The Best Underground Metal of 2014

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William Burroughs often wrote about the “edge,” or the liminal threshold between states. The last real edge year for underground metal was 2009 when strong contenders and new voices united to defend extreme metal against the onslaught of imitators making Potemkin village metal from hipster flair and lite-jazz fireworks but underneath it, nothing but disorganized songwriting and an absence of something to express. As the underground has come back with a vengeance, it has begun to displace the imitators because their music simply does not measure up. This has created a backlash as the hipsters defend their territory with guilt, ostentation, pretense and surface-level novelty. On the other hand, the underground has produced some strong contenders. And so we move forward through the past to the future, remembering that what is true is eternal, and trends, novelties, fads, hipsters and other transient moments pass quickly away…
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Interview with Cognizance

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Metalcore band Cognizance hopes to make itself a force among the legions of hybrid-metal bands dressing like hardcore kids, partying like millennials and hungry for riffs. With their newest release, _Inceptum, Cognizance unleash two tracks of technical metalcore with a focus on songwriting. Guitarist Alex Baillie gave us a few moments of his time to describe the past and future of this competitive band…

When did Cognizance form, and did you have a goal in mind at the time? Were you from similar musical backgrounds? What about life-paths and outlooks?

Henry and myself started working on a Death Metal song late 2011, we recorded it like 3 times with the help from some other musicians we were friends with. Eventually, it started to sound pretty cool and early 2012 we started (slowly) piecing 4 songs together which later became our debut Inquisition.

Pryce (Big Mac/Henry) and me have been friends for quite a long time, we’ve played in a couple of bands together. We’ve always shared a mutual love for heavy metal, gear and snacks. So kicking off this project was pretty easy going.

Phil joined the force late 2013, we’ve known him a while and I used to play in his band XisForEyes. You can check this out in detail in our “Origins” video:

You’re more experienced musicians than the average person starting a new band. Was this a challenge and how did you overcome it? Did you face any obstacles in uniting your musical styles?

I wouldn’t say we’re more experienced than people starting a new band, but we’re keen players for sure.

I’d say the only obstacle we initially faced and still sometimes do is Pryce telling me everything needs to be faster haha. We eventually compromise on a tempo, I’m down for the faster speeds but sometimes certain parts can just sound a mess at whacky speeds. Plus I can’t play that fast!

As far as musical styles go, we each contribute our style of playing to compliment the song. If our idea doesn’t work or fit then it gets changed. We usually put things like this down to a vote.

What sort of music is Cognizance? How does it differ from death metal, grindcore and metalcore?

Cognizance is modern Death/Extreme Metal. I don’t think we differ that much from the styles mentioned above. Although I don’t think we have any elements of Grindcore in there, yet.

_Inceptum seems to be a concept EP. What does the leading underscore (_) mean? What is the concept?

We wanted to use the underscore to visualise the technological/digital theme in the song “The Succession of Flesh.” The specific word “Inceptum” was inspired by the other single “Aeon of Creation.” The theme in each song share undertones which form the title _Inceptum.

The lyrical themes of each song are set in completely different time frames. “Aeon of Creation” is about the hellish conditions during the early formation of Earth, the originator of consciousness. A natural creation. “The Succession of Flesh” is set in the present and is themed around technology being considered an extension of human consciousness, a man made creation.

Why did you decide to do an EP instead of a full-length?

There are a few reasons why we decided to do this, mainly; Time, our budget and our ambition to keep churning out songs as quickly and consistently as we can.

Currently not being a live band means that we have to go about things in a slightly different method. At the moment this works for us and our sound is constantly changing so this keeps each release sounding real fresh.

Where did you record, and what did you do to get the crisp and crunchy (“Pringles”) sound you got?

_Inceptum was recorded in various locations:

  • Drums: Eyal Levi’s studio in Stanford, Florida. Eyal also recorded his solo here.
  • Rhythm and lead guitars: Henry’s studio up in Leeds; Eyal flew out to record us here in the UK.
  • Vocals and bass: Phil’s studio up in Newcastle upon Tyne. More Eyal action right here.
  • Frank Mullen guest spot- Tommy Jones (Videohammer Studios) who filmed the whole recording process flew out to Long Island New York to track Frank at Full Force studios.
  • Jason Suecof guest spot: Jason recorded his guest solo at his studio in Florida, the mighty Audiohammer studios. They now have a meat smoker over there but that didn’t make its way on to the recording.

About those Pringles you mentioned, the overall sound is down to each of our performances and the final mix Eyal did.

You chose to release the EP to press as a 20-minute film about the making of the EP. How did this “meta-release” come to pass? Was it a greater challenge?

The addition of the documentary fell in place naturally. We wanted to capture the experience of this project as it was a pretty big venture for us having Eyal Levi and Tommy Jones come over from the US to work with us. Plus including a documentary with the release was a nice step up from our last demo, widely know as the “Speed Metal” self-titled.

Tommy did an incredible job of the documentary. Filming in multiple locations/studios can’t be easy to edit into a final product but he’s really nailed it and we’re pumped about how it’s come out.

We will be releasing the documentary for free online alongside the release of _Inceptum on the 22nd December.

What’s next for Cognizance? How should interested fans stay on top of what you’re doing?

We’re already working on a bunch of new material. I’ve pretty much got four songs written at this point. I’m not sure what we’re going to use them for or when you guys will hear them. But we’re starting some pre-production in less than two weeks, should be badass.

We post regular updates on our pages

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Demoncy – Joined in Darkness to see re-issue in February

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Classic hybrid of aggressive black metal and tunneling death metal in the Incantation style, Demoncy Joined in Darkness not only set a new high point of intensity for the genre, but also created a feeling of dark ritual foreboding that remains distinct to it. On February 9, 2015, Forever Plagued Records will re-issue this classic album.

The new Joined in Darkness will feature cover art by underground artist Chris Moyen and be remastered so that fans may hear it “as it was always intended.” While the re-issue will be a digipak, a format not beloved of fans or collectors, this will allow more of the artwork and imagery to show through where it would otherwise be obscured by the spine plastic of the compact disc case. As this release is the second re-issue of this classic album, care has been taken to show the original intent.

Demoncy manifested out of the mind of Ixithra, who previously served in Havohej/Profanatica, and shows the influence of the style that Ledney-linked bands Profanatica, Revenant and Incantation developed of long phrasal riffs with internal structural counterpoint, but takes this further with the incorporation of melody and a Celtic Frost styled setting of theatrical transitions in song, creating an atmosphere changing like scenery at a Wagner opera.

    Tracklist:

  1. Hymn To The Ancients
  2. Impure Blessings (Dark Angel Of The Four Wings)
  3. Demoncy
  4. Joined In Darkness
  5. Winter Bliss
  6. Hypocrisy Of The Accursed Heavens
  7. Spawn Of The Ancient Summoning
  8. Hidden Path To The Forest Beyond
  9. (Angel Of Dark Shadows) Goddess Of the Dark
  10. The Dawn Of Eternal Damnation
  11. Embraced By The Shadows
  12. The Ode To Eternal Darkness

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This tracklist adds “The Ode To Eternal Darkness” which was not present on the original Joined in Darkness.

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A brief retrospective of Slayer

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Slayer blasted their way into the underground metal scene in 1983. Metal had just shifted; the genre of Black Sabbath got taken over by the Led Zeppelin fans, resulting in glam and arena rock, and was just being taken back by a DIY movement via speed metal. Inspired by that speed metal movement, Slayer took their music in a slightly different direction.

“Heavy metal and British punk, that’s what we are.” The four young men from Southern California shaped their music by instinct, applying the techniques of punk to the most intense moments of heavy metal. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Angel Witch, GBH and Discharge. It all went into the blender and the result emerged more vicious than ever before.

Woodstock – Los Angeles, CA – March 28, 1983

The Keystone – Berkeley, CA – January 27, 1984

The Country Club – Reseda, CA – September 1, 1984

Heavy Sound Festival – Poperinge, Belgium – May 26, 1985

Dynamo Club – Eindhoven, Netherlands – May 28, 1985

The Ritz – New York City – June 12, 1986

Felt Forum – New York City – August 31, 1988

Clash of the Titans – Genk, Belgium September 22, 1990

Show No Mercy reflected more of a heavy metal bias, still hanging on to the grandeur of the 1970s. By Hell Awaits, Slayer forged their own style, inspired in part by the minimalism of the Haunting the Chapel EP. Even more, the band discovered a mythology in Satanic rebellion against a world where the term “good” meant obedient, oblivious and zombie-like in pursuit of individual pleasure at the expense of realism. They hated this world, and branded it with an inverted cross in rage at its existence. This outlook was healthier than the pleading resentment of the protest rock bands and less dead-end apathetic than what punk became. Metal had a new voice.

