. Rock music is basically 1950s advertising jingles set to guitars, and people buy it to stay “relevant” or to seem hip, when really it has always been and always will be a product from the same people who sell us junk we can barely afford to address problems we do not have in order to achieve an image we do not need.
The reason many of us detest Pantera is purely musical: it is part of the great Dumbing Down of heavy metal, trying to make it closer to rock/blues so that all the people in sports bars, hair salons, show-off gyms and cube farms can tap their feet to the beat just like they did every other form of rock ‘n roll. Pantera is heavy metal made into a lengthy television commercial, and in doing so, it solicited social approval in a way that is decidely against all that metal stands for and lives by. Pantera heard Exodus Impact is Imminent and Exhorder, maybe Prong Beg to Differ and realized they could make a bundle if they combined a tough guy/sensitive guy approach — a lot like what nu-metal did, come to think of it — and made the music sound a lot more like Bruce Springsteen or John Cougar Mellencamp, both of whom sold more albums than God and retired rich. That was the goal in Pantera: metal as product. For that reason, the Pantera guys abandoned their glam/hair metal and hard rock stylings, and went into Metallica style speed metal with Cowboys From Hell, giving it their Southern rock spin, and then upgraded their sound to angry brocore with the following albums before returning to a blues-saturated swamp rock sound. It worked and people bought it.
Metalheads tend to hate Pantera because it brought in the elements of society that we go to metal in order to avoid: the sleeveless shirt angry guys who start fights in cell phone stores, the blockhead rock fans who are faithless toward any ideal but their own gratification right now, and the musical circle of conformity that forms rock music. Pantera is the anti-metal disguised as metal, much like SJW music like the black/punk (lol) band who desecrated Abbott’s grave is. Pantera not just represents, but embodies, all that metal opposes and all that will destroy metal. If we look back on this story from the future, we will see how both Pantera and these grave desecrators came from the same movement, which is an attempt by the mainstream to destroy and then absorb the once-independent genre of heavy metal.
What is life? Either you are working toward something or trying to find a way to pass the time. The real losers are not the people who lack the fancy objects that are the trend at the moment, but those without purpose to life, as they will always be unhappy in the deepest parts of themselves. Unhappy people demand music that is as hollow, vacuous and purposeless as they are, but such music makes bad listening for people who are here to make the most of life. We separate the tryhards and imitators from the real music amidst a shower of hipster poseur tears with the Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Reaction – Kill the Parasite
In the land of Pudouaccian, there are hairless creatures with smooth features and no teeth who call themselves Pudouaccians, and they spend their days attempting to “ouacc” (pronounced: whack) — a term for stimulate in lieu of reproduction — their “puds,” which is how they refer to their androgynous oversize genitals through which they see. Pudouaccians exclusively listen to music that combines the most rock ‘n roll aspects of heavy metal into a speed metal format, and tie it all together with a compelling rhythmic vocal that aims for choruses you can repeat like political slogans and verses with the energy of dishwasher detergent commercials on television. Although the title that gives a message we should all take to heart every day, because parasites are the most common creatures in nature and serve no purpose to their host except to exhaust them and lure them into continued bad decisions — like buying this album — so they become easier prey for the siphoning of their energy to support the parasite. Much of this release follows the power metal model of vocal-led melodic riffing with extended solos that comment on the song like a concordance, but a good deal of the groove plus heavy cadence riffing of later Pantera occupies the field as well. What really kills it is the vocals because when you make the vocals lead the music, songs cease to become compositions and instead become life support systems for a single instrument (vocals) which has overstepped its bounds, and thus they resemble a Hollywood actor and entourage more than a military time operating in smooth coordination to do something interesting. Many of the riff forms on this album come to us from the classic hard rock through NWOBHM lexicon, and while that should not disqualify anyone, nothing here is applied in a way specific to this band, leading us to wonder why it should exist at all.
