Heathen Call – Volume IV

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In the early 1990s, before Wikipedia and Metal-Archives destroyed knowledge by standardizing it, zine editors were like guerrilla truth-fighters. At their day jobs, they stood in front of copiers while a colleague nervously kept watch, running off thousands of sheets that they then stayed up until dawn stapling and preparing for mailing. Everyone who could be a fanatic took his or her turn firing off publications.

Heathen Call comes from that same spirit. Its goal is to write about heathen music, which is the intersection of folk and metal with sometimes ambient/soundtrack overtones that focuses on pagan/ancient topics and aesthetics. If the medievalism of Dead Can Dance or the Ren Faire seemed like fun, but with the vicious realist approach of metal, that would be the heathen underground. In this issue, Heathen Call covers long-running folk band Changes, black/folk metal band Gjhallarhorn from Ukraine, heavy metal band Akashah, and black metal band Grafvolluth. While this slants the content by weight toward the metal, the most interesting part is the Robert N. Taylor interview with Changes in which he discusses the challenges of staying realistic in a world dedicated to frivolous distraction to avoid seeing its inner emptiness. Changes formed in 1969 and in theory would have been included in the great folk music explosion, but they did not fit in with the flowers in the hair message of the age. Taylor brings forth not only forgotten history but more fully developed ideas on pagan, heathen and traditional culture than one normally hears.

This zine is spectacularly short and clean. The focus is clearly the content. With elegant but sparse graphics, black-on-white layouts designed for easy reading, and selective content of interviews with questions that get into the depth of purpose and motivation behind these artists, Heathen Call would not fit in with the “what amps do you use?” and “have there been many groupies this tour?” type writing that populist magazines aim for, nor the political dogma zombie recitation of the political magazines. As such, this is a rare animal. It would be interesting to see more interviews with people such as Robert N. Taylor and other thinkers in this area, and getting away from the also-ran black metal bands who are exploring a heathen area tangentially to being participants in the dead, bloated and off-gassing black metal scene, but as a content-based zine Heathen Call provides an interesting, quality read for those interested in this niche spanning multiple genres.

Codex Obscurum issue #7 available for pre-order

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The seventh issue of New England old school metal zine Codex Obscurum has been completed and is now available for pre-order.

Featuring a list of bands including Deceased, Thanatos, Crypt Sermon, Dawn of Demise, Wastlander, Undergang, Blood Incantation, Magic Circle and Drug Honkey, the zine promises to be a continuation of the past concept of this hand-produced stapled and Xeroxed zine, which is focus on the music from a fan perspective without the nonsense and trappings of the music industry.

Compilation of Death – Volume II Issues I & II

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In the many years of reading about metal, I have often wished for something like Compilation of Death: a zine that goes back through other zines, pulls out the best content and annotates it so that a historical record is composed from many sources. Each of the stories in this zine are like a shelf in a great library of metal, usually about a band but equally possibly a scene, a sound or a time.

What you will find among these pages is a carefully curated view of metal, which borrows whole pages from zines from the periods in which these bands were active, combines them with current-day interviews and perspectives, and assembles them into a kind of metal investigative reporting that shows us a well-rounded picture of each band or topic.

Compilation of Death carefully gives credit to each of the source zines and includes information on how to contact them, so in addition to being a feast of metal zine information, this is a promotion for the entire idea of zines, which are experiencing a renaissance as people tire of the information overload — which guarantees a predominance of low-value content — and endless useless people who clog today’s internet. Democratizing content merely means that every bad idea gets repeated thousands of times and good ideas get driven to the periphery, so that established commercial interests with the bucks to advertise on the big sites win out. Zines on the other hand are by their nature curated, meaning that someone plays the role of librarian/editor and picks bands deliberately, asks questions with intent, and reveals something unique to that subject with the resulting reporting. This is different than the assembly line process of web sites and big metal magazines, who process whatever the labels send them in roughly the same way with surface changes so that the “quirky” outlook hides the utter sameness and entropy of it all. What made zines powerful was that they had purpose, which allowed them to reveal a truth non-objectively and for reasons of itself, instead of secondary reasons like popularity and profit. Compilation of Death doubles down on this concept by not only choosing direction and topic, but picking from the vast number of zines out there the best of what is written on that topic.

