Adventurous metal site Metal Recusants published an interview with myself that hopefully will not bore any of you too much. Metal Recusants is one of the more interesting sites out there as you found out when you read our profile of Editor Dom and his team a few months back. Be sure to poke around for their commentary and reviews, interviews, and other forays into the world of extreme metal.
After death metal and black metal had made their meaningful contributions, a cry rang out: support the scene!
By that it was meant that you should go to local shows, buy records, and otherwise give monetary subsistence and publicity to local bands.
They left off a key detail: which local bands?
Actually, they don’t want you to ask that question. All local bands, they hope. That way, even if their bands are talentless, they’ll be able to sell merch and music because, y’know be cool man, support the scene!
In fact, what “support the scene” really means is “abolish quality control.” Forget trying to have good metal bands, let’s just have a lot. That way everyone can play at this neat game called being as cool as Euronymous or Azagthoth.
I have a different philosophy: support the good bands, and ignore the bad. This idea is often called “natural selection.” It means that if you want a strong scene, you only support the strong candidates, and let the weak ones die out.
Post-1994 people have no idea how cruel, judgmental and intolerant the older scene was — or how much this worked to its benefit. People shunned bands that weren’t the complete package: music, lyrics, name, imagery, music, production, visual art, and personalities. The scene was more elitist than these faux-elitist hipsters could ever dream of being.
It was downright hostile to people who didn’t “get it,” where “it” was a complex and insular culture so alienated from the mainstream it saw anyone who believed society had a future to be a mental failure. It saw society itself to be insane, and headed for doom. It realized how modern life was constructed of very many ancient lies, fluffed up and re-covered to look shiny and new.
The underground is not a place for joiners. It’s not a place for me-tooers. It’s not a place for the extra people of humanity who, having nothing they really care about, go casting around for an “identity” they can manufacture out of things they buy and activities they attend.
Don’t support the scene. The scene is a parasite. Support the good metal bands, and death to the rest.
This issue is about to explode into public discourse because the rise in new-style metal bands has forced this question upon us all.
What is the underground?
Before even reading this article, keep in mind that there are some excellent resources. First, The Heavy Metal FAQ provides a complete answer. Second, Underground Never Dies! is a whole book dedicated to this topic through the eyes of metal bands from the 1980s-1990s underground era.
But we can come up with an even quicker definition.
The 1980s through early 1990s were a different time. Not only was there no internet, but music distribution was fairly strictly defined. Mainstream stores got what the big distributors had from the big labels and a select few smaller labels that pushed their way in. If you wanted a wider selection, you went to an “alternative” music store which stocked smaller labels. Often you bought imports, at a 50% markup. Most stores were completely uninterested in stocking something such as death metal, because it appealed to a small and antisocial niche audience. Why bother with selling a single copy of a Deicide album when you could sell 20 copies of Motley Crue without even trying?
In addition, there were forces of opposition to any metal that was not radio sanitized (which meant speaking on code words, probably encouraging deviant behavior to a greater degree). Very few people now remember when Tipper Gore and her Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) were a powerful lobby for parental warning stickers on questionable albums. In addition, the threat of such people caused record stores to actually card people for buying violent rap or occult metal. You had to be 18 and prove it, or they would not sell to you.
And getting it on radio? There was college radio and also a handful of independent radio stations but these faced the same problem. Why play death metal when you could throw on a few sets of Sonic Youth and Rites of Spring and have 20 times as many listeners? Even among alternative music, death metal was unpopular because it was abrasive and did not have a large social movement behind it which made people like it. NWA was a violent, misogynistic and hilarious rap group that got banned just about everywhere, but there was a large social movement behind their work. It was easier to find that than your average, or even your top-selling, death metal band.
What underground meant back then seemed to be that it was offered through alternative channels. A few record stores, some college radio stations, tiny record labels run on a basically non-profit basis, and photocopied hand-assembled zines made of a pastiche of typed content and tattoo-style margin drawings. How did most people find new music in the early days? They hooked up with pen pals who would mail them cassette tape mixes of new music they found, often dubbed from cassette demos from the bands. Sometimes these tapes were many generations down the line and you could barely hear the band under the crepitant tape noise! But they did the job that mainstream media, record labels and magazines would not.
Toward the middle of the 1990s, this situation relaxed. First, the rise of used CD sales meant that smaller labels were making it into bigger stores via a backdoor. Second, magazines like Spin eventually gave coverage to death metal. Finally, changes in the way music was distributed opened up the middlemen who supplied record stores to the smaller labels. This meant that the traditional split between underground and mainstream was going away. Record labels, scared by the possibility of used CD sales eating up the profits from big mainstream releases, which relied on novelty to sell and interested their audiences for only a few months, started looking toward “niche” sales. But what really blew it out of the water was the notoriety of black metal.
Starting in the mid-1990s, rumors of the black metal movement in Norway and its legacy of violence — church burnings, murders, and stockpiling of military grade weapons — began to leak out through the zines into the magazines. Then the whole drama exploded with the trial of Varg Vikernes, who conveniently also ended the old black metal era with Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, an album so deeply nuanced and impossible to follow that most musicians shrugged and went back to three-chord, “punk style” black metal instead. He raised the bar at the same time bands like Darkthrone codified the genre with Transilvanian Hunger, an album that was difficult to create but easy to mimic. As mentioned in the documentary Until the Light Takes Us, black metal witnessed the decay of an idea. This decay happened through emulation that, because it looked at the outward traits like distortion and blast beats, missed the actual meaning of the genre which caused musicians to make such similar music in the first place.
It’s hard for people to realize now but black metal was initially viewed as slightly touched in the head. Death metalers often hated it violently; almost everyone else seemed to criticize it for its lo-fi approach and almost childish use of blasphemy and antisocial imagery. Many of the albums sounded like they were performed by people who had barely picked up an instrument and might have zero social graces. It was roundly mocked… until it started to become popular. Then the tables were turned. Within five years, black metal was in mainstream record stores (this shift happened in about 1997) and became really popular with a new generation.
