For us Westerners, many forms Japanese non-traditional music carry an awkward, or even amusing air of exotism. When it comes to metal and punk, this sense of other-ness often stems from the way European-descended musical genres get filtered through a cultural lens largely alien to its original source. Even when it comes to obvious carbon-copy tribute acts, there’s always something strikingly goofy about Japanese metal/punk. Not surprisingly, this makes for a good marketing device because even if the bands suck (and to be frank, many of them do), they still sound “unique”. Relevant cases in point are just too ubiquitous to deserve mentioning. Let’s instead talk about something that does not suck. Like Japan’s premier hardcore punk act and much-overlooked crossover pioneers G.I.S.M. While definitely goofy, G.I.S.M. succeed where most Japanese metal- and punk-acts fail by forging a highly idiosyncratic expression that not only offers something new to the table, but also manage to resonate with the deeper spirit of both punk and metal.
In the past, metal journalism used to function mainly as a filtering device; weeding out the bad so that the good stuff would rise to the top. Nowadays, it’s more likely the other way around. We’re now searching for potential in a seemingly endless flow of “interesting” or pleasant-sounding junk. This task often requires time and patience, because those rare and far between releases will often sound similar to their lesser peers on a surface level. One illuminating example would be the Pennsylvanian epic death/black metal act Polemicist and their debut album Zarathustrian Impressions. Their music may not appear spectacular on casual listen, but repeated and concentrated exposure reveal unexpected qualities.
Like many of us, I discovered black metal as a young teenager. Back then, this relatively new form of music still retained some of its initial mystique and one could sense a scope and magnitude that went beyond previous conceptions of what metal was or should be. What initially won me over was not so much the heavy distortion, Satan/sodomy or spectacular extra-musical activities of individual musicians, but the evocative potential of the music. Its ability to create mental gateways into places normally out of reach, or as Mr. Vikernes once put it: “to stimulate the fantasy of mortals.”
At its most direct and well-calibrated, grindcore is a viciously effective medium for both emotional and corporal catharsis. But, as is often the case with experiential intensity, those equally delightful and terrifying moments seldom endure and will at best leave us grappling with a sensation of unresolved clarity. Whether or not this observation resonates with the reader, it may well be applied as an analogy for the grindcore phenomenon at large. Once a fortuitous offspring of hardcore punk and primordial death metal, early grindcore managed to tap into the deeper recesses of human discontent and paranoia and somehow channel this raw force into musical form. However, it didn’t take long before this short burst of essentially intuitive creativity gave in to rationalization and before anyone had realized it: game over.
The main point in case here would be Carcass. As have been previously chronicled on these pages, early Carcass lifted grindcore out of its self-inflicted musical and ideological circumscriptions with their debut Reek of Putrefaction (1988) —somewhat ironically, given its crude nature and presentation— before embarking on a steady slope into insignificance as the band got caught up with making music to please audiences. Since then, a veritable substyle has been founded upon Carcass’ earliest works reaching up to their third LP. Not surprisingly, the artistic results have been chiefly meagre because most successors have focused on mimicking style rather than the essential qualities of the music. Consider this in parallel to the poignantly limited musical palette of grindcore and a scenario takes form where novelty rather than substance is rewarded; because in a field where everything sound practically identical on the surface, the easiest way to gain notoriety is through aesthetic manipulation. Consequently, discovering worthy material quickly turns into a struggle of Sisyphosian proportions, as it requires extensive and often in-depth digging.
Unanimously forgotten by the metal world at large, Putrid Offal’s 1991 split LP with Exulceration comes across as a seemingly indistinctive affair at first glance. However, a deeper acquaintance with the material reveals this to be one of the more rewarding non-canonical works within the genre. Putrid Offal comfortably operates within a style somewhere between the first and second Carcass album if played with the intense rigidity of an early Napalm Death. Where the band excels is in a conjoinment of Reek of Putrefaction’s playful and frequently destabilizing nature with the more cogent and death metal-oriented riff sequencing witnessed on Symphonies of Sickness (1989). Riffs strive to expand beyond the simple chromatic patterns that has become a staple among grindcore acts. This allows the band not only to apply greater textural nuance to phrases, but also an opportunity to string riffs into sequences that defy binary modes of communication. While intensity remains as main focus throughout the playing time, both structure and riffology implies an undercurrent darker than what is usually expected of such a direct form of music.
Setting aside aspirations of petty “uniqueness”, Putrid Offal ironically enough belongs to the infinitesimal cadre of bands who’ve managed to expand upon the Carcass legacy.
It is not without good reason that the early 1990s are heralded as the golden era of metal music around these parts. In less than 5 years, not only did death metal reach its hitherto most mature stage, but in its immediate wake came the pinnacles of the by-then emerging black metal movement which remains unsurpassed to this day. (more…)
As the successive death- and black metal craze of the 1990s lost its grip over Scandinavia, many musicians started a journey back towards their earliest of musical infatuations. Often this meant a return to classic 1980s heavy metal, although filtered through contemporary developments in the metal craft and coupled, at least in the more auspicious of cases, with a melodic flair distinctive of the region. One of few interesting products of this slightly schizoid period is the one-man and seemingly one-off project Defender, brain-child of a certain Phillip von Segebaden. (more…)
By now established as one of few post-nineties black metal acts worth saving for posterity, Infamous returns with yet another joint effort production on the Hammerbund label. Joining the bill is the somewhat amusingly christened Gorrenje, a band previously unknown around these quarters but apparently of a slightly older vintage than their Sardinian counterpart. As has earlier been the case, Infamous proves to be vastly superior to their collaborators and is therefore the one most worthy of our attention. (more…)
Remember back in the mid-1990s when every black metal musician of repute boasted involvement in at least one dark ambient project? Although the move away from metallic ground towards previously uncharted territories comes across as a farseeing maneuver in hindsight – black metal had after all reached its creative zenith at this point – the lion’s share of resultant products left a lot to be desired. (more…)
A salute goes out to Misters Imladris and Kaelrok for sharing recommendations and insights related to the subject at hand.
After having recounted and commented on the birth and evolution of the first wave of European power metal in part II, the time has come for this author to travel across the Atlantic and take a closer look at the contemporaneous development of power metal in North America, commonly referred to as United States Power Metal (USPM). (more…)