With the next album, Reign in Blood, Slayer pulled out all stops and most melody to create the ultimate hardcore album. The metal elements infused riff structure and song structure but its energy was pure hardcore punk, the raging album that The Exploited and Black Flag always had wanted to birth. In the 1980s, endorsing Satan and singing about the dark underbelly lurking beneath our happy commercial Utopia was in itself a life sentence of exclusion. Slayer wore it with pride and as people caught on to the new music, the most extreme band in underground metal headed toward the dead center of the genre.

In response, Slayer did what few bands have the guts to do: they backtracked from their nihilistic extreme and made a melodic album, but kept the melody constrained to a sense of dark atmosphere that would not be revisited until black metal exploded four years later. South of Heaven immersed the listener in pure mood and then manipulated it to create an unnerving experience of getting in touch with emotion by leaving behind all that is human. This was the peak of Slayer and represented the end of their emotional involvement with their own music, thus afterwards they pursued ideas that others had made popular and successful, hoping to make their own form of the alien.

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Ferngully: The Last Rainforest

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Although it has little in common with the horror movies and apocalyptic fantasies reviewed here, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest won me over with its themes of humans losing touch with nature and becoming greedy narcissistic dorks who then cause the destruction of rain forests.

Warning: this movie is about 1 hour 15 min long and is children’s animated film, thus can be forgiven its heavy-handed approach since we all know that movies for children are basically propaganda from well-meaning but usually delusional dipsomaniac adults. The soundtrack has traditional Slavic folk music that sounds mystical and yet upbeat like Dead Can Dance, and this redeems much of the loss of atmosphere that occurs once any story transitions to cartoon.

The story involves loggers using a leviathan of a machine to chop down trees in the last rainforest and polluting the land. A human gets accidentally shrunk by the forest spirit (faeries in this case) and sees the reality of the situation and makes attempts to stop this. Meanwhile, the leviathan machine causes the emergence of a physical/metaphysical antagonist who is contra nature/the forest. He was trapped in the trees in a long-past age but the churning of the machine inadvertently releases him and he melds with the machine and takes control of it. His intent is to finish his diabolical plot to destroy all forests and the life within them, possibly branching out Antaeus-style to destroy all life after that.

Naturally, our heroic characters launch on a quest in situ to defeat this monster. The intro mentions the pre-history: the humans also used to know of the existence of the fairies and during the black-demon cataclysm a Satan figure called Hexxus was spawned whose goal is to destroy the forest, and while the humans ran away, the fairies trapped Hexxus inside a tree. As you can imagine, a restoration of the magic in the soul brings back the fairies and possibly saves the last rainforest.

You probably do not want to watch this as an adult unless you are so drunk that you have an irrepressible urge to destroy rainforests and need a simple, step-by-step guide to changing your attitude. I mostly recommend this for adults to show to children, who are never too young to be taught the right propaganda — and I think this is probably better than the other options — to program them for zombie-like life among the office towers, fast food joints, sewage treatment plants and arms dumps of the modern world.

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Interview: Nidhogg

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History reveals little about Nidhogg, the musician known for his contributions to Ildjarn, Sort Vokter and Ildjarn–Nidhogg. These projects, while initially rejected by an increasingly faddish black metal “scene,” quickly gained fans for their use of elegant short melodies within ambient songs of abrasive noise fused with aggressive Oi rhythms and black metal riffs.

Using short songs structured around the transitions of song inspired by lyrics, Nidhogg creates albums that immerse the listener in a dark world of excitement: like the primeval forest come alive, this music pulses with the poetry of life in the wild. It embraces the world as a living organism in the pre-Christian tradition and brings out the fierce natural instinct for survival and power as well as the ambiguous lack of safety inherent to the frontier. Expansive and transcendent, like all good black metal from the Norse tradition, it transports the listener away from a failed functionalist time into a mindset of possibility and exuberant cosmic exploration.

Much of black metal would benefit from seeing into the mind of this primal artist concerning his contributions to the aforementioned nature-metal projects and his own artistic endeavors. Read on for the thoughts of one of the last embodiments of a genuine black metal mentality…

How did you first meet Ildjarn, the person?

Me and Ildjarn met when starting secondary scool at Bø Gymnas, Telemark in 1988. We had the same interest in metal and started hanging out together and experimenting musically in different directions in the basement at Akkerhaugen where we recorded “Norse” and “Svartfråd“.

Can you describe the formation of the musical project, Ildjarn, and how you became involved?

Ildjarn is his own project, and he started recording under that moniker in the early 90’s. Me and Ildjarn had played together in different constellations, and Ildjarn also played with Samoth and Ihsahn in Thou Shalt Suffer. After doing all sorts of stuff, even some noise/experimental, me and Ildjarn focused on the Black Metal sound, as it was where our hearts lay. I found some old lyric sheets which indicates that we initially called ourselves Nivlheim, but at the time of “Norse” we had landed on Ildjarn — Nidhogg, because Ildjarn had already started using the Ildjarn-name.

Nature is a big part of my life, and I’m not comfy living in the city. I’m lucky enough, now, to live right by the forest, surrounded by small lakes and mountains. Nature evokes most of all awe and calmness.

We recorded Norse in two sessions in 1993 which is discernible on the differences on my vocals between the a and the b-side. Samoth liked it and decided to release it on Nocturnal Art Productions. Ildjarn continued releasing his own records, and me and him then sporadically made music together, culminating with “Hardangervidda“.

What sort of guiding influence did you have on Ildjarn, and how was this different from your role in Ildjarn–Nidhogg?

I didn’t have any guiding influence on Ildjarn. He is very much his own man. But we had the same love for the proto-scandinavian black metal sound, shaped by athory and picked up by Mayhem with Dead, and so on.

Ildjarn — Nidhogg was a 50/50 collaboration, and we always had clear idea of where we wanted to go, both with the metal and the ambient stuff. The demos I uploaded were my concepts, like the Ildjarn stuff was his, so they were planned to be released as Nidhogg-demos.

Regarding vocal duties, what were your contributions in this area to Ildjarn–Nidhogg?

I did the vocals on all Ildjarn-Nidhogg recordings and also on Sort Vokter except for on “Hatefulle Tanker…” where I, Ildjarn and Harald all sang, and “Bak to Lysende Øyne” where both me and Ildjarn sang, but he did the prime vocals. The last song also appears on Svartfråd and I did the vocals on that version.

You previously mentioned that you were the collaborator with Ildjarn for the visual elements of various projects. What album covers did you create and is the impetus and process of creating them distinct from the musical process?

We did the layouts for many of Ildjarn’s albums on a computer I had access to. I mainly did the layout and was only artistically involved in the creation of Ildjarn transforming into a boar on the Strength and Anger-cover, Nob of NOB Art, did most of that, though. Nob was a friend of ours from Notoddden, and is the artist featured on albums such as Nocturnal Visions, “Minnesjord – The Dark Soil” and “93.” He also did the graphics for Forest Poetry along with another outstanding artist by the name of Javier Guerra who did the frontcover and at least two other illustrations Ildjarn used.

I’d also like to mention a fourth person who were also a close friend in Notodden at that time, who wrote the poem that was used for lyrics on “Eksistensens Jeger.” KK, as I’ll call him is now an established and published artist and writer. In Notodden me, Ildjarn, Nob and KK used to hang around, as three of us attended Telemark Lærehøgskole (teachers college) there. The pictures on the Sort Vokter-cover were taken in the forest behind the school, an area that stretches several miles. It was a place where especially me and Nob had many excursions, often in drug-induced states. I’m not exaggerating if I say I had some semi-paranormal experiences in that forest. This was also a feeling we tried to transfer to the cover.

What attracted you to metal in the first place?

Like all over Norway in the 80s, we were some kids in school who started listening to metal, copying tapes and borrowing music from each other. The energy and aggression was the appeal, of course. It was a rapid progression via Twisted Sister, Accept, AC/DC and such, to Metallica, Megadeth and Motörhead and then on to the more aggressive thrash as Slayer, Death Angel, Dark angel and Sabbat.

How did you first become entwined with the “black metal scene”? What was that time like, and what do you think of current “black metal” bands? What is missing from the present crop?

I was never involved in the scene, other than through Ildjarn and knowing members of Emperor. I met Ihsahn and Samoth, or Vegard and Thomas, first at a regional music talent show. They were playing as Xerasia and I was doing vocals with a band I sang in before me and Ildjarn did anything together. Later, we met in the basement at Akkerhaugen youth club, were Vegard and Thomas did all their initial projects. Besides some early exploits me and Ildjarn did together, we started started jamming as a hardcore/grindcore band with Thomas and Thorbjørn Akkerhaugen. Then when the Emperor concept was developed I was really blown away hearing them rehearse in the basement. It was clear they were on the verge of something. This was before all the ruckus started happening in the media.

When I got a tape copy of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” I played it repeatedly, and it’s amazing how it is really such a spot on musical interpretation of the progress through the year. Hardangervidda reflects a progression of time as well, from morning to night. The second half of “Sunrise” is very much inspired by Grieg’s “Morning mood.”

