Following a reunion show last year in which most of the original lineup of Dead Horse took to the stage and the success of the Dead Horse/Dirty Rotten Imbeciles side project Pasadena Napalm Division, the Texas thrash band has released its latest work in an EP entitled Loaded Gun.
Dead Horse made a name for itself in the late 1980s by continuing the DRI/COC/Cryptic Slaughter/Fearless Iranians From Hell tradition of skateboarder punk/metal hybrid music called “thrash” but adding the surly growling vocals of death metal. With their debut album, Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That’s Time Consuming, the band launched itself to fame with short idiosyncratic songs that displayed more internal variation than most thrash of the era.
As the band ventured into the 1990s, it combined thrash with death metal possessing progressive overtones on the 1991 album Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers, which showed longer songs with bigger themes and more use of harmony. After that, the band released a series of EPs and then fizzled out in the late 1990s after the departure of founding member Mike Haaga.
Those who attended the reunion shows claimed a revitalized Dead Horse took the stage, finally sure of its mission without Haaga and in a new musical world order where the raw extremity of early Dead Horse might get it overlooked, not noticed. We look forward to seeing what this band might render in the future, starting with Loaded Gun.
Entitled IX (it would appear the band scrapped the earlier title, Corinthians) the album sees COC continuing their recent pattern of mixing rock with a non-threatening and reduced version of their punk trajectory. Hook-driven riffs array to complement the sing-along nature of the vocal tracks. When vocals cease, guitar riffs pick up the sugar-candy melodic impulse and continue it onwards, with easy post-Sabbath riffing and bland solos which quickly fade from memory into the formless void. Simplistic in its catchiness, this album bears some semblance to Cathedral’s final album in that it represents a band stripped of impetus, creating entertainment as opposed to art. Although the talent and skill of the members involved still leaks through, thus lending the album more credence than many of its contemporaries, and probably earning them well-deserved financial success and recognition, nothing can save the lack of purpose to this album.
Corrosion of Conformity, along with DRI and Cryptic Slaughter, helped construct the genre known as thrash, which brought the epic quality of metal together with the topical focus of punk in a high-energy cocktail that inspired a strong reaction from an alienated generation. Although it was not simple protest music, the heroic looking-forward present in thrash stands in contrast to its anger and regret in an organic circle of experience, which is particularly stark when returning from the obscene vapidity present on album IX.
I’m interviewing Jeff Tandy, vanguard of the hateful and cynical Texas thrash band Birth A.D. He also played bass in the black metal band Averse Sefira under the pseudonym Wrath Sathariel Diabolus.
How were you introduced to heavy metal, and how have your tastes evolved over the years?
Unoffficially it was by seeing Alice Cooper on the Muppet Show when I was three years old, and my mother very graciously bought me the single. Officially it was exposure to traditional American heavy metal through secondary contact (Dio, Quiet Riot, whatever else was going on) then discovering thrash with a few like-minded friends. I had the proper evolution that all fans should experience: heavy metal, speed/thrash, then death/black. At that point you’ll be fully literate, fully integrated, and you’ll have avoided all the stupid stuff.
How was Birth A.D. formed?
We formed out of a need for something to do while we watched our guitarist let Averse Sefira languish and die. I had songs in the vault from my formative days (back when I had a very remedial thrash band called Afterbirth) and I had always wanted to record them just to have for posterity. Little did we know it would actually be something with promise.
And how did you meet the drummer and guitarist?
Mark and Brian had a band called Death of Millions, and I’d known them for years. Mark joined me in Averse Sefira in 2001, and that was basically that. I invited Brian in to try guitar because I knew he was a solid player, and it came together perfectly.
When you write songs, what comes first? The riffs? Lyrics? Rhythms?
The lyrics are invariably first. They actually shape most of the riffs, and that’s always how I write. In this band, the words have to be just right or the riff is worthless.
In an old Averse Sefira interview, you identified yourself as a hessian. What does being a hessian mean to you?