After that point, the term “underground” seemed to lose meaning. The internet had come and made music and information about it universally available, and the proliferation of high-powered desktop computers meant that recording an album, running a label or making a zine involved far less labor and looked and sounded a lot better than the DIY labor of the 1980s (or even 1960s-1970s, when proto-punk and punk bands innovated it). At this point, people started going for an “underground sound,” which meant artificial lo-fi, simple three-chord songs, lots of ranting about antisocial topics including the occult, and a deliberately offensive resistance to any positive reinforcement.
You can see the resulting confusion in this artfully assembled article by Laina Dawes:
The other issue that’s sparked controversy is exactly which bands get press — take Deafheaven and fellow shoegaze black metal band Alcest, who both benefited greatly from non-metal-centric coverage in 2013. The idea of using these bands to open of the gates of metal and let readers discover a new musical genre (or actually take it seriously) is a contentious one. One of the issues is the promotion of palatable metal bands that could potentially reach the masses with a sound that isn’t “metal” in the classic sense. Instead, these bands have been referred to as “extreme,” a catch-all, provocative phrase guaranteed to attract listeners who are looking for a more intense metal fix – and to satiate that self-satisfied outsider-metal “cool factor” that insecure metal fans love to laud over the pop-music contingent.
In the years from 1995-1998, the underground basically rehashed itself. It had no ideas, and more importantly, the bar was raised. To be a good death metal band, you had to be at the level of Morbid Angel’s Covenant or Suffocation’s Pierced From Within. To be a black metal band of note, you had to be at the level of Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss or Enslaved’s Frost. Not many bands could do that and so an alternative underground built up based on fan-driven metal. Most of this was in emulation of the previous years and took the form of three-chord simplified versions of the more complex originals. The result was that, outside of a small cluster of people hanging around internet forums, this music went nowhere.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so from 1999-2006 or so, metalcore took over. This was also music designed to be easy to make. It took the randomness aesthetic of late hardcore punk and combined it with death metal riffs, making chaotic songs that made no sense but were plenty distracting and extreme. The music industry flogged this dead horse walking (to brutally mix metaphors) for five years before the trend started to die. Then from 2006 through the present, the music industry took a different tack: instead of trying to make a new genre, emulate something that has worked in the past. They found the fertile ground of the post-hardcore years where indie rock, shoegaze and post-rock coexisted in the same sphere of influence. This was generally what was called “alternative rock” before “alternative rock” became a brand for flannel wearing bittersweet droning hard rock bands from Seattle.
Deafheaven is a polarizing band becomes it comes from this tradition. Listening to it, it is not clear there is any metal in it at all. But labeling something “metal” or “underground” or “extreme” excites interest, mainly because few people trust the aboveground media. Thus there is a huge financial incentive to classify Deafheaven as metal, and for smaller blogs and magazines to go along with this fiction as well, if they do, they get advertising revenue and possibly a shot at the big time.
This leaves us with a complete quandary: does the term “underground” have meaning anymore at all?
My suggestion with my last article, “In defense of elitism,” was that underground is a misused term. The point is that metal has a spirit which defines it and separates it from everything else. That spirit must be expressed but it is of a nature that does not trust the dominant paradigm. Black Sabbath wrote their music to rain on the hippie parade of love, drugs and pacifism; their point was that altering our perspective does not change reality. Underground metal had a similar message and was unwilling to alter it in order to fit with the expectations of people who would rather hear about the denial fictions of love, drugs and pacifism (underground rap did the same thing in parallel, but with a different set of issues and a different set of denial fictions).
What makes a metal band underground is that it is unwilling to compromise its vision of truth for what people want to believe is true. It is unwilling to compromise its aesthetics for what people believe is comfortable and pleasant. It is committed to the idea that the only legitimacy comes from the art itself, not its popularity or album sales. Some would identify this as the ultimate non-“bourgeois” statement, in that it casts aside comfortable oblivion in favor of a raw blast of cold hard reality. This sense of underground is more fundamental than how the albums are sold or which zines write about them. It is an attitude and discipline. Underground means that which puts truth first and popularity second, which is a dramatic reversal of the way everyone else goes about it.
Metal is not the only genre to have an underground. Punk was originally underground but as it became fashionable in the late 1970s hardcore punk bands started vanishing into squats, playing midnight parties in abandoned foundries, and selling their music on 7″ records out of shirtsleeves. The noise movement in Japan remains underground to this day, with artists like K.K. Null constructing elaborate and beautiful pieces from raw noise, instead of making harsh blasting rebellious stuff like record labels had hoped. Robert Fripp, former guitarist of King Crimson, uses electronics to make his guitar sound like an organ and plays small concerts across the world. Underground is not a term specific to metal, but a term to describe any activity that is not encouraged in society at large yet believes it has ideological, artistic and/or political value.
You aren’t going to hear about any of these artists in big media and you may not be able to buy their CDs in regular stores. However, that is the symptom, not the cause. The reason they’re not in regular stores is that they’re not only niche, but also not given to comfortable oblivion. In a time when people can choose the artistic equivalent of a cheeseburger over the more challenging and substantive art, people tend to do so, which marginalizes actual art. As a result, the actual art is alien and threatening to most people, which makes it a terrible product, which means that it ends up in small record stores, small zines, and small labels.
If anything, the internet has exacerbated this tendency. In an age when we can find anything by googling it, the real problem is knowing what to google. Even worse, Google uses a search engine algorithm that moves higher links up the chain, thus burying marginalized results. We have all the information in the world but without a guide to it, none of us know what to do with it. It is for this reason that traditional media has won out on the net and the sites that attract the most eyes are the ones that are promoting essentially mainstream music.
What Deafheaven represents to a metaler is the triumph of mainstream music. There is nothing in Deafheaven that challenges the listener to even a second of soul-searching or discovery, or whatever it is that art does — that’s a separate debate — in contrast to what death metal and black metal provoked in us. Deafheaven in fact is the listening equivalent of wallpaper, a pleasant series of repeated images that make us think about shopping, perhaps. Whether it is bad music or not is irrelevant. “The medium is the message,” we’re told, and in the case of Deafheaven, the medium is inoffensive pop pretending to be “extreme.”
