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Motifs and Leitmotifs in Metal

July 22, 2009 –

The use of motifs and leitmotifs is very frequent in the musical genres of classical and opera, but we can also find some examples of their use in that furious contemporary “classical” brand of sound making we known as heavy metal. Here we’ll explain what they are and their application in metal music.

The Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary defines “leitmotif” as follows:

Leitmotif
(LITE-moe-teef)
[Ger., leading motif]

A recurring motif in a composition (usually an opera) which represents a specific person, idea, or emotion. This term was first applied to the operas of Richard Wagner.

(…)

Motif
(moe-TEEF)
[Fr.]

A short tune or musical figure that characterizes and unifies a composition. It can be of any length, but is usually only a few notes long. A motif can be a melodic, harmonic or rhythmic pattern that is easily recognizable throughout the composition.

- Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary

A motif (without the “leit-” attached ot it) can be either melodic, rhythmic or harmonic, it doesn’t matter. It must be short in duration, though, and it must contain some importance for the structure of the composition, if not providing the backbone itself. It is not just a casual riff, but a memorable mini-tune around which parts or the whole of the composition depend on.

Motifs have been used in metal music for all of its existence. In fact, the first motif in the history of the genre is the universally recognizable three-note sequence which is the main riff of the song “Black Sabbath” by the band of the same name. What would the rest of the song be without it? Like this transcendental example, motifs are the norm, rather than the exception, in metal.

Leitmotifs, on the other hand, are motifs that are recurrent in an entire composition or album, and serve to return our minds to a particular feeling or idea. As such, these are not restricted to a single song, but frequently reappear on an album or entire work to reminds us of the object the motif evokes. An entire composition structured around leitmotifs is, then, rather than a collection of individual songs, a unit, or a large song composed itself of songs.

Leitmotifs are famously associated with opera composer Richard Wagner. Its use in metal isn’t much of a recurring happening, nor its full potential been exploited so far, but I can name a few examples of its use that will immediately ring the bell of any devoted hessian:

The acoustic short piece used as both intro and outro of Iron Maiden’s “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” album.

- Listen to the album’s intro on mp3: Moonchild (Intro)

- Listen to the album’s outro on mp3: Only The Good Die Young (Outro)

Notice that both differ solely on interpretation. The piece as the outro to the album is played slower and in a more tired fashion compared to the intro. Leitmotifs don’t have to reappear on a composition at exactly the same way all the time – rather the subtle variation between them can create a contrast, which in turn give the listener a feeling that a narration is taking place. Iron Maiden’s 1988 album is a concept work which tells the life of a clairvoyant from birth to death and it makes sense that the outro, with its more dragging mood represents the end of the life of such person.

Another example from the same album are the intro sequences to the title track and the last track. Both are strikingly similar, except that the first is slower and ominous while the second is more upbeat. Notice that the lyrics on the last track of the album show a man resigned to his fate and happy despite of it, so the altered use of the riff from the title track (which could very well be the seventh son’s main motif) makes sense from this standpoint.

- Listen to the intro riff to “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” on mp3: Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (Intro)

- Listen to the intro riff to “Only the Good Die Young” on mp3: Only The Good Die Young (Intro)

Bathory, in its viking era, used a number of leitmotifs in its music and particularly in the “Twilight of the Gods” album. Here is but one example:

- Listen to the intro sequence of “Through Blood by Thunder” on mp3: Through Blood by Thunder (Intro)

- Listen to the intro sequence of “Blood and Iron” on mp3: Blood and Iron (Intro)

Two different intros with the same motif attached to them. If you have the album, you can also notice how the intro to “Blood and Iron” further develops until it turns into the main motif of the song, which carries it to its end. It is not unusual to slowly turn one motif into another – Wagner did that on his operas, particularly in the transition between scenes 1 and 2 of “Das Rheingold”.

- Listen to the previous motif developing into the main motif of “Blood and Iron” on mp3: Through Blood by Thunder (Motif Development)

A small example of an implied leitmotif that gets displayed on its full extension later on the album is to be found on Rotting Christ’s “Non Serviam”.

- Listen to an excerpt from “Mephesis Of Black Crystal” on mp3 (the implied leitmotif):

- Listen to an excerpt from “Saturn Unlock Avey’s Son” on mp3 (the full leitmotif):

These were only a few examples. Notice that the use of leitmotifs isn’t just restricted to concept albums. See how many more you can find on your CDs.

