Interview: Mike Riddick (Metalhit.com)

This site pioneered metal journalism using dial-up and later online means for one simple reason: no wasted paper. It was apparent by 1984 that computers would soon become household and business appliances, as indispensible as copy machines and perhaps more numerous. The logic went this way: if we’re going to have them anyway, distributing information through computer networks means no dead trees, no additional waste, and possibly a more efficient distribution method.

Twenty years later, one of the debates still under mainstream radar is that of MP3 piracy. It touches all aspects of our government and society: is it theft to copy MP3s? If it is, do we want the Nanny State peering over our shoulders to see what we’re copying? Should we trust people to buy what they download, or try copy protection, just as we did with software and eventually abandoned? Who should watch for violations? Who watches the watchers? And finally: can artists get paid in an age beyond material scarcity, when a CD can be downloaded in minutes?

Mike Riddick, a pioneer in metal artistry in his own right, has tried the dangerous new waters of this controversial issue by launching Metalhit.com, a promotional firm/label that will send reviewers MP3s of CDs. Since promotional CDs arrive in bunches and most commonly go to the trash the same way, this is a green and metal way of forging past barriers to see the potential of this new form. We got in a few words with Mike about the future of digital media and metal.

When did you start metalhit.com, and what realization guided you toward the idea of doing an mp3-based promotion service/label?

I launched Metalhit.com in January 2008. The idea was born from a suggestion my wife made while discussing with her the status of my other (traditional) label, The Fossil Dungeon. I had always wanted to operate a metal label, publishing bands I enjoy, and this was an innovative way to do it.

Why an mp3-based promotion firm, and did you know about/use mp3s before starting the firm?

My other label, The Fossil Dungeon, had been publishing CDs while coincidentally publishing our releases in the digital market for a while so it was something I was acquainted with. While I still personally prefer CDs and Vinyls for my own entertainment, I do use Mp3s as well. One primary reason I opted to go exclusively digital with both of my labels was the fact that consumer markets are driven by convenience. Purchasing music online is far more convenient for the fan than going to the store, especially when dealing with music that’s not readily accessible in stores to begin with! Another primary reason I decided to go with Mp3s was the expense factor. I and the bands only make money when their music sells so we do not need to be concerned about throwing lots of money down upfront to create inventory and then hope that inventory sells. People profit when product moves and that business concept attracted me. Furthermore, the money I would usually invest in manufacturing can now go to marketing and promoting our artists in a better way. Overall, it’s a win-win situation and that makes for a good business. Operating my traditional CD/Vinyl-based label was a financial struggle and caused me to suffer losses for 5 years straight. As a digital label and distributor, the business model is more sound and more effective overall.

It seems several well-known labels have been receptive, and the metal press has been positive. Is this so, and what has helped you become accepted?

I am aware that digital sales are increasing rather rapidly on a year-to-year basis. I believe the statistic runs around 15% whilst CD sales are diminishing about 5% each year. The numbers tell me that people are getting comfortable with the digital format and I trust that within 10 years the industry will be 100% digital. I’m pleased the metal scene is embracing this change.

Major labels argue that allowing mp3s at all encourages theft and copying, but others point out that those who download mp3s are generally those without the money or inclination to buy the product anyway. How do you think mp3s can be used to promote music, and can it be done so without losing money for artists?

I don’t think artists will see too dramatic of a shift in the bootlegging of their work than in previous periods of music. Granted, it is easier to move music illegally these days by sharing files versus dubbing a cassette tape or ripping and burning a CD. However, overall I think that if a fan values a band’s music enough, they’ll pay for it, especially with the knowledge that they’re directly supporting the artists they appreciate. Even if music moves freely among music fans, it still serves as good promotion. If a music fan didn’t pay for an album they own, but they like the band, they’ll probably go see them at a show or perhaps order some merchandise online. The band will profit this way, whereas if their music hadn’t been freely shared, they would’ve lost out on this fan. While a band and label would prefer for the fan to pay for music legitimately, I don’t think the random occasions of this happening will ultimately cripple the industry. Consider libraries, for example. Did borrowing books freely ever put the book publishing industry out of business? Nope.

Democracy is cancerous, and bureaus are its cancer. A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. (A cooperative on the other hand CAN live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet the needs of people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on the opposite principle of inventing needs to justify the existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action, to the complete parasitism of a virus.

– William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

If mp3s are accepted as a means of sending promos, or as a way of selling music, it may force restructuring upon the industry. What do you think the music industry of the future will look like?

Labels are already jumping on the convenience of digital music. Apart from my label submitting promos digitally, I’m aware many of the majors are doing this as well. I think the industry will be much different in the future than its current state. For example, music stores will be a thing of the past. For example, indie shops situated around college campuses are already disappearing because the younger generation has gone completely digital. Music will be entirely digital, purchased from people’s home computers and portable devices. The technology for this is already in place and is growing more popular each day. I think labels will market bands in traditional ways, though leaning more toward multi-media avenues on the web. For example, I don’t think print magazines dealing with music will be around much longer though I do think they will outlast CDs.

Have you encountered resistance from labels and bands in your plan to send out mp3s to reviewers and, if so, what were the common objections? How did you resolve them?

Yes, I have encountered music reviewers and radio show DJs that have chosen not to accept digital promos. For most it is simply a matter of comfort. They aren’t yet comfortable with this medium and they still prefer things the traditional way. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this and many of the labels still cater to these individuals by providing them with promo CDs, etc. For a lot of music journalists, their primary incentive for writing reviews is the fact they get to have tangible CDs as a perk for their work. While my music is still “free” to them, the reward factor isn’t present because there is nothing entirely tangible given to them. Some people prefer to hold something rather than have it as a file on their computer. This is perhaps the only factor slowing the transition into the digital age of music, but as technology increases and the devices used to play CDs become obsolete, the transition will be inevitable. While this can hamper my marketing efforts, I contrarily have marketing partners that love digital music and embrace it happily. There are enough promoters out there to still run an effective marketing campaign, exclusively digital!

Some argue that digital rights management (DRM), which is any of a number of encryption schemes to prevent unauthorized copying or uploading of those mp3s, should be applied to any mp3s made of original works. Do you believe this is an effective strategy?

DRM serves nothing but an inconvenience to the fan. It limits the product a fan is purchasing and that is just bad business. Who wants to buy music that will work only on one device when there are presently multiple devices to play music on in the marketplace? People will always find a way bootleg music and DRM is no exception so I find it to be a waste of time on the industry’s part. A lot of online music retailers, like eMusic, for example, offer downloads DRM-free. Likewise, the Metalhit.com Mp3 store is DRM-free!

Your work acknowledges a shift, through iTunes and other vectors, in the music industry toward accepting digital technology, including its ability to make a copy of anything already digitized. Some see the market as moving from selling a product, in which the physical form and information it contained were bonded inextricably, to selling a license to an abstract service, which is the ability to play or view a work, regardless of form. How will this affect how musicians, labels and promoters get paid?

It’s interesting how you describe this shift and it’s quite accurate. I believe labels and musicians will have to simply accept this transition and recognize that the future of media will be much more amorphous, not simply an individual unit. One thing I think we will see a rise in is the advent of the single. Previously, singles were used to leverage the sale of a full album. However, now fans have the ability to cherry-pick the songs they want and not have to purchase the filler that used to occupy full length albums. In fact, the idea of a full length album will become vague as this medium becomes more popular. It used to be that 45 minutes of music made up an album when that was all you could squeeze onto a record. CDs increased this expectation to a full hour. With digital music, timing is not an issue and people will simply purchase what they enjoy, song-by-song. As for musicians and labels being paid.I think it will still be the same, using a royalty system. What I do anticipate, however, is that artists will potentially make more money from their music, either handling it independently without a label, or through labels that pay better royalties because when labels go exclusively digital they won’t have many of the same middle men and manufacturing expenses that swamp the traditional industry.

Has metalhit.com helped you promote and/or sell any of your own works? Were the results comparable to conventional music industry models? (N.B. I recognize that you, like many other underground musicians, may not be in this field “for the profit,” but I think we should recognize that for an artist to keep existing, the band must at least not lose money, and it needs to make money for those in the support infrastructure of labels, distros, venues, magazines, etc. — “selling out” is a different story, because even if Metallica’s black album had only sold six copies, it would still be a sell-out; this is not a question about the ethics of profit, in other words, although feel free to throw in any ideas you have there)

I have not yet published any of my own music through Metalhit yet, though I have been publishing my bands in the digital market through my other label for a while now. While those albums were published on CD as well, I have been able to see how digital sales compare to CD sales. CDs sales are definitely more prevalent in the marketplace today, though when you compare the expenses involved in each of these avenues, I find the digital medium more appealing, even if it only makes up a small sales margin right now. However, I see this increasing each year so it only seems logical to pursue digital in its entirety.

The idea of metalhit.com appeals to many in black metal because, as people who believe in an integral, parallel bond between spirituality, intelligence, nature and the organization of matter, they see unnecessary production of physical waste (in the form of physical promos that generally get thrown out) as destructive to nature. Was this part of your motivation behind metalhit.com, and have you any idea how effective you have been toward reducing waste?

I hadn’t considered this proponent of the psychology behind some black metal fans. If this is the case, then my label should prove favorable. In contrast, I would’ve assumed fans of black metal to be the most resistant to embracing a new medium since black metal carries with it a loyalty to older metal traditions and vinyl. In any case, the amount of physical waste reduced by this change in my operation has been dramatic. It’s largely a paperless business. The only paper used is for contracts, filed work and reproduced fliers.