Since then, anything “new” and “innovative” done in metal has involved musicians stepping outside the boundaries of the genre more and more. Shoegaze, industrial, post-punk, krautrock, progressive rock, jazz, trance, dubstep. It’s been happening gradually over the past ten years, but Deafheaven’s 2013 album Sunbather just might be the first major splintering that will eventually see “extreme music” separating completely from actual heavy metal. Although my opinion on the album has already been published and will not change, it remains the most critically acclaimed album of 2013, of any genre, marking the first time an album that has occupied that grey area between “metal” and “extreme music” has captured the attention of so many mainstream critics and audiences. Some critics still call Sunbather “metal”, but to do so is to forget what makes heavy metal heavy metal in the first place, merely clutching to the few metallic threads in an otherwise richly varied musical fabric. In reality, Sunbather is a tremendous example of extremity transcending the metal ethos entirely.
In other words, there’s a reason Deafheaven doesn’t sound like Beherit, Demoncy, Imprecation, Blaspherian or any of the other bands which have resurrected the underground sound over the past five years. Deafheaven represents the mixing of mainstream sounds into underground metal, while Beherit represents underground metal growing and developing on its own terms.
If anything, the underground is in a renaissance because it has finally escaped the old standard of lo-fi music sold on cassettes/vinyl through dodgy mail orders and reported on only by small zines. We have gone from alienated from society to accepted (grudgingly) by society, and so now we are “niche” music. But what defines this niche is that it is underground. We face the hidden truths and evoke concealed emotions, and thrust a fist in the face of oblivion. That is what makes us underground, and it’s why the masses chose Deafheaven over Demoncy to report on as a face of extreme music.
Today, Jeff Hanneman would have been fifty years old. The man who helped invent the sound that underlies all of underground death metal did not, as the people around him in the LA suburbs tend to do, waste his life away in repetition. Instead, he forged his own path and we celebrate him for it and the results of it.
Way back in 1983, as now, the holy grail of alienated music was the fusion of any two of its genres: metal, punk and industrial. Specifically there was great interest in using its guitar-based genres to create a new sound. Many people attempted to fuse metal and punk, and many credible sounds came out of it. One path was speed metal, which Metallica unleashed with Kill ‘Em All. Another was thrash, which DRI cut loose with Dirty Rotten LP. But still another was the foundation of death metal and black metal which was introduced by Slayer and refined the following year by Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom.
Slayer took two things from punk and injected them into the prog-influenced songs structures of NWOBHM: they borrowed the constant tremolo strum, used by punk for drone, and the open drum patterns that allowed guitar to take the lead. Now a new style of music emerged. Rhythm guitar became the lead instrument, rapid-firing changing riffs at the audience while drums framed but did not lead the development. Riffs did not have to perfectly fit the drums which kept going in the background as a kind of timekeeper but not, as in most bands, a way of signaling the guitar to change. Further, riffs became phrasal, building on the longer chord progressions of Black Sabbath to become fully small melodies, developing in response to on another like classical motifs.
Music teachers, who were raised in the rock/jazz idea that drums lead and riffs should emphasize harmonic and a static melodic role, with the primary melodic role and lead instrument (and thus impetus for song “development”) being the voice, found Slayer to be unmusical. The record industry was appalled at this creation that unleashed the demonic side of life in such clarity; they make their money from selling happy illusions, not grim realities translated into elaborately conceived mythologies.
And yet it is this mythological tendency, dating back to “War Pigs,” that saves metal from self-consuming and burning out like hardcore punk. It is not literal; it is imaginative. It turns our focus from ourselves to the nature of power, history, nature and other forces larger than the individual, and then lets us imagine the greatness of participation in those. Where punk turned reality into a protest weapon and source of alienation, metal has turned it into a source of individual desire to do something epic with our lives. Slayer gave that mythological tendency a new voice, not just by singing about demons, vampires and The Holocaust, but by translating the sound of raw power into something you could throw on your bedroom hi-fi and be transported to a different world.
For this reason, Slayer captured the imagination of a generation and continues to enthrall us today. The early albums, which are completely written in horror movie mythology, incite in us a desire to see the hidden possibly occult underpinnings of a society gone insane. The Reign in Blood and afterwards material shows us a more punk-like grasp of all that terrifies us and sends us searching for reasons why, and if not why, how to use such things as war, murder and sadism in some constructive way. Slayer is not protest music; it acknowledges the horror, but doesn’t want to band us together into a drum circle to “stop” these horrors. It recognizes they are eternal. Instead, like the religion it loathed, Slayer drives us to find a way to accept these things as part of life itself, and look for a philosophy that shows us a reason to survive despite all these horrors.
Jeff Hanneman’s influence pervades the Slayer story. He wrote many of the band’s most epic and enduring songs, contributed the mythological outlook, and invented the musical changes described above. While he may be slighted by the Grammy’s, or ignored by a world of people seeking Shakira tunes instead of imaginative but realist metal, to those who can understand his trip — already a naturally elite group — Hanneman’s work is not just a source of wisdom, but of inspiration. In a world asleep, he stayed awake. In a world of imitation, he took his own path. Where most just wanted to participate for reward, he took on life at its most basic level and triumphed. For that reason, we’ll always celebrate his life and work.
An age of distrust.
On and on, south of heaven
Blue skied days make me think of aliens landing amongst us like in the old science fiction films. Except this time, the aliens are disappointed in what they find. “We have analyzed your transmissions,” the vocoded digi-translator says. “We are hoping to contact the people of Aurelius, Plato, Nietzsche and the first Morbid Angel album.”
Sadly there is no one here who can help them. The old Romans are dead, the ancient Greeks long gone, even the days when philosophers wrote about real topics are over, and Morbid Angel have ventured on to different goals and styles. If the aliens came looking for old school death metal, they’d find themselves presented with over a million options, very few of which resembled the glory of what once was.