These two volumes offer reading matter that can be pored over many times because they are bursting with details that become increasingly relevant the more one knows about a topic. In addition, metal historians will find many unknown but important details here confirming the motivations of bands and their art, in addition to a broader perspective on the people behind the music which is never revealed by the more uptight, formal and procedural interviews conducted by big magazines. For those who want a heavy dose of information about the underground in a form that rewards the diligent reader with a deep understanding, Compilation of Death is a treat that can be revisited time and again to bring out the nuance of its topic.

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Isten zine compilation Isten Fanzine: Don’t Break the Ghost released December 12, 2014

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Svart Records will release a compilation of Isten zine from 1984-2014 on December 12, 2014. Entitled Isten Fanzine: Don’t Break the Ghost, the anthology will be published in hardcover and contain 800 pages of all things published and unpublished by Isten during those years.

Isten creator Mikko Mattila, who began the zine in his hometown of Tampere, Finland three decades ago, said, “Isten has always been characterized by murkiness and a lingering quality. Indeed, it took us nearly five years to do this anthology. It truly is a treasure chest, a time machine, and an open grave.”

Details on Compilation of Death issue three

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DMU reported recently that Compilation of Death zine has issue three back from the printers and ready to distribute. Like many of you probably were, I was intrigued by the use of the term “zine” to describe what looks like… a book.

In the grand spirit of investigative metal journalism, DMU reached out to Gabriel Andres Gatica Kretschmer, editor of the Compilation of Death. He answered our questions about the new issue and created anticipation of the new issue with his answers.

How many pages are in the new issue? Are all of them illustrated?

Aesthetically this new issue might be seen as a book because of its large number of pages, but this appearance was not premeditated. Independent of the size, we are and we have the essence of a fanzine: Compilation of Death is created by fans for fans. Our new issue has over 390 pages but keeps the spirit and outlook of a xeroxed ‘zine. And yes, all of the pages are illustrated!

What bands are in it?

  • Features
    • SADISTIC INTENT (in depth special)
    • Brutal Assassin
    • Decomposed (Usa)
    • SINDROME
    • DREAM DEATH
    • PHLEBOTOMIZED
    • Druid Lord
    • DR SHRINKER
    • VOID OF VOMITS
    • EARACHE RECORDS (Interview about the history of the label)
    • Necroccultus
    • HEXX
    • BLOODBATH (Serbia)
    • SORCERY (Sweden)
    • AUTOPSY (Fucking big interview)
    • Nephrite (Norway)
    • DISSECT
    • DIABOLIC/HORROR OF HORRORS/UNHOLY GHOST
    • ENTETY/COFFIN TEXT
    • AGRESSOR (Fra)
    • FATAL (Usa)
    • CIANIDE
    • THANATOPSIS (Usa)
    • OBLITERATION (Nor)
    • BLOODSPILL (Usa)
    • DEATH THREAT (Usa)
    • DECEASED
    • DEATH YELL
    • ETERNAL DARKNESS
    • NILE
    • ROTTREVORE
    • Embrional (Pol)
    • NECROWRETCH
    • ETERNAL SOLSTICE
    • PENTACLE (Studio Report-Live review by Costa Stoios)
    • PROFILES
    • MAGNUS (Pol)
    • Pages of pure fucking Damnation (Chat with old fanzine editors)
    • Aaaarrghh Magazine (NZ)
    • INVOCATOR/MACERATION
    • GOD VOMIT’ Zine
    • RATTLEHEAD ‘ZINE/BLOWING THRASH ZINE
    • DECIBEL OF DEATH ZINE
    • THE BOOK OF ARMAGGEDDON’ZINE/ RAGE RECORDS
    • RAM METAL SECTION (The section of LAURENT RAMADIER)
  • Interviews
    • Gino Marino & NOCTURNUS/INCUBUS
    • MUTILATED (Fra)
    • EXCRUCIATION (SWI)
    • INCANTATION
  • SOME DIE, OTHERS ARE BORN (New section with over 50 new bands)
  • DARK AWAKENING (Review Section)