How has the presence of mp3s changed the underground? Is it better to fight change that seems contrary, or to accept it and try to alter it to support original objectives?

Mp3s have significantly changed the underground. With the advent of the Internet, the connectivity between fans of music all across the world has increased tremendously. In the early 90’s and prior, the worldwide network of the underground metal scene was facilitated by postal mail and it would take weeks to communicate with others around the world. Now that the Internet is here, not only has it made underground more accessible, but it’s also given leverage to smaller bands and labels in the sense that they can now more readily compete with larger labels because both the independents and majors have access to resources only previously reserved for major labels.

What kind of journalistic outlets does metalhit.com service, and have you seen a rise in digital-format outlets, like blogs and twitter streams and the like?

We spread our bands as well as those from our partner labels as intensely as possible. We’ll go for traditional magazines and radio shows to online programs, blogs, webzines and the like. I think there is a definite rise in digital-format outlets for promotion, particularly among the younger generation of extreme metal fans.

If you were an up-and-coming death metal or black metal band today, how would you use digital media to promote your band?

Take advantage of it! Setting up a MySpace page, has been a relatively effective method for unknown artists to start marketing their work. Online advertising is another avenue for bands with more money to promote with and simply networking with labels, fans and distributors over the Internet is an excellent way to start making your work more known. The benefit of the Internet is that you can achieve a pretty decent amount of exposure with little expense involved. However, as with any successful artists, whether mainstream or underground, originality, hard work and persistent effort will yield results.

Thanks to Metalhit.com for this inspiring interview.

If we ask a man who is exploiting a commons to desist “in the name of conscience,” what are we saying to him? What does he hear?–not only at the moment but also in the wee small hours of the night when, half asleep, he remembers not merely the words we used but also the nonverbal communication cues we gave him unawares? Sooner or later, consciously or subconsciously, he senses that he has received two communications, and that they are contradictory: (i) (intended communication) “If you don’t do as we ask, we will openly condemn you for not acting like a responsible citizen”; (ii) (the unintended communication) “If you do behave as we ask, we will secretly condemn you for a simpleton who can be shamed into standing aside while the rest of us exploit the commons.”

– Garrett Hardin, The Tragedy of the Commons

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Interview: Marlon Friday (Abhorrent)

Guitarist Marlon Friday of demo band Abhorrent was kind enough to lend us his ears and voice for a brief interview on the state of death metal, and the direction this new act — which is challenging the stagnation of a genre too molded by its interpretation of fan expectations to be anything but stagnant — takes as it tackles the question of 21st century death metal.

When did you form Abhorrent, what were your previous projects, what’s the state of the band and who’s in it, and what is your status now?

Abhorrent was formed mid-2007 after some of our previous projects either didn’t go anywhere, or weren’t taken seriously. Previous projects were Erzebet and Misogyny, the latter, not taken too seriously, obviously. Abhorrent is Marlon Friday on guitar(s) and Lyle Cooper on Drums. We are currently looking for new members to fill in the vacant duties of the band. Also, we are looking to finish mixing and mastering our 3 song promo, and hoping to send it out to certain interested labels.

What are your goals in forming Abhorrent? Are there extra-musical goals (chicks, ideology, tour the world) as well as musical goals?

Music consumes both of our lives, and without it, we wouldn’t be who we are today. Abhorrent is an outlet of both emotion and ideology, which will be more present in the lyrical matter.

Add to the reckoning all whom thou hast known, one after another. One man after burying another has been laid out dead, and another buries him: and all this in a short time. To conclude, always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a little mucus to-morrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art?

Of course, absolutely. It not only can be a form of art, but, in my mind it is and will always be an artistic expression.

What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

Well, in the context of music, I believe their is a certain overlapping of the two. Creating the music is the art form, while playing it live is the entertainment side… similar to art galleries, having people show up and look at the selection of art pieces in the exhibit is a form of entertainment.

Do you think heavy metal has a distinctive worldview different from that of “normal” people? Is worldview a grounding to an ideology, and can art have either? Do you think the worldviews and or ideologies of artists shape the kind of music they produce?

Yes, I do believe that heavy metal retains a certain world view that differs from the main populace. The worldview is a foundation for ideology and I believe wholeheartedly that can have both. Ideologies can shape the music in the creative process, and I believe it does a lot to define the type of sound the artist is going for. Be it abrasive or easy on the ears, or what have you.

Do you think death metal musicians converge on the genre because it sounds like thoughts or worldviews, and if so, does this produce any compatibility between views?

I think death metal musicians share, to an extent, certain views and feelings and that is a big reason that the “scene” started and evolved into what it is or isn’t today. There is definitely a compatibility between views, but that isn’t always the case.

If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?

Varying genres of music can definitely have a unified ideology/philosophy, which helps bring artists and listeners alike to a more unified ground.

Rumor has it that Abhorrent is considering being the first all-instrumental death metal band. what are the additional burdens on songwriters of writing songs without vocals?

Not sure if we would be the first, but, yes, this is a possibility. To have an all instrumental band, the music has to have an extra quality to it, a certain appeal that will be able to grab the audience and keep them listening. Since there would be no lyrics, it would be up to us to create an atmosphere and keep from diverting the listeners attention.

How do you conceive of a song: do you start with a riff, an abstract idea, an emotion, or a structure?

It all depends on the time and place. I might have a riff in my head, or a drumbeat or just be in a certain mood.

What are your influences, and are these shared among band members, and if not wholly, what other influences do they have?

When writing the music we don’t try and think … “Okay, these 3 bands influenced this song so let’s write something like it.” We just let the music flow and morph it as we go along. Although, you could probably tell some of my favourite bands (Gorguts) have leaked a bit into the riffs that I write.

Of the last ten years of metal, what are the standouts to you? what about other genres — what were the most influential and best works?

Gorguts – Obscura and From Wisdom To Hate
Adramelech – Pure Blood Doom
Immolation – Close To A World Below
Spawn of Possession – Cabinet and Noctambulant (to a lesser extent)
Martyr – Feeding The Abscess
Augury – Concealed
Anata – Under A Stone With No Inscription
Psycroptic – The Scepter Of The Ancients
Defeated Sanity – Prelude To The Tragedy, Psalms of The Moribund
Deathspell Omega – Fas, Ite Maledicti In Ignem Aeternum, Si Monvmentvm Reqvires Circvmspicere, and Kenose are all beyond words as well.
Drudkh – Most of their work.
Negura Bunget – Omwww
Agalloch – All of their material.
Emperor – Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, IX Equilibrium, Prometheus
Among tons of others.

Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. is this true, and if so, how is it reflected in your songwriting?

It can be said about a lot of bands, but when I write material for Abhorrent, there is no set formula, it just evolves and evolves from there.

Do not look around thee to discover other men’s ruling principles, but look straight to this, to what nature leads thee, both the universal nature through the things which happen to thee, and thy own nature through the acts which must be done by thee. But every being ought to do that which is according to its constitution; and all other things have been constituted for the sake of rational beings, just as among irrational things the inferior for the sake of the superior, but therational for the sake of one another.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

What brands/models of guitars/amplifiers do you use, and what equipment/software do you use to record?

For the promo we recently recorded, I used: Jackson DKMG
Engl Fireball head
Mesa Dual Rectifier Over-sized Cab
and a Bugera head for the other guitar track.
Lyle (drums) used:
Mapex 5 piece
Sabian and Zildjian Cymbals
DW 9000 pedals
To record we used a motu 12 pre for the drums, with an assortment of different mics, with Cubase. Guitars were recorded DI and reamped with the ENGL and Bugera.

We’ve gone through another period, like that of the late 1970s, where metal has lost direction and started to be absorbed by rock music. Is a change in style needed, or is change in direction expressed in another direction? What do you think the metal of next decade will look like?

There are so many different variations of “metal” that incorporate completely different types of music, some of them lose base with the “traditional” style, but others don’t stray too far from a defined line. In the next decade I can’t even imagine what new types of metal music there will be. Here’s to hoping the quality of music increases exponentially.

What is the best way for fans to contact you and hear your music?

You can email abhorrent@gmail.com to contact the band, and the best place to listen to our music, as of now, is at www.myspace.com/abhorrentdm.

Some people prefer a scene, others a community, still others like to strike out on their own. How effective are scenes and communities in concentrating listeners who can appreciate similar approaches to music, and how much do they simply raise the expectation of clone music and drag the community down to a lowest common denominator?

A “scene” can be both beneficial and detrimental to the quality of music that is produced. It does give an outlet to a group of unified individuals who have similar tastes in music, but also, on the downside… some bands may think they have to keep releasing the same type of albums over and over because “that’s what the scene expects”, thus, never evolving, and never doing anything new.

Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.

What do you mean?

I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the den, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.

– Plato, Republic

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Why metal needs frontiers

Evolutionary skips like humanity do not occur without the introduction of a radical new method. In the case of humans, it was language, which allowed us to form societies of larger than familial groups, specialize in certain tasks, and so preserve a massive knowledge of tools and methods that would overwhelm any human. As a result, we are smarter chimps with socialization in our blood.