I think there are plenty of good acts around today, although one has to sift through more music now than before. I guess as with most genres that establish themselves, there are going to be waves and declines, but great stuff still gets released and will be released. The major challenge I guess, is to make something original in a genre that has been very much explored already. I think there are plenty of bands still around worthy of a listen, but now it’s of course a global thing, so one can just as easily find good bands anywhere else besides Norway, which is also stimulating to the genre.

What was the genesis of Sort Vokter? Were you involved from the beginning?

Sort Vokter was a spur of the moment idea and an opportunity between me and Ildjarn and two guys I knew from Notodden. Me and Harald (Heiinghund) ended up living in the same dorm and jammed some together on synth. He was a natural musician as was also Kyrre (Tvigygre). Sort Vokter was a concept we thought up in my flat, and as far as I can remember, we were all four there at that particular time.

The concept was doing very necro forest metal, or Folkloric Necro Metal, as we called the album. Kyrre worked as a studio technician in Grenland (Not Greenland ; )), and his boss granted him the studio for a weekend when we could do what we wanted. Sort Vokter was more a recorded jam session, than anything else, and most of the songs were composed/played through once and then recorded. Second or third takes would have greatly improved the album, but we were on a very tight time schedule. So “ignoring technical details” as the cover states, was more out of necessity than anything else.

Why has there been only one Sort Vokter album?

It was never meant to be anything more. We had known each other for some years before, and we stayed friends and connected until we one by one relocated from Notodden, but there was never any intention of making any sort of follow up to that one album.

You additionally worked on a synth album with Ildjarn, which was dedicated to the glory of Norwegian nature. What was the process of composing and recording this album? What does your experience of nature evoke?

Hardangervidda is a celebration of a particular mountain region in Norway, yes, where me and Ildjarn have been many times, both separately and together, since childhood. It’s vast and relatively flat, and trekking across it takes several days. The album was written in my flat in Notodden and recorded and mastered a couple of hundred meters down the same street, with help from Tore Hansen. Because it’s very layered it was never considered to record it live in studio. I had put away all the money I earned during one of those summers and bought a Roland XP-80 synth which also functioned as a 16-track midi recorder. Me and Ildjarn started working on the album in sessions, gradually tweaking the songs, doing both composition and production together. Some songs are my original ideas, some are his. There was a very clear idea from the onset of where the album was going to go, and it was really just a matter of doing all the work. The XP-80 was very easy, but time consuming to work with, as we didn’t hook it up to a computer. When we had finished the album we sent demo-CDs out to a couple of record companies. Origo sound actually said they’d consider it if we made alterations, which was of course out of the question. Ildjarn ended up releasing it on his Norse League Productions some time later.

Nature is a big part of my life, and I’m not comfy living in the city. I’m lucky enough, now, to live right by the forest, surrounded by small lakes and mountains. Nature evokes most of all awe and calmness. There’s nothing like the view after you’ve trekked up a mountain.

Last fall, Ildjarn released a split album with Hate Forest, entitled Those Once Mighty Fallen. You’ve recently been active on youtube and have released the demo recording which that recording was based from. What’s your reaction to this situation? Will you be releasing any more recordings in the future?

Well, like I’ve also stated, I was just surprised to realize it. It didn’t dawn on me until I actually checked with some old tapes laying in my basement, but how Osmose came to mislabel them, I don’t know. I think the songs may have been copied onto the same tape as some of Ildjarn’s stuff, years ago.

No, I don’t have any plans to release anything else, although I have lots of riffs and ideas laying around. I might pick up music again, since I still have the old synth, but hat will be when I’m less busy. I started on a concept-album in Notodden about the time of Hardangervidda, under the name Shadow Hungry Onto God (S.H.O.G.). This project was purely classical music, and is what I would start up with again, if anything.

Do you have any recordings of your own, separate from Ildjarn-Nidhogg, that you will release in the future?

I only have two proper recordings, one of which I don’t know where is at at the moment, from the S.H.O.G. project. The other is an edit of the B-side from a 7 inch I intended to release on my own, self-financed. The A-side was already finished, but I lost it due to an equipment failure. Since this meant that I lost weeks of work, I didn’t pick up on it again, after I relocated out of Telemark. I’ll upload the edited B-side on my YouTube-channel when I get the time. It’s quite psychedelic and nothing like anything me and Ildjarn did, except for the rhythms which are quite punkish.

Most striking within your music is the level of refined aggression sublimated through strong melodies. In our interview with Ildjarn, he told us that grindcore/industrial band Godflesh was a major influence on you. In particular, the album Streetcleaner seems to embody a similar spirit to your work. What is it about that band that resonates with you? What other bands provide the same state?

In terms of any direct influence Industrial Metal had on me, it would have to be on an industrial band me, Ildjarn and Thomas played as briefly, using the basements Oberheim drum machine for rhythms. The name was Fast Breeder. We recorded some rehearsals but never released any first demo.

Yeah, Godflesh is pure genius, in my opinion, and I actually got to speak with them when they played in Kristiansand. I liked Godflesh from the moment I heard them, Justins grinding guitar and use of feedback is perhaps the foremost appeal with Godflesh for me, but of course the whole soundscape. I highly recommend the double CD reissue of Streetcleaner and the release of old Fall of Because recordings.

I was also very much into Pitch Shifter until they changed their style, and their debut “Industrial” is amazing. SWANS is, of course, a band that one has to mention, and their “Cop” is a favourite of mine. Saw Throats “INDE$TROY” is also a classic. And the industrial/crustmonster Sonic Violence of course.

At the time I was listening much to these bands, I was also listening to the Young Gods, Foetus, Minister of Noise, Skinny Puppy, KONG, Front 242 and In Slaughter Natives. G.G.F.H. is one of my all time favourites.

What influence does classical music have on you? Are there any specific composers who inspired you?

I grew up in the 70s, which was a time when classical music was still always played on national broadcasting TV and radio. When I got a tape copy of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” I played it repeatedly, and it’s amazing how it is really such a spot on musical interpretation of the progress through the year. Hardangervidda reflects a progression of time as well, from morning to night. The second half of “Sunrise” is very much inspired by Grieg’s “Morning mood.”

For the S.H.O.G. project I’d say music that would evoke the same feeling as I was after with that, would be Peteris Vasks, Arvo Pärt, Randall Meyers and Berlioz. Just talking about the inspiration now, of course, these are untouchable composers working with symphonic orchestras. I was using dark synths underlaying the classical instruments.

Another composer that may not be very known or revered in metal-circles that had a huge impact on me is Michael Nyman. Being a member and also running film-clubs in Bø and Notodden, the movies by Peter Greenaway caught my interest in particular. Michael Nyman wrote the music to four consecutive films (and more later on), and these four film/music collaborations are often referred to together. “The Draughtmans Contract”, “ZOO”, “Drowning by Numbers” and the epic “The Cook, the Thief, the Wife and her Lover.” Greenaway also made “The Belly of an Architect” with Wim Mertens doing the music equally good, and in somewhat the same fashion.

But everything is corrupt, obviously, and I suppose the more you learn about the world, the more disheartened one gets at society. I have great faith in nature and animals though, as nature have adapted catastrophes unimaginable to us.

On that note, I’d like to mention my friend of Yayla of Türkey. If you want to check out his works here is his homepage: http://www.merdumgiriz.org/ and YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/merdumgirizworks

What do you think the purpose of art is? When you make music, do you have a conscious intention or goal driving you beyond the finalization of a piece?

I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but for me it’s just an urge to express oneself through music. I started singing with a thrash band in ’87 and was hooked.

Looking back, there was always a clear intention with the music, and never any doubt as to what elements to include or exclude in the various concepts. I went in many different directions, by myself and with Ildjarn, although the metal and ambient stuff was the only released (except for a drone/folk demo I did). For instance, me and Ildjarn started working on a project we called “Myristic” which never came to fruition. The direction was very different from the metal stuff from Ildjarn — Nidhogg, but was nevertheless fully formed as a musical concept. At least for me, a composition or album is more like a road waiting to be discovered and mapped, rather than something one has to toil to invent. Once you start with an idea, everything rolls by itself, and reveals itself as you progress.

A drone/folk demo sounds fascinating. What was it entitled and when was it recorded? Can we expect this to ever surface again?

Well, I’d rather not reveal the title of it since it’s a totally unrelated project with Ildjarn session on bass. I recorded that one demo, which was also just meant to be a one off in 1994. It was a 9-track post-apocalyptic vision with references to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” where scavenging birds were now the rulers and terrorizers of man.

I don’t think I’ll upload it as it was a totally unrelated thing.

What role did THC play in Sort-Vokter’s music? What value do you find in altered states of consciousness?