Is this all-new content? (I assume so, just verifying)

All the content is new, from our own staff and some guests as collaborators in interviews. But we also have some reprints of old interviews from old fanzines.

How is this different from past COD issues?

I think the essence is the same, we just have more pages, therefore, more interviews and articles. We also add a new section with more than 50 upcoming bands where you may learn the basic and essential information about bands who have only been around for a few years and have few releases. We continue with an in-depth special about the history of a band; last issue this was IMMOLATION and in this new edition is been SADISTIC INTENT.

Where can people get this, and about how much will it cost?

HELLSHEADBANGERS from USA is our official distributor; they were responsible for printing our new issue. Some labels in Europe like APOCALYPTIC EMPIRE, IRON BONEHEAD, THE SINISTER FLAME, UNHOLY PROPHECY, TERROR FROM HELL, MEMENTO MORI, WITCHCRAFT ‘ZINE, etc. are distributing our new issue as well. All who are interested in distributing our new issue should contact HELLSHEADBANGERS Records directly and ask for wholesale pricing.

Can you tell us a bit about your background in metal, in writing and in zine publishing? What are you listening to now?

Previously I edited a fanzine called Brutal Passion in Chile, it was something generic, nothing new, you could find the same in other 100 fanzines. I’m a crazy fanzine collector and I decided to do something different and create Compilation of Death zine as a tribute to the old fanzines and focused on the development, history and continuity of a style like death metal and its closest branches.

I see Compilation of Death as a link between the forgotten and the present time… I listen to many things depending on my mood, but these days, the new album of ZEMIAL, OPHIS, DEAD CONGREGATION, DOMAINS, DROWNED, GORGUTS, HAEMOPHAGUS, RUDE, ATARAXY, DISMA, BEYOND, SHEOL, INCANTATION, RIPPER (CHILE), U. KULTEN, PROCESSION, etc… I listen to almost all styles of metal, especially a lot of death metal and heavy metal. My favorite band since I was a child is RUNNING WILD for example…

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Metal Music Studies journal now on sale

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The journal Metal Music Studies put forth by the International Society for Metal Music Studies is now on sale at this location. Individual subscriptions are £36 per year. The journal aims to fulfill the following mission statement:

To provide an intellectual hub for the International Society of Metal Music Studies and a vehicle to promote the development of metal music studies;

To be the focus for research and theory in metal music studies – a multidisciplinary (and interdisciplinary) subject field that engages with a range of parent disciplines, including (but not limited to) sociology, musicology, humanities, cultural studies, geography, philosophy, psychology, history, natural sciences;

To publish high-quality, world-class research, theory and shorter articles that cross over from the industry and the scene;

To be a world leader in interdisciplinary studies and be a unique resource for metal music studies.

Codex Obscurum #5 now available

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Codex Obscurum #5 is now available for preorder at the following location and will ship in the last week of may. Preordering helps offset the cost of printing the zine. As previously covered in these pages, Codex Obscurum presents the underground in the form it originally evolved: xeroxed pages, in depth content, and careful choice of featured bands.