From this origin, it is easy to see why humans crave company, but approach it with an unease rooted in the need to keep a balance over social obligation and personal obligation. Too much obligation to society, and we become Stalinist slaves; too much obligation to the individual, and we become modern Americans shuttling between the shopping mall and the psychologist, wondering why we cannot fill the holes our souls with our rank, our wealth, and the possessions we pile up in our castle retreats before shipping them to third world landfills.

Too many people around us creates a hubbub that drowns out our own thoughts. In such situations, we get overwhelmed and it becomes harder to hear our own minds and memories because as we are concentrating, other voices intervene. It is like having someone talking to you when you type; inevitably, you type pieces of the conversation instead of what you meant to scribe. When we are overwhelmed by socialization, we get beaten down into accepting external trends and ideas as our own thoughts.

Someday this condition will be recognized as belonging to that indefinite area between disease and pathology where alcoholism, drug abuse, promiscuity, compulsive gambling, religious delusion and overeating fall. Just as the right dose of a compound has medicinal effect, but too much is poison, and too little is apathy, we need some degree of socialization: murder is wrong (except when necessary), don’t defecate in the water supply, help your neighbor if her house is on fire.

These thoughts are helpful when we can take them into ourselves as a logical conclusion, and realize their necessity, but when societies get too big and too unequal in the abilities of their populations, large centralized institutions or social movements occur which try to hammer these thoughts into our head. The fine line between “murder without reason creates anarchy” and “murder is bad in an absolute sense, and you’ll go to hell” is where things go wrong. If we get afraid for ourselves, and insist on making ever more rigid rules, we take American individualism and turn it into Stalinist persecution of those who step out of line.

In the same way that suffocation might be viewed as CO2 crowding out oxygen, this social overdose might be seen as nature, abhorring a vacuum as the cliche goes, flooding our minds with the will of others which magnified by the credence we give external objects for their self-evidence, take on a higher weight of appearance than our own thoughts — or observations which, while not our own, ring true with what we know from experience and analysis. Civilization can drown us in what makes it strong, which is its support network for us.

Nature thrives on complexity, and like most patterns in nature, this sequence of logical events is repeated in any situation where individual brains must form one brain for the purpose of supporting greater knowledge. One such case is that of musical genres, especially those which derive much of their power from their claim that they are an alternative view to the dominant cliche, which may be either Stalinism or Americanism, or the hybrid of the two mentioned above. Neither Stalin nor Americans invented these two extremes; they are repeated patterns formed by the constraints of nature itself in the task of uniting individuals to perform the functions required for civilization.

When such patterns form in a musical genre, equality results, because when there are too many people in a cycle they make an unspoken agreement to treat each other equally so that none are seen as aggressors. This is similar to Americanized Stalinism in that it is the fear of the individual which motivates a stronger society with more rigid rules, such that the rules themselves become the goal, instead of the avoidance or promotion of consequence that the rules were intended to cause. Fear is the cause, and the result is a type of negative thinking that presupposes bad consequences to justify radical and extreme actions taken against its possibility. As the negative thinking spreads, it dominates every form of social and political discourse, and becomes accepted as a fact of civilization itself and not an option.

This negative thinking aims to nullify possible threats instead of treat the source of threat, so it has a neutralizing effect, and soon standards lower. From the best of civilized intentions, collaboration, we produce unending compromise. The compromise arises from our fear of transgressing against well-intentioned but rigid rules, and because the rules are irrational, all other thinking becomes irrational. The individual becomes the root of all justification, and so even if the individual produces mediocrity, there is a demand that all respect that individual for the sole reason of he or she being an individual — otherwise, the negative thinking is violated, and we all will descend into anarchy (the thinking goes).

In an artistic genre, this results in tolerance for all artists which means an information overload so great that none can rise above the crowd. As a result, you have many people happy to have achieved mediocre success, because that’s where 99% of all artists are going anyway, and 1% of the artists who could do better standing alone, longing for a frontier. All suffer because they can’t promote this 1%, because those are the superstars who keep new people coming into a genre, which is necessary because fans age and drop out or die. However, they prefer on an individual level to be rockstars of their block instead of allowing others to be recognized artists who lead.

This pattern repeats itself time and again. It’s how nature sloughs off the dead and dying before they actually exterminate itself, kind of like the sudden summer colds the gods wisely designed to erode the elderly population (think quickly: die for months in a hospital bed, or get the sniffles, go to sleep and kick off in a matter of hours? if the two were methods of execution, we’d quickly decide the latter was more “humane”). If any society cannot find a balance between individual and collective, it tends toward the extremes, becomes rigid and collapses into the kind of third-world entropy we see in the ruins of past superstar civilizations and, hehe, black and death metal today.

One on extreme, in black and death metal, you’ve got the “let’s be one unit” people, or Stalinists, who call themselves “true” but are true to looking like they’re the past, but not understanding, because they’re actually there to be rockstars of the block (note that the first pose adopted by rockstars of the block is humility; it lets them manipulate other people into supporting their own mediocrity, under the guise of “helping one another” and when no one’s looking, taking advantage of the situation; a community of rockstars of the block would rapidly starve itself: “I swear, Jimbo, there was a whole bushel of grain there we were going to share! I don’t know how it got so small, but let’s split it anyway”). The faux true contingent of death metal and black metal bands take the past, put it in a blender, and then drift toward whatever their childhood influences were, which is what they were going to do anything. As a result you have Suffocation-style death metal with black metal choruses mixed into what sounds, at its core, like a Def Leppard ballad. You should buy it because it’s unique.

The other extreme are those who want to embrace the crowdthink through individualism people, or Americans, who want to make that uniqueness be the central feature of the music, but they also tend to play exactly what their childhood influences were, and spend a good deal of time neurotically trying to cover it up. To them, good music has a combination of instruments, images, or quirks never done before, so they specialize in making funk-based death metal with black metal face paint and electric tuba solos. These combinations are inherently unstable, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the Def Leppard peeking through underneath. These musicians deal exclusively in re-combined aesthetic, but never change the structure, form, or musical language of the music. It remains Def Leppard, cut up by jazz breaks and horn solos, grindcore blast beats and disco choruses.

Both extremes share one thing in common: Because the music they make is blatantly ludicrous, and at its essential level unremarkable and in fact in agonized neurotic contortions to hide its ordinariness, the “artists” adopt a pose of self-reflexive irony: “It’s supposed to be entertainment, and between you and me, most of them don’t get it. We’re laughing at ourselves! The people in the audience who know the hip joints are laughing with us, at themselves and ourselves. It’s a big, UNIQUE, party!” Unfortunately for humanity, most people are barely entering maturity when they start listening to this stuff, and it can take them another decade to take a long hard look at what they were listening to, cough, and throw in the towel. At that point, most are so cynical they expect all forms of potential truth or vision to be scams, and so embrace a Gene Simmons-style “it’s all entertainment, don’t take it so seriously” attitude. Doubly unfortunate is that they approach religion and taxes with the same attitude.

The interesting thing about patterns however is that they do not have a central controller. Instead, they emerge from a situation when multiple conditions are correct. The horde of people making stupid music would like you to believe that at some point, the hand of G-d descended upon Earth and wrote in clear Spanglish that all metal must be insincere, and either imitate the past or combine motley cliches to make a new horror of self-analytical but unprofound music. Like all things in the modern time, the pattern of clueless music emerges when a genre makes a name for itself, and then the hordes of bored kids accustomed to being lied to in the suburbs surges into the genre with the assumption that it should be as lie-ridden, popularity-dominated, and self-marketing like their parents as every other media they encounter is.

Ocean streams are another example of emergent patterns. They flow a certain way because that way is the path of least resistance for water to flow, guided by gravity and tides, shaped by shorelines and underwater formations, channeled by differentials in temperature; the paths of ocean streams are not inherent, but appear again and again because the needs of their waters are met by the situation. It’s like horses and open barn doors: you don’t need to tell them to leave, because any creature cooped in a barn wants to leave and will do so, given (a) an aperture and (b) the promise of relative impunity in escape.

What is common about emergent systems is the need for an attractor, which can either be something valuable (atoms bonding with atoms to form stable molecules) or something empty, like a void or frontier (horses rushing toward open barn door). There is in nothingness always possibility; in somethingness, there is safety, but at the expense of variability. It’s like picking a boring day job over a more chaotic self-employment, or choosing to be a domesticated dog instead of a wolf, filling your head with television instead of thinking, or deciding to stay single instead of risking a relationship in which real work must be required. Metal music requires a frontier, unfilled in nothingness, so it can have space to expand.

In this however we see the parallel roles of creation and destruction. For creation to occur, there must be empty spaces but these are only acquired through the removal of something that exists. This principle underlies both natural selection and our tendency toward, in boredom, smashing boring things. When there is too much somethingness, we must make nothingness by removing that which is and is also unsatisfying. For example, if we burned every death and black metal recording but that top slice of really profound works, would the genre be stronger or weaker? Weaker in quantity, stronger in quality, with lots of empty space in which others can visualize their musical/artistic dreams being fulfilled.

Underground metal flourished in a brief period of frontier. Indie labels were a creation of the 1980s when, with digital recording technology becoming affordable just around the corner, printing plants began to more widely open up the new digital technology of compact discs to smaller businesses. As it became possible to print just a few thousand CDs, it became possible to run a small label without it being a complete financial loss, and so indie rock and eventually, indie metal (known as underground metal: thrash, death metal, black metal, grindcore, doom metal) expanded. To distance themselves from mainstream rock, and to compensate for their lack of big bucks for flashy studios, both indie rock and underground metal embraced a gritty aesthetic that made them unpalatable to the average consumer.

