Yet another week passes as we watch the cope-hope reach maximum intensity through a form of frustrated and impotent rage. The narrative has failed; those who have staked their futures and wasted their pasts on the system find themselves both enraged and possessed of a furor to suppress those who step out of line. If this system fails, they will all feel as if they have made the wrong choices in life, so they are going to patch it up again to see if they can keep it kicking long enough to make it into the comforting sleep of Alzheimers or fentanyl.
In the meantime, the death of human culture continues as people finally notice that no one cares about new music just like they are backing away from movies, television, books, and theory of a recent vintage.
Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market, according to the latest numbers from MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. Those who make a living from new music—especially that endangered species known as the working musician—should look at these figures with fear and trembling. But the news gets worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.
The 200 most popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5 percent of total streams. That rate was twice as high just three years ago. The mix of songs actually purchased by consumers is even more tilted toward older music. The current list of most-downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the previous century, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Police.
The declining TV audience for the Grammy show underscores this shift. In 2021, viewership for the ceremony collapsed 53 percent from the previous year—from 18.7 million to 8.8 million. It was the least-watched Grammy broadcast of all time. Even the core audience for new music couldn’t be bothered—about 98 percent of people ages 18 to 49 had something better to do than watch the biggest music celebration of the year.
Music can be described as organized noise. When the organization of that sound reflects pleasing patterns, you get reasonable music; when those patterns exhibit traits we find in metaphorical parallel to human experience, you get profound music. Metal has always approached life head-on, trying to make beauty out of noisy sound the same way transcendentalists try to find a pleasure, joy, and excellence in a life blotted by death, disease, war, failure, and self-destruction.
We can see that while the immediate bad news might be for the music industry, the long term bad news is that our culture has stopped producing things of relevance. We have found ways to make pleasing sound patterns and then ensconce them in production which makes them both novel and attractive, but they do not last because they evoke nothing and eschew any confrontation with reality in which we might see the good in existence as well as the distraction (sex, drugs, consumption) and the bad.
In a society that is not only diverse, but fragmented into many tiny globules of individualists clinging to that One Thing — swinging, heroin, Jesus, money, four-wheel drive racing — that they believe gives their lives meaning, you can have no new ideas because you cannot have ideas in the first place. You need to aim for that intersection which means constant regression to the mean, which falls lower every generation, until everything becomes babble and glitz.
Consequently Hollywood has gone deep into churn, or producing drama from the starting point of its music instead of from some idea outside the music, a ludic pursuit of the good life or a revelation of human experience, even an evocation of what seems significant to an artist. Movies are now navel-gazing self-help books written as “inspiring” dramas which produce “stunning and brave” results where people deny reality and act out attention-seeking personal drama to the applause of a crowd.
The problem is, it turns out the crowd is nothing other than people who work in the industry and a small group of fanatics who consume media obsessively because they have no other lives. The same is famously true of the internet which is driven by as little as a few percent of the population who spend all their time online, which means that all the Google and Facebook numbers are fake and our economy, like our music industry, is built on insiders believing the hype they shill to each other:
The updated results based on March 2009 Comscore data…indicated that the number of people who click on display ads in a month has fallen from 32 percent of Internet users in July 2007 to only 16 percent in March 2009, with an even smaller core of people (representing 8 percent of the Internet user base) accounting for the vast majority (85 percent) of all clicks.
When you remove culture and hierarchy, only power remains, and now people fight over power in social, economic, and political terms. When they fight over power, they are seeking to avoid irrelevance, or the state of being anonymous and equal yet insignificant because one has no power. Equality means that we are all equally insignificant and have no place to call our own. In this placelessness, we struggle to become relevant, and this forms a feedback loop between us and the crowd where we echo the same idea back to each other, which is that equality is good despite being unrealistic and therefore failing in reality.
Future historians will ask “what went wrong in the twenty-first century?” but might as well ask “what always goes wrong with humans in groups?” When you assemble a group of humans together, they inevitably choose to shape external reality in such a way that is most mentally comfortable for them, basically using the external world to make their own desires, judgments, and feelings seem correct and therefore, the life they are living to be the best of all possible lives.