This leads us to the interesting question: what causes some human endeavor, whether a civilization or a culture or death metal, to collapse? Nietzsche believed the answer to be nihilism; Joseph Tainter thinks it is when groups find diminishing marginal returns in self-organization; Aurelius saw a failure of spirit as the cause. When I was less experienced, I would have agreed with Nietzsche or Tainter that an internal/external source was the cause; the more I’ve seen, the closer I veer toward Aurelius’ view which is that things die when their spirit dies.
In metal, we’ve had a great spiritual death for quite a long time now. Death metal and black metal produced a huge backlog of technique, imagery, creativity and complexity between 1984 and 1994, but then pretty much faded away. In their place first came imitators, then metalcore, and now the emo/indie/gaze crowd of “post-metal” types who are making the same music that was popular back in the late 1980s. History has reversed itself as it always does when collapse comes to town.
Erik Danielsson of erstwhile black metal band and now happy melodic heavy metal band Watain offered his own vision of how this inversion occurs:
I think that throughout the course of history, there have always been very few bands that have been able to live up to my standards, at least of black metal… Then there are thousands and thousands of misrepresentations and misconceptions of it. But true and genuine black metal is always something that will always be a minority in the music scene. A small minority even.
Then there’s all these people that kind of want to… It’s just like punk, you know? You have a few real punk bands, and you have a thousand bands that try to do the same thing, but fail because they don’t have the right spirit and they don’t really believe in it. But at the same time, it fascinates a lot of people, because it is an extreme way of expression, and it is controversial, and it’s therefore also popular and people are fascinated by it.
That’s why it’s also so often, like with other forms of extreme art, whatever it may be, that’s why it’s also so often misused, and just even commercialised, just for the sake of that, horror sells. And extreme metal sells, controversy sells, and that’s why there’s so many charlatans in this kind of music.
He makes a good point but it’s not the whole story. At some point, the genre was stronger and had a higher ratio of actual black metal to imitators. What is an imitator? Someone who adopts the surface appearance of some other thing without understanding its spirit, inner structure, values or motivations. Why do imitators do it? For the social value; that’s all imitation can deliver. If you imitate something, you can sell it, achieve popularity, or even just have some rationalization for your lifestyle and a way to spend your time that you feel doesn’t make you look like a complete l00zer to your friends.
This makes the original ideals of black metal look smarter than they seemed at the same. “No more, no core, no fun and no trends” is an anti-social statement, meaning that it is designed to block the passage of metal into a social movement. As discussed in Until the Light Takes Us, the decay of meaning is inevitable once power passes from the innovators to the art shop displays, poseurs, political types and record label tyrants.
Luckily, there’s also good news. hybrid indie/metal band Twilight is calling it quits:
Black metal supergroup Twilight welcomed a new member in the middle of 2012: Thurston Moore. “We’re not coming together to make music,” Moore said then of the group. “We’re joining forces to destroy all rational thought.”
Unfortunately, the band itself has also imploded. With news of their new album—III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb, out March 18 in North American and March 17 in Europe through Century Media—comes the announcement that Twilight has broken up. The album will be their last.
I will never be happy for anything that inconveniences Imperial of Krieg in any way, as he carried the black metal flag at a time when the USBM underground had declared itself dead fetus and put up the banner of failure. I also have no enmity for Thurston Moore, who was quite a gregarious and interesting fellow when I met him, or any of the other musicians in Twilight. They’re just trying to have careers. However, they were also symbolic of the downfall of underground metal in that they symbolized its acceptance by the indie rock hierarchy.
The thing about rebels is that they either fail and are destroyed in anonymity, or they become the new Establishment. Since most people love a chance to believe that their problems are caused by oppression, not their own poor life choices, revolutions are very popular; just about everyone loves one, except the cynical and flatulent elderly. Thus as a revolutionary you have a better than average chance but, if you succeed, you live to become that against which new generations revolt. First country, blues, jazz and rock were a revolution against established music, then punk was a revolution against popular music. Then indie was a revolution against punk.
Black metal, like heavy metal before it, was a revolution against the mentality of revolution. It was “heavy” in that instead of promising flowers, love and peace — all appearances, all social things — it promised darkness, warfare, conflict and predation. Metal has always been the music that says our problems cannot be solved by appearances and must be addressed by dealing with reality itself, which is the one thing that most people never want to do.
The message of metal is never initially popular. What is popular is the perception of metalheads being “outside” the social system, and thus able to perceive a truth and enjoy a freedom that those inside cannot. This makes those inside want to emulate the outsiders, but they do so only in appearance, resulting in them making imitations that have the spirit, values, goals and internal structure of the inside. Thus, the independent truth is dragged down into a morass of conformity and the same failed thinking that it tried to escape.
Our ongoing coverage of Underground Never Dies! by Andrés Padilla continues with this review of the accompanying LP. As you may recall, this LP of early death metal classics comes with 500 copies of the book and boxsets, but will also be able to be ordered separately on CD/LP.
Underground Never Dies! is a look at the nascent death metal movement through the eyes of zine editors, musicians and writers from the mid 1980s-mid 1990s era when the genre was birthed. For more information about its genesis and content, you might want to check out our interview with Andrés Padilla and read the other half of this review, which includes a 3-page sampler of the book itself.
What makes Underground Never Dies! exceptional is that it does not attempt to be anything but a subjective and in-depth exploration of what the author and those he knew found to be meaningful in the death metal underground. It explores what the term “underground” itself means, and what motivated these musicians and other creative people to set up an underground and nurture the music in it.
The book itself is a crown jewel, with glossy pages reproducing the original flyers, zines, band photos, demo covers and other artifacts of the age, plus extensive commentary by people who were active in that time, with big names appearing alongside obscure but insightful contributors. Visually, it is overwhelming to the point where it must be digested over many days with appreciation for all of the details, much like one used to peruse Mad Magazine for the Antonio Prohias cartoons in the margins.