To be a hessian means you make metal part of your life in an integrated fashion. It’s not a hobby, it’s not a weekend diversion, and it’s not something you hide. It is akin to a faith, except without all the retarded masochistic tenets of worship.
What album are you looking forward to most in 2014?
I think the new Triptykon will be good. My friends in Death Wolf have a new one coming, so I’m interested in that as well. I don’t know, these days the time between announcing an album and actually releasing it is so narrow it’s hard to build a lot of anticipation. The Demilich compilation finally came out so I’m all taken care of for now.
What’s next for Birth A.D.?
We are finally looking into live dates elsewhere. I’m working on a new album, but I want to take some time to make it right. I feel like our first one will be hard to top, but I intend to try my damnedest! Thanks for the interview.
Very few people have any idea what grindcore means at this point because of the high degree of crossover between grindcore and death metal. Not just one way, but both: grind bands becoming deathy in the Napalm Death style, and death metal bands becoming grindy as happened from Suffocation onward.
But what wasgrindcore? History might show us that punk and metal were birthed in the early 1970s and spend the next three decades crossing over. This resembles a quarter-century negotiation as to what aspects of each to keep in the hybrid with the other. Early hybrids included speed metal, which used uptempo punk rhythms, and thrash, which combined metal riffs with punk songs. Grindcore was a logical extension of thrash.
Thrash — exemplified by Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, Cryptic Slaughter and Corrosion of Conformity — grew out of the “thrasher” community which was composed of skateboarders. These were a 1980s movement that existed in the abandoned areas of modern cities where skating was undetected if not permissible. Anarchistic, but also pragmatist, they were like the ultimate hybrid between the individualistic and hierarchical impulses behind human politics. Thrash bands as a result tended to direct their criticism toward society itself and were less likely to hover on one side of the political spectrum or the other, despite having a huge background influence by the almost-universally anarchist punk movement. We can only assume the additional influences on thrash came from metal, which was more likely to take a historical and impersonal view of life, where punk was much more personal and present-tense.
Where the bands that prompted the early speed metal and thrash hybrids were punk hardcore (The Exploited, Cro-Mags, Black Flag, Minor Threat, GBH) and early crustcore (Discharge, Amebix) bands, thrash in turn spurred hardcore on to become faster and more extreme, resulting in shorter songs with more metal-like (more chord changes, more internal texture) riffs. The later punk hardcore bands like Void, Faith and Siege prompted a gnarlier sound, picking up on the distorted vocals which has become a staple of the previous punk generation, perhaps prompted by Motorhead and Lemmy Kilmister’s incomprehensible gargled-glass screaming.
From this inspiration, a movement caught on in the late mid-1980s. Fronted by bands like Repulsion and Napalm Death, it quickly diversified and spread worldwide. However, like punk before it, grindcore did not have much staying power. The more one streamlines and simplifies, the fewer variations exist, until most things can be described as a modification to an archetype. At that point, bands lose the ability to distinguish themselves and thus realize their talents are better applied elsewhere if they wish to distinguish themselves. Nevertheless, between 1986 and 1990 the foundational masters of grindcore emerged in the form of Repulsion (1984), Napalm Death (1985), Terrorizer (1989), Blood (1989) and Carbonized (1990).
About a decade ago, the trend of flash fiction or micro-stories seized the literary world by storm. The reasoning was that as people did more of their reading via phones and portable computers, they would want shorter, harder-hitting fiction.
Of course, metal was there first.
Heavy metal has a long tradition of making short and fast songs that derive intensity by compressing an idea and then unleashing it like a jack-in-the-box with razor blades for teeth. This tradition spans multiple metal genres and decades.
Generally three and a half minutes is considered the ideal length for a pop song, give or take a half-minute. Many bands, especially in more “serious” genres like AOR, progressive rock, jazz and metal, tend to write five minute or longer songs. Micro-songs on the other hand clock in well under two minutes, often under one.
According to many bands, writing a short song is harder than writing a long one. When the song goes by quickly, song structure is more transparent. There aren’t comforting layers of conventions, like guitar solos and ballady choruses, that can be used to disguise an emptiness within.