This leads to the quest for One Big Idea which can justify this process, and we always settle on something like “humanism,” or the idea that human life is precious. This denies the Shakespearian drama of life, which is that each of us is a means to an end, and that end is figuring out our role and what it can teach us. The means-over-ends of “protect all humans” denies the need for some to fail, some to rise, and some to watch for an irrelevant anonymous middle.
Seeking power reverses this equation. Instead of trying to behave in such a way that we become relevant, for example by producing music which finds the beautiful excellence in life, we gather up a social group and try to force our relevance on others by making the group relevant. This creates constant drama churn and eventually this takes over and blots out all else. It is all emo, all the way down.
In the midst of this Late Stage Democracy churn, a few brave souls wade through the rectal lavage of the infamous Review Queue, attempting to find a few golden nuggets among the deluge of turds…
Centinex – The Pestilence: the bandwagon of Swedish death metal ran its course some years ago but now bands follow the holy grail of trying to make Sodom/Destruction speed metal with Carnage riffs so that people can follow along and cheer even though the songs are basically lifestyle songs about a certain energy involved in being within the walled garden captive market that is metal at this point, and this song fits into this pattern with verse/chorus riffs that emphasize vocal rhythm above all else, making this both competent and pointless, gaining it a gold star and “it’s OK if you like that sort of thing I guess.”
Endseeker – Mount Carcass: the ripping off of Swedish death metal continues by those who have no idea what made it great, such as this band who make trudging speed metal riffs so the vocals can take center stage, then add to them a couple of rhythmic placeholders and a melodic AOR-style chorus, but the songs do not evolve or suggest anything more than a collection of riffs.
Chthonic Cult – Become Seekers for Death: are we forever trapped in the 1980s? Groove metal party riffs run into Slayer-derived tear-aways and then dive straight into mid-paced death metal and trudging doom metal, coming back to the start as we run through the carousel of riffs and get nowhere despite this band having hit the highlights of Headbanger’s Ball and Decibel at the same time.
Deathcult – Of Soil Unearthed: if you like really symmetrical riffs and song structures where every impulse must be ground into safe oblivion by an equal and opposite impulse, strewn throughout a mixture of classic death metal and speed metal riff tropes, then these songs about nowhere and nothing will amuse you, but like most metal these days, they are basically simplified Metallica-era speed metal dressed up with other stuff to get you to nod along until your brain falls out and you take the vaccines.
Primalfrost – Lost Elegies: congratulations, you made a melodic metal album, but like the rest of this genre, it leans long on sentiment without the shifts in context that allowed black metal to channel emotion from self-pity and self-obsession into the grandeur of perceiving life outside the self and the beauties of nature, leaving instead only a rather candy-coated form of metal that circles around the same ideas and then concludes with a type of mood punt that leads nowhere like songs designed for the scene in a Disney cartoon after the good guy dies when everyone else gets together to eat manioc and forget about the darkness they suppress.
Planepacked – Critical Mass: this one-person band hits on an interesting sound but lacks subtlety or a core except a danceable but aggressive rhythm with metal riffs simulated on keyboards, so songs start promising and then run long into repetition, with autotuned vocals accompanying a bludgeon of repeated very similar metal riff patterns that kind of flow on in the background while the vocals and pulsing beat carry the song, producing something that someone with subtlety and purpose could do well.
Devil’s Force – Watchers of the Holy Night: fairly typical sentimental power metal with melodic riffs of archetypes well known and a lack of the emo and self-help soaring choruses, this dopes out more like minor key indie rock capturing a vision of the best night in your life when you chugged a whole twelve pack and then asked out the lead cheerleader and kicked her quarterback boyfriend in the nuts when he objected, this may have meaning to the band and is well-executed but it is just about as pointless as the UN talking about war crimes.
Monuments – In Stasis: early 2000s style metalcore, complete with emo choruses and grindcore riffs mixed in with late hardcore spidery lead riffs, Monuments break down into some kind of R&B that hammers out a plaintive melody and then turns it into lounge-style camp, plunging us back into metal riffs when they run out of inertia, but the end result sounds like a blind person mixing records at a spastic disco where the “Molly” turned out to be DMT mixed with polyethylene glycol.