Deflected – Deflected EP
From an armchair metalosopherTM, Deflected presents an interesting challenge. It applies the Pantera brocore method of stop/start riffing with pregnant pauses creating a primitive groove, but does so in the context of South American style speed/death metal with riot shouted choruses and fast energetic riffs, then slowly works in melodic death metal influences. The primary instrument remains the voice which often more resembles what would go on in a hardcore band or the shouts of Phil Anselmo than anything from recent metal, but it runs into subtly musical accompaniment from guitars, bass and drums who try to background themselves to these metalcore-styled vocals. Unfortunately, the result by being skewed toward the vocals cannot maintain the continuity essential for atmosphere and so is forced to rely on an increasing number of stunts and riff changes which borrow freely from forty years of metal but never coalesce into a voice. As a result, these sound like songs with stuff added on, rather than entities of their own possession developing out of influences. While many of the melodic riffs enter at about the right time to provide an emotional component, it is obliterated by the randomness of the rest of the song and the ranting vocals, and comprises the generic “mixed emotions” major-minor transition common in all rock music. Even the Iron Maiden styled harmonized guitars produce nothing more than an entry point for the head-nodding rhythm in the hands of the vocals. If this band wants to get anywhere, they need to stop trying to hide their metalcore and go fully into that style, or stop fence-sitting and pick a metal style or invent a new one.
Blackwingedsheep – Red Sheep Red
When direction is too hard, mix ‘n match bits of the past and maybe you have something “new” like those horrible 1970s casseroles that mixed leftover chicken with random ingredients from cans and put cheese on top. I lived in terror of those things because any time I spent the night at a friend’s place, his Mom was sure to haul out one of those for dinner and then I would end up crouching in the dark eating small animals after feeding my portion of the glop to the dog. The worst part was that since word gets out slowly through humanity, Moms — and sometimes their misguided offspring — were cooking up these disasters well into the late 1990s at which point everyone threw in the towel and started just buying pre-prepared food in anticipation of civilization collapse. Blackwinged Sheep is a lot like those casseroles: 1980s downstroke-crazy speed metal mixed with chromatic grindcore fills, on a death metal rhythm, with choruses that emphasize high contrast melodies with broad interval leaps much like early progressive metal experiments like Pestilence Testimony of the Ancients. The result is music that spends most of its time in very concrete rhythm work and then launches into melodies that go nowhere, creating a sense of constant disruption and destabilization with no shape to it, which in turn grants the music a wallpaper effect. No matter how much they vary technique within this formula, the musicians behing Blackwinged Sheep cannot escape the formula, and so they apply it with even more extreme technique which just results in more pounding. Most of the verse riffs on this album could have come from Coroner, and the chorus space-outs from any number of newer acts. Ultimately, while this band has a good grasp of rhythm and a few impressive riffs, it fails to knit this together as anything other than a kind of vocal theater where the lyrics and voice are supposed to give form to otherwise an indistinguishable flood of very similar elements that are not particularly evocative or distinctive from each other. With the perspective of metal as a melting pot of its own styles, this band has found a way to update the 1980s content and make it easy to keep churning out the same even in the midst of self-proclaimed iconoclasm.
Gouge – Beyond Death
Gouge makes energetic but harmonically basic grindcore that tends to use a death metal approach to framing rhythm, but reverts to speed metal and punk riffs frequently. The result uses established riff forms and, while it presents an aptitude for transitions and keeping a compelling rhythm going, ultimately becomes nearly stupefactive because it has zero development of tone. The verse and chorus riffs are variations on the same few notes and capture no particularly compelling melodic or harmonic tension, which results in the entire composition having the effect of a chromatic rhythm work with periodic random insertions of whole and melodic intervals. For influences, clearly these guys spent a lot of time studying Repulsion Horrified whose layering of vocals and guitar shred prevails throughout this release. However, where Repulsion worked carefully to have distinctive riffs, Gouge falls too quickly into hardcore punk tropes, making it a lot more like later Napalm Death without the pretensions of progressive styling. The high-speed approach imparts a good deal of energy, but without some more to hang it on, this becomes another panic indicator like the weekly news, angry questions from the boss, or car horns all night long from the city. Others might compare this to Terrorizer for its tendency to drop back to open riffs of fast tremolo to contrast single-picked slamming patterns, a technique which keeps a constant texture pulsing faster than the drums, conveying a sense of urgency in contrast to the pace of life. However, where Terrorizer stripped down to a focal point, Gouge focuses on rhythm and tucks everything else into place, sometimes dropping in bluesy solos to hope to unite the disparate. By halfway through the album, the band has run out of steam and is revisiting old hardcore punk tropes to try to inject new life where none remains. There is a lot to like about this release — good energy, some creative riffs, good transitions, old school sensibilities — but when taken as a whole, there is no reason to listen to it again unless you like disorganization and the urgent sounds of social decay.