The accompanying LP is also a masterwork of old school underground extreme metal joy. Side B begins with the most famous track by Necrovore, the band who in 1986-87 took the raw ideas of early death metal and gave them an aesthetic of apocalyptic rage that was later influential to Morbid Angel. Invocator and Armoros follow with tracks that show us the speed metal roots of many of the most popular riff themes in death metal. Sadism contributes an older school track that shows the mentality shifting from speed metal’s logicality to death metal’s feral rage and structural obsession. Finally, Poison and Mental Decay reveal some of the more hardcore punk-influenced work in the underground, showing us both the weirdness and commonality of purpose between the two genres in their original form.
In addition to the tracks streamed here and on Side A, the CD/MC version of the accompanying music contains a bonus side with more tracks from famous, infamous and obscure bands.
1. Necrovore – “Mutilated Death” (4:25)
2. Sadism – “Psychomental Storm” (2:57)
3. Invocator – “The Persistence from Memorial Chasm” (4:14)
4. Armoros – “Euphoria” (3:23)
5. Poison – “Black Death” (3:14)
6. Mental Decay – “The Final Scar” (3:27)
What does any band deserve? A fair review. If the band is good, it should be said so, to what degree. If it just sucks, it also needs to be said. And that’s why we’re here with the latest edition of Sadistic Metal Reviews.
If their stupid name didn’t already clue you in, the atrocity that is Weekend Nachos represents a lesser acknowledged evil in the underground music scene: nu-grind, or powerviolence played by MTV2 jockcore fans. Similar to other Relapse bands like Benümb, except all the fast strummed “anger” is a holdover for later day “tough guy” or straight-edge 90s hardcore “everyone mosh on the dancefloor” gimmickry that preys on low IQs who don’t listen to music beyond “breakdowns.”
The title on this may be ironic because it can apply only to Ildjarn, and only if the band ships something bad. This isn’t bad, but it’s an entirely different form of music. Where older Ildjarn was an idiosyncratic expression in equal parts ambient black metal, drone hardcore and forest Oi/Rac-influenced metal like Absurd, this new material is clearly designed to sound like black metal. Its songs use typical black metal intervals, develop according to the pattern, and even use vocals in the same rhythms as early Dimmu Borgir or other first-and-a-half wave bands. If you’re tuning in to Ildjarn, you expect something at least as lawless and feral as his later work on keyboards; this will be a problem for many listeners. As far as quality, it’s not bad at all and in fact is very natural-sounding, sort of like the first Dimmu Borgir or Graveland albums. Some have hypothesized that Ildjarn did not write the material, and the production changes and incorporation of additional instrumentation, in addition to the stylistic changes, suggest either a casual interest in this as a project to “stay in the game” or delegation of many musical tasks to a new team. Production sounds more recent than the early 1990s Ildjarn material. Use of background keyboards, faster bass riffing, textural discontinuities and other distinguishing effects show an interesting set of musical tools emerging, but the band may need to rediscover its voice. Hate Forest never struck me as being all that significant, but they make a very credible effort here, with production that matches the Ildjarn but is very carefully adjusted to sound as distinctive as possible. Their songs are fairly regulation black metal with an attempt to insert complex fills and transitions, and then to balance that, simplify the chorus riffs. The result is not atmospheric per se but achieves a relaxed atmosphere in which the focal point becomes the interruption, like a sunny sky with an intriguing cloud cluster. None of it is particularly distinctive but it’s not bad either. Songs maintain atmosphere well but there’s not a huge amount of development here, so the band sensibly rely on circularity to keep from appearing jagged. A rumored Ildjarn interview claims that this release was an early 1990s project between himself and Ihsahn of Emperor, which could explain the resemblance to post-Reverence Emperor material.
Entropy embodied, this is the band that provided inspiration for Southern Lord’s entire catalogue of musical abortions. Deconstructive, linear riffs that seek to express nothing except ennui, combined with faux-crooning self-pitying lyrics ensure that this will continue to be a favorite band of mentally vacant children for decades to come. This is the mentality of grunge in a different form.
For a brief while, power metal (speed metal w/death metal drums) looked like it would save True Metal. The problem is, however, anytime you walk back up the metal family tree, you get back toward the stuff metal was formed to run away from. As I listened to the first tracks on this, I thought, they’ve got some interesting riff ideas — let’s see how long it last — however, they sound like they want to be a rock band that’s primarily about vocal performance and personal identification with the vocalist. About half-way through the album, they shifted to tap-dance rhythm riffs and soaring vocals, the combination meaning no ideas but how to rip through some 1960s material. Eventually it got so bad it sounded like Queensryche on a bad day as a disco combo covering old CCR B-sides. If you don’t have an idea, by definition, you are an imitator recycling the old in a new form, and we have a word for that: stagnation.
Continuing their decline, Immolation return to the bouncy simplicity of Harnessing Ruin, only this time they downplay the “nu” sounds and try to make it sound more aesthetically in line with their old sound. This doesn’t change it from being a predictable verse-chorus version of NYDM and shows Immolation in their most neutered form yet, trying to pander to a metalcore audience whilst retaining their trademark sound. After the last album, I reckon the only reason people see these guys tour anymore is to get a Failures for Gods longsleeve. Linear, predictable, and disappointing considering this group’s potential.
After a few brave people direction-find their way to a new genre, in come the people who want to partake. They often bring superior skills but they don’t understand what they’re doing. Izegrim is a fine example. It’s chanty metal. When metal gets chanty, which is the nerdy equivalent of rapping, you know that a central narrative has been replaced by adherence to appearance and where that doesn’t work, filling in the gaps with the same old stuff. While this band is instrumentally superior to your average metal band, they don’t know what to do with the odd bits and ends they’ve assembled as songs, so they tie it all together with the simplest elements possible. That meants chants, crowd-pleaser but repetitive riffs, and lots of bombast to cover up for the big void within.
When a band wishes to play black metal without embodying any of its spirit, this is what’s produced. Lethargic, tremolo-strummed droning with ANGRY MAN vocals and uninspired drumming produces an album of tracks that are indistinguishable. Albums like these would be better off as hard rock, because at their heart that is what these musicians are aiming to create…though at least it’s not as bad as the the latest Satyricon abortion.