Hegeroth – Sacra Doctrine: most of black metal now is churn, or dramatic elements reacting to each other because there is no longer anything to express, so bands pick elements of their favorite bands and mix them up into songs about being songs that qualify as $sub_genre, in this case emerging as a mix between Les Legions Noires verses, Dimmu Borgir choruses, and the best re-hashes of “epic” moments from past black metal interpersed randomly to build mood, in this case a mood of “I need to turn this off and clean a toilet.”
Alvablot – Alvablot: someone took heavy metal and dumped three years of cafeteria fruit salad into it, resulting in lounge vocals over simplified funk riffs punctuated by power chords with UK style wandering harmony basslines, creating a musical pustule that while not technically ill-executed offers nothing that a few hours of movies about single mothers saving the world with love on the Hallmark Channel could not achieve.
Chaos Invocation – Devil, Stone & Man: another black metal band that seems to be mostly war metal with some melodic death metal and heavy metal riffs grafted on, Chaos Invocation put together entertaining strings of riffs that go nowhere because these are songs about nothing except being in black metal bands and being kvlt, leading to a musical experience like walking through a record store and hearing a dozen random bands playing from the listening stations while you eat cotton candy and think of a pleasant world before everything fell apart as the real black metal bands warned it would.
Abhordium – Omega Prayer: everyone wants the holy grail of death metal that has the appeal of heavy metal and melodic speed metal, but to their credit Abhordium keep these elements as a minor influence while making winding riff staircase death metal that does not go anywhere particular but consists of riffs that mostly relate to each other in every song, producing small essays about a rhythm and a fragment of a mode and the emotions it induces as these transfer over time into a meditation on the beauty of misanthropic detachment.
Malefic Throne – Malefic Throne: after the death metal years, we got bands like Hate Eternal which tried to build the genre into something pounding and repetitive like Exhorder but with catchy rhythms like Pantera, and now three notable personalities combine to do the same to war metal, cleaning up the randomness but relying extensively on raging riffs separated by bouncing repetitions of single chords, resulting in something which cannot contain its randomness enough but has no shortage of good ideas unrealized.
Shield of Wings – Unfinished: symphonic metal sounds like a good idea until you realize that it is the same layering in keyboards and floaty vocals that bands applied to their butt-stodgy rock in the 1970s to borrow some thunder from progressive, and here we end up with a maudlin and sentimental journey into the beginning of the journey that never ends, soaring through the kind of dramatic female vocals that usually make an appearance at the afternoon theater troupe in a traveling circus after mimosas were served at lunch.
Eallic – Rake of the Astral Leviathan: melodeath seems to be honky-tonk music recapturing heavy metal through the power of soundtrack style music that sounds like it matches up with one of the new sci-fi/self-help crossovers from Hulu about a teenage girl who awakens in a dystopian wasteland with the power to trap people in psychic hemorrhoids, and this one shows how the bands that try too hard on the surface with emphatic vocals almost always have nothing but old Iron Maiden and Pentagram riffs slimmed down and sped up in random order.
Burned in Effigy – Rex Mortem: metalcore splits into two, an emo side and a deathcore side, and this comes to us from the deathcore side that features highly contrived vocals that sound like some kind of Disney orc acting onstage to scare the kiddies while the riffs trudge and bounce in nü-metal patterns disguised by occasional melodic fills and stomping-on-rabbits bounce repetitions, making an unlistenable aural discharge which could bore even a medicated raped retard into autodefecation.
Meslamtaea – Weemoedsklanken: the quirkier the biography and instrumentation, the less likely you are to hear anything of substance, and in this case it sounds like a third-rate hardcore band playing black metal riffs to fill time and build an atmosphere of hypnotic coprophagia, peaking out in a few iconoclastic riffs which by trying too hard to be unexpected end up in the random pile with the broken Nintendo controllers and bread machines, creating more songs about nothing except being cool to a dwindling audience of internerds.
Se, Josta Ei Puhuta – Gehenna: did pirate metal take over just about everything, we might wonder, as these jaunty back-and-forth riffs end in melodic finishes that go nowhere except back into themselves, making us wonder what the point is shortly before realizing that life without nü-black might be better, or even listening to a faucet or Dell server with a wonky power supply making the fans sing the sound of slowly shredding aluminum, since there is no plan here just a few techniques repeated until the listener suicides.