Why did most writers leave metal to the people who eagerly type in praise for anything that they feel, being new, will bring them personal renown for bandwagon-hopping? The reason is simple: almost all metal reviews these days must mention how the elements of each song are good, but that they do not create something larger than their arithmetic whole, with that process being the essence of art itself. If you pile together a group of good riffs randomly, or put together a song that focuses so much on form that it forgets content, the result is a listening experience that is pleasant enough when distracted but unsatisfying if you set aside whatever else you are doing and listen alone to the work. Haethen combines flowing Graveland riffs with high-energy Drudkh-styled sweeping melodic passages but does so in a way that inevitably tends toward both randomness and too much fixed structure, which means that nothing is communicated. Moments of beauty occur and it is crushing to watch them wasted, but the riff technique here is so similar between songs that it is difficult to claim more than one riff of each archetype in favor of this album. The real problem is that the songs are boring, whether from predictable patterns or a lack of relationship in linear progression from the elements of them, and as a result while this album would sound great in the background of a record store or while distracted by paperwork, it does not retain strength as a listening experience alone. This is unfortunate as many respected sources have endorsed this release, and it clearly shows aspiration toward an older and purer style of black metal, but “I must speak as I find,” and Shaped by Aeolian Winds goes nowhere.
An Autumn for Crippled Children – The Long Goodbye
This album falls within the “post-metal” camp although labels like to play the carnival sideshow game and claim that whatever pap they’re pumping “just cannot be classified” and then are careful to mention that it has “elements of” followed by the keywords of their target markets, all while not mentioning what it actually is. Simple formula: 1990s indie rock for verses, 1980s post-punk for choruses. Add a detour bridge or turnaround for that proggy feel. Then put crustcore vocals over the top of it, making them really dramatic and energetic to imply some kind of torment or passion, and claim that this is related to black metal so that you can get the edgy fedora kids to buy it. The Long Goodbye is a musical and artistic sham, but mostly just false advertising: this is 20-year-old music re-shaped for a new generation because disguised imitation is the business model of the music industry. While none of it is strikingly incompetent or poorly produced, in the way that underground metal can both be, none of it is compelling either. Once you see through the first level of artifice, nothing beneath remains. Essentially the same intervals — derived from emo and progressive punk and the rest of the indie spectrum — are used throughout, as well as the same devices, with only vocals to differentiate them, and the vocals are totally non-compelling. This album is mental entropy in a convenient package, with a trendy name, trendy production and faddish packaging because it is designed as a product for morons who are in denial that they are morons and thus are, like Opeth fans, compelled to buy the most pretentious, intolerant (because anything else is just musically less advanced, which is how hipsters say “inferior” indirectly by implication and yet say it all the same) and yet innocuous music possible. Your Mom could nap to this because it is completely non-controversial. No strong emotion, just self-pity and the usual bittersweet minor-key noodling to make you feel as if the problem is that you are misunderstood and not that the world needs us to creep out of our little shells and actually, you know, do something sane and realistic instead of narcissistic and delusional like everyone else. This album attempts the artistic equivalent of changing every dictionary so that the entry for “retarded” says “genius” and vice-versa, such that soon we would elect an Emperor with trisomy 21 and throw out our Beethoven and Darkthrone to favor two-note droning crap like An Autumn For Crippled Children. In summary: A Product For Crippled Minds.