However, the average consumer wants to buy something that is intangible, which is that hipness or cachet of authenticity of which rock writers rave. This is why white kids bought forbidden “race music” called the blues, even though it was essential Celtic-Germanic folk music repackaged with a constant beat and gritty vocals. This is why punk music grew rapidly once people living boring lives saw it as a chance to walk on “the other side.” This is why freaks of nature and often pointless artist from Klaus Nomi to Insane Clown Posse have always attracted an audience, because they’re “unique” and “different.” The history of rock music is of one undending scam that sells inferior music to bored kids who are seeking an alternative to the staid social lifestyle of compliance that they see in their parents, who because of their dysfunctional attitudes, treat their children like objects and are consequently covertly hated.

In metal, this desire for the other side manifested itself in Pantera making death-metal-like albums for the real meatheads out there, Cannibal Corpse making a parody of death metal (later parodied by art rock band Fetid Zombie) that had enough groove and bounce for the masses, and eventually, in boutique black metal like Ulver and trend-oriented death metal like Opeth, as well as a horde of “blender bands” who throw past successes into a blender, make an incomprehensible melange, and then wrap it around the same three-chord boring moron rock music that has afflicted the “culture” of industrialized nations since the 1950s.

Frontiers are the antidote to this, but they must begin in destruction. Idiots will tell you destruction is bad, because in their view, more metal means more power in metal. However, life is a science of pattern organization, and this is why patterns of higher organization (complexity) trump those of lower organization; this is why one Beethoven outshines 6,000,000 rock bands and forces their fans into denial of their inferiority. Idiots naturally feel defensive when they develop the resulting inferiority complex, so they come up with endless insincere excuses for why they should continue to listen to stupid music instead of facing reality and finding better music: we like it, it’s unique, every person has musical taste that is unrelated to their mental capacity, it’s our right to like garbage if we want, stupid music is more profound because it has a perspective contrary to the ruling classes, and so on. It’s all mental chewing gum that will keep a brain noshing, trying to find the substance, until it realizes that these statements are broken tautologies of the form “this is important because it claims to be important,” and then moves on.

Artists long for frontiers because they understand the odd relationship between creativity and power. We all want to feel power in life so we can think that our time was well spent as we lie on our deathbeds, and before, as we question daily whether we should keep going. Power is felt by having the ability to change things for the better, and this ability is afforded by looking at life, understanding the rules of nature, and using our creativity to find a way to work greatness within those rules. Freedom is not the answer, because freedom in human minds means no rules, which means our creativity has nothing to chew on, so we make garish “unique” and uniquely useless melanges instead. For creativity to thrive, we need an empty space in which to exert our power, like ancient men approaching their fields and streams and leaving behind farms and windmills irrigating them.

For those who want a frontier in metal, the path is clear. We must laugh at the now-dead past of fifteen years of unsuccessful metal which was “good enough” but never really good, and as we laugh, smash it aside. We do not need greater numbers. We need better fighters. We need bands on the level of Black Sabbath, Slayer, Morbid Angel, Burzum and Gorguts in order to make for ourselves a new space in which healthier metal can grow. For those of us who are not active musicians, this starts in intolerance of garbage music, progresses to its destruction, and then manifests itself in the tolerance of a gardener: we accept everything, but ignore all but the exceptional, and since we water that exceptional and nurture it, we let nature carry off the rest to an early death. This is both natural selection and common sense: if you tolerate everything, you will never have great things, but if you focus on the great, you will bring more of it upon yourselves.

Metal exists in a dual state of brain/body because of its hybrid origin in soundtracks/rock music, even though it was a fundamental rebellion against the careless hippie music of the time which introduced non-solutions as a good way to stay oblivious and justify personal profit, sexual conquest and hedonism despite the obvious need for hard work to resurrect a confused and dying civilization. Metal brought us back to the heavy, but because people living pointless lives like easy solutions and would like to think that buying a CD means they can “walk on the wild side” and feel OK with their mediocrity, it fights this dual nature. It’s 25% Demilich-Burzum fans, and 75% Cannibal Corpse-Skinless fans. However, as the morons fill every available space with garbage, there’s room for the 25% to return in vengeful fashion, mocking and burning the stupid, and opening up a frontier horizon for exploration.

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Gates of Enoch, Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ in Houston, Texas

Gates of Enoch, Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ
March 2, 2008
The Meridian
1503 Chartres
Houston, Texas 77003

Long ago, before heavy metal was even a glimmer in the eyes of King Crimson and Black Sabbath, when the land of south central Texas had nothing on its pan-flat surface but swamp and hogs, a developer’s eye gleamed and soon a city was being sold to northern suburbanites as a green, natural, sunny and pleasant place. To this day developers continue to create it, sprawling across the humid plane like pancake batter, and so the city pulses through a serpentine mesh of freeways which converge at various points, some forgotten and some celebrated.

At one of these convergences, to the northeast of downtown, an innumerable series of obstacles prevented our reviewer from hearing the Gates of Enoch set and the first four bars of Averse Sefira. Having just released their fourth album (you probably have the MP3s already) Averse Sefira from Austin showed fine form on the end of this tour of established acts. In all fairness, every band on the tour showed massively professional performance ability, so what distinguished one from the next was showmanship and songwriting. In these crucial areas a separation occurred but proved itself to be so messy that few want to untangle its inextricable threads.

Averse Sefira

Averse Sefira took to the stage with the power of those who carve a place for themselves by both fighting the status quo and not fighting the reality of what will be eternally rewarded; they mix traditionalist black metal with the aggressive machine motion of death metal in its peak years, relegating the latter to rhythm with the former insurgent within it as leadership of each song. This enables them to preserve the mystique of underground metal which is the fusion of seemingly random bits into a whole order, an occult process in itself during a time of linear causal logic. Their rhythmic composition comes straight from the halcyon days of early Deicide and Incantation, but their melodies, fusing Graveland and Enslaved and something as uniquely American as Thomas Wolfe recalled a graveyard angel, surge straight from the heart of black metal.

Advent Parallax, the newest from Averse Sefira, steps forward in technique and adjusts the previous sense of concept albums into a new lexicon, where the concept is revealed in serialized views of a prismatic, untouchable reality. They did not back down; they made it more technical, shaped the songs from less obvious shadow forms of structure; gave themselves license to play with elements that dour conventionalists might find threatening, yet kept them in the spirit of the most traditional of all underground black and death metal. Not surprisingly, the album sounds better live, because its synthesis is new and still supple, and putting it to a click track (or even the knowledge that it would be recorded) could dim some of that resonant light.

Mixing two songs each from their last three albums, Averse Sefira delivered a set with more technical verve than previous adventures. Where some shows had been chaotic and organic, and others sniper-precise, the fusion of the two is a grand adventure in pushing things out of control and then with the paranoia of a sentry snapping it back under control. This delightful duality shadowed not only the playful but militant spirit of their music, but also the fusion of ludic black metal and mechanistic mimetic death metal. The triumph came in not only holding together these raging daemonic tendencies but pouring them into form, using the crucible of the classics and an exploratory fire of the now.

Setlist:

A Shower of Idols (Advent Parallax)
Descension (Advent Parallax)
Nascent Ones (Battle’s Clarion)
Helix in Audience (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)
Battle’s Clarion (Battle’s Clarion)
Plagabraha (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)

Belphegor

After Averse Sefira, Belphegor played a super-competent set of ultra-generic black/death metal. There is no way to criticize it, like most modern travesties. No notes were missed. Rhythms were exact. The crowd loved it and bought tshirts. Yet it did not recommend itself, either. It is as one critic has said of life itself: “The problem is not in being mediocre. The problem lies in not being great, because that is all that stays the memory once the last royalty check is cashed.” Indeed — we move away from this artefact of history and the juncture of styles at this point in metal’s career, a conjunction that has mastered the aesthetics of these intrusions without knowing in any way their derivation, significance, or even that they could form a language and not a procession of forms cut from whole shadow shapes.

Immolation

Immolation played the most varied set of the evening, comprising one simple song from their first album (“Those Left Behind”), several from their most recent entitled Shadows in the Light, one from the nu-metal influenced Harnessing Ruin, and a smattering from other albums, priming us for their epicenter with “Nailed to Gold” from Here in After, probably their most ambitious and engaged moments of the night. Relentlessly professional, they played both exactly and with a good deal of the microscopic re-evaluation of intention shared between individuals in a musical outfit that encloses “feeling,” giving the energies of the crowd and the band a chance for chiasmatic influence within the rhythms of what was played. Their material improves greatly with the new album. Retrospective analysis suggests this band, formed in 1986, never fully left behind the ambition to join Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer in the speed metal camp, and they have filtered through underground death metal their impulse to write surging rhythm riffs with an accelerated rock beat ever since.

The result, a trademark anticipative recursion and complementary unison offset by a shuttling opposite architectural closure, called by fans “that Immolation riff,” shows up too much in their work; some hypothesize that it began with the use of pinched harmonics to accentuate an expected rhythmic closure, which showed this band how much the dimly lit faces glow when presented with something so digestible. Since that time, Immolation have fought their impulse to write bouncy technical rock, and struggled for death metal. They come farthest on Shadows in the Light. They still could benefit from more diligent staging of their work, so that when they crash into a gratifying chorus or transition, it is rarer and so purer in context though less pure in immediate essence. Their set was as solid as any in metal, rock, jazz or blues, but with a good deal more energy. They could learn a great deal from the first Metallica album if they wish to continue this course.