Bâ’a – Egrégore: like the depressive suicidal black metal burst which followed the death of the genre, this band uses lots of sweeping chords over slow drum patterns based around a simple melody but this never develops as it might in a Burzum song, only sort of continues itself to exhaustion and then becomes something else while the band continue borrowing from the past without the order (or even tradition) that animated it. There is no nice way to say this: disorganized and boring despite mastery of technique, nuance and quirk of imagery, production, and mythology.
Concrete – Ethereal Atrocities: following the approach of bands like Gutted and Oppressor, this band mixes bone-simple rhythm riffs with fragments of melody and sweeping arpeggios which imply harmonies that are then shattered, and on the plus side, manages to construct songs that hold together, but the use of too many staging riffs and b-grade deathcore fills makes it hard to sustain a mood of anything other than bewildered distraction.
The Mist From the Mountains – Monumental – The Temple of Twilight: somewhere in the first decade of this century, inspirational music worked its way into metal, equal parts self-help emo and gospel, and this resulted in lots of bands like this with bittersweet melodies and inspirational, consonant whole tone scale endings, creating an emotional feast that circles back on itself like a torpedo launched into a hidden wave, with predictable effects in making this as milktoast as emo and indie rock over swaying drunken grandmother carrying a platter of dump salad with extra mint marshmallows.
Joe Satriani – “Sahara” (The Elephants of Mars): the style he developed in the 1980s stands out even stronger on this newer material, since he likes to start with atmospheric guitar and after setting up a rich harmonic backdrop, launch into a progressively intensifying rhythm solo which follows the patterns of Southern European music, highly varied and with a lot of repetition contrasted by different tempi and techniques, giving it a depth without density that slowly develops into a re-interpretation of its atmosphere. I like what this guy does: he puts the tune in the solo, like classical guitar or jazz, and makes the tune into background. He’s the perfect synthesis of ambient music, jazz, and heavy metal. Ornette Coleman once famously said that you had to play the structure of the song as your tune, instead of playing according to the chord changes only, following what Miles Davis did in rediscovering the Greek love of modal playing. Satriani plays the solo as a tune within an atmosphere that serves as context, reducing the rock neurosis to harmonized background noise.
Martyr – Planet Metalhead: it is easy to see why this band has been kicking around since the early 1980s with some but not enough success mainly because they still have no idea what they are, having a Judas Priest style shrieky vocalist but trying to work in speed metal riffs and death metal technique over an AC/DC punk-style rolling eighths bassline; this music is not bad but the vocals lead too much and the songs take a background to that, making the songs too indistinct and not clearly stated enough to hit classic status.
Fierce Atmospheres – The Speed of Dreams: if you can imagine a cross between King’s X and old Queensrÿche this band approximates that but works in all sorts of tricks and gadgets to merit the “progressive” and “atmospheric” labels when they would be better off working their traditional metal and thinking about how to work in the mix of emotive and cutting reductionism ratio in melody and rhythm that made old heavy metal seem to peel back the plastic wrapping sealing reality away, but this band seems like it is too democratic and the need for instrumentalists to be heard dwarfs the need for a clear song.
Beastiality – Sacrificial Chants: most bands these days — when you scratch them to see what is under the surface — you find yourself at speed metal, the mixture of punk and heavy metal that used percussive muted strum to create a throbbing addictive undulating sound, a genre which works well when its riffs support their asymmetry with melody and harmony at a subtle level, but fails when the riffs are tonal but straightforward, treating music like statistical chromatics, since then you end up with rhythmic churn of ultimately directionless songs with nothing to convey but a vague energy and existential ambiguity.
The Final Sleep – The Final Sleep: someone grafted melodic vocals and slower passages onto what is essential nü-metal (actually: NYHC mixing hip-hop vocal rhythms into punk, influencing the riffs to enwrap the confrontational offbeat patterns, and then into bouncy heavy metal with a nod to Grand Funk Railroad) and then worked in some melodic metal riffs, creating basically a buffet of random stuff designed to baffle you into compliance so that you think you like it long enough to click “buy” and then forget this dog’s breakfast.