To learn more about leitmotifs, visit this excellent link: Leitmotifs in Der Ring des Nibelungen – an introduction.

The Ugly Side of Life is Pure Beauty for the Hessian

July 20, 2009 –

There’s a very nice short story from the booklet of Burzum’s album Filosofem that reminds me a lot of the misunderstood path that the hessian chooses as life:

Creeping And Crawling, Rustling And Fluttering

There are two natural lights in this world, the sun and the moon. The first distorts the appearance of the other, often until it is unrecognizable. The sun gives us colour, warmth and clarity, while the moon gives us no colour, coldness and unclarity. We live in the sunlight, and we make artificial sunlight, after Arvakr and Alsvinnr, send by Sol, have drawn down the sun in sea in the West, because we like colour, warmth and clarity. The starting-point of our reality lies in this light; when Naglfaris’ wife, Night, comes, our world disappears in a certain way. She is illuminated by a light, that we don’t like, the colourless, cold and indistinct moonlight. Strange beings show themselves in the woods and the people draw back into their reliable, small houses. Out there, only the forces of darkness reign, yes, in the most true meaning of the word. The world becomes a total different one, for some the world becomes a place worth living. For those, who want to challenge these giants, who are brought to us by the moon in the shape of uncontrollable powers of nature, the world finally becomes a place really worth living in.

- Booklet of Filosofem (English translation), Burzum.org

We live in a world where light and darkness interact with each other to conform the whole of the universe with both its living and inanimated elements.

Most people in our modern era would like to see only the light and forget about the other side of the coin. In this way, humans become self-centered and irresponsible as we mentally split from any notion that would seem scary or unconfortable. Hell, we don’t even watch the killing that takes place to put steaks on our table. Hence, most of us fail to see any connection(s) between our actions and the ensuing negative consequences towards our world. Ever wondered why human society is so fucked up, like the lyrics of Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, Slayer and countless other acts have been telling us throughout the years? Because society is essentially an undifferentiated mass of people that agree on very few things, many of them childish and self-destructive, like this mentality.

That’s what metal sought to fight by offering a morbid, depressing and yet very real view of the negative side that our enlightened, yet pussified society tries so pathetically to hide from: war, plague, death, blood, guts, natural selection, Satan, witchcraft, environmental death, stupid religions, stupid secular beliefs and so on and on, the purpose of it impeled by this one thought: that the only way to live sanely is to recognize both sides of the coin and embrace them as equal parts of existence.

That’s a perspective that has been from the very beginning of the metal genre. Even its forefathers had this very death metal view of life:

We’ve all got this opinion about the world today, you see. We’re aware that, at some time, a big change is going to come. With SAD WINGS OF DESTINY, we’re telling people to enjoy life, but at the same time be prepared for something that could happen. Tracks like ‘Genocide’, ‘Tyrant’, ‘Epitaph’ and ‘Prelude’ seem to us to follow this idea through – they act as possible preludes to this change…

(…)

We don’t want to be set up as prophets or disciples; we’re just five aware guys stuck in the middle of a lot of complacent people. Now everybody enjoys life, but we think it should be brought to people’s attention that, at any moment, we could all be wiped out… We’re far from being pessimists.

- Judas Priest’s interview with Sounds Magazine (May 8, 1976), Judas Priest Info Pages

Like the music they love, hessians firmly believe on the crude realities of individual mortality and the potential collective doom that could be triggered by our stupidity, irresponsibility and delusional beliefs: these are the strange beings that show themselves in the woods at night. Only instead of retreating to our comfy houses and pretend they don’t exist, we choose to face them.

It’s for this reason that hessians like to live their lives on the edge of things, sometimes by doing a lot of reckless behaviour, but mostly by having beliefs that are considered taboo by the majority of people. We embrace those taboos joyfully because they give life their meaning. Denying them is to deny life itself, and in this process we kill our souls and become faceless drones fighting for political power, money and other delusions given by the shadows cast by the fire in the chimneys of our warm, small and reliable houses.