After failing to become “Oppressor meets Deeds of Flesh” with their last couple albums, Broken Hope return after a long hiatus and have churned out what can best be described as a Unique Leader band covering mainstream hip hop tracks in double speed. Considering their “beefs” with death metal bands and Source Awards concert turn outs, it should be no surprise that this has more in common with Tupac than it does Suffocation, approaching death metal from the same “gangster” outlook that Six Feet Under did in the 90s.
“Artistic” black metal, otherwise known as black metal watered down with fruity “post-rock” produces a product that is post-art. Designed for a generation that believes interrupting narration with pointless deviations is artistically viable, in form this shares for more in common with modern metal than with relevant black metal bands. Listen to this only if you enjoy consuming pumpkin spice lo-fat frappuccinos.
These three tracks — “Eurovision,” “No History” and “Resistance is Futile” — comprise 2/3 of the EP S (which can be streamed here) released in advance of the new Laibach album to show where the band is at this point. Some might think it odd to review industrial music on a metal blog, but Laibach has been supportive of metal in the past, including the notorious Morbid Angel remixes and positive statements made in public. Further, industrial and metal share a root, which is that we deny the happy vision that came about in the 1960s of love, peace and uniformity that would save us from the horrors of the modern time. Our vision is to point out that the beast is within, and as long as humans refuse to discipline their minds, they will end up re-inventing the horror, futility and self-destruction of the near past and the ancient past, before civilization evolved. Both genres also point to a path outside of what is acknowledged as “higher values” or “the right thing to do,” seeing morality as confining and misinterpreted. That being said, it seems that industrial hasn’t changed much since the EBM days of the 1980s. In fact, much as Nine Inch Nails basically made a more pop form of that genre with added guitars, Laibach have simply made a more stern form, albeit a self-mocking one. What you will find: compelling beats, blasts of static, sampled voices, a surly European-accented voice almost chewing out the lyrics in a conversational growl, and even bits of other musics woven through the material. Ultimately, what makes industrial different than metal is that it knows how to pull off a good pop song and make it sound good, even with machine-ish touches, where metal tries to make something beyond what people consider music. As a result, these songs have heavy dead-beat grooves and build up to a compelling motion. There isn’t as much internal development as metal so there’s some question of whether a metal fan would enjoy hearing these repeatedly, but it’s hard to ignore the sheer pop power and terrifying view of the world brought up by this assault of music and (if you go to the site) imagery.
Claiming to be inspired by the old science-fiction movie Metropolis, Sepultura collaborate with tone deaf AIDS guru Ross Robinson to create an album that, much like recent Sepultura, is high in pretension and low in musical payoff. Death metal sounds are utilized here but only serve as what sounds like Pantera or later Sacred Reich occasionally lapsing into a parody of Slowly We Rot at its simplest than anything from their 80s output. A guest appearance by Dave Lombardo doing a “tribal” drumming outro feels more like a marketing gimmick, lacking any of the imagination found in his instrumental track for Grip Inc. (incidentally, their only good song). Most of the songs devolve into effects laden meandering, which is to be expected considering the producer. Even then, nothing is gained or lost on this album. Sepultura is still like a fish out of water, churning out another vapid reiteration of their 1998 album that will piss off old fans and make no new ones.
The first riff sounds like screamo, then clean vocals played over what sounds like a “post-black” abomination, then the breakdown with “eerie arpeggios”… this is metalcore. Looking past the “shocking” image stolen from early Carcass made to appeal to self-loathing Starbucks regulars, Cattle Decapitation now seem to be in direct contact with the same focus group Gojira employ when coming up with their gimmick ridden, indie rock friendly vapidity, eschewing the F-grade death/grind of their past for metalcore acceptance. Beyond the aesthetic drape of underground metal, this is nothing more than a random collage of parts “EXTREME” bands play for mainstream appeal under the pretense of having “matured” as “artists.”
The “supergroup” of a bunch of hipsters that convinced Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth to ruin the genre alongside them, Twilight perverts black metal by using the treble guitar tone and anguished vocal styling to dress up what is middle of the road “post-sludge”. Members pool their collective inability to write metal into one product that comes off like a brain washing tool Scion would use to convince Gojira fans to purchase SUVs, all the while looking “edgy.”
This imaginative release explores the world of Iron Maiden-tinged power metal with an epic metal mindset, preferring extensive clean vocals, lengthy melodic parts and high-speed pickup riffs of the Maiden style. However, it also works in a fair amount of newer technique, sounding sometimes at the edge of later At the Gates. This is interesting material and an ambitious offering. However, this band has a few things it needs to work on. First, the vocalist is too present both in the composition and the approach to songwriting, and needs to go back to being one of the instruments. Second, this CD weighs in at 1:10 and is a B- album at that length, where if they boiled it down to 35 minutes would be closer to an A. (Note to bands: if you can’t listen to your own CD, while doing nothing else, on repeat for several times in a row, make changes). It has genre confusion problems that need to be resolved by getting more comfortable with its own style. Finally, Cromlech should learn from Iron Maiden and focus on making song structures clear: one intro, a theme, a countertheme, and some kind of developmental area where the melody grows before returning to the more predictable parts of songs. This is about their approach anyway, but it’s muddled by uneven application of technique. In addition, it wouldn’t kill them to look through for repetitive themes and excise or consolidate them. All in all, a great first effort, and I tack on all these suggestions because starting bands often need a push to fully develop.
The biggest sham in metal to this day. Being a propaganda tool used by hippies to turn metal into rock music, Gojira continue what they’ve done since the beginning: making “heavy” parts out of rhythmic chugging with pick scraping sounds before playing “soft” parts that sound lifted from A Perfect Circle. Rock made for angry menstruating Deepak Chopra reading faux-guru hippies. Add the cringe worthy “deep” lyrics and it’s no wonder people thought the world was going to end in 2012 when both this album came out and a new record was set the world over in dolphins beaching themselves.