Lago – Tyranny
The forefront of the metal industry — and industry means a group of rent-seekers supporting each other in quasi-collusion to do roughly the same stuff so the profit can keep flowing and costs can continue to be externalized through enforcement of mutual interest — consists these days of bands like Ara and Lago who are trying to hybridize deathgrind in the Unique Leader style with the metalcore/progressive metal that has been floating around for several years after rising from its archetype in the late years of punk, when “progressive” pop punk bands wrote longer songs based on high contrast between riffs to the point of incoherence, as if trying to emulate Black Flag The Process of Weeding Out without the heavy thematic load that album carried. This made sense for punk since when a genre has expressed its core ideas, no more can be done with them but to convert them to technique and to add complexity to hide the basic archetypes that would be revealed by simplicity (bands, after all, have to make product or they fail, both economically and in the economics of social prestige, where the members want to be known as the guys from that hip avantgarde whatever from wherever for the rest of their lives as industry insiders or hipsters working at local bookstores). The consequence of the deathgrind/metalcore hybrid is that bands incorporate the jazz/progressive/shredder stylings (equal parts Kenny G, Dream Theater and Joe Satriani) into more pummeling material that tries to unite itself in the way older death metal did, or at least to the level that Gorguts Obscura aspired to. This tames the most random and hopeless aspects of progressive punk and metalcore but can end up emphasizing the trivial aspects of death metal instead of its ability to knit together riffs and song structures to create journeys of discovery that were equal parts psychedelia and H.P. Lovecraft styled exploration of the morbid, realist subconscious. Lago demonstrates an ability to make competent Unique Leader styled deathgrind, complete with pig squeal vocals and constant high-intensity double bass, but to work into it both the more harmonically advanced riffs and instrumental interludes that the newer progressive variants feature. The result alternates between riffs so simple in conception that they make bricks bash their heads against walls, and instrumentals much more like progressive rock than metal. While Lago is among the best of the breed, the fusion isn’t there yet, because the parts separate instead of working toward a common intent. Still, these songs come together better than just about anything else in the sub-genre, and make Lago a band worth watching for the future.
Mistweaver – “The Greatest Threat”
Core is the new glam. This song combines flowing MTV choruses with uplifting melodies and the nu-metal form of degraded speed metal chugging riffing into a black metal song format with gentle keys interacting with tremolo riffs. This many spare parts can only be glued together by the most basic central element, which genericizes the song; in fact, the more out there music tries to be, the less its parts become compatible and the more generic it becomes at its core. This could be the latest Steel Panther video if the glam band decided to be slightly darker in theme and adopt techniques from Metallica, Emperor and Morbid Angel, who are (roughly) the most defining acts of the past 30 years. Combinging them makes everything weaker.
Stages of Molestation – “Cadaveric Molestation”
This band made itself many fans by varying its chortling guttural death metal with really basic old school death metal informed by the Swedish and Northern California scenes. The problem here is that, while these songs are catchy, they are so harmonically, melodically and riff-structurally basic that they do not merit a second listen. The band is on to something with the style itself however.
Hailing from North Rhine-Westphalia/Germany, Evoked issues four savage compositions of blistering mid-paced death metal honoring the early days of the genre on their demo “Return of the Dead.” This demo came out in 2014 and uses Swedish-style blistering production but actually hails to an earlier era.
In the style of bands such as Possessed, Grotesque and Slaughter Lord, Evoked creates standard format songs stacking three riffs against one another, one each for verse and chorus and a transition, and based them around the kind of fast mid-paced rhythm with very tangible stops that speed metal bands used. This music harkens to the era of transition 1985-1989 when metal was abandoning the speed metal legacy and transitioning into death metal, and so calls to mind early Morgoth, Death, Pestilence Malleus Maleficarum and the like. What makes it stand out is that it holds enough content to pique the interest of old-school metal enthusiasts.
While a four-song demo gives little insight into the future of the band, Evoked show absolutely no inclination to deviate from this classic style, which has the advantage of being highly comprhensible. While the band shows no sign of taking this to a simpler and more mob-pleasurable sellout place, it also clearly panders to the tryhard audience with a demo that would have been amazing in 1989 but in 2015 is just adequate.