Varg Gets out of the Can – Our Views and Thoughts

July 18, 2009 –

The release of Burzum’s mastermind Varg Vikernes from jail after fulfilling his sentence for the killing of his former friend and band partner Øystein Aarseth has raised a literal thunderstorm on the ethereal world of the net. The aforementioned phenomenon is not unusual if one knows the Internet and the people who frequent it, and was therefore easily predicted.

After all, the profile of someone like Varg – a convicted murderer (killing another human being is always bad, kids, remember that) with extreme political and racial views that don’t make him the most likeable person, at least for most people, and who gave many bogus declarations in the past (the ratio of truth vs. bullshit being relative depending on whether you’re talking with an admirer or a detractor) – is not the most favorable for a person with the truest intention to be left alone, but makes for great talking on message boards.

The thing about all the talking and bloviating is that, save for a small few who either don’t care or outright hate Varg’s music, most detractors will readily admit that the works under the Burzum moniker are worthy of consideration, and even of admiration. It’s like people still have a problem separating the person from his works.

But I’ll leave that well alone. The man’s release still needs to be commented because of the newest declarations made by Vikernes. Apparently, he will not completely shut himself from the world and will try to rekindle his music and writing careers.

After the years of continuous reunions from older, legendary bands being most of them complete flops and dissapointments, yours truly had virtually lost all faith in this phenomenon, until certain albums by certain bands like Celtic Frost and Beherit showed that reunions weren’t just mere vehicles to regain a fame and name that should have been better kept under wraps. The aforementioned acts actually showed a concern for metal’s artistic decadence and came back to prove how it’s really done (the tag of most reunions out there, but this time they really accomplished that).

Like Beherit’s, Burzum’s musical comeback should be taken with initial skepticism – after all, reunions and the like haven’t lost their essentially gimmicky nature -, but I really hope, having faith on the man’s talent and how it has maintained itself through the years, that he will be able to make an artistically honest effort that would contribute bringing metal back to life like Engram was.

In any case, one should also expect much on his future writing career, a topic that isn’t much talked about since Varg isn’t really famous for being a writer, having his music and all of the norwegian soap opera taken the forefront. It’s unfair, really, given that, despite the fact that Vikernes wasn’t a born writer, like his clumsy early essays prove, he has, throughout the years, developed an engaging style and it will be worthwhile to see what it results from that. That said, a book elaborating on scandinavian and related mythos, expanding on the short stories of Filosofem, for example, could be quite something. But, like life roughly teaches us, we should not get ahead of things and instead wait patiently.

A new Burzum album and one or two books worth considering is what’s on the future for Mr. Vikernes and the ones who might care. Oh, and there’s also a movie, but we won’t get into that…

Kraftwerk, Celtic Frost and Burzum – The Method of Not Sticking to One Style or Sound

July 16, 2009 –

As a humble attempt to bring some ideas to the table in order to reverse the current backwards trend that plagues the underground, we’ll present to you an approach at music making that was tried by few bands in metal, and, because of the possibilities it offers, it can become a more than viable pathway to follow for metal to keep evolving.

Known by many open minded hessians as one of the few electronic acts that isn’t grating on the nerves, Kraftwerk, one of the leading acts in the genre, made a bright musical career by pasting synthetised and computer-generated sounds into melodically sensitive compositions that mixed simplicity with complexity in an effortless way, providing a soundscape in which emotion and technology interacted as easily as hydrogen and oxygen do to form water. Their way of pasting sounds (and what is music but an elaborate way of doing just that?) was influenced by the concept they had in mind at the moment of making the album, so coldness in sound and rhythmical monotony went hand-in-hand with the concept of dehumanization presented in their The Man Machine album, while, on the other hand, Trans-Europe Express classically influenced melodies and introspective style melds well with the journey of self-discovery and pride for european culture the musicians attempted to portray.

With all of that said, you might be asking what does that band have to do with metal? Many things: the shaping of concept, the narrative approach and the human-nature-society topics presented have much in common with the way of making metal. Particularly, Kraftwerk went on to influence two of the biggest names in the genre: Celtic Frost and Burzum.

Celtic Frost’s members well documented obsession with history, legend and esoteric themes gave them an approach towards creating music that was more about describing a mood around which certain lyrics, as mini-narrations, enhanced the atmosphere presented. And, like Kraftwerk, each album differed from each other in the concepts it portrayed and the adjustment of style towards that goal, from the primitive, rapid bursting of anger in Morbid Tales, to the mythical and barbarian otherwordly scenery of To Mega Therion , to the hedonist, self-punishing operatic drama of Into the Pandemonium (some detractors might even say that this album is punishing on its own merit, but I think that, while not perfect, it is a respectable effort).