Yeah, we put that on the cover as a spoof. Ildjarn didn’t smoke, of course, like he has already stated, but I guess music and drugs were the common interests of the rest of us. It added a certain feel to the whole weekend, so to say. How much it influenced the creative side to the music, I don’t know, but it certainly makes ideas pop up easier.

Altered States of consciousness has been a lifelong interest of mine, and I currently live in place where the surrounding fields are littered with magic mushrooms in the autumn. I find psychedelics can reveal a lot, and can also possibly be a door opener to unseen realms.

I have a great regard for Terence McKenna and Rick Strassmans works, and there are also many other previous pioneers which could be mentioned. In England there were some very early nitrous-philosophers. Ken Keasy said: “I believe that with the advent of acid, we discovered a new way to think, and it has to do with piecing together new thoughts in your mind. Why is it that people think it’s so evil? What is it about it that scares people so deeply, even the guy that invented it, what is it? Because they’re afraid that there’s more to reality than they have ever confronted. That there are doors that they’re afraid to go in, and they don’t want us to go in there either, because if we go in we might learn something that they don’t know. And that makes us a little out of their control.”

Do you find anything valuable in human society? What about individual humans?

While I don’t share Ildjarn’s nihilism (for lack of a better word, Ildjarnism, perhaps) I share some of his misanthropic attitude towards humanity. It’s obvious that we are, most of us at least, dependent on each other for food, lodgings and so on, so, on a practical level, saying fuck you to society and introducing full anarchy would feel pretty uncomfortable for most of us in the end. Some structure is required if we don’t want to go back to the stoneage. But everything is corrupt, obviously, and I suppose the more you learn about the world, the more disheartened one gets at society. I have great faith in nature and animals though, as nature have adapted catastrophes unimaginable to us.

On a personal level I do find value in other people, although I don’t consider many people close friends. One good friend outweighs ten bad ones tenfold, as have been said. And family will unlikely ever fail you.

Your first love in metal was thrash. How did you discover this genre, and what did you like about it? Were you able to carry over any of its ideals to black metal?

After listening briefly to the more commercially established metal for some time, I became a Metallica die-hard fan when I discovered Master of Puppets at about the time it came out. I’m from a rural area, and Metallica wasn’t heard here until Master. Ride the Lightning and Kill ’em All were gems I discovered subsequently. Before I left for the States, I had bought Reign in Blood, The Ultra-violence and Darkness Descends, and Slayer just ruled. Stll I was a Metallica-head. I lived in the States when Justice came out, and although it’s a great album, I, like so many others, started to smell something fishy. At the same time I bought Bathory’s Under the sign of the Black Mark which was one of a kind back then and still is my favourite black metal album. Back then I guess the only prerequistite was that the music was hard or edgy and I also listened to punk and such. Ildjarn introduced me to all types of music, like The Exploited, Napalm Death (love “Evolved as One”), Misfits and many others. Thrash and black are very different, for example in vocal style. It takes a lot more to be a good thrash-singer. I did the vocals on Ildjarn – Nidhogg, and the standard “witch-scream” of nordic black metal suited my voice and not least, my capabilities. So I can’t really say we took anything from thrash to the music we made, other than sheer energy, of course.

How much of an influence have other genres, such as classical music or punk music, had on your listening and your work?

Classical music has been an inspiration, although not consciously. There are some pieces on Hardangervidda, for instance “Night” (Ildjarn’s composition), which are more or less classical compositions and not ambient. Punk has been a more direct influence, which many people have also commented on. The drum machine I used back then were pretty basic, but there’s definitely a lot of “Ompa” (European term, perhaps) going on in the rythms. Combined with Ildjarn’s distored strings and my voice, our music displayed a certain punk-attitude. In norwegian Black Metal circles this was not necessarily a good thing, especially since the scene at that time had become very dogmatic, hence the term TRUE Norwegian Black Metal.

What are your favorite classical subgenres and composers?

As for classical subgenres, I’m not familiar with the terms on that. I’ve listened a lot to Arvo Pärt, Michael Nyman, Wim Mertens, and Ennio Morricone, as well as the old masters. I also like Peteris Vasks a lot. I listen to all kinds of music, though, and after Vidar bought Juno Reactor’s Transimssions, I got into Goa Trance. I’ve been a convert for many years, and I warmly recommend the afforementioned album and Hallucinogen’s Twisted. I guess I have to blame it on the drugs : P

Still love metal, though, and I also very much like bands who carry out their own unique mission, like Foetus and G.G.F.H.

Where did the concept of “forest metal” come from? Do you identify strongly with the forest? Why?

Norway is sparesly populated, and as you can guess, pretty cold. Nature is all around us. We also have a strong tradition of folklore in Norway, and tales of such creatures as “huldra,” “de underjordiske,” “tusser,” “troll” and others are deeply ingrained in Norwegian culture. I would suggest you do a Google image search on “Theodor Kittelsen”, and you will no doubt get an impression of what I mean, and you’ll also see where many black metal covers came from. Being non-satanic, this cultural tradition of the supernatural and the old Norse culture were the inspiration behind the themes and attitude in my approach to black metal.

I feel a strong pull towards the forest, and one of my favorite things to do is venture into native forests, and observe the natural cycle of decomposition and new life springing forth. The atmosphere in such a place can often have a feel verging on the supernatural, especially as night sets in.

How much do you think forest-worship is integral to black metal as a whole? You mentioned the proto-Scandinavian sound of black metal as seen in Bathory; was there forest-worship or something like it there?

Forest-worship was primarily important to the imagery of black metal bands in Norway, and the esthetics of an old forest is totally fitting the genre. An example would be the cover of Djevel’s “Besatt av Maane og Natt.” Of course, venturing into a forest in corpse-paint to take promotional pictures and such, I guess it was inevitable that the feeling of a dark forest would also influence the feel of the music. As for Bathory, no, I don’t think Quorthon was to prone to such, at least not on his black metal albums. Later, perhaps a little bit, I’ve seen some bloody good pictures of him and his musicians in battle gear in an overgrown forest, but that’s about it, as far as I know. I guess Darkthrone were the first to incorporate forest aesthetics fully into their concept. Also lyrically.

Based on the sound of some of these demos, I sense a kinship with some Oi punk music especially in the percussion. Was this an influence, or coincidence?

Yeah, I touched on that a little before. It was no intentional thing, but I liked rythms that made me want to move, quite different from most black metal. When pacing the drum machine to Ildjarn strings, I guess you could say we tried to make it “swing,” so to speak. I think Norse accomplishes this best, and is the one of the two EPs I’m most happy with. Ildjarn liked Svartfråd better.

Do you think black metal has a spirit, or a set of values to it? Where do you think these came from? Are there any historical antecedents?

It’s hard for me to make any valid statements about this. The music itself carries a spirit, yes, but where ideology fits into the music, is an answer best put to someone else. What united all Norwegian black metal, Norse metal or Viking metal bands was a hate for Christianity. As has been realized as years have passed, this has to do with the opression of the people the church has been guilty of for the last thousand years here in Norway, more than with any wish to carry out “Satan’s cause on earth.” We still have a state church in Norway, and I think about 76 % of norwegians are members. When I grew up “Christianity” was part of the curriculum at school, and the church still has a great hold on the population through the rituals of baptizing, confirmation, marriage and burial. So the genres in question held the same basic attitude towards christianity. It was forced upon us, and now we expressed the discontent through music.

Have you noticed any similarities between black metal and its values or imagery and that of Romantic literature, art or music (from the 17-18th centuries)?

There may well be similarities there, but it’s not something I have the knowledge to comment on. There is of course a strong element of classical and progressive composition from the more symphonic bands in the black metal genre.

I don’t know if I’ve ever listened to individual songs, just put the whole thing on like a classic symphony and let it rip. I don’t know how to ask, but I wonder how you achieved this effect of albums as a whole.

I can only speak for what me and Ildjarn did together. He had a different vision for his Ildjarn solo-project than I had for mine. At the time we released Norse, we had already played both hardcore/grindcore, industrial, drone/folk and noise/expertimental. Mostly just jamming and sometimes recording an obscure demo or performing at local talent shows. Thomas Haugen also played with us in two of these bands, as well as on the last demo I uploaded, as the demo states. So already when we recorded Norse we had known each other for about five years and there wasn’t anything uncertain about where we wanted to go with that recording. As the flyer also stated: “Raw and primitive Norse metal.” Thankfully Thomas liked it and put it out as his second single on Nocturnal Art Productions.