Sturgeon’s law holds that 90% of everything is mediocre. This condition occurs because most people are not thinking at all about what they are doing. When they want to be important, they create a metal band to make them look important, instead of trying to make good music. With brutal cruelty and ecstatic sadism we separate the poseurs and tryhards from the real deal with Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Collision/The Rotted – Split
Three tracks comprise this aggressive split. Collision leads in with two tracks of rigid, violent grindcore which incorporates a few ideas from percussive death metal to give it additional crush. These tracks keep intensity through speed and chaotic blasting but harbor no surprises in chord progression of phrase, which makes them fun to listen to incidentally but perhaps nothing one would seek out. The Rotted on the other hand slashes out a single track of old-school hardcore with a catchy chorus, extremely rudimentary but melodically hookish riff balanced against a sawing (but not grinding) verse riff, and genre conventions from older punk. Both of these bands aim to uphold the genres they are from and do it competently but when a genre is well-established, every band is a local band until it rises above from some distinctive personality or idiosyncratic perception. They do not need to be “unique,” since such a thing has never really existed, but they must be their own creation. Both bands here feel like minor variations on known archetypes and, while competent, do not inspire particular allegiance. That being said, they both remain enjoyable for that local grindcore/band experience, and together these tracks enhance each other like memories of the set you saw while drinking craft beer and talking up that sexy Facebook consultant at a bar that has changed hands eleven times in the last quarter. It would be interesting to see what these bands did with a longer recording as that would put more pressure on them to differentiate style or at least expand upon it.
Decline of the I – Rebellion
Someone raised this question the other day: is metalcore a new style, or simply incompetent death metal? After all, we had bands who tried that Pantera-Fugazi-Nasum hybrid stuff in the past and generally it turned out that they were simply terrible songwriters who had no idea how to focus on an idea and bring it to clarity. Similarly, one wonders about “post-metal.” Is this just idiots dressing up garbage and incompetence as the avantgarde, because that’s what the avantgarde really is? Seriously, I’d love to see one of these artists who makes sculptures of his own feces that interpret the metaphysics of Schopenhauer as quantum physics, for once, just for once, make a classically beautiful art work first so I don’t simply think he’s a Damien Hirsch style conjob. Decline of the I is really hilarious when you realize that it thrusts this question upon us. It sounds like stoned desperation with a home studio: random bits of metal songs that went nowhere, stitched together with what every 90s con man used in his band, the sampler. It doesn’t flow in any direction or express anything other than “moments” of perception, like standing on a street corner while two cars collide and a pigeon defecates on a 24-year-old copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Rebellion amalgamates speed metal, death metal and punk riffs together with a bunch of influences outside of metal. There is no continuity, only a series of exhibits like a subway train going through an art gallery. These clowns use the different styles as wallpaper slides to color otherwise empty music and hide the collection of hackneyed tropes made “new” by hackneyed avantgarde tomfoolery and snake oil salesperson confidence jobs. Even the most incompetent ordinary metal band is preferable because its dishonesty is limited to its music, while Decline of the I brings in every posture, pose, pretense and fabrication necessary to make this hacked-up studio defecation seem like music.
Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat
It has often been suspected that bands, when they run out of actual motivation, pick one off the shelf to make themselves seem profound. Their profundity means our guilt if we do not buy the album because we have turned down a great gift to humanity, you dig? But the fact is that they went into the big closet of Hollywood motivations — the poor, the downtrodden, the children, suffering animals, drug addiction and being raped — and pulled out one giant compulsion to make you like their empty music. Napalm Death went down this route when after Fear, Emptiness, Despair guitarist Jesse Pintado embarked on a course of alcoholism so crippling he could not bail out the rest of the band anymore. That is too bad, since Pintado essentially revitalized the band and created three of their best albums with his homegrown grindcore know-how. Ever since then, Napalm Death has been wandering in a wilderness of not giving a damn buuutttt something needs to pay for this condo, so they puke out another album. Apex Predator – Easy Meat takes Napalm Death full cycle from a band that protested pop music to a band that makes the worst of pop. This pretense-pop would be OK if it were good pop, because then we could laugh off the guilt, but instead it is a series of very similar riffs that break into very similar choruses which cycle until the end with a few breaks that are almost visual or high school theater department drama because they are so transparent and obviously manipulative. It was embarrassing to be noticed listening to this because it is not just bad, it is inept; its ineptitude is covered up with rock star glitz and production, but it still sounds hollow and horrifyingly empty. Please, give these guys jobs in media relations because they are done as a band and this embarrassing formalization just removes whatever shreds of self-respect they once had.