Burzum, like the previous act, also made his albums with the idea in mind that each of them should have a very distinctive identity, even though various moods interacted in a single album and the whole Burzum concept had more of a unity behind it than Celtic Frost’s. Still, the difference in style for each release is self-apparent and we hear Varg adapting his playing, production values and even vocal style towards the emotions he wanted to display for each particular release.

One of the things we need to do in order to keep furthering the craft of metal is to leave behind our obsession with style and instead worry of taking each album we pursue as a fresh chance to start over. Otherwise, musicians easily lose ideas as they quickly run out of them if those are constructed around a single theme. We can learn from the aforementioned acts and demand more of our craft and of ourselves in order to reach a brilliant future for the genre.

All of the talk aside, we should study the aforementioned bands to really understand the idea presented here. Kraftwerk’s best works are (chronologically) Radioactivity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977), The Man Machine (1978) and Computer World (1981). Those should be listened to in that order. In doing so, observe how difficult is to point the similarities between the albums beyond the most basic musical elements, such as vocal styles and rhythms used. Even the sounds and synth patches went through tremendous changes in time and the outfit took their time to develop a voice of their own, starting rather timidly and displaying more confidence with the years (not surprisingly, the electronic genre was developing at the time and was quite fresh – as an exercise, and for fun, compare this rundown of albums with Black Sabbath’s first four LPs and its transition from blues to metal).

The rundown for Celtic Frost should be Morbid Tales, Emperor’s Return (as separate albums, in order to have a clear idea of the evolution taking place), To Mega Therion and Into the Pandemonium (without Mexican Radio if you prefer so ;)). Burzum’s as follows: Det Som Engang Var, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem. Notice that these aren’t “best ofs”, but a selection to further the comprehension of what has been said here.

Also notice the similarities between Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine: a simple rhythm track providing the backbone for endlessly repeating sequences (riffs) and the patient development of the songs by adding layers of more riffs on top of the basic ones.

This simple exercise should hopefully help you comprehend what’s been said here. It’s not all, though. The next step – the understanding of motifs and how do they relate with concept and unity in music making – will be explained on a post on its own. Stay tuned.

The Rise and Fall of Retro

July 14, 2009 –

Once the initial downslope of metal, following the black explosion of the early 90s, spawned genericism by the ton in the form of symphonic pseudo-black metal, wimpy brutal death metal for high school jocks and related abominations, foreboding the birth of metalcore, the devoted bangers of the old guard, along with a new crop of underground warriors high on old acts from the 80s in the heavy, speed and thrash subgenres of metal reacted by attempting to bring the old school sound back. This new movement, brought with the best of intentions, would eventually become a trend of it own. You know what they say about Hell and good intentions leading to it. I can’t think of any better example on our favorite music genre than this one.

The new movement, sometimes pejoratively, sometimes appealingly and even at times flatteringly (for some bands) dubbed as “retro”, attempted to reverse the previous stage in the devolution of metal by trying to rescue the essence of what made the classic sound superior, mimicking the style, production values and imagery of the bands caught in the “classic era” (mid 80s initially, early 90s afterwards and 70s/early 80s following) to the absurd point of even recycling riffs of well-known acts in such an obvious manner that it was ridiculous even to point out the ripping off taking place (only it wasn’t that, it was a “tribute” to the band members’ musical preferences).

The retro trend, while making sense as a form of transition from a state of complete flop to something that sucked far less, failed in its attempt because it tried to catch a sound, not an essence or a state of mind. It knew the meal that tastes good, but not the proper way to obtain the materials and cook them. It’s the musical equivalent of a Tv dinner. It failed (and continues to do so) because of the lack of realization that spirit, motivation, mentality and drive make the sound, and you can’t obtain the former from the latter, no matter how much you try.

It would be tempting to say that this created the obsession with form over substance that currently curses metal, but it didn’t . It did contribute, though, to create the present fixation with style, “trueness” and the mix of the two that currently gives the underground scene the character of a carriage stuck in the mud, unable to keep going.