Setlist:

Passion Kill (Shadows in the Light)
Swarm of Terror (Harnessing Ruin)
Burial Ground (Dawn of Possession)
Nailed to Gold (Here In After)
Son if Iniquity (Harnessing Ruin)
Hate’s Plague (Shadows in the Light)
Immolation (Dawn of Possession)
Lying with Demons (Shadows in the Light)
World Agony (Shadows in the Light)
Bring Them Down (Unholy Cult)

Rotting Christ

Rotting Christ showed this audience the greatest technical performance of the evening. They not only played difficult material. They played it as if it was no big deal. Their problem is that while they write beautiful choruses, and have many creative riff ideas, they like writing boring songs. A two-part stomp beat, a trudging power chord ride that shifts position upward like the “after” part of a weight-loss commercial, and in the ensuing mixture whatever beauty is created is crushed under the weight of the trudge. Beauty is what they aimed for, and what they created at rare times, mainly through an excellent knowledge of harmony and a willingness to write melodic lead rhythm picked riffs and harmonize them. One participant put it best when he said this band have become generic metal. There are black metal vocals, speed metal drums, death metal strumming, power metal choruses, and heavy metal rundown verses. It was both inspiring and the greatest disappointment one could have. Caught in the veil of humanism, which presupposes personhood to supplant nature’s judgement of skill in presenting the dynamism which drives the universe away from entropy, this band played to please an idealized, averaged, mythical crowd and as a result they had people standing in cadence during verses and becoming animated for choruses. Guys, take a risk — write something from your minds and not your hearts.

Conclusion

The show proved an adventure worthy of undertaking for the power of Averse Sefira and Immolation. All things considered, Averse Sefira impressed most, because their set was the least contrived with honest and goofy joy and worship of the power of their own music replacing a more serious mien. Immolation played as well and with more technicality, and also took great gleeful pleasure in their songs, but that performance proved more self-cognizant and less self-reflective, as if they were watching themselves from the audience. The musicians of Averse Sefira were less aware they were onstage and playing music, and seemed to be lost (60%) in the music they clearly enjoyed hearing and (40%) in the emotional and energetic tides of the crowd, although a scan of the audience revealed they appealed to a portion of the audience more likely to watch intently than drink, “mosh,” or chant only the choruses  they knew the verses also. Even more importantly, their songs are written less from a template, and retain the chaotic inspiration that their wide-ranging lyrics bring. Yet neither Immolation nor Averse Sefira were justifiably missed, as both delivered top-notch performances upholding the distinctive DNA of underground death metal.

(Thanks to Cynical and M.S. for the setlists.)

Bands:
Gates of Enoch
Averse Sefira
Belphegor
Immolation
Rotting Christ

Promoters:
The Meridian, Houston Texas

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Rotting Christ, Immolation, Belphegor, Averse Sefira and D.I.M. in Minneapolis, Minnesota

D.I.M., Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ
February 16, 2008
7th Street Entry
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Few metal bands maintain their essential character for anything beyond the ephemeral. This tour package brought together four death/black metal bands who have been cultivating their respective crafts for at least a decade each: Averse Sefira almost exactly that, Rotting Christ and Immolation twice as long, and Belphegor somewhere in between, all with varying success in this regard. This longevity reflected well in the clarity of presentation, and also brought out many contrasts among these four acts.

With a nod to Rotting Christ, whose showmanship was attention-keeping despite the banal simplicity of most of their material; and Belphegor, who are effectively blunt but textureless, this was the tale of two bands: one gathering energy and pursuing immortality, the other guaranteed it and marching onward under its burden.

Averse Sefira

The first of these, Averse Sefira, were there to pick up the pieces after the tolerance-shattering performance of the local opening act. For this reviewer, who is intensely familiar with their live performances and the evolution thereof, the chance to see them yet again was still a most welcome one. Having known in advance that the show would feature material from the just-released Advent Parallax it seemed better to remain willfully ignorant of the album as a test of its standalone abilities in this setting. The first two tracks of the set were indeed taken from it. The fatigue of frontman Sanguine as reflected in his sickness-stricken voice was not enough to quell the energy put into these songs by the band. As the sound works itself out at the beginning of the night, and the audience is fresh, the foremost efforts of the band can sometimes fall short, particularly with unfamiliar material. This is the small disadvantage of needing to display new material within the limited confines of the opening slot.

It should be stressed that even when the mix is good, as it was for most of that night, and the material familiar, Averse Sefira manages to be cryptic enough to require a revelatory moment in the thick of some tracks in order for the listener to grasp their place within the song and be moved along with it. With unfamiliar works this is obviously more difficult still, but the audience was attentive and responded well nonetheless…a testament to Averse Sefira’s commanding stage presence, something quickly becoming solidified in their legacy. The rest of their unfortunately short set was a smattering of older works that were played with conviction and precision the way a band coming into the fore would be expected to do. More importantly, they were played with confident posture of a band assuming their audience is privy to the work. It is promising for their future that they seem to be right, and that the audience seems increasingly eager and ever larger.

Immolation

As a band to whom Averse Sefira owes much of their character, and with whom they share much camaraderie, Immolation is possibly the most appropriate choice for a pairing with them anywhere on the bill. Bowing to their foreign comrades on this tour and taking the penultimate slot in the line-up, they maintained status as the most well-received act, with help from their unique on-stage performance.

This mastery of the live setting brings up a crucial point about recent Immolation history. There is some sense of formula in their most recent recorded works, the seeking of trademark over creation. The falling back on “Immolation” themes seems in many cases, including in otherwise throughtful songs, a bane to their ability to match the beauty of their earliest material, something more akin to the needs of groups of captive observers than the lone listener, though they make it work very well as a result. Their manner is alternatively frenetic and menacing, and the visual accompaniment is enough to turn some otherwise absolutely flat passages into more sensible transitions when taken all together.

Particular highlights were the renditions of a few tracks long unplayed live from the first album, including “Those Left Behind.” Mixed feelings accompany the recognition that these songs were much more interesting than the tracks from their more recent output – although not without a tinge of nostalgic longing. However, Immolation has carried their craft well beyond, and with more grace, than most of their early peers who fizzled long ago. To have actually enjoyed their set through most of the night states much for their importance and lasting abilities.

Conclusion

If one is to average one metal show per year, this is probably the best one could have hoped for without excess travel. Unprofessionalism, regret, disappointment, and abject boredom were all conspicuously absent from the experience, even with half of the bill being of the “high-quality” but low-interest brand. What was most fortunate to witness was the juxtaposition, alluded to earlier, of a band making their mark and another leaving theirs behind. Averse Sefira, continuing into their own, has much territory to conquer and the excitement of the path it may take; Immolation, driven professionals and legends, acting every bit their equal yet voraciously displaying their prowess. That said, it is likely Averse Sefira will be making their mark again in the future, though the fate of Immolation seems less certain than it even did five years earlier. Seeing the two cross paths was a fortunate moment in time to witness.

– Written by kontinual

Bands:
D.I.M.
Averse Sefira
Belphegor
Immolation
Rotting Christ

Promoters:
First Avenue/7th Street Entry

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Absurd, Der Stürmer, Satanic Warmaster and Goatmoon in Tampere, Finland

Absurd, Der Stürmer, Satanic Warmaster and Goatmoon in Tampere, Finland
February 1, 2008
Tampere, Finland

Soon after the new year, Finnish newspapers Aamulehti and Turun Sanomat and the tabloids Ilta-Sanomat and Iltalehti published news items both online and in print which claimed that Finnish neo-nazis Furore Finnum were organizing a tour of neo-nazi bands. Despite a massive email campaign against the show, and other brilliant strategies like publication of the gig organizers’ home contact information on the Finnish anarchist site takku.net, the show was to go on.

A public venue was arranged for Tampere in a well-known metal bar and another, more private, gig was arranged for Turku, with the location spread carefully. The gig in Tampere was sold out, but not to neo-nazis: on the contrary, our reporter found that no more than 10 percent of the people who were interested in the gig, either in the negative or in the positive sense, had made any research towards the philosophy, interviews, lyrics and imagery of the particular bands. This is not to condemn the metalheads, who sensibly were interested in these bands and what they would be communicating musically, visually and spiritually and not at all interested in becoming caught in some political discussion dating to the 1930’s whose one of the sides in some countries it is criminalized to take.

The night at Tampere was a phenomenal success. Despite some late attempts by the mass media to stir up trouble by warning the immigrants of Tampere not to go out during the night because there are nazis about, there were absolutely no problems in or near the gig taking place. The police scouted the area a bit, a couple of reporters came to ask irrelevant questions and so on, but that was it. People at the door were also checked with metal detectors. Some people came in rather drunk because for bureaucratic reasons this night the place was not allowed to sell except the mildest drinks, but I guess no-one was refused entrance which is lucky considering the hostile reputation of that bar’s doormen. Hundreds of fans, musicians, artists, distributors and casual listeners with differing political, spiritual, musical and social outlooks were present. This is exactly what had caused so much fear and rejection: the normal person interested in metal, underground rock, etc. does not buy anymore the moralistic condemnation of ideologies that for various reasons utilize the symbolism of fascism and/or National Socialism. Many of them may be ideologically opposed to those ideas, but they do not support censorship of them, which is a perfectly self-consistent view.