What united all Norwegian black metal, Norse metal or Viking metal bands was a hate for Christianity.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the old rehersal studio where we recorded “Norse” (an old bank vault, no less)? This is where Emperor went through its various stages and also where Ildjarn recorded his albums, using one mic. for the whole drumset. His metal-albums and “Norse” and “Svartfråd” where recorded there. It was basically like this: If you showed interest in using the vault for rehersals or demos, you were pretty much given keys, and you could lock yourself in and out as you pleased. An article in norwegian about the place is here: http://www.akkerhaugen.no/Heavy%20Metal.htm

Hardangervidda was a totally different vision, and at the time I was attending the teachers college in Notodden, where music was one of my majors. Hardangervidda was guided totally by nature (and the instructions for the synth ; )), and there was never any doubt or disagreement about where we wanted to with that album either. The nature is overwhelming there and it has a lasting impression of most people who visit the place. Ildjarn, Nob and I went there for a pilgrimage in the closing stages of the making of the album, ventured for some hours into the area, enjoyed the sunset and slept there in nothing but sleeping bags. There’s always a lot of commotion when album covers are changed, but I really think the artwork on the vinyl edition does it more service than the original would. The pictures on both editions are by me and Ildjarn and he’s also been up there again shooting pictures for another edition. As far as I know, this edition is intended to be in colour, I guess that makes some people cringe. I’ve seen the pictures, though, and they look great. I don’t have any details about that release as of yet.

Also, are you aware of the ressurection of “Helvete” (where Euronymous ran his business)? “Neseblod records” (Nosebleed Records) have recently moved in there and a museum of Black Metal is now emerging. I’m sure you’ll find the pictures on the web-site interesting. Check it out, here’s the link: http://www.neseblodrecords.com/

I can inform you that I’m currently in contact with a small record label for the possible release of the Nidhogg demo and a future extended version of “TrollTripp”. I recording the B-side of the demo now (bass and vocals) and then we’ll turn it the right way around and hear if it’s usable. It sounds good so far.
Here’s a link to the label. Like the sound of the WROTH-demo, btw. http://intotheshunnedhouse.wordpress.com/

We were also able to get some words in with Apelseth, one of the members of Sort Vokter who participated in recording Folkloric Necro Metal. While his answers are brief, they reveal his mindset about the recording and the nature of the band.

How did you get involved with the musicians who became Sort Vokter? Did you share any interests? Were you into metal, or black metal?

Metal and some black metal

I am told you are responsible for “Tårers Sang.” Did you compose this alone? What helped you come up with the unique blend of emotions on this piece?

“Tårers Sang”; melody and guitar on “Fra Kilden til Tjernet”; sound-engineering on the whole album.

The melody came to me one full moon night, I was in the forrest. Inspired by the shades and special light that is in the forrest at those times.

What kind of atmosphere do you think this band produced? Does it correspond to any real-world events, places, or emotional blends?

It is a soundscape based on the different landscapes and emotions in the norwegian nature

Thanks to all members of Sort Vokter and Nidhogg himself for making this interview possible.

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Interview: Personal Device

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We reviewed Personal Device Microorganismos del Mal in Sadistic Metal Reviews 05-19-14 and found this to be an excellent late thrash album inspired by some of the more technical hardcore punk out there. At that point, we wanted to learn more, so wrote to the band with a short interview some months later. They were generous with their time and able to share their answers about music, life, micro-organisms, thrash and world destruction.

When did Personal Device start, and what bands or ideas inspired you at the time? What does the name “Personal Device” signify?

We go way back as a band.

We started up in 2006 as UNHEILBAR (German: incurable), playing what you may call “classic thrash.” At that point we were looking up to the Bay Area scene, trying to mix it up with some German influences: we were trying to capture the essence of such bands as Metallica, Anthrax, Exodus, Slayer, Sacred Reich, Testament, and so on. Then, circa 2009, we started exploring a fresher sound with crossover: Suicidal Tendencies, Nuclear Assault, Ratos de Porao, Billy Milano’s S.O.D and M.O.D. At that point, we made a switch from a purely thrash project to a more comprehensible one: mixing both old school thrash with some 80s hardcore punk (Minor Threat, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Batallion of Saints). With this new approach came along our changing the name of the band to Personal Device in 2013. To us it means the constant struggle to find oneself, one’s tools to get by. Plus, it sounds like something about to explode.

Are you a metal band? A punk band? A crossover thrash band?

Our music is based on Metal but we incorporate elements of hardcore punk sounds, which kinda makes us a crossover thrash band. We often refer to ourselves as thrash-punk, but we don’t care much about labeling us in a certain way. We are comfortable being refered to as a Thrash Band. If you want to Mosh, if you are looking forward to heavy riff-orientated, fast pace, songs, then Personal Device is for you.

Much of your sound seems like a better-played vision of what people were doing in the 1980s. What made you pick up this banner? Have you added anything to it that’s new? What have you added that’s all your own?

While it’s true that we draw heavy influences from the so called old-school 80s scenes of thrash and punk, we don’t consider Personal Device to be a mere “revival band.” You could that we are not nostalgic, we aim to produce our own sound, though we can’t deny our great debt to the old school. Even so, we also like the New Wave of Thrash Metal bands, it’s just that we find it somehow pointless if your entire music is devoted to yell BRING 80s THRASH BACK.

What inspires your lyrics, and is this important in the style of music that you’re making?

Our lyrics deal with the condition of modern circumstances, living in big dehumanized cities. Nonetheless, you may find some sporadic nonesense as well as constant references to Colombia. We also have one or two jams dedicated to thrash music, a couple of thrash-party anthems if you will.

Where did you record Microorganismos del Mal, and were these new songs or a collection of songs? Did you use any special techniques to get the very crisp sound on the recording?

After signing with our friends at the independent label Gomorrah Records, we went to the 4Cuartos studio in Bogotá D.C. We recorded our first full-length album Microorganismos del Mal (Spanish for Microorganisms of Evil) which is the consecration of eight years worth of work. There are 10 tracks in it: five of them are re-recordings of songs we had already recorded as Unheilbar, the other five are original compositions. The recording was pretty standard for a heavy metal band; we worked with two great sound engineers, Juan Carlos Bravo and Alejandro Veloza.

Can you tell us something about the concept behind the album?

The concept behind Microorganismos del Mal deals with our city, Bogotá, and with the meaning of Thrash and Punk.: a reflection on how important it is for us to live the whole experience of making music.

When did you sign to Gomorrah Records, and what made you choose this label?

We signed with Gomorrah around November 2013, and it was not much of a deal at the time of doing it since there was, and still there is, a friendship in between. So they just told us that they wanted us to release an album produced by them and we never doubted it.

Are you going to go on tour now, record more material, or both?

For sure we are planning to go on tour. There is the possibility to self manage a tour around the US more specifically in Florida. And also we have been looking for rock venues around South America where we could play. All this under a “do it yourself” philosophy. About new recordings, right now we are working on new material, and some of those songs were recorded in collaboration with sound engineering and visual arts students, with the idea of launching a live session

Do you think it’s hard for a band to get recognized in the underground now? How do you think people will find you?

It is definitely hard to get recognition when you play Thrash. Especially when you live in Colombia, but we think it is a matter of time and hard work. We have been playing together for around eight years and you can see how things start to happen when you are consistent. So in this moment the best way to be recognized its playing and having approaches with different people and all the movements that are concerned about music and keeping the scene alive.

What’s the most important aspect of a song for you, lyrics, riffs, structure or imagery?

For us, all those aspects are important. We like to come up with songs that have coherence between sound and lyrics, and that involves off course, structure and imagery.

If people want to learn more about Personal Device, how can they do so?

There is no doubt the best way to learn about a band is going to their concerts, buying their albums, reading the interviews, reviews and all that stuff. So taking into account we are a band…well people just can start by doing it. A good place to go first would be our bandcamp page, personaldevice.bandcamp.com.

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Interview: Jeremy Wallach, co-editor of Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music around the World

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Jeremy Wallach made a name for himself by studying metal before it was cool, and he has expanded upon it by taking his studies worldwide. As co-editor of Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music around the World, he explored the impact of metal on different cultures and the impact of those cultures on metal around the world. In addition, he has written numerous articles on the study of metal from many other perspectives.

As a professor in the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, Wallach investigates many aspects of popular music, which led to his own book Modern Noise, Fluid Genres: Popular Music in Indonesia, 1997-2001. Those who have followed the development of metal academia may remember him from his numerous articles, presentations at metal conferences, and strong ties with others in the community. We were lucky to get a few minutes with him to ask some of the pointed questions that a metalhead might want to know of a metalhead academic…

Were you a metalhead before you became an academic? If so, what drew you to metal at that time?

I’m 43 and grew up outside of Philly. Like almost everybody of my age and background, I spent my teens mostly listening to rock music. My favorite band when I was thirteen was Rush and my favorite song from Moving Pictures was “Witch Hunt,” the heaviest track on the album. From there I branched out into the harder stuff: AC/DC, Priest, Maiden, BÖC, etc. By senior year of high school, I was listening to the likes of Anthrax, Slayer, Cryptic Slaughter, SOD, and Dead Brain Cells. A fairly normal, demented progression, really. As for what drew me to it, I suppose that could end up becoming a very long essay! In a nutshell, I was attracted to the music’s intelligence, complexity, social relevance, and brutality. It was music that for me told the truth about life.