And we’re really stuck here, and the only choice for us is to find an alternative. But there are really many out there and what one needs is to think outside of the box. Photocopying the past to exhaustion didn’t really improve things, but adding random aesthetical novelty won’t give metal new life either, as it was proved many times already. What needs to be done is to go back to the drawing board and think more as songwriters and musicians rather than as fans. Because fanboy-ism, like the kind pervading retro bands, won’t give metal back its glory.

Ur-Tod – on the birth of death metal

Something like the problem of transubstantiation for the church fathers, the birth of death metal, who did it and where, is one of the prime causes of contention of metal messageboards across the world. Some give credit to Venom‘s blasphemies and chaos that were basically Motorhead with less technique and more sluts, ca. 1981. Thomas Gabriel Fischer‘s Hellhammer, formed in 1982, was an extreme entity from Switzerland that explored the furthest reaches of negativity and doom, guitars tuned low and vocals devolving into grunts and screams. Around this time the same guys also started a fanzine called “Death Metal”, later to lend their logo to a 1984 compilation of Noise Records bands, including Hellhammer. Around 1983, still not more than two years after Venom’s “Welcome to Hell” and the same year Mercyful Fate and Metallica would debut, Kam Lee of Mantas (pre-Death) and Jeff Becerra of Possessed were utilizing growled low vocals from the bottomless depths of Hell and elements of death metal guitar (tremolo and chromatics) and drum technique (blastbeat) that are staple elements of what consist a normal death metal album today.

I went to high school with Jeff Becerra and Larry Lalonde. They actually recorded and released ‘Seven Churches’ when we were in school. I even had a copy of the demo. I read all the time people citing that album as one of the first Death Metal albums and that they helped start all that. I seem to remember those guys being really into bands like Destruction, Venom and Celtic Frost… but I guess Possessed took it a little further. At the time I didn’t think it to be the start of anything.

- Mark Peters

The above quote from the Peacedogman forum highlights the essence: bands were taking the influence of the previous generation of bands into areas that seemed so natural to them that they were not thinking of going out of their way to create another “experimental” genre. Thinking about thrash and thinking about death metal in their pre-trend incarnations is mostly an invention of the historians – it’s best to focus on the organic development of metal over time and remember how people unrelated to each other stumbled across the same kind of approach independent of each other. To celebrate the diversity and energy of this formational period when speed metal bands were discovering the praise of death and invocation of satanic forces, one could do worse than listen to this old school death metal compilation created by Fenriz for Vice Magazine – it’s in fact a good supplement to our article on the history of Norwegian death metal, because it represents both the contemporary sound of Sweden and the various evil conjuring voices from around the world that these kids heard by tapetrading, thus influencing their sound.

Written by Devamitra

Pedal to the Metal – The Future of Composition

July 1, 2009 –

Guitar distortion is a fundamental asset of metal music. Yet it also has a great disadvantage that represents a big limitation to musical composition: it doesn’t give much of a dynamic range, like an acoustic instrument or an electric guitar on the clean channel do, which doesn’t open possibilities for a greater range of expression and subtlety.

For those unfamiliar with sound theory or musical concepts, dynamic range means variations in volume and emphasis in sound. In developed musical genres, such as classical, the concept can make a difference in the expression of a certain piece: for example, a nice melody played “piano”, or soft, can sound sweet, while another played “fortissimo”, or really loud, can sound powerful and bombastic. It is really a means to drive the point across, to enhance what a certain piece tries to express.

Thinking about this problem while surfing the Internet, I ran into this:

This device restores the dynamic range which is lost when an electric guitar is played through a distortion box. It employs precision analog multiplier circuitry which samples the raw guitar input and varies the distortion box output accordingly

- Hicks Engineering – Electric guitar distortion box

Probably not an optimally functional design, but the idea itself is very good and, if perfected, can open a whole new future for the modern music world and to metal specially, giving the style brand new fields to explore and expand. Instead of constant, all-out aggression, metal musicians could be allowed to explore subtlety and different moods, giving metal more emotional range. The possibilities are quite interesting if one thinks about them.

Guitar Solo Expertise in Metal

June 30, 2009 –

Instrumental skill may be one of the attributes of metal that most attracts the attention of outsiders to the genre. It’s something that immediately jumps to the eye, the technical display of instrumental virtuosism that makes one go: “wow, that guy can really play!”. For better or for worse, it’s the truth. Most non-metalheads aren’t attracted to the esotericism of black metal, the other-wordly morbidness of death metal or the tales of heroism of heavy and speed metal bands. Only the fireworks matter at first.