As mentioned in an earlier article, Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) is a new book revealing the history of underground/extreme metal. Unlike many such efforts, this book approaches the topic from an academic perspective and avoids trying to celebrate the commercial or popular phenomenon.
Salva Rubio, an author and screenwriter in Spain, wrote Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) in his native Spanish and hopes to have it translated to English and other languages. The book “includes essays about the ethical and aesthetic nature of Extreme Metal, a formal account of what distinguishes each style and how they are meant to be played, a chronological, style-by-style story of how each kind of Extreme Metal evolved.”
Approaching metal as a history is antithetical to what many in the buying public expect from entertainment-related topics. They expected the fan-focused features that celebrate how much interest the genre has created, and how its individual members react and feel. While that approach makes the music identifiable to the listener, Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011) takes another approach, which is to tell the story of the music through its evolution and let the whole story show what influenced individuals, and not the other way around.
Fortunately for us out here in death metal appreciation land, author Salva Rubio was willing to give us a brief run-down on the book, his connection to and inspiration in metal, and the status of the book and possible translation.
What’s your personal history in extreme metal? How did you discover it, what interested you about it, and how did you end up writing about it?
I remember quite well the first time I ever listened to Extreme Metal! I guess it was in ’91 or ’92 when I was already into rock and I bought one of those anime VHS tapes released by Manga Video (it could be “Fist of the North Star,” awesome series!). Then I hit the play button and “The Heart Beneath” by Celtic Frost, which played as an intro, simply blew my mind. As I say, at the time I didn’t have a clue about which band or song was that, since I didn’t have friends who were into Extreme Metal. But with a little bit of research, I started discovering other bands and as they say, the rest is history.
About what interested me, it was rather an intuitive thing: I simply loved the strength, passion and power that that kind of music emanated, and as I read the lyrics, I discovered that very serious and rebellious themes were sung, and at that time in my teenage years metal philosophy played the most important role in my development as a human being.
How did I end up writing about it? When I was studying my degree of Arts History back in 2003, we had this “Music History” subject, focused on classical music. The teacher was a really open-minded guy, so I asked him if he knew anything about Extreme Metal. I remember how he asked back “Do you mean heavy Metal?” — “No, I mean Extreme Metal.” He was so intrigued that he asked me to write a paper on its history, and although he later jokingly admitted that the music itself horrified him, he thought it was formally interesting and worthy of academic attention, and that I should write a book about it and he even offered to publish the book… But unfortunately, he died soon after. A few years later, my life was going through big changes and Metal helped me again deal with all that, so I thought I had to give something in return and write the goddamned book. It resulted in a 250,000+-word, 600+ page mammoth that has given me some of the greatest satisfaction in my life.
How did you pick the dates (1981-2011) for the book?
As I will explain later, this is a rather formalistic book, which means that its main focus is music itself, its structures, its sound, its ways of being played. Thus, musically speaking I think Extreme Metal is born when Punk and Heavy Metal collide with Motörhead, and I think the first band to assimilate those influences in the coherent way that others will formally, ethically and aestethically follow is Venom in Welcome to Hell, precisely in 1981. Just think of the influence it had on Hellhammer, Bathory and everything that came next.
As for the closing date, I started writing the book around 2009 and soon I realized that 2011 would complete a 30 year period in a nice, round way. My publisher agreed so I had to write it during all of 2010 and 2011 until its publication in December that year.
When will the book be available in other languages such as English?
That is a good question, since we are still looking for a publisher! Regarding this, any interested publisher would like to know that in Spanish language we have reached the Fourth Edition in less than two years, and it is currently selling well in Spain, Mexico, Colombia Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela and Perú and hopefully soon it will reach Argentina, Ecuador and other Latin American countries. I already have even an offer to publish it in Polish language once the English version is out.
Should a traditional (paper) publisher be interested in the book, it could be out in a year or less, I guess. There is another angle I am considering, and that is self-publishing it as a series of e-books (one for each style) because it’s hard to sell a 600-page book in e-book format, mostly because of the price it would have. I don’t like that much the idea of splitting the book into smaller volumes but this way at least I would be in control of when and where it’s released. If I finally go this way, maybe along 2014 the first volumes could be released, on my own budget (hard) or maybe after a kickstarter campaign (easier).
Anyway, as you can check in www.extrememetalbook.com, anyone can help get the book published just by drawing the attention of your favorite publishing house to the book. Please support this project as true underground always does!
Can you tell us more about the book? Is it mostly a history, a list of bands, interviews, or some combination of the above? How much is pictorial content?
As I advanced before, the book is a formalistic essay. This is very important; I am NOT a journalist or a critic, I am a Historian. That means my goal was to create a historical narration of how the music itself was created and how it has evolved over the years. What I have done is putting some order in the styles and sub-styles tree, creating a “botany” if you want: classification of bands according to the style they have helped to build.
That means there are around ten main styles (Pioneers, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Swedish & Melodic Death Metal, Grindcore & Goregrind, Industrial Metal, Gothic Doom & Gothic Metal, Black Metal and Progressive/Avantgarde Metal), each style being a container for further sub-styles, such as Classical Death Metal, Technical Death Metal and Brutal Death Metal in the (obviously) Death Metal universe and Classical Black Metal, Norwegian Black Metal, Symphonic Black Metal, Melodic Black Metal, Death/Black Metal in the Black Metal Universe, and each of them even have their own variants, of course. The goal was to create a logical flow of music development, searching for the, again, formal paths that influences have made each style evolve and split into new sub-styles.
As for the pictorial content, the Spanish edition has about 20 pages of color and black and white photography in separate pages, most taken by myself. As for the English edition, I can’t say how much pictorial content it will feature; I just can say that I have a big personal archive, so we shouldn’t be short on this.