Issue #5 contains:
Art by Matt Putrid
At The Gates
Brutal Truth
Sigh
Dead Congregation
BÖLZER
TrenchRot
Morbus Chron
Krieg
Embalmer
Vastum
Satans Satyrs
The Wakedead Gathering
Crucifier
Church Burn
Aktor
Domains
& More

Why zines are coming back big time

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People say what they hope will be true and the grand visions printed about the internet back in the 90s are no exception. While most of us were hoping for Neuromancer on our home computers, more “mature” people saw the internet as an emerging market. They cynically promised as a new age where anyone could publish to the internet. It would be a new age free of domination by big media and a marketplace of ideas, they said.

Fast-forward to the time when those predictions would have come true and we see a far different reality. Information overload renders the internet mostly useless. With so many sites dumping information on the masses, the ones that succeed are the ones who get mentioned in the traditional media. Thus in metal media, the big internet sites are dependent on label money. Labels advertise, sites repeat, then that gets quoted in advertising and the audience, figuring the site must be a big deal, flocks to it.

This means that the big metal sites have exactly the same problems big media did back in the 1980s. If a band is good but not popular with a huge spectrum of people and thus high-margin profitable, it doesn’t get mentioned. We’re right back where we were before the internet, except information overload makes it even harder to find the information of real importance, which is focus on the good metal bands whether vastly popular or not.

As I observed in a review of a rising zine, the days of big internet media are giving way to the return of zines:

Many of us old school death metal fans watched the rise of zine Codex Obscurum with growing interest because it, like Glorious Times and Underground Never Dies!, represents an attempt to look back at the underground and figure out what made it as powerful as it was. Part of the answer is selectivity, which is a gentle person’s form of “elitism,” meaning that one selects quality over quantity and vigorously promotes and defends the quality. This is what zines did, what radio shows did, and what labels did, back in the day, by choosing some bands over others. The vague smell of blood in the air is the shadow of long-forgotten predation and natural selection that also shaped us as humans, which means not so much “survival of the fittest” but that all who make a meaningful contribution get kicked upstairs and everyone else is forgotten.

Most people had a problem with this. After all, it’s one lone guy screaming at the last 20 years of media consultant wisdom. But sometimes nature favors the brave (and correct) and so this idea is gaining traction. Witness this recent piece by Marc Andreesen, one of the authors of NCSA Mosaic (Mozilla Firefox’s great-grandfather) and now a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley:

On the Internet, there’s no limit to the number of outlets or voices in the news chorus. So quality can easily coexist with crap. All can thrive in their respective markets—and there’s a market for garbage, too. The good news is this: The more noise, confusion and crap, the more the need for trusted guides, respected experts and quality brands.

The vital sentence there is: The more noise, confusion and crap, the more the need for trusted guides, respected experts and quality brands.

  • The “noise, confusion and crap” applies to the broken ecosystem where blogs depend on label publicity for support and thus the only blogs that rise to the top are the ones who run the party line. The bigger internet sites are useless unless you want label propaganda. This includes Wikipedia and Metal-Archives, who insist on “verified” information which means a predisposition to believe the press releases over actuality.
  • The “trusted guides, respected experts and quality brands” describe those who make a name for themselves by knowing good from bad. Trusted guides are like reviewers at your favorite zine; respected experts are book authors, radio DJs and other people with intense knowledge of metal history; quality brands are labels that “can do no wrong,” much like Osmose Productions during the early days of black metal or Drowned Records back int he death metal days.

What this points to is a resurgence in zines and niche/specialty websites that are not sponsored by labels or media. Those represent the true promise of both the internet and the DIY publishing revolution that launched zines back in the 60s and 70s. Even more, it points to a “singularity” where the internet is recognized as not being what it was sold as, and consumers retreat except for a relatively small group of people who inhabit the net like nerds (4chan, NWN/FMP, Facebook).

After all, the internet is in trouble because time is revealing its advertising model to be bogus metrics based on warm bodies instead of actual attention by people with the ability to buy. More than half of online video ads are not seen, and A small group of people account for most of the activity on the internet which means that advertising is pitching to this group, not buyers, which is one reason why internet advertising continues to have dubious results. Users hate it and it’s easy to ignore.

One possibility is that like many industries before it, the metal industry is flush with cash and has more coming in if it just keeps shipping product regardless of quality. Thus a bubble has been created where money is going toward strategies that don’t actually work or only work with a limited or captive audience. This bubble produces a disconnect between the audience the labels and blogs see, and the larger audience of real-life (“IRL”) people who actually enjoy this music and will buy it — if someone points them to the quality stuff, not just whatever crap the labels are pushing this week.

All of this means that zines have an expanding audience before them. People want experts. Metal zines that are writing consistent reviews that sort good from bad on the basis of the music alone, and that don’t follow the underground trends that are the parallel equivalent of the big label propaganda, will be in high demand. My guess is that they will abandon most of the “underground-style” aesthetic and streamline it into something more reproducible, and focus on more issues at lower cost rather than big ornate rarities.

For metal, this means great opportunity. Metal thrives where it is highly selective. This is because it is easy to make metal, but hard to make good metal. Further, unlike “pure music” genres like jazz and fusion, metal is highly content-driven. This means that songs must imitate and explicate some phenomenon found in the world or in our minds, and thus must be more poetic than the simple jams of other bands. All of this means that we need more of those “trusted guides” in metal than are currently being offered.

Codex Obscurum – Issue Four

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Many of us old school death metal fans watched the rise of zine Codex Obscurum with growing interest because it, like Glorious Times and Underground Never Dies!, represents an attempt to look back at the underground and figure out what made it as powerful as it was. Part of the answer is selectivity, which is a gentle person’s form of “elitism,” meaning that one selects quality over quantity and vigorously promotes and defends the quality. This is what zines did, what radio shows did, and what labels did, back in the day, by choosing some bands over others. The vague smell of blood in the air is the shadow of long-forgotten predation and natural selection that also shaped us as humans, which means not so much “survival of the fittest” but that all who make a meaningful contribution get kicked upstairs and everyone else is forgotten.

Codex Obscurum represents the best kind of selectivity because it targets bands of note but does so broadly, thus you avoid both the “hey kids, everything’s great!” attitude of the commercial providers and the narrow perceptual slot of the kvlt vndergrovnd. This issue advertises swamp death metal band Autopsy, second-wave crust band Doom, cavernous old school death metal band Blaspherian, multifaceted heavy metal/folk band Primordial, melodic drone metal band Sacriphyx, abrasive occult death metal band Father Befouled, Icelandic modern black metal act Svartidaudi, and several more. While not everyone may like (or admit to liking…) these acts, the spread makes it clear that both broad-minded attention to music itself and a high level of standards apply here. This explains why the editors of such a zine might want to go underground and stay there, where they are not beholden to the ugly cycle of advertising revenues and thus being asked to pimp the latest platter of re-heated Carpenters tunes spray-painted with the vaguest appearance of “metal.” Indeed, Codex Obscurum is funded entirely by user purchase price, which is why for $5 or so this arrives at your door with no ads.

For the uninitiated, this zine presents the old school zine style in every detail, which is both practical and a nice atmospheric touch. The hand-numbered issues, the xeroxed pages complete with copy artifacts, occasional typos and sometimes surly answers to perfectly reasonable questions by bands who clearly have done too much press lately, all factor in to the appeal. Use of cardstock for the cover gives this issue a more permanent feel than older photocopied heap zines had, which shows a positive advance of technology. Similarly, quite a few of these interviews seem to have occurred through email, and the use of office software to lay out the zine makes it more readable. The rest is pure old school, from the writing style which is both personal and projected into the mind of an idealized metalhead, looking for that nearly indefinable quality that makes a metal band distinguish itself as a classic in the making rather than news of the week.

The primary content for Codex Obscurum is provided by its abundant interviews, which are conducted in a familiar yet inquisitive style, like the best of Joan Didion-influenced hip journalism before it forgot the word “investigative” in its title. These questions aren’t all softballs like you would expect in a mainstream magazine, but sometimes force bands to confront their own internal struggles for self-definition. To their credit, most of the bands here rise to the occasion and reveal their thinking and intentions in the actions they have taken. The Doom interview is particularly revelatory as the interviewer walks the band through the past and makes connections to consistent patterns across their career. The Autopsy interview makes for a stunning read since it is Eric Cutler giving a candid and somewhat aggressive portrayal of where the band is and how past events shaped their present outlook. The Svartidaudi interview goes in-depth into how this band is struggling to find its own voice while under onslaught from the many trends of current black metal, despite being inspired by the best of the past (which is different from being inspired by the past alone). One oddity that would be called a “quirk” in any less just-the-music-ma’am magazine is the lengthy interview with the creator of the RPG Cave Evil, which accompanies the amazing artwork from that game with a nearly existential exploration of the purpose of RPGs themselves.

Profanatica “Thy Kingdom Cum” (Hell’s Headbangers)
Disingenuous.
You cannot defile nuns
While wearing sweatpants.

The sizeable block of reviews at the back of Codex Obscurum show where this zine is determined to keep its hand in the current music industry. Any band that is roughly connected to old school death metal and black metal, with a wide spread because of open-mindedness, qualifies for inclusion here. These reviews take a conversational outlook which seems too removed from the music at first except when you realize that it’s gonzo journalism of the first order. When writing about metal, don’t pretend you are not a metalhead; it’s a lie. Further, think of what you like and then extrapolate to what others like. It helps them shop for music. It also avoids troubling pretense and complications as reviewers try to get more “in depth” and end up producing thousand-word inspections that result in no clear conclusions. Here, the conclusions are clear — in fact, one section even puts them in Haiku form — and give roughly the kind of synopsis one would get from an experienced record store owner, label head or producer, issuing forth a rough summary of the band, its importance and its staying power and audience, in about a sentence each.

For the past several issues, Codex Obscurum has reserved its final pages for experimental content. In this case, it is facially an inspection of why a famous metal musician flaked on an interview… and beneath the waves, a deft revelation of the disintegration of the underground into warring self-interested parties while no one keeps their eye on the wheel or the road. That leaves the future of the genre up in the air, since everyone is too busy cashing in to steer, and the results are about as you might expect: all the has-beens in warmed over hardcore, emo and indie rock bands have rushed through the breach and set up shop making parasitic versions of the older material, except nowhere near as good. Codex Obscurum shows a good way to reclaim the past of the underground for the future, namely to start paying attention to the steering again and to be unafraid to be selective and to not give reasons why some bands simply suck. Just be honest. The editors and writers here have given it their best shot and it makes for not only informative and entertaining reading, but a glimpse into the old days without the smarmy fug of solicitous nostalgia for marketing purposes that normally hangs around such ventures.

Codex Obscurum zine releases issue #4

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The recent revival in non-ultra-niche zines for underground metal continues with the success of Codex Obscurum, an old-school style zine that takes advantage of modern technology. Our previous coverage of Codex Obscurum chronicles its development from the early days to mastery of aesthetic and content.

When the underground was new, zines were the way to find information for metalheads in a world that refused to air, play, show or print information about such a tiny and unprofitable genre. With the rise of niche marketing, glossy zines have taken over much of the underground, driving most xeroxed print zines into ultra-niches where they cover topics specific to about 500 people each. Codex Obscurum resurrects the general-purpose underground metal print zine in about 50 xeroxed pages of interviews, reviews, features and reports.

Issue #4 of Codex Obscurum is now available for pre-order at the Codex Obscurum fulfillment site. The zine costs $3 + shipping and handling and will hit the mails at the end of this month. This issue features interviews with Blaspherian, Autopsy and Primordial, a selection which reveals the breadth of coverage that Codex Obscurum delivers.