The Chasm – Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm
Although Daniel Corchado is obviously one of the most talented composers in underground metal, The Chasm does not present his best work. The appeal can be immediately seen: epic metal band with lengthy songs that play out internal conflicts in a way the audience can identify with. Under the hood, while there are some touches of DBC-style riffing, what greets us here is the cliches of 1980s speed metal with added progressive-ish fills that demonstrate guitar talent and knowledge of harmony. The songs remain basic when you factor these out, excepting the longer instrumental passages, which also rely on riffs from the past dressed up or lots of rhythmic downpicking that adds little other than keeping a place in the harmony. Additionally, occasionally comical vocals and a number of hackneyed metal stalwarts mar this release, but the real crisis here is the lack of interesting riffs, the shamminess of the songs in dressing up the mundane as exotic, and the coup de grace which is the inability of this album or its songs to convey an emotional experience outside of the music itself. They resemble nothing other than constant variations in a style of technical speed metal riffing that bands like Anacrusis made great by putting around evocative songs, but the latter part is missing here. Individual moments shine with the brilliance that can be expected of Corchado, and moments in songwriting show insight. The problem is that there needs to be more of the random or evocative in riffs, which would allow Corchado’s song structure ideas to take on significance, and less of the highly talented progressive tinged touches that are impressive on a guitar-playing level but compositionally, serve the role of filler. On the whole, this album resembles the kind of tuned-up musical entropy that all of us ran to death metal to escape around 1989 or so.
Edge of Haze – Illumine
In theory, this should be hated: a hybrid of Gothic music, power metal and djent-inspired percussive speed metal. In reality, Edge of Haze restore balance to these genres by putting them in the right context. Speed metal is the hard rock of the 2010s, thirty years after its release, and updating it with a smary 1980s Gothic pop vocal and power metal “inspirational” choruses gives it the right context as the popular music of the age. It may be cheesy, as one might expect from these populist niche genres, but Edge of Haze seems at least comfortable in its own skin and the removal of the usual death metal vocals gives this album both greater levity and a greater intensity, as well as removing the crowding effect of harsh monotonic vocals. In addition, this re-introduces the voice as a melodic instrument which allows guitars to focus purely on rhythm and rudiments of harmony without losing direction to a song. Edge of Haze executes this hybrid well by capturing the dark pop aspects of Gothic and creating for them a framing of boldly abrasive metal that runs the gamut of styles from the last three decades without creating an oil-on-water effect by having those styles dominant the rhythm and song structure for a segment so that other parts seem like extra organs in a cadaver, puzzling the drunken pathologist at 4 AM as he files the report on the latest Jane Doe. Edge of Haze present something as intense as nu-metal but with a darker aesthetic that carries more gravitas than the dad-hating victimhood affirmation that nu-metal conveyed, also removing the rap/rock beats and making a form of popular metal that can be not only relatively heavy, but have a grace of beauty in darkness, and still write some quality pop songs. Aesthetically, this makes my skin crawl; musically, it is well-done and should be praised for putting this style of music in the context it warrants and deserves.
Through the years of scanning endless lists of metal albums one gradually develops an intuition that links band name, album name and artwork to the general nature of what will be heard. Seldom does a tongue-in-cheek name correlate with quality music, since the band designed itself as a stunt. While some serious-sounding names result in pretentious self-important music, most bands with confidence in their ability to produce valuable music choose a straightforward self presentation.
The following question measures heavy metal: what is quality, and how is it measured, including what standard we use? Our answer begins with the often-used but seldom explained (and hence little understood) terms superficial and transcendent as opposite poles in a spectrum. Through the ages philosophers, theorists and artists themselves have made used these terms and in only a handful of instances have they tried to explain them in any way beyong what is deemed self-evident. The young Nietzsche provides us with a useful term and its explanation which can be used to separate the concepts in a way that if not empirical enough at least can be understood as a general concept. The Dionysian, it is said, allows for a connection for the unchanging, eternal oneness. This can mean many things, but guiding ourselves by Nietzsche’s explanation in the context of Greek tragedy and the nature and significance its chorus, we can see that the Dionysian is a subjective measurement requiring the person in question to look beyond the cycles of history and recurring social trends that are a result of the human race constantly altering its surface appearance but not actually “growing” in the sense of improving. Once in touch with this, the artist can represent the essence of things as they always are, not as they appear at this moment in time. On the other hand, being trapped in the temporal interpretation of how something is at this moment, or how it appears to be in its current incarnation is the hallmark of the superficial.