It’s just the songwriter versus the void.
Here’s a (brief) run through of heavy metal (and hybrids) who made flash-audio or micro-songs.
Much as we all admire the ex-Emperor axeslinger, he’s fallen into the pit of what happens to musicians once they’ve blasted out their most vital creative material: they become masters of interesting details, but this means that they fit into the dominant paradigm. In this case, Ihsahn is basically progressive indie rock with a tendency to launch off on flights of fancy that sometimes involve metally riffs. But for the most part, he’s playing with the same pieces and riding in the same channel that everyone else has been cruising for the last 70 years. This doesn’t showcase the legendary creativity that propels this artist toward his best work, and also doesn’t make for great listening, since it’s a collection of mixed moods that never really pick up a direction anywhere but into themselves.
Falkenbach – Asa
Folk metal isn’t a genre; it’s an approach to any number of genres. Falkenbach is heavy metal with some black metal influences but is approached in a “folk” way that resembles jaunty pirate and epic Viking songs from Hollywood movies, thus continuing metal’s infatuation with the soundtrack. The music isn’t bad, but cycles verse-chorus and develops very marginally so there’s not much of a vertiginous sense of revelation. Further, either this dude has a sinus infection or they autotuned these vocals, which is somewhat repellent if your music is naturalistic. Thus this gets filed in the pile of stuff I’d like to like, but can’t have faith in, and find aesthetically irritating.
Beastmilk – Climax
When we run out of ideas, we run to the past. So it is with Beastmilk, who resurrect 1980s indie rock with a slightly more intense guitar focus, like R.E.M. crossed with Dave Mathews and grafted into Journey. This isn’t bad, but not so exceptional we must cover it on a death metal site.
Inferno – Omniabsence Filled by His Greatness
Strongly reminiscent of early Dark Funeral with lower tuning, Inferno provide charging black metal with strong concluding themes and high energy. None of these riffs will really strike you as all that unusual, but they knit together well into songs. To flesh things out, Inferno use fills of sweeps or lead picking between the rushing power chord riffs. This release really doesn’t have enough character to distinguish itself for the ages, but is more refreshingly clear about what it likes than most of the kvltists or hybrid-bands that wander through our review stack these days.
Blizaro – Strange Doorways
Sometimes we confuse having a lot of material with having something epic. This 2CD is a fusion of doom metal in the style of Confessor/Candlemass and a lot of random 70s influences from Hawkwind to Yes. These guys like to jam, and this music seems like someone recorded jams for a year, patched ’em up so they stuck together as songs, and worked them into an epic format. They’d do better to distill this to an EP of their best thoughts.
Polluted Inheritance – Betrayed
When Polluted Inheritance play death metal, they create a type of very familiar and nocturnal music that feels like moving through a darkened battlefield. This is broken up by speed metal riffs and lead-ups which sometimes have Pantera-style roundabout vocals circling the end of each phrase, causing a sense of this battlefield being broken up by machinery. In addition, Polluted Inheritance like to drop in sporadic progressive riffing or extremely noodly guitar, often accompanying some of the speed metal riffs. Reminiscent in many ways of later Adramelech, the band thus “comes into its own” less frequently that it would if some hard stylistic decisions were made and individual members had less freedom to indulge musicianship for musicianship’s sake. It is gratifying however to find a release that actually wants to be metal, and can execute moments of insight in riff form that evoke the best moments of classic death metal.
Boal – Infinite Deprivation
Although from the deathgrind genre, this album represents an attempt to use old school approaches to melody and riff with the “modern technical metal” style of static or harmony-based (sweep) riffs. These riffs are designed to contrast each other toward resolution in the old school way, but ultimately are too linear and rhythmic to develop enough phrase. However, the deathgrind portion of Infinite Deprivation is a breath of fresh air, incorporating groove in a subversive and unnerving way and building up to honest culminations. Obviously it’s too much to ask this band to go all old-school but they’re the closest thing to interesting in deathgrind.