You have a lengthy list of academic publications and credentials. What made you think to combine metal and academia, and research on this specific topic?

By my senior year of college, I was convinced of two things: one, metal was a valuable and compelling cultural form that was completely misunderstood by the adult world, and two, the approaches to music and culture that I had discovered in my ethnomusicology and anthropology classes could be used to explain the importance of metal to outsiders.

Being a part of metal studies has been a learning experience. One thing I’ve learned is that in 2014 metal is more diverse and inclusive than I ever would have thought possible twenty-odd years ago. Metal’s message has more global currency than anyone could have suspected when the genre first coalesced. The consequence of this has been a field of study that has more relevance to the contemporary world than the vast majority of new fields that focus on popular culture phenomena that had their start in the 70s and 80s. One of the most challenging topics in metal studies at this point is social class. Metal’s blue-collar fan base is often difficult to locate in the 21st century flourishing and diversification of the music, especially outside of the UK, New Zealand, and Australia. We should never lose sight of the fact that it was working-class folks, people without much formal education, who set the template for heavy metal’s musical sophistication, aesthetics, and dark vision.

I was attracted to the music’s intelligence, complexity, social relevance, and brutality. It was music that for me told the truth about life.

Some of your research appears to take an “ethnographic” approach, which is a study of culture. Do you consider heavy metal a culture? If so, does it inherit properties from a broader culture, or is it a wholly self-owned entity?

I was trained as a cultural anthropologist and an ethnomusicologist in graduate school. Ethnography is the primary mode of research in these fields as they are currently practiced. “Deep hanging out” is my favorite definition of ethnography, although usually it’s quite a bit more systematic than that. Basically it involves long-term engagement with a finite group of people, gradually learning to see and experience the world the way they do. You have to master local languages and idioms, really be able to listen, and be willing to be changed by what people tell you. It’s difficult and not everyone can do it, as you can’t really maintain any sort of comfort zone. Metal ethnographers spend lots of time at shows, clubs, and recording studios, but also in cars, bars, record stores, and anywhere else metalheads gather. Pierre Hecker’s book on Turkish metal is an excellent example of a book-length ethnographic study of heavy metal.

There is a range of theories regarding how music cultures like metal interface with the “parent cultures” in which they are embedded. It’s more common now to refer to metal collectivities as “scenes” than as “subcultures.” This is mostly because of advances in cultural theory that emphasize how no culture can be a “wholly self-owned entity” of homogeneous values. All cultures have porous boundaries and are composed of contested meanings. Accordingly, metal music scenes encompass contradictory sets of values, from the celebration of virtuosity and freedom of prog to the despair and resignation of doom to the nihilism and misanthropy of black metal (etc.), and within each of these subgenres there are internal tensions as well, as most readers here know. Some of these competing values echo those of dominant culture (male supremacy, individualism), others resist it (anti-religion, anti-war, pro-drunken revelry). Even the values that seem to fit with dominant culture are not passively inherited but instead tend to be actively renegotiated and rearticulated to fit the conditions of the lives of the actual metalheads composing, performing, listening to, and interpreting metal.

That of your work that I could find online seems to emphasize spaces, both real and virtual, in not only the work but the audience. For example, your analysis of a rock club emphasizes spaces by role (shades of Christopher Alexander) and look at social/cultural separation between bands and fans in an insightful way. What are spaces? Can they be psychological or even artistic? Where do you find them in metal?

Metal culture has always been about claiming space. At the beginning of his book Running with the Devil, Robert Walser writes, “Metal energizes the body, transforming space and social relations.” It’s kind of a throwaway line in the first chapter, but like so much of what’s in that book, it hits the nail on the head. Steve Waksman’s research focuses on how metal’s powerful amplification made it the ideal music to fill arenas, while Keith Kahn-Harris’s work brings attention to the other side of the of the phenomenon: the proliferation of precarious spaces around the world for underground metal that becomes understood as a connected global network of unstable scenes. Emma Baulch has written about the importance of “territorializing” and thus localizing the underground metal scene in Bali, Indonesia, of claiming space, as Walser puts it, “in the name of a heavy metal community.” Nelson Varas Díaz has looked at practices of temporary space annexation by Puerto Rico’s proud and longstanding but highly marginalized metal scene. In all these cases “metal space” is anyplace marked by metal iconography, filled with metal sounds, and inhabited by metalheads. Seems obvious, but what’s not is what exactly goes on in metal space, which can only go on if metal space first exists. Lately I’ve become intrigued by the possibility that a type of metal space exists whenever two or more metalheads are interacting, regardless of whether the music or the iconography are in fact present at that moment. Like, I could be wearing a suit jacket at an academic conference and join some similarly-garbed graduate students in an intense conversation about Candlemass and somehow the space is transformed.

You have been a featured speaker at several recent metal conferences. How does it feel to be part of a rising academic movement? What do you think made metal finally accepted into academia?

It’s been great, of course. Metal studies appears to be an idea whose time has come. This is both a good and potentially problematic thing. Why now? An astonishing number of us were born around the time the first Sabbath record came out. We’re the first completely heavy metal generation, and now we’re finally old and established enough to change the conversation about metal in the mainstream press, rock criticism, and in scholarship. The last of these took the longest, due to the long slog of the academic profession, but we’ve made remarkable progress since 2008, thanks in part to the ease of international communication. There aren’t that many metal scholars in the world, and we come from Germany, Brazil, Finland, Turkey, New Zealand, the UK, California, Massachusetts, all over the place, but we keep in touch with each other, and the undeniable vitality and high intellectual caliber of our conferences and publications have won over more than a few formerly skeptical colleagues and administrators at our universities and in the wider academic world.

What do you think is the future of metal in academia, and how do you expect to support this with your own research?

I think metal studies has a bright future. Twenty-two years after completing my undergraduate thesis, it’s nice to see metal getting some respect. The truth is, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Metal matters — a lot — to tens of millions of people around the world and all indications are that it will not only continue to do so but that it will continue to win new converts in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, India, and China, as well as among future generations in places already colonized. That means the study of heavy metal will matter, too, whether one likes it or not, at least for the segment of metal’s audience who cares about intellectual issues.

To answer the second part of your question, in my recent work, I have quite self-consciously tried to produce things that will be useful to scholars just beginning their research. The “Local Metal” piece I wrote with Allie Levine on how to study scenes (reprinted in Controversies and Countercultures) is an example of that.

What, in your view, is the (apparently) enduring appeal of heavy metal, such that it is now more than four decades old and going quite strong?

There are many schools of thought regarding metal’s appeal across the world. Some of the most common explanations, the “teenage need to rebel” and whatnot, are facile and condescending to the music’s audience. I would prefer not to speculate on this question. But I will say this: don’t forget that metal is great art. Metalheads listen to metal because they find it aesthetically compelling. To ignore this obvious explanation is to invalidate, to pathologize, the aesthetics of the fans—which I would never do, because I am a fan.

If metal was just about fulfilling male adolescent power fantasies, its appeal would be mainstream, not subcultural.

Much of your research seems to focus on masculinity in metal. Does metal have its own concept of masculinity? Is this concept stifled by society at large?

I’ve lately come to the conclusion that debates about masculinity and metal suffer from some significant shortcomings. It has become commonplace to maintain that metal somehow compensates men for the power they lack that they feel they should have in a patriarchal society that denies it to them. I have made similar statements myself. But this definitely oversimplifies things. What “men” are we talking about here? Young men? Working-class men, maybe? Men like that do have power — powerful bodies, powerful minds, power to defend themselves and others. There are external forces who want to harness that tremendous power and transform those who possess it into mindless worker bees or killing machines. Metal songs often advise people to beware of those forces; I think the music is also more about using and valuing the power one does have than fantasizing about the power one lacks.

Furthermore, such assertions make metal redundant. We already have video games and blockbuster action movies and in fact practically all mainstream popular culture that isn’t centrally concerned with the myth of romance. If metal was just about fulfilling male adolescent power fantasies, its appeal would be mainstream, not subcultural. Thus to understand metal, we need to dig deeper.

To its fans, metal is a powerful and empowering music; it gives listeners a sense of control over their own lives. That power is not always experienced as masculine, however, or as gendered at all. Metal’s detractors often charge that the music glorifies the dark side of power in its portrayal of war atrocities, serial killers, state oppression, nuclear destruction, etc. But depiction is not endorsement…I’ve gone on long enough already, but I’ll end just by saying that metal’s view of power is ambivalent, alert to both its allure and its perpetual dark side to which no one is ever immune. It addresses its audience as ambivalent empowered agents, never as emasculated victims. Some fans of course simply embrace the dark side, disavowing ambivalence. That’s one possible interpretive strategy, though it’s not the most common.

You are an acknowledged expert in Southeast Asian, specifically Indonesian, metal and culture. What drew you to this area? How is metal from this area similar to that in other areas? Are there differences?