For us to make the distinction between transcendent and superficial in a work of art, we must isolate any insight of human nature that the work expresses. Because all of reality is the same cause, all paths if followed with vigorous examination lead to the same truth. Acquiring the insight that the transcendent artist possess does not mean we ourselves need to have his artistic talents as well. These are abilities of a separate kind altogether. As Nietzsche tells us in the same writing, while the rest of us must use abstractions and complex explanations to arrive at an objective picture of the work of art, in his subjective vision, the artist contemplates the images of his expression clearly and in unexplainable simplicity independently of its degree of superficiality. We can analyze that vision according to what it communicates and whether that address the transcendent, the superficial or the “fake out” of superficial transcendence.
With all this in mind, a first glance at Terror Empire’s album cover and album name is enough to raise some red flags. The cover artwork does not relate to the title. The title further shows a tendency toward cliché and a “cute” manipulation of it. This lack of originality is then reflected in the music itself. The album shows an diversity of approaches ranging from early songs which incorporate related but meaningless constructions with abundant technical acrobatics to late songs which are basically “thrashy” chug-based generic speed metal songs. The former are meaningless in the context that the writers themselves put them in. They make structural premises, but then do not follow them or conclude them structurally. As in many mediocre examples of music, songs end suddenly without being taken to any sort of climax, deviation to a clear point and return. The latter part of the album fails by being an imitation of speed metal (aka “thrash metal”) tropes seen through the modern lenses of retro-thrash.
This book can be judged by its cover, which the band apparently views as attractive to the type of person who will not realize how completely pointless The Empire Strikes Black is as a metal listening experience. Those who seek novelty tend to find it. In the spirit of the master, Bitterman: Vapid. Avoid.
Wolf Hoffmann asserts that Accept wrote the first speed metal song ever with “Fast as a Shark” from Restless and Wild way back in 1982. While the debate rages across the internet, now the equivalent of 1980s daytime television, the question can be answered by looking to what speed metal is.
Speed metal — as distinct from thrash a genre popularized by Thrasher magazine devotees and skaters making hardcore/metal crossover such as Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and Cryptic Slaughter — originated in the use of a single technique: the muted strummed downpicked power chord. This technique combined the repetitive downpicking of punk with palm muting, previously used only to emphasize specific notes. Much of its appeal came from the changes in amplification and production since the previous decade which allowed louder music to exist. Much like the 1980s itself, the muted strum conveyed a sound of clashing absolutes and decreased the amount of harmony heard in each chord, making the music more purely percussive like techno and early industrial. Even more, it gained the volume punks had always aspired to with its explosive and uncompromising sound. In the process, it inspired more use of accidentals leading to more chromatic fills, which in the next generation with death metal became a form of riffs themselves, where speed metal relied more on the NWOBHM song form and harmony.
Generally regarded as starting in 1983 with Metallica Kill ‘Em All, speed metal presented a radically new sound which had precursors in extreme (for the time) bands like Motorhead, Judas Priest, Blitzkrieg, Tank and Satan. However, no bands had fully adopted the new technique as the basis of their composition until the early cluster of Metallica, Exodus, Mercyful Fate, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax and Megadeth. During the 1980s these bands were the most extreme metal that most people could find in their local record stores, which were how most people got music back then, with the exception of Slayer which was a speed/death hybrid and Venom which was a punk-influenced form of NWOBHM. Accept does not measure up to this standard on the basis of technique, since its song fits within older heavy metal format and does not use the muted strum.
This statement does not decrease the importance of Accept in the creation of speed metal. A long line of innovations occurred leading to speed metal, starting with the incredibly rough sound of Motorhead in 1976 but aided by progressive bands like King Crimson and Greenslade as well as a chain of punk acts who pushed the envelope such as Discharge, The Exploited, Amebix and the Cro-Mags. Below you can hear “Fast as a Shark” and see this heritage for yourself, contrasted with the archetypal speed metal song, “Creeping Death” from the second Metallica work Ride the Lightning and Blitzkrieg’s self-titled track from their 1981 EP Buried and Alive.