Goatmoon

Because there was only 3 and a half hours of time for 4 bands to perform, the pace was rather hectic. I would have liked to chat more with the wonderful people present but did not have the occasion because soon after we arrived Goatmoon started blasting away on stage and even later between bands there was only 10 or so minutes of interval. Goatmoon, which is essentially a solo band of BlackGoat, consisted of 4 members in this performance, including Harald Mentor and a rock guy who fell on his face near the start of the gig. The drunken and hysterical energy and an “amateurness” that some people despised were actually the traits characteristic to Goatmoon this night which made the performance feel very personal. They went through a short set of hit songs from their two albums and closed with a cover of Finnish RAC/Oi band Mistreat. The cover song was possibly the most memorable piece of their set and really got the audience going.

Satanic Warmaster

Next was Satanic Warmaster who provided the most mystical and melancholic black metal experience of the night. The band is known from sweeping, rocking, emotional black metal anthems that refer to older black metal in a tribute-like patchwork of intense feelings. Satanic Tyrant Werwolf, who acted like he personally knows each member of the audience, and for all we know he does, gave some sharp and clear statements on stage about the importance of the event and recommended the audience to behave themselves. They hammered the audience with a set of tracks such as “Vampiric Tyrant”, “Raging Winter”, “Carelian Satanist Madness”, “Wolves of Retaliation”, “The Burning Eyes of the Werewolf”, “A New Black Order”, impeccably executed by a lineup of session musicians. The feeling of dark might especially towards the end of Satanic Warmaster’s performance got me thinking that this is how Emperor should have been when I last year saw them in Helsinki. The art of Satanic Warmaster is so dramatic and personal that it actually works as an esoteric trick on behalf of Satanic Tyrant Werewolf in reducing his ego from the picture and becoming a medium for the whole audience, and black metal in general. For a spontaneous listener it will seem like a bag of cliches, or a masterwork, or actually both. This goes for others of his projects too.

Der Stürmer

Der Stürmer managed to up the level of intensity even further by marching on stage, imposing figures illuminated from behind, raising arms in salute while music from Wagner’s Siegfried was playing as intro music. One could not help but visualizing the mighty shape of a victorious eagle, rising from the shades of long gone battlefields. The dreams and hopes and sorrows and battles of the won and the lost wars of Europe manifested there for one instant. Then the pounding started. Der Stürmer’s violent, almost nihilistic battle metal filled the air. The most dominating in the atmosphere were the big skinhead -style vocalist brutally shouting the manifestoes and slogans of W.A.R. with equal intensity in songs and in between songs and the skilled drummer who managed to interrupt blastbeats with militant marching fills and invoke something resembling a more technical version of Capricornus’ drumming madness on early Graveland. While the performance continued without flaw, the hour or more of Der Stürmer’s vengeful attack was maybe a bit too long for their minimalistic and monotonous style.

Absurd

Seeing the infamous Absurd performing live was of course the thing most of us had been eagerly waiting for since the gig was first announced. Despite the original philosopher of the band being present behind the scenes, understandably the line-up was the new Absurd, with no common members with that which performed the classic albums “Facta Loquuntur” and “Asgardsrei”. Nevertheless, when Herr Wolf captured the stage after the “Leben ist Krieg…” intro and launched into the title track from “Asgardsrei”, there was little doubt that this new incarnation of the band is capable of evoking unique radicalness and danger as only Absurd could, from its inception. Ask the members of the audience who were at the receving end of the flying mic stand! Wolf’s close-cropped haircut and chest armor brought to mind a medieval warrior, Oi! provocator and Judas Priest at the same time. His absurd (how else?) stage mannerisms included bouncing to the beat, grinning at the audience, picking fights and talking in German. The songs they played included “Werwolf”, “Gates of Heaven”, “Pesttanz”, “Eternal Winter” and “Der Sieg ist Unser” from “Facta Loquuntur”, “Als die Alten jung noch waren” and “Für Germanien” in addition to the title track from “Asgardsrei” and an assortment of tracks from the later albums which I do not know well enough to name, but they all worked very well to these ears. It’s doubtful that the old lineup could have played the songs with this technical precision, but of course I do admit to a slight mourning in my soul at that the earlier, most cult, lineup disbanded.

Conclusion

After the gig ended, everyone had to leave as soon as possible because the band had already stretched the limits of the reservation of the place. It was wet outside and lousy weather so we returned to our hotel without further adventures, to rest from this very positive experience and to prepare for forthcoming battles. Overall the gig was very memorable and positive and one of the best in a very long time. People who attended the next night’s gig in Turku said it was a full success too. My deepest appreciation goes to Furore Finnum & the bands for bearing with all the trouble and mess caused by ignorance and cowardice of some people. It will be remembered as a triumph of idealism and spirit over moralism and repression. It’s a gift to live in a country where this was possible and where exist people with the right spirit to make it possible.

– Written by Devamitra

Bands:
Absurd
Der Stürmer
Satanic Warmaster
Goatmoon

Promoters:
Takku

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Jazz, Jazz-metal and the future of a hybrid

Our society is fascinated by outsiderness. This neurosis comes from the fact that we exist by the support of a civilization we see as going down a bad path, if we think about things at all. Our outsiders look more askance at this society than we who must maintain it, but they also do so from within it, so they are both critical of and dependent upon it. This creates a need for not a new civilization, but a new psychology of civilization, and it is mostly commonly engendered by song: poetry, jazz, prose or violence.

Jazz is “America’s music.” A hybrid of the blues and public-school training in European classical harmony, it nonetheless is not unique, because it has existed on every continent at some time in their growths. It is a universal language, the free and open jam, and appeals less to theory — despite being heavy on theory — than it does to an impulse of the soul which wants to start playing first, and then figure out how to cram the symbolism of emotions into song. Even so, when we speak of jazz we speak of the American variety.

Because jazz is extreme compared to pop music, and both in its day and today an outsider music, and because it went through a ring cycle from innocent complex pop music to nearly total psychoacoustic noise with the extremes of free jazz, we see it is parallel to heavy metal and hardcore punk. Both of those as well are falling from grace, exiling themselves from a comfortable modern existence to be extremes. Both of those totally reject society. Where jazz is cool alienation, and an attempt to find itself through degrees of emotion, metal and punk are a rejection of human emotion and a hot alienation that points to the hard, cold historical record — the abstract. Jazz is earth and metal is sky.

As metal expanded through its own cycle of growth and decay, its growth mirrored the process jazz underwent. At first, metal was just a heavier form of rock with more phrasal composition as evidenced by the long melodic riffs of Black Sabbath, but then it became a “serious” art form with speed metal, after the 70s stadium metal wrecked its credibility but good. When that “serious” social consciousness art wasn’t enough, it became crypto-symbolic art with death metal, with an extensive philosophical interpretation required to get from “only death is real” to a philosophy of abstraction to rival Plato.

When death metal got itself established after a painful birth from fragments of thrash/hardcore punk and speed metal, it found itself as an art form embracing simplicity and yet structure, shying away from mainstream consonance or even harmonic structure. Its structure came entirely from worship of the riff, or rather the way death metal bands would string together seemingly unconnected riffs that made sense as the piece culminated, like poetry unifying disparate symbolism. Death metal was unlike the harmonies of heavy metal, or the rhythmic culmination of speed metal, but it was pure structure in arrangement of complex riffs, and the distinct phrasing that made each one both evocative and complementary to others.

Because these riffs operated independently of scalar or chordal structures, death metal was compared to free jazz by the savvier elements of the music press. Much of this comparison occurred before death metal was fully defined, when the more jam-friendly elements in hardcore (Black Flag’s “The Process of Weeding Out” most notably) and more dissonant, theoretically detached elements of grindcore (Napalm Death’s opus of microsong disrhythmic chaos, “Scum”) were noticed by bored, underpaid and desperate writers looking for a story. Death metal being half-hardcore, half-heavy metal, the genre rotated to face jazz for a golden period of about five years.

The first real salvo in this battle was fired by Atheist on their first and second albums, “Piece of Time” and “Unquestionable Presence.” The increasing mixture of jazz crept outward from the rhythm section to the point where the second album embraced much of the aesthetic of jazz, especially the fusion-tinged variety that used intense dynamic variation to resemble a soundtrack, more like Al DiMeola’s “Cielo E Terra.” Atheist embraced the same jazz direction, but added to jazz what punk and hardcore had, what made them “hot” and not “cool”: that inhuman, abstract, theoretical structure that allowed them to stitch riffs together on the basis of phrasing and melody alone, leaving behind the artifacts of tonal context needed by most people to orient themselves in the composition.

If emotional is cool, abstract is hot, and it fits better with the raw anger of death metal, because rage without some idea of how it might manifest itself to soothe its source of irritation becomes impotent and self-serving. What makes jazz cool is its acqueous descent into pure organic emotion, a casting aside of all structure that lets the psyche move with total freedom, given a few rules to keep its motion consonant — like a morality of sound, it throws out conceptions of hierarchy and shared goals and lets the individual freestyle it, but imposes some rigid rules. What makes metal hot is that it throws out that coolness, and imposes an order that transcends human limitations, giving rise to speculation about the motion of empires and epic ideas in collision, like a heavenly war of symbols.