Indonesia has had a vibrant, massive metal scene for three decades, quite possibly the largest in Asia. The scene is connected to those in two adjacent Southeast Asian nations, Malaysia and Singapore, which are similarly quite active and share a (somewhat) mutually intelligible language, Indonesian/Malay. Since, until the quite recent advent of folk metal, English was the only acceptable language for international metal, lots of bands from all three countries sing in that language, too. Since I began studying the Indonesian scene about twenty years ago (visiting there the first time in 1997), I’ve compared it to other metal scenes around the planet. I’ve found that Indonesia really is remarkable for the size, longevity, and dedication of its metal scene, which is older and a great deal larger than the burgeoning metal scenes in most other Asian nations (with the exception of Japan, of course). It’s also perhaps unique in that Joko Widodo, the current front-runner in the July Indonesian presidential election, is a proud, outspoken headbanger. So Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, might be the origin of the first metalhead world leader. Which of course raises the question, why is metal so big there? Still working on that one…

Do you have any personal favorite metal bands? If so, what are they?

Let me preface this by saying that my listening preferences are eclectic and I try to listen to both fashionable and unfashionable subgenres of metal. (For example, I really like Head Phones President, a Japanese group whose sound owes an obvious debt to the most vilified of American nü-metal bands; I also dig some power metal.) I’m also hardly esoteric in my tastes, and if I find out about an amazing obscure band it’s either serendipitous or, more likely, a recommendation from one of my students. All that said, of course! Recent discoveries: I got to hear some great bands in Puerto Rico back in March, including Tavú, Organic, and doom metal scene stalwarts Dantesco. Erico from Dantesco is currently my favorite vocalist, along with Silent Hell’s Kin Lin. Vallendusk’s a great atmospheric black metal band that sounds to me like a sort of a cross between Alcest and Panopticon, and they’re from Indonesia! I should also mention Winterhymn, who I saw on tour with Paganfest—great Viking/folk metal from my home state of Ohio. I don’t know what their story is, but their music is quite impressive and represents a sadly underappreciated subgenre in the States. As for personal favorites, mostly predictable I’m afraid: Chthonic, Fates Warning, Sabbath, Slayer, Maiden, Priest, Amorphis, Anthrax, Sepultura, St. Vitus, and the Indonesian bands Seringai, Puppen, and Slowdeath.

I will say this: don’t forget that metal is great art. Metalheads listen to metal because they find it aesthetically compelling.

Where is the best place for someone to go to read more of your work?

My website has an online CV with links to PDFs of many of my publications. The articles are there with the permission of the individual publishers, so not everything is up, but it’s a good place to start. Once I started putting things on the page, I started finding many more references to my work in the Indonesian news media, not to mention student essays posted online. Unfortunately a lot of what I’ve written is still hard to get a hold of for anyone without access to an academic library, though I know a number of public libraries now carry Metal Rules the Globe. Readers of this interview can always contact me directly, especially if they’ve actually read this far!

What’s next for you? You’ve got a book forthcoming and are rumored to be working on new research. Can you tell us what future directions you’re pursuing?

Esther Clinton and I are working on another edited volume, sort of a follow-up to MRTG. I probably shouldn’t say much about it, since it’s still in the beginning phase. I also think it might upset some people. Additionally, I’m working on various pieces of writing that develop ideas mentioned in this interview involving power, ethics, and sociality in metal culture. There’s other stuff, always more than I can manage.

Thank you for taking the time to do this.

You’re quite welcome. Metal on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CR-IPCY3Dr8

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Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

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Back in 1990, Celtic Frost released Vanity/Nemesis. This album was tasked with redeeming the fans’ respect after the affair that was Cold Lake . Straddling the gap that existed between that album and the style of inventive proto-death metal that had made Celtic Frost worth hearing, Vanity/Nemesis was a rather mediocre album. It was reasonably competent and it attempted to blend in with its contemporary milieu, but the album was artificial and uncomfortable to listen to.

In many ways, Melana Chasmata is the linear descendant of that album. First, this is an album with an astute grasp on the market it is attempting to exploit: like Triptykon’s debut, production is crystal-clear, uniform, and decidedly modern. Tom Warrior’s vocals have continued their changing form begun on Monotheist and now share the monotonous, ranting tone more in common with nu-speed metal bands such as Pantera. Riffs, as well, have “progressed” in a similar fashion. Although Eparistera Daimones‘ riffs were minimal, single string sequences, some intriguing melodies arose. For the most part, these are missing on Melana Chasmata, at least on the traditional metal tracks.

Where this album genuinely attempts an artistic statement is during attempts to merge noir-electronic music with the aesthetics of metal instrumentation as was introduced on Warrior’s last two albums. These tracks are worthwhile in that melodies are allowed to develop in a subtle, restrained manner before the climax of the tracks strike, in contrast to the uniform faux-aggression of the rest of the album. Greater tonal variation as evidenced by clean vocals, mildly pentatonic clean guitar sequences, and melodies confirm Warrior’s avowed interest in artists such as Gary Numan. (For a similar, contemporary album in spirit, one might point to the comeback album from Amebix , which also attempted to merge post-90s metal with popular, but slightly “outside” music). These tracks, while superior to the other fare, ultimately lack in the same core way as the others: there is no great resolution, or purpose inherent in them.

For those who hoped that Eparistera Daimones would be but a stepping-stone back to a more traditional Celtic Frost type of composition, they will be disappointed. If death/black metal is one’s primary interest, Melana Chasmata will almost undoubtedly not be worth listening to. However, for those who will admit to being Warrior fanboys (such as the author) or those who are interested in the other aspects of music on this album, it may be worth investigating, if only for curiosity.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOAuzx3zdp0

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Interview: Ray López of Thrash Corner Records

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Regular DMU readers may have noticed that Puerto Rico has been on this site’s radar since Brett Stevens interviewed José “Chewy” Correa of Organic last year, and for good reason. The “Island of Enchantment” is more than just beaches, bikinis and piña coladas; it’s also home to one of the most active and diverse metal scenes that you’ve probably never heard of.

So what’s going on in this little-known metal outpost in the Caribbean? More and more international bands play here every year. Local bands are touring and inking deals overseas. There’s an online metal radio station broadcasting live shows every week. An international academic conference on heavy metal will be held at the University of Puerto Rico in March. We even have a biannual metal flea market where metaleros from all corners of the island gather to buy, sell and trade metal merch while local bands provide the live soundtrack. And this is only a short list; there’s a lot more happening here.

Cultural idiosyncrasies aside, all national and regional metal scenes are built with the same three human components: the bands, the fans and the people who have the initiative to organize and execute the business and logistics of the scene, otherwise known as “the people who make things happen.” These men and women of action don’t often get the recognition they deserve, yet they continue to work behind the scenes to bring your favorite bands to a venue near you. (Kreator didn’t play their first show in PR last year just because people “liked” their Facebook page; someone had to organize and execute a plan and all the logistics involved.)

Some of these men of action, such as Ray López of Thrash Corner Records, have also managed to actually make a living in the metal music world — not to mention help build and shape Puerto Rico’s metal scene — while balancing the responsibilities of a dedicated family man. (In fact, I didn’t know that Thrash Corner was his livelihood until I asked him what his day job was in a followup email.) So is he lucky that he’s living a “metalhead’s dream” or is it his work ethic that makes things happen?

Ray López was kind enough to take time from his busy schedule to answer some questions about his label, Puerto Rico’s metal scene and his most ambitious project to date, the first Metal Expo Convention of Puerto Rico.

You’ve been active in metal for over 20 years, so let’s start with your label, Thrash Corner Records. What motivated you to start your own label?

I’ve been a metalhead since 1980, and my label has 20+ years in business. The story is kind of weird. One day I just got up and said, “I’m tired of going to the store (never finding what I wanted) and ordering by mail (waiting sometimes up to two months to get my goodies).” An idea came to my mind. What if I call a distributor (those days it was Caroline Records and RED Distribution) and tell them that I opened a store and want to buy wholesale? So I just got the numbers and decided to call, and to my surprise they just opened an account for me and I started buying from those companies.

I said to myself, “that was very easy,” then another idea came to my mind. Let’s say I call Relapse Records, Century Media, Metal Blade and many others. Can they sell to me direct? But then I had to remind myself that I was in Puerto Rico and most of the people in the mainland don’t know the status of what we are. Most of them don’t know we are a territory of the US, so I took advantage of that and also started buying direct from them. Then I got deeper and deeper into the underground and saw how things were moving with the small labels (everything was about trading productions between each other), so I just jumped on the wagon and Thrash Corner Records was born.

What were some the most significant challenges in those first few years?

To be honest, everything was happening so fast that I was surprised with what I had accomplished in just the first year. If I have to mention something, the first thing that comes to my mind was trading with the other labels outside the US. Back then with no Internet, setting up a trade sometimes took up to 4 months (all the communication was via letters).

metal_expo-puerto_rico

What are some of the highlights and gratifying milestones up to this point?