Nomadic Narwhal – “Arrival”: how cleverly they disguise the emo and inspirational soaring post-rock style cloying clinging to consonance and harmonic symmetry and yet, how quickly it falls, especially once you get past the initial riffs into the expanding central melody which by going nowhere tells you everything about the philosophy behind this subgenre (“symphonic metal”) namely that like William F. Cuckley it wants to take the danger out of metal and make it crowd-friendly, not to mention still writing about whales and oceans like a kind of religion out of 1970s Costeau worship and millennial childhood memories of watching Free Willy with mom, her boyfriend, and bull.
Livløst – Symphony of Flies: black metal went suicidal because it had shot its idea-wad and all that was left was to notice that no one was listening and Christianity was going down the toilet with everything else because equality, consumerism, diversity, and global finance ate up what was left of civilization, so you get lots of self-pity music for the Pantera set who talked to a girl once and she checked her wawtch so now they are shattered while waiting to be good corporate tools with a Black friend named Gerry, but this album mostly induces feelings of suicide in order to escape the droning minor key melodies with candy pop conclusions hidden under distortion in disorganized repetitive songs with no center except a tonal center far too heavily repeated to avoid missing it like feces on the streets of San Francisco.
Redshark – Digital Race: kind of fun basic heavy metal, too much point-to-point symmetrical riffing but they let the guitars lead the song and have the Rob Halford style shrieking Jack the Ripper victim vocals follow along, which is fortunate because each part of this album is reasonably well-done so long as you do not expect anything new nor want anything as solidly executed as the originals, more of a neighborhood band kind of vibe with the wit and wisdom to trim off randomness and excessive repetition, despite the horrible band name.
Wolf – Shadowland: solid basic heavy metal with appropriate melodic vocals and a fair amount of internal variation, mostly dwarfs its potential by being too busy and not allowing enough of a dynamic between verse, chorus, and transitional/staging riffs but still pulls out enough interesting guitar work to keep a heavy metal listener engaged without being overwhelmed or saturated in feelgood self-help emo/gospel chord progressions, showing that this band has great potential despite trying too hard to be fellow kids among the normals and write dramatic emotional material where they would obviously rather be killing abbots and peasants on the coast of England.
Death on Fire – The Dying Light: heavy metal riffs over modern jazz beats with choruses built from country-folk despite deathcore vocals going in the background make for an interesting experiment, and while the songs are mostly circular verse-chorus with solo and turnaround, this band know the basic art of songwriting enough to make listenable material although it remains not particularly compelling since it seems to be coming apart at the seams from crossed purposes.
Soulline – Screaming Eyes: stereotypical metalcore with overly emphatic vocals leading a mess of emo, heavy metal, and punk riffs infused with the songwriting of the millennial generation that believes conflict avoided is a problem solved, this band makes reasonably tuneful music that goes nowhere because the lyrics are the whole point like most Communist-Consumerist music and the self-help soaring choruses just echo the emptiness of this time like a full STD test in the waiting room of a government-funded clinic in a corporate suburb where even the Walmart locks down the steaks because everyone is too methed-out and existentially empty to steal properly.
Vulture Lord – Deathiah Manifesto: this band listens to a lot of Master and fits within the punk/rock format but uses modern uptempo precision drumming to keep intensity high while concealing the risk of irrelevance here which is a lack of distinctive riffs since that older rock format emphasizes chordal anchoring for vocals and not so much the intricate language of riffs of death metal to follow, making a tuneful enough but kind of pointless riff-chorus cycle that will delight Discharge fans but sleep the rest of us.
Thempest – Plague Maiden: no parts done wrong, whole does not add up, the same old story… here we see a band trying for the atmosphere of Emperor on its choruses while attempting to inject some power with stronger rhythm riffing and a nice contrast in doom metal parts, but the melodies go nowhere other than back into themselves, making this one of those Celtic knot style albums where the listener emerges with nothing but an impression of guitar parts that are all very similar once viewed from a distance and no cohesion into song or a purpose to those songs, which as usual results in too much tyranny by the vocals as guitars and drums file TPS reports to keep up.