Atheist fused these two outlooks, and in doing so, unleashed a revolution in metal. First, the clones came, but since metal is hot and not cool we pay no attention to them. Next, other bands picked up on this revolution and put it to good use. The two remaining explicitly jazzy death metal albums came from the Netherlands and Florida, respectively, and further advanced the science of jazz-metal. Longstanding death metal/speed metal hybrid legends Pestilence had been growing increasingly toward a greater display of musical skill, including conventional means such as harmony, and after going halfway on their third album created a jazz/metal fusion for their fourth, “Spheres.”

Spheres split a room full of metalheads into people who hated it, and people who loved it. With guitars plugged into MIDI samplers outputting in a range of voices, and offtime tempos marching past with unpredictable variations, Spheres was difficult to grasp as a listening experience much less a piece of art, but many did enjoy it so much that fifteen years after its release, it has been re-released with new live tracks. Metalheads at the time were fascinated that one of their own, from a genre so alienated it was not listed on any mainstream music reporting or labels, could go toe-to-toe with the progressive and jazz bands of its day. Others were appalled at what they saw as an attempt to reduce what made metal unique, and make it more like the conformist music of the mainstream.

Cynic’s “Focus” came out the following year and further divided the community. It did not enwrap its guitars in synthetic sounds, but chose to do that for the vocals, creating an otherworldly but rarely forceful effect that jarred with the assertive psychology of death metal. That coupled with Buddhist-influenced positive lyrics, a tendency toward light interludes, and lush keyboards backing guitars made the album rejectable by most metalheads. Riffs resembled those of the first Atheist album, making many jazz-metal diehards wonder if it was an evolution in artform or production.

While these four albums were the most evident manifestations of the jazz aesthetic, jazz influences abounded in works from other bands. Morbid Angel, known for their otherwordly seizure of souls through intense music, showed a familiarity with jazz technique especially in percussion, but without being jazzy. Demilich created a monstrosity of lead-picked intricate riffs that resembled the most avantgarde of jazz fusion, but with the subtler rhythmic introductions of death metal. Gorguts showed more of a classical influence, but balanced with lessons from avantgarde jazz.

As the death metal experiment with jazz ended, many reflected on the similarities and impossibilities of the two genres. Jazz and metal are both outsider music; both reflect a perception of persecution by society at large, it being supposed to be ignorant of some principle, and offer up radically different solutions. Jazz, it might be said, is a nurturer; death metal, it might be said, is a reality check. While the two overlap somewhat, ultimately they don’t overlap in ideas, and this carries over to aesthetic. Death metal sounds abstract; jazz sounds emotional. Death metal builds a tension for dynamic release through structuring of phrase, where jazz develops phrase to emphasize an underlying harmonic pattern.

Much as Ornette Coleman rebelled against jazz and created free jazz, metal (through hardcore, most notably Discharge) rebelled against the structure of pop songs and created through its new freedom of abstraction a language of expression. Ultimately, its rebellion was that in a world of humans singing about individual fascinations and neurosis, it would be an expression of the structures of the whole. A pattern language of ideas and consequences, death metal is intensely structured music in the way classical is, using narrative composition to unite disparate elements in a storyline, like a poem. Jazz is more like the visual arts, showing exactly what occurs and winding details together in an anti-narrative.

Since the death metal flirtation with jazz, two paths have been taken to resolve this paradox. The first recognizes that death metal’s structure is closer to progressive rock, and incorporates jazz into progressive rock with death metal riffing, as Gordian Knot (featuring Cynic members) or grindcore-influenced acts like Dillinger Escape Plan have done. The second recognizes that jazz’s rhythm can be used to wrap heavy metal-styled riffs into the jaunty, bouncy aesthetic of jazz/funk based music, and this has exploded forth in bands from Candiria to Mordred to The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The problem with both of these approaches is that they must distill death metal to rock in order to proceed.

It may be that a fusion never happens because the genres are too different. Jazz is inherently aesthetic-heavy, because it lacks structure to differentiate its songs; metal exclusively differentiates its songs through structure, and is uniform in aesthetic. Where metal is structured music, jazz is unstructured to permit wide-open jams, but the result is that sets tend to run together and, outside of aesthetic innovations like switching instruments or making the musical elements more bizarre, it has nowhere to evolve, where metal as an inherently storytelling format still has room to expand. But by the same token, metal is pulled downward by its attachment to an audience shared with rock, who will often try to make it into something more like the mainstream even as its most intelligent creators pull in the opposite direction.

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Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Ascension in Hollywood, California

Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Ascension
April 13, 2007
7021 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, California 90028

Confusion marked our entrance into the Knitting Factory, where it was being decided that bands would not play in the order originally listed. Making it more chaotic, they all played on the same stage, ensuring that hasty transfers of band would scatter personnel and equipment across the stage and inevitably result in some “who has the voice mike” satire. Despite this tower of live performance Babel, the bands involved bravely sallied forth with loins girded in guitar straps and gumption alone.

The first band, Ascension, played to a mixed reception. Their style would be hard to describe except that it is that fusion of death metal and black metal that underneath the skin sounds like it was assembled from old B-list speed metal bands, and so is very chorusy and bangy but not very clear. It would be hard to tell much about this band from their presentation at the event, but this did not appear to jar them as they bashed out a comprehensive set.

We were excited to see Averse Sefira play as the third band after several other local acts which presented music in varying degrees of conceptual completion. Most of these bands are good at what they do; they can play their instruments, know enough of the genre to make a competent stab at it, but the question is “what do they communicate?” It is a hurdle every new band, no matter how old or seasoned its members, must overcome, and seeing these new acts struggle to define themselves by what they would give to their audience in the form of transferred experience drove our pulses to fury in preparation for the main act.

The crowd gathered, expectantly; you could tell this mix caught the curious and the diehards alike. I have often wondered what impels the choices people make in attending shows, and why they would pick one metal band out of thousands, as if it alone differentiated itself enough to be meaningful or relevant while others became slag in the battle for mining threads of coherent mentation. Most metal bands, like most people, are working in an archetype or combination of archetypes, assembling a product which fits into their known scope of experience and little more. They qualify as metal but other than the clueless and the fans who attend a weekly show in hopes of bolstering lives of boredom, attract few hearts or minds, and not for long.

It is in this arena of meaning that Averse Sefira reign supreme as occult art… Where metal bands can narrate tales of war, AVRS the have the *soul* of a man *engaged* in an apocalyptic war. You feel the same hellish strife that perhaps the hobbits Frodo and Sam struggled with at Mordor in Tolkien’s *Return of the King*, or the epic conflict a lone hunter finds when crossing the frozen north to reach a new land. Whether or not metal “has” soul, these tales of soul-conflict are what sustain its listeners during a time when every other pressure exerted on them is an exhortation to give up and make the kind of compromise that makes products not leaders.

When Wrath and Sanguine were testing their microphones, they were demonic beasts barking as wolves do when threatening their prey. The sound guy was having trouble getting everything right, then a projection screen rolled down on Wrath’s head which infuriated him and the apprreciative listeners of AVRS. They were in the middle of their first song, but he continued to play well. This show in Hollywood may have had problems, but the occult war music of AVRS transcended this and remained powerful on those beings that understand it.

I brought my friend and battle-comrade Mateo, and he called for a song, Argument Obscura. Wrath heard, so the band played. The Carcass like an animal seized sonic space with aggression toward dominion, and Sanguine’s fingers were claw-like tentacles across the mangled fretboard of his guitar. Wrath continued his defiant performance, bass weaving with the military aerobics of his stage presence, ignoring all obstructions (see passage above about chaos onstage) while returning to the surging rhythm of the music like a descent into hand-to-hand combat. The band held a posture and backed it up with quality, complex music and a performative impact that was both metaphorical and literal: this is war for art.

The crowd, as always, hovered in uncertainty without an echoing voice of overlord to tell them what to think. Many would have been happier with an updated version of Motorhead like Goatwhore, or the mishmash of metal successes over the past thirty years that most bands try to mix into a whole with few real standouts. The Averse Sefira assault caught them by surprise because it was not just aesthetics, not just music, and not just presentation: it was a whole, a moment where art spoke a worldview through the methods of its creation and the mentation required to get there. Open mouths and a buzz of generic dialogue flickered to life after the band left the stage.

Much of the metallic occult, with Yamatu — contra (“pvre”) stereotypical Black (“fucking”) metal — brings one into an ancient world long forgotten, like Atlantis or Lemuria. Averse Sefira’s performance was no exception, although given a “so-so” when they really deserve the highest praise, but this seemed to go to 1349 who managed a tight, dynamic set but did not achieve that vector of ideas that separates the great from the competent. Their performance was reminiscent of Mayhem’s “De Mysteriis dom Sathanas” and matched it in intensity, but did not leave that otherwordly sense one has when confronted with ideas that change the way future ideation will form. It was not the trance-like cessation of reality, except in metaphor, that Averse Sefira brought to the stage.

Murmurs of a mind in pure suspension of disbelief, a state like that before birth, the steadfast concentration without effort from the conscious mind of the warrior, concealed in vigil of death, on the edge of the forest… We are falling beneath the Earth (degrading to the regions of Malkuth)… We must return to an evolutionary path. By choice, or after the hymn of death has rung (renewal by fire): pulling ourselves into a black vortex, the yawning void of war. This is what their message conveys to me. Not many else today merit praise as warriors. The concept albums of Averse Sefira are Evolan retellings of Kali Yugas past and future, and the cycle has returned to the time for that era.

