Over the past decade, metal and related genres have shifted toward a highly technical perspective on instrumentalism. Where earlier genres valued the primitive and passionate, bands now tend to begin with a grounding in jazz and progressive rock theory and expand into metal.
This raises the bar for entry into the genre, but on the level of mechanics only. Corresponding, creativity seems to have declined in the genre, perhaps because artists with something to communicate — a.k.a. “content” — now face an uphill path toward technical perfection before that content will be accepted in the genre.
A similar phenomenon occurred in the classical genre as well. Like metal, this niche genre struggles to keep existing fans while making new ones and not becoming “dumbed-down” like everything else in popular culture. As a result, it has become perfectionist on a technical level, perhaps to the detriment of content, notes an article on the evolution in classical music.
Today’s classical musicians are rarely given this choice between expression and perfection. As David Taylor, assistant concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, recently told the Los Angeles Times, “Today, perfection is a requirement. You must have flawless intonation, you must be a machine.” A single missed note or halting phrase could be a musician’s downfall: the end of a job interview, perhaps the end of a career.
This perfectionist culture can crush young musicians’ creativity: they’re too afraid of messing up to take risks. As Thor Eckert Jr. wrote for the Christian Post back in 1982, “the very qualities that made Rubinstein unique have been abandoned in the music world today. Rather than emotion, we now have technical prowess, rather than expressivity and poetry we have accuracy, rather than individuality, we have a bland sameness.”
The article goes on to discuss the impact that technology has had on classical music, namely a lowering of concert attendance and less of a tendency to purchase albums in favor of individual songs. This development threatens the mainstay income of classical musicians, and has driven them toward entrepreneurial ventures including pop music hybrids. While this particular source feels this is a positive development, many of us are not so sure.
When commerce takes over any given form, whether art or music or writing, it tends to increase the tangible factors of quality while decreasing the intangible ones, like content or profundity. This in turn drives artists toward increasing degrees of triviality and novelty in an effort to distinguish themselves, with the result that few focus on quality of expression beyond the technical at all.
Simultaneously, the knowledge of technical precision becomes democratized or spread widely at low cost, which means that soon the genre floods with highly proficient players who may have no ability to compose, improvise or otherwise contribute anything but “new” recombined versions of what previously existed. In metal, this has been a death knell; let us hope that for classical it is not the same.
The Summer 2014 edition of 2600 magazine includes an article by Brett Stevens about the intersection between the heavy metal underground and the hacker underground.
“Crossover: Where Metal and Hacking Met and Mixed” concerns the early years of PC hacking when hackers used the BBS underground and other facilities, some borrowed, to communicate about the nascent underground metal scene. It includes interviews with the leading hackers of that era who listened to heavy metal, including Cult of the Dead Cow and Erik Bloodaxe.
The article follows up on an earlier article published at Perfect Sound Forever, a long-running music e-zine, entitled “Hacker Metal.” That article introduced the concept of hacking and how hackers used BBS culture to stay informed about heavy metal and work around low media coverage.
Although a small portion of the metal community, the crossover between hackers and metalheads provides a fertile ground for the outlook that seeks to defy pointless rules and pay attention to the mechanics of power instead. 2600, named for the signal that allowed hackers to dial out on a line to which they were connected, provides a nexus for the hacker community who may now discover its inner Hessian