To write this book, I first thought of interviewing bands, as it is usually done by journalists or even critics, but it did not work. Mainly because it usually happens that many musicians are not really aware of the exact kind of music they are playing, and also, many of them like to say that they don’t play in any known style but their own, which is of course, formally impossible. Others claim to play a style (as in “Viking Metal”) which does not represent really a musical style, but an aesthetic tendency: “Viking” bands as Enslaved, Tyr or Amon Amarth play different styles of metal, so they belong to different chapters in the book. I also tend to use more “formally and historically accurate” terminology in conjunction with the traditional one: Classical Death Metal = Old School Death Metal.
As for the structure of the book, each chapter features an introduction, a technical (instrumental) analysis of the style, a lyrical analysis and its development through various stages in the last 30 years. I suggest you check the self-explaining table of contents: http://extrememetalbook.com/table_of_contents.html.
Anyway, something very important to note is that I don’t want this book to tell THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH in an exclusive, self-aggrandizing way. I see it as a contribution to the many studies that are being done on Extreme Metal. Those looking for pope-or-guru-like pontifications will not find it. Those looking for a fresh edge on how Extreme Metal has evolved and developed will enjoy it. You all know the story, I am just telling it in a different way that might make see you your favorite music in a new light (or darkness!).
How did you pick which bands to interview/include?
I used two sets of criteria for choosing the bands: first, obviously, any band who has had an influence over a style, created it, subverted it, re-created it, etc, that is, every band that has kept the machine running is featured. On the other hand, there are the bands, usually lesser known except for the underground, that have inherited their elders’ lessons and have developed them.
The development of each of those band’s histories have been covered in short biographies focused on their evolution throughout their subsequent releases, without filler as discographies, personnel changes, etc. I wanted the book to be readable from cover to cover and these entries are meant to provide an introduction to each band.
And of course, I have NOT tried to make something like a cold-data-encyclopedia (that’s why Metal Archives exists) or something like “the definitive list of.” I loathe those approaches and my choice is to be (and necessarily must be) a product of the Extreme Metal I have been exposed to throughout my lifetime. Suggestions are welcome, of course.
Underground Never Dies! fills a void in the literature about metal so far, which is the “why” behind the underground. We know the facts from other sources, but facts are deceiving because they take on a life of their own. Underground Never Dies! knits the facts together with a narrative of the reasons people expressed for joining the underground.
Angling toward its topic matter from a zine-based perspective, Underground Never Dies! describes the informal network of fans, bands, labels and writers who stayed connected through postal mail and xeroxed 50-page fanzines. This substituted for the huge media network and financial power of the major labels, who soon found themselves wishing they had an underground also.
The reason for this is that, as any advertiser can tell you, the most effective force in marketing is word of mouth. It takes ten TV ads about how awesome Altars of Madness is to be equal — possibly — to one friend telling you about “the most intense album ever.” Zines were a personal connection by people who threw out the false objectivity of mainstream media, and instead focused on presenting what they found meaningful.
Underground Never Dies! unites several threads while explaining this phenomenon. On one hand, this book is an incredible treasure trove of images and words from the past, reproduced exactly as they appeared in the original zines, flyers and letters. Looking more deeply, it’s an exploration of what it means to have the underground mentality through the words of those who participated and distinguished themselves, including luminaries like Fenriz of Darkthrone and musicians from At the Gates.
What makes this book exceptional is that it takes the same approach a zine would, which makes sense seeing how the author Andrés Padilla is editor of Chilean zine Grinder Magazine. Using his practiced approach, he goes for a metal version of Hunter S. Thompson’s “gonzo journalism” and discards the pretense of objectivity, instead looking at the scene as a personal experience with shared objective components between a select group who actually did notable things back in the day.
Parts of this book will take your breath away as you realize you are looking at historical objects reproduced as if in a museum, and that these objects represent the time and place where movements that are with us to this day were launched. From demo covers of bands that were later genre-defining to classic interviews where bands explained their motivation, even extending to lost promotional photos of bands 30 years ago, Underground Never Dies! is like an inverted periscope into the deep and murky world of underground extreme metal.
What makes this book more than a souvenir is its intense exploration of the why, however. Personal statements from notable scene personalities, including Alan Moses of Glorious Times fame, as well as clear articulations from zines in the day about what motivated the participants, line these pages and show us how the underground wasn’t just a musical movement, but a social movement, if not a separate society entirely.
The first 500 copies of the book come with a LP recording of unreleased classic metal tracks from back in the day. You can peruse the tracklist here, or listen to the live soundstream that follows this article. The CD/LP will be sold separately in addition to the book, but it’s hard to imagine wanting one without the other since both are essentially archives of rare information.
Interested fans may wish to seek our initial report on Underground Never Dies!, or our announcement of the book’s impending release. Of interest also is our interview with Underground Never Dies! and Grinder Magazine author Andrés Padilla (which you can also read in Spanish). For background, you might also enjoy reading The Heavy Metal FAQ and our public domain metal zines archive.
1. Incubus – “Engulfed in Unspeakable Horrors” (5:19)
2. Slaughter Lord – “Taste Of Blood” (3:13)
3. Mutilated – “Hysterical Corpse Dislocation” (3:05)
4. Dr. Shrinker – “Cerebral Seizure” (3:06)
5. Aftermath – “When You Will Die” (3:52)
6. Exmortis – “Beyond The Realm Of Madness” (3:24)
Side B will follow with the second part of this review.
As the years have churned by, interest in underground metal has grown as metal fans have become more experienced and come to want more complete assessments of the music of their youth, and as outsiders and new fans discover this field. To support this, a fleet of books have been launched to cover it.
A recent addition is Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011), by Salva Rubio, a writer in Spain. Rubio holds a degree in art history and works as a screenwriter and writer in his native Spain. Right now, the book is only available in Spanish, but it’s possible that a translation to English and other languages will follow.
According to the website for Extreme Metal: 30 Years of Darkness (1981-2011), the book “includes essays about the ethical and aesthetic nature of Extreme Metal, a formal account of what distinguishes each style and how they are meant to be played, a chronological, style-by-style story of how each kind of Extreme Metal evolved.”
The book has a Facebook site in an effort to build some community behind the release.