– Written by G.R.M. Pixeque

Bands:
Averse Sefira
1349
Ascension

Promoters:
The Knitting Factory

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Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Nachtmysticum in St. Paul, Minnesota

Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Nachtmysticum
April 9, 2007
201 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, Minnesota 5510

This show is one of those memories you forget is real, and find yourself a week later thinking how it occupies a space between thought and dream and a pinch-yourself moment in the midst of chaos. Arriving late after a harrowing evening involving taking a good friend to the hospital after he ate a rack of Xanax and downed half a bottle of Absolut, I was barely inside the door before a familiar guitar tone rose up into the soundcheck. Other people were hurrying toward the stage as well, and I found myself caught up in the anticipation.

Averse Sefira took the stage a short while later, and in summary, they were more confident with better presentation than any of the four previous times I’ve seen them. They stormed the stage with the confidence of a band who knows that they’re contenders, even if not everyone in the metal world has yet noticed. In harsh tones of deliberate rage, they announced their presence between songs, but the rest of the time they skipped the periphery and played like madmen. They were there for the attack, and it delivered.

The sound was superior to any previous Averse Sefira show I have seen, although as this was their first appearance in this venue, there is no previous instance for direct comparison. Balanced and powerful, the wave of audial information radiated from the speakers and preserved every pick strum, drum hit and overdriven vocal rage as it drove them into the audience. Although the performance was more important than the sound, it helps to be able to hear exactly what’s going on, a rarity at most shows.

They’ve honed their live presence since I saw them last. Not only are they more cohesive as a phalanx on the stage, but they have grown into their sound and stripped down their motions onstage to be simultaneously efficient and impulsive. This band will manage a tempo change without an eyebrow flicker, and then at exactly the moment when it is least convenient, add a flourish of rage in a gesture or the proud indomitable stab of a guitar. The combination of better sound, and more forceful performance, clarified their music in a live setting where previously it seemed a difficulty. In general, the only bands that have it easy live are the simple ones.

The set itself was obviously polished as well, this being their third week on tour. All tracks came from the two most recent albums. “Helix in Audience” is turning into a flagship song – a great, diverse, momentum-driven track with which they bring the set to a boiling point. Other tracks include “Detonation,” a great opener, “Plagabraha,” “Battle’s Clarion,” “…Ablaze” and several others from Tetragrammatical Astygmata. After an impromptu request for “Deathymn” screamed from the shadowed angles of the crowd, the band consulted each other with their trademark silent nods, guitarist Sanguine A. Nocturne hailed the requester, and the band launched into it all guns blazing, to great effect.

Their stage presence was typical Averse Sefira, but it cannot be taken for granted. None of the ingratiating, gregarious, vapid banter and skit-like dramatics lit up the stage, but a force of concentration, expressed less in the trivial acts than the commanding performance they gave. There was none of the mixed confused emotions that plague most bands on stage, where they’re half there as a job, half as a hobby, and unsure of whether to resent the audience of grovel before them. With Averse Sefira on the stage, the shared assumption that we were all of us there to see a performance to conclusion like a ritual united us, and we did not need reminders.

At the end of the set, I staggered out into the night appreciating what I had seen, but in skimming over the society functions of the night and cutting right to a powerful musical performance, it gained an atmosphere of the unreal… like something from a time long ago, when warlike honor was more important than whether the guy from the promotions company got his free beer or not. With delivery like this, these better-funded tours will be massive for Averse Sefira, as their live show is ethereally charismatic and puts so much back into the recorded material the two can barely be separated. Based on what seems to me like a clear success, I have a feeling they’ll be back on the road again soon, and don’t want to miss it.

– Written by kontinual

Bands:
Averse Sefira

Promoters:
Station 4

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Hans Graf and the Houston Symphony Orchestra perform Shostakovich’s Suite on Sonnets of Michelangelo and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in Houston, Texas

Hans Graf / Houston Symphony Orchestra
March 4, 2007
Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana
Houston Texas 77002

As the cultureless void of “pop culture” (more accurately known as “mass culture,” appealing to the lowest common denominator) surges upon those traditions of artistic development which have sustained high-quality minds for centuries, symphonies defend themselves by appealing to what they hope are broader audiences. In doing so, they achieve a fragile balance between the known commendables and newer or more esoteric pieces, more accurately known as being the fringes of classical music that did not merit induct into its archetype: history rewards either excellence or pure mediocrity.

The Houston Symphony, being a storied classical house under assault from the “new music” deludoids as well as the pop culture drones, attempted on Saturday, March 4, to mix a known cornerstone of classical music with one of its more recent deviations, a presentation of sonnets by Michelangelo Buonarroti who is more frequently cited for his works of sculpture, as embedded in the works of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The concert as a whole was a failure; the Beethoven was an eyelash short of as magnificent as this fallen time can offer.

Shostakovich

To dispense with the execrable Shostakovich, it is safe to say that Michelangelo’s poetry, while not incompetent, falls entirely within the boundaries of cookie-cutter Romantic poetry and is prone to the same excesses of emotional gesture and broad symbol that makes the genre easily mocked to this day. Like the music for short commercials, each piece consisted of 2-4 short themes played while verses were sung, then a conclusion in absence of direction as much as anything else.

The defining feature of classical music — a poetic continuity, a narrative and a conveyance of emotions from one state to another — is in Shostakovich supplanted by a series of slightly mixed emotions that ends when the sitcom-like drama of the bad poetry does. His phrasing is simplistic; his melodies cut from textbooks; his emotion cheap, like the perfume and loud music of a mass culture crowd rushing forward to claim the prominence of classical music without the achievement that granted it that state. Although a few of the have-nots in the crowd were delighted with this moronic affair, many members of the audience appeared to be ready for it to end early and hastened their applause to drive that trainwreck of an audial confusion from the stage.

Beethoven

Conducted by the amiable and competent Hans Graf, the orchestra launched into one of the definitive works of Western culture after returning from a short break. Beethoven’s third symphony, or Eroica, is as its nickname suggests a heroic Romantic march through melancholy themes to the triumphant in praise of heroism. Few who have active nervous systems can not notice its power, but in the hands of idiot conductors like Klemperer its rhythms are homogenized and its passion reduced by a de-emphasizing of subtlety in favor of dramatic gestures that make it a smooth blend of self-satire. Graf mostly escaped this trend which seems to delight populists, as if the humbling of a great symphony made their own positions stronger.

Graf treats classic pieces as entities that while alive might benefit from upgrade to the wisdom of a progressive time, and in that state of mind he mixes a quaint style that appeals to fans of older Mozart and Haydn with a modernist twist that propels pieces forward with increasingly off-time, theatrical pauses and rhythmic expectations. It is as if Graf is a modernist who views the quaint as one of the many voices he tries to capture, and in doing so, he often loses sight of the piece as a whole, which is where he will remain a B+ and the Furtwanglers, von Karajans, Salonens, et al. will surge forward to the higher grades.

The first movement fell under this treatment; after a strong beginning that truncated the traditional shock tactic of repetitive unison, the orchestra launched into an uptempo version that emphasized the accompaniment of the main theme and periodically slowed it in an attempt to de-emphasize its uniformity. This technique ultimate backfires, in that instead of using consistency to background repetition, it showcases the repetition by attempting to hide it. For most of this movement however Graf kept his players on track and it concluded with a strong finish.

Launched with a dramatic caesura, the second movement swung to life like the dawning of a forest day, its more melancholic themes emphasized a sliver too strongly but pulling together mid-movement for a strong conclusion and dramatic continuity. It was on the third movement that Graf deviated from the script. He allowed the horns to introduce more staccato than normally propels the triumphal theme, giving it an erratic and hesitant nature, and in several paces slowed the pace so that instruments normally complementing the theme could speak their own pieces as if taking the lead in composition. Here some heads did nod in the audience, and with a good point: this part of the piece especially benefits from being seen as the harmony of voices and not an egoistic prominence of each, as it is about the sympathetic fallacy of environment mirroring the questions of a soul in disarray after initial defeat.

In the fourth movement Graf made a strong return, although like Klemperor he often prefers dramatic pauses to introduce obvious changes in theme, and complements them with a tendency to play repeated themes slowly like a movie soundtrack and elide them with rhythmic consistency and a lack of distinction for the subtleties that prepare us for their shifting. It is probably not a failing of intellectual ability on his part, but a desire to belong to the fashion that includes modernism and postmodernism, or the idea of subjecting all things to a mechanical process and controlling them through rules of self-interest which promote egoism and other out-of-context appearance of supporting structures. It can reduce complex music to a one-dimensional machine transferring energy between otherwise equal parts.

Conclusion

On the whole, the Houston Symphony performed intensely on a technical level, and for the bulk of the symphony, played it according to a timeless artistic interpretation which understands where Beethoven made clarity of the confusion of attempting tasks perceived as far beyond the individual, even abandoning a care for personal safety: heroism. Some poor choices were made, including the dubious selection of Shostakovich’s soundtracky goop for an opener. Despite this confusion endemic to our time (Rome falling in alabaster dust, Mongols at the gates of Kiev) through the energies of these musicians the heroic power of this symphony shined above the confusion, and even the dusty gates of the machinelike city, to unite different times upon something eternal to all humanity.

Composer:
Ludwig van Beethoven

Performer:
Houston Symphony Orchestra

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