Serpent Noir/Sargeist – Transcendental Black Magic: taking black metal back to (some of) its roots can result in becoming uptempo heavy metal with growled vocals and occult overtones, and Serpent Noir seem to have gone this route with some slightly melodic heavy metal that keeps good rhythm but goes nowhere, while Sargeist as usual makes wandering melodic stuff that emphasizes too much balance and then counterpoints that with melodies that seem improvised or at least lopsided, reminding me of Nemesis Divina and other carnival black metal projects just with keyboards stripped out in the Drudkh style.
Disiplin – Disciplin: it used to be that any band with the dis- prefix was a Discharge tribute band, and oh hey, not much has changed, since Disciplin sounds like Discharge crossed with Impaled Nazarene or Driller Killer, stripping black metal to one of its roots with a cornucopia of punk influences and the occasional Slayer or Mayhem styled riff dropped in to keep the constant forward momentum which quickly becomes exhausting because a lack of internal dynamics means a lack of context and so this album resembles flying an ultralight plane through a shopping mall while constantly getting distracted by bargains in order to avoid the grim truth that you will never escape.
Whom I Serve – Eternity: again cometh the self-help emo with gospel overtones disguised as “post-rock” and “avantgarde” when really it is the same smarmy stuff we heard in the 1990s just translated to a major key with more whole tone scale and pentatonic worked in, sort of a salad of everything that is not hip-hop, but with the same jaunty bounce powering it all along as if admitting that like modern society, it has no center, only endless appetites distracting from the instability and certain doom, and by trying to be cheerful and deep with the depth of pug analingus this music simply double underlines the failure and misery.
Ceremonial Castings – Our Journey Through Forever: these guys may love Varathron since they like to make heavy metal riffs into speed metal songs that slow down for some ritual material, calling into mind mid-period Absu as well, and while this is very pleasantly listenable it conveys no greater meaning than a vague atmosphere of smoking weed for Satan while calling the four corners and preparing to cull a Big Mac while watching MST3K.
Inerth – Void: every review can be reduced to “it’s OK if you like that sort of thing” and that template applies here with perfectly competent but boring grindcore that picks ironic notes to end what are otherwise riffs based around very familiar patterns from the chromatic lowest five frets, with a slight amount of groove and a good sense of pacing so that songs fit together like jigsaw puzzles, but do not really evoke more of a mood than generally party grindcore with a serious edge (read some Derrida, did they).
Septem – Psuedonica: fairly punchy heavy metal that holds itself together with a rhythm so that the wailing vocals can guide the song like regular rock, country, blues, and pop, this band makes a good catchy song but captures mostly a mood of closing time at the bar with the last functional jukebox in southern Wyoming, a wistful look at wishful fantasies and lost opportunities, and because of its vocal power de-emphasizes the riff to the point where it fades into the background despite having a lot of promise.
Null Cell – Nemesis: a few darkwave elements sneak into this otherwise faithful 1980s industrial which like all hip-hop and most industrial deprecates melodic composition in favor of pure rhythm, using familiar vocal riffs, guitar parts, keyboards, and samples as punctuation rather than parts of a whole, which leaves you with a voice ranting like government speakers in a war-torn city announcing air raids and reading propaganda to “keep spirits up” as the battle is lost early when everyone dies of boredom, echoing the experience of being a teenager who exiles himself to his bedroom to have a prolonged snit tantrum instead of becoming useful or even flying planes into buildings.
Cerebral Incubation – Fermenting Cranial Inebriating Fluids: deathgrind with a groove that hits all the right grooves despite an addiction to predictable rise and fall sound waves as the structural template for each song, this band launches in with remarkably similar riffs but manages a Pantera-style spacious addictive rhythm over which vocals gurgle-rap, burp, ree, squee, barf, and throatshart as a template to your partying in an abyss without end where the end is the beginning and the middle because there is no point.
Scalpture – Feldwärts: too many influences went into this release for it to see itself clearly which results in a design-by-committee approach interrupting some great riffs in the rolling Bolt Thrower and Amorphis style, and because they are fundamentally about disorganization, songs do not come to a head, only roll back to where they first achieved a sense of poise, which makes for a boring listen with moments of inspiration.