Those are many and I don’t want to bore you with that, so I will just mention a few:

Traveling to different places, meeting with bands, hanging out with them and sometimes becoming friends (the ultimate metalhead dream come true).

As a label, signing bands from other countries, getting distribution across the US and other countries (and that is more gratifying knowing that you were the first one to do that and in some cases the only one to accomplish that).

I understand that Thrash Corner has had distribution deals with US bands such as Hirax and Deceased. What are some of the other bands on your roster, and are there any upcoming releases we should be looking forward to?

Yes, Deceased released one album with us called As the Weird Travel On, considered by many an underground masterpiece. With Hirax there is a licensing deal and we did their complete catalog (the only title we don’t have will be the new one, SPV is the one releasing it). Now that Hirax signed with SPV, we feel very proud because we worked very hard with them as a team to get the attention they deserve and finally it pays. We also worked with both Asesino re-issues (Corridos de Muerte and Cristo Satánico). Those were out of print for many years, but now you can find them. Right now we are working with the death/thrash band from Florida, Solstice, doing our own version of the album The Dust (their 2009 full length). We decided to do that one because it had a limited distribution and we want all the fans to own this piece of art.

From our chat prior to this interview, I got an unequivocal impression that you’re a firm believer in the old saying: if you want something done right, do it yourself. Is Thrash Corner Records a one-man operation? If so, how important is it to have total control of your business and freedom to do things your way?

You are totally right: Thrash Corner Records is just one guy doing everything. It is hard work but it is worth it. You control everything and you make the decisions, right or wrong (no one to blame, just myself, but I can live with that, hahaha!!!).

I can say without conceit that I work in metal 100% and I’m the only one making a living from it here. It hasn’t been easy, but if you strive for your goals you can achieve them. My normal job is the label, selling retail and wholesale on eBay, my website and Amazon!!!

During that chat you also mentioned that you were born in the US and that English was your first language. How old were you, and were you a metal fan already when you moved to PR?

Yes, I was born in New York, but moved to PR when I was 5 years old. I wish a was metalhead at the time, but the concept of heavy metal was not invented yet, hahahaha!!

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Can you tell us what the overall situation was like for independent record distros, promoters and bands in PR back when you started Thrash Corner? How does it compare to the situation today?

Back in the old days of my label and distro, it was hard in some aspects and easy with others. Right now there are a few more distros and labels, but back then I was the only one. As for promoters, I was involved in 90% of the shows here, one way or the other. Now there are more promoters and they found the formula to do shows without my help. I don’t mean that in bad way, back then I had a lot of contacts because of the distro and the label and I was the only bridge that they had. Now with modern technology you can find bands with the click of a button. And about the bands, basically most of them are in the same situation now as they were back then (let me make a BIG NOTE: we had a few bands doing things the right way, but I can say we have more now than back in the days).

How did the idea for the Metal Expo come about? Did you formulate it and then presented a plan to people who could help you make it a reality, or did you discuss the idea and sketched it out over time with input from friends and associates?

I was crafting this idea for a while (let’s say the main concept is mine), but now that we have a team everybody is bringing ideas to the table!!! That’s why we had to change it to two days (in the beginning it was going to be a one-day event).

Was an event like the Metal Expo imaginable 20, 10 or even 5 years ago? What are the “pieces of the puzzle,” as you put it, that make this event possible today?

20 years ago – impossible.

10 years ago – maybe.

5 years ago – yes (but some pieces were missing).

About the pieces of the puzzle, I prefer to keep them to myself (this topic is too sensitive, so I prefer to make no comments)!!

There are quite a few underground metal promoters here in PR (some might say an unusually high number for such a small place). Why did you choose to join forces with your co-organizer, Paul Martínez of Bloodstained World Entertainment? Can you tell us a bit more about him?

For me this is the biggest thing that I’ve ever assembled. I needed a person that I can trust 100%. We have a perfect communication and we have known each other for more than 30 years. When I started Thrash Corner, he was one of the first people to give me a hand. (The story is too long, we leave that for another day!!) Paul has been into metal his whole life, so he was perfect for the job. I know that if he was the one with the idea for the Expo, I would be the first one to be invited to participate!!!

As co-organizers, what exactly are your responsibilities in the Expo, and what is Paul’s role?

This is a 50%-50% responsibility, that means that we are sharing everything, we both brought ideas and we are working together with the other part of the team!!!

Can you tell us about the other local promoters involved and what their roles are in the Expo?

The Shownet Group just joined us over a month ago. We are very happy that they joined us. Now it is a three-way split of responsibilities!!!

You were going to start announcing one confirmed artist per day at some point back in December. Why did you choose such an evil way to build suspense?

Initially that was the idea, but some information leaked and we had to announce what we had earlier than planned. For now we have:

Local Bands:

International Bands:

  • Anger as Art
  • Thrash or Die
  • Solstice
  • Warbringer
  • Blood Feast
  • Raven
  • Six Feet Under

Is the bill already full or is there still room for interested bands to sign up? What about exhibitors and vendors?

The bill is done for live acts. We are negotiating with the exhibitors and vendors. If you want to know everything, all the information will be announced on the official website. Visit us and click “like” to get all the updates.

One of your stated goals for the Expo is to bring worldwide attention to Puerto Rico’s metal scene. Why not do the typical two-day metal fest with just music instead? Should metal festivals offer more than just music?

If we do a festival we will never get the attention (they will see it like a big show). With the Expo you can add so many different things to get more attention. Just say the name of the event, “METAL EXPO CONVENTION” and tell me if you’re not curious and want to know what it’s all about???

The Metal Expo follows hot on the heels of another important event: the academic conference dealing with the topic of heavy metal music as a communal experience. Do you think it’s a positive thing that scholars have decided to study heavy metal, not only as a music genre, but as a cultural phenomenon? Some see that as “infiltration from outsiders.” What’s your take on the issue?

I think it is a positive thing that they decided to study heavy metal as cultural thing (metal has been around for nearly 40 years). That kind of exposure for us is perfect, specially in Puerto Rico. It will help our scene in many ways!!! We have the privilege that the person who is studying our scene is also a metalhead (Prof. Nelson Varas and the crew of Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies), so we have an ally. I was just investigating and I noticed that most of the professors of the International Society of Metal Music Studies are into heavy metal music, so there is no infiltration or outsiders. They are part of us and they just found a way to contribute to our movement with their profession.

At first I thought that the Expo would be held at a stadium or convention center, but it will be held at La Respuesta, which is the venue where most of the visiting underground metal acts play. Was that venue choice a conservative decision to keep things manageable? Tell us about the venue and the setup for the Expo.

La Respuesta opened their doors to heavy metal a few years ago, and it’s the official venue for most of the metal shows in Puerto Rico. We wanted to keep the Expo there for a few reasons: most of the metalheads know the venue and feel comfortable there, it has perfect spacing for this event (we’ve been running the Metal Market there five times and it runs smoothly) and we prefer to spend the money on the bands and not on a big venue. We want to give the fans the best experience they can get.

The island’s metal fans are expected to show in full force at the Expo, but in addition to them, do you expect to draw international visitors?

The response of the scene here has been great and we already started working with the promotion and invitation for visitors from outside PR!!! With this interview and some other notes that came out in other websites it will draw some attention to visitors from outside.

Internationally speaking, do you think that the island’s metal has flown under the radar? Are we at a flash point where Puerto Rican metal will conquer foreign shores? What bands do you think will lead this charge?

Yes, the island is getting some attention. These last few years we had so many more international acts here than we had in the last 20 years. Those bands are spreading the word when they go back to their countries, and all the promoters are getting more messages from international acts that want to play here. Years ago Puerto Rico had attention with bands like Puya, Cardinal Sin and Ankla, then there was a gap and now we have a few bands making some noise outside: Dantesco, Pit Fight Demolition, Zafakon and Severe Mutilation.

From what I’ve heard so far, most of the major metal genres are represented by various underground bands in PR. What do you think makes Puerto Rican bands different from other international scenes? Is it a combination of our mixed ethnic traditions, our socio-political situation, and the simultaneous identity pull/friction of being both a Latin American country and a US territory?

Like other countries, we have most metal sub-genres represented. The difference here is that our bands don’t sound alike, even if they are from the same metal sub-genre. Take two local black metal bands, like Argyle and Humanist. They are the same sub-genre, but they don’t sound alike. In other countries, bands within a sub-genre tend to sound alike and sometimes you can tell what country they are from just by listening.

Why is this? In my opinion, it is a little of everything you mention in the question, but in the end it’s hard to tell.

Ray, I know you’re a very busy man, so I want to thank you for your time. I’ll let you have the last word to all of our readers around the world.

I just want to thank you guys for the interest in the event and the interview. Just make sure to visit the official website for the event, Thrash Corner Records and our new division Retro-Merch.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sy9mhSOHPwg

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