Still, guitar solo expertise cannot be easily disposed of. There are exceptions but, for the most part, metal has technical competence and skill deeply implanted into its DNA. So do certain rock, jazz and classical. Now, the choice for us is that virtuosism can be used either as an end (masturbatory fiddling with a simple rock’n roll background) or as a means towards a greater expression of an idea or emotion (classical, baroque guitar music and other examples).

Virtuoso guitar players like Eddie van Halen, Uli Jon Roth, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker and the like, despite being all tremendously competent and classically influenced in their playing, were also extremely one-dimensional because, despite their background, they all played in rock bands, and in rock, the “one-trick pony” is the law. You don’t want to make your sound complex like classical music is, you want to make it easy for the masses to consume.

In order to make guitar skill a useful and integral part of metal music, we need to think about it as a means and not as an end. Certain forms of extreme metal are already transcending the rock style of one-dimensional neo-classical music and it can further evolve if we lay down the fear of complexity, and add things like subtlety, context, pattern shaping and the like. Guitar solos shouldn’t be tracks to put on top of songs because we’re obligated to do so by the un-written Sacred Laws of How to Make Heavy Metal. They should have the same function as riffs do, a narrative, pattern-like succession that, on top of another layer (a riff or a similar structure), makes a defined construction that without the solo would make less of a clear sense.

For pointers on how this hypothetical future would be, I’d give you an example of some of the best in classic guitar: Francisco Tarrega guitar adaptation of Allard’s Violin study in A Major.

Now that’s how you are supposed to shred on guitar (and play cricket). Why going fast as all hell when you can play a piece that says something and still be technically proficient, but as a means of enhancing the original message of the song? Most classically influenced mainstream “shredders” take popular bits of classical music and use it as a means to display their technical skill. See how different it is when you focus more on composition and less on showing off?

Of course, it requieres discipline and hours of practice to be just as good as Julian Bream. Metal guitarists like Mike Torrao and Trey Azagthoth also took their time and sweat to perfect their technique and it shows on how their solos are complicated, yet structured to complement the riffs under it and make greater sense of them. Malmsteen also practiced a lot, yet to play a style of music that didn’t really demand much talent. Playing fast isn’t that complicated. Playing a coherent piece that really grabs you and evokes one or many emotions at once, that requieres effort and talent, not just with soloing, but with musical composition in general. And I think that’s where the future of lead guitar in metal is.

Learn more about guitar theory:

Eugenicizing the Scene

June 23, 2009 –

A metal scene can be defined as a network of people working to promote metal in a certain locality. If done properly, it can be extremely beneficial for the promotion of metal music, but it can also turn into something quite poisonous for the nurturing of great art in the genre.

I’ve seen it a thousand times, and probably you too: a new underground band comes out and if its mildly good it gets promoted to the four winds, sometimes even “deserving” cult or legendary status at only a few months of releasing the first demo. As having success with a band is easier than it has ever been, a local scene can fill itself with hordes upon hordes of new acts expecting its fifteen minutes under the sun, most of them crap because of their motivation.

Some see the amount of bands coming out nowadays as a good thing, but for the more observing, the current state of affairs is tragic: more bands don’t necessarily mean more bands of superior quality.

For those believing that metal is dead because there aren’t any good bands coming out in recent years, it must be said that is not entirely true – there are new bands releasing pretty good music considering their amateurishness, which means they are often far ahead from the herd. Not great nor classic stuff, but music with potential to become excellent, given some time, work and effort. Usually, you can catch them on MySpace and other music channels.

The problem with relentless promotion of the type already explained is that if mediocre stuff can be easily promoted nowadays, the music with potential can too, and that can be perjudicial in the long term for those bands, as an early bout of success in the scene can terminate its potential for further growth. I’ve also seen it. It’s like the scenesters, in non-violent way, clip a band’s wings before it learns to fly by giving the band what they want before they deserve it – recognition.