Root – Viginti Quinque Annis In Scaena
This album sounds like Venom covering Cream. It’s basically hard rock and the generation before it, sped up with more precise playing and some hefty fellow bellowing over the top. While none of it is is particularly badly executed, it also sounds dated, like a flashback into the late 1960s which is being resurrected for purposes of nostalgia. The homebrew nature of this band would be appealing if the songs stretched beyond an emulation of that past state in time, but although heavily influenced by the Hellhammer-Bathory first wave of black metal, this music remains in part of that cluster of material that belongs to a time before the underground.
Circle – Incarnation
This seems like “sludge metal,” which is really just slow metalcore, with throw in influences from indie and black metal. Mostly disorganized, it fails from inability to make a point, although there are no other deficits. Like most music in this style, which seems to be people who want doom metal with aggressive open intervals instead of minor key ones, the modus operandi of the listener is to experience drone and forget where he is in the piece, then notice periodic interesting bits before descending again into a rumble of confusion.
Toxic Holocaust – Chemistry of Consciousness
The whole of the human condition is revealed by this album: it is well-executed on the surface, but its independent spirit is bound up in pleasing others with what they already know, in order to get power. As a result, it is a fun listen until you start thinking about hearing it a dozen times. It’s more instrumentally competent than your average retro-thrash band, but strays mostly into speed metal territory, mix and matching riffs from 1980s speed metal bands so that verse and chorus riffs each resemble well-known types but they don’t appear together as in the original song. Most of these songs are repetitive verse-chorus with a break to provide contrast before the reprise. Oddly, the vocals are whispered and distorted like a black metal band but using the rhythms of a late 1980s band like Sodom or Kreator. This is well-executed but I wouldn’t want to hear it again, especially as I heard all of these ideas the first time around — back in the 1980s.
Back in the 1990s, most people couldn’t stand Ildjarn and side-project Sort Vokter. These bands were seen as too simple, primitive, nihilistic, raw and amoral for even black metal.
One web site — our direct ancestor — praised the releases to the skies, claimed they were brilliant, and aggressively advocated them, culminating in an interview with the mastermind behind Ildjarn himself. We were ridiculed, mocked, scourged, spit upon, etc. until suddenly people woke up and realized the brilliance of Ildjarn.
Ildjarn mocks deconstruction. Modern people love to deconstruct things into tiny little statements that are true but also incomplete; Ildjarn took many tiny states, and using them like spatter-paint making a silhouette on canvas, used them to create a vision of a much broader and pervasive truth, as exemplified in the phrase “Forest Poetry.” Ildjarn is naturalism that does not retreat to happy Disney Land where all the animals are fuzzy and cute. Ildjarn is feral reality coming back through the (poetic) beast within.
Many years later, label Seasons of Mist has opted to re-release the classic of the Ildjarn era with new artwork and hopefully minimal remastering if any. These releases are already available for pre-order in the Seasons of Mist online shop.
We encourage all people who have not experienced Ildjarn to listen and revel in the simple coordinated profundity of this primal black metal band. These mighty slabs of minimalist metal will be available on August 16, 2013.
Barbaric Softworks has signed a licensing agreement with Austin, TX-based continuation thrash band Birth A.D. to use Birth A.D. songs in Barbaric Softworks’ newest title, Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment.
Unlike most video games, Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment has no winners. You just lose a little less, and survive a little longer. American and European ratings authorities will have a field day with this violent game notorious for its irreverent mockery of death, suffering and humanity’s pretense of individuality.
In a similar vein, Birth A.D. has rocked the house with mockery on its latest opus, I Blame You. Recalling the golden days of DRI and SOD, this band nonetheless forges on in a continuation of what those bands created and does not rehash the past like the retro bands who are so thoughtless that it is tempting to lace their Capri Sun with antifreeze.
The combination of Birth A.D. and Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment should thrill even the most dour metal fan with its high splatter and body count, and the corresponding middle finger to all values that society holds dear. The game is due out in a later quarter of 2013.
(To get the full effect, hit “play” on both videos at the same time.)