We at the Hessian Studies Center believe that great art can only come from struggle and difficulties. Don’t complain that there isn’t enough “support”, make it harder on the bands! Be more demanding! If something new doesn’t sound anywhere near like the best bands in the genre, then don’t bother. Many would cringe in horror at that approach, complaining that the number of bands would come crashing down dramatically if many took such a harsh view. Yes, it’s true… the amount of bands would be much less, yet the quality would also go up, as only the most determined warriors would make it to the top.

In such a struggling environment, it would take a lot more than meeting “the right people” or playing the “right style” of metal to get known in the scene, so there would be no more hipsters and poseurs… the key to win a place in the scene would (once again) be musical quality, feeling and expression.

If hessians took only those parameters and to the heart, the scene would once again breed music of quality like in its best days. Besides, such setting reminding one of “survival of the fittest” would adjust to the hessian spirit like a glove – after all, we are all obsessed with war, death and winning battles, why not translate that into our surroundings? And imagine, just imagine, having a new golden era of metal music with bands releasing music as good as the best from Burzum, At the Gates and Manilla Road. It can happen. And it’s up to us.

USBM: trailer trash or Western mystery school?

June 19, 2009 –

When black metal became in popular perception “the next big thing”, around 1992, it was rightly considered an European phenomenon which contained a cultural bias based on tradition, arts and society impossible to spiritually clone in the American way of life, even in the underground which had spawned death metal. Bands like Profanatica and VON showed that it is possible to create the blasphemy spewing minimalistic barbaro-black metal in USA as well as anywhere else, but the Romanticist type of black metal bands from USA were for a decade, if not more, the laughing stock of even American BM maniacs themselves. There was something wholeheartedly absurd about Sumerian sorcerers from Texas, druids from Minnesota and vampires from California. David “Blackmoon” Parland of the insipid Dark Funeral waged verbal war in zines against Proscriptor of Absu, who cast curses and spells in return. Judas Iscariot printed Nietzschean statements in German and moustached overweight pro-wrestling fans took pictures of themselves corpsepainted in suburban woods. Whereas musical quality grew through the times, so did the amount of excess people circulating in the American BM underground, leading to the explosion of “bedroom black metal” in the turn of the millennium, while black metal messageboards became populated with people whose IQ would be statistically rather rare in Norway and Sweden.

The dilemma seems to lie in the artificial distance between the sophisticated intellectual and man of the street which characterizes also the separation between the art and entertainment of 20th century America. Whereas the Oslo or Bergen black metaller would have been raised with equal awareness of Ibsen’s plays, American movies and classical music as well as punk, the US black metaller often came from the background of very little cultural perception besides TV, baseball, horror movies and aggressive competitive values. The obsession with social standing is such that looking or behaving different would easily be seen as gay or the sign of a wimp or nerd, but what fan of black metal would want to represent normality in every piece of action? Scandinavian, Austrian or even Polish metalhead did not and does not share this pressure of having to be a regular conservative guy because there are more different roles and stereotypes available in the society to identify with. Thus most of the US youth involved in black metal came to view themselves as either depressive, perverted losers or occult maniacs oriented to conjure the otherworld dressed in robes and armed with litanies of every available ancient magick tradition and spellcasting culture.

As case studies, take for example Crimson Moon from San Diego and Night Conquers Day from New York. Both are bands with respectable instrumental skill, dedication to the black metal arts beyond the normal “scene kid” wannabe interest and an intuitive grasp of the Romantic and Faustian in black metal. Yet, both are bands hard to take seriously at face value, because there is so much absurdity, alienation from reality and bad aesthetic choices involved. Crimson Moon presented themselves as a magical collective of energy vampires but the music was often a too simplistic rip off of influences from Cradle of Filth to Ancient, damaging the beauty, while their reputation suffered a blow from public arguments on online messageboards not at all fitting for the sorceric image – even splitting the band in two factions, Gorgoroth-style. Night Conquers Day posed in full daylight near a storage building with one of the members wearing corpsepaint (and the infamous moustache!) and the personal history of the members included getting into headlines for stealing gravestones and a keyboard player who disappeared but returns now and then to play a piece over the phone (I think I would go that way too if I had to live in the American society) and the 10-15 minute epic songs quoting several eras of metal from Mercyful Fate to Burzum remained unmemorable because of sounding like too many parts had been stitched together with no spiritual theme arching to wrap up its diverse aspects into a continuous whole.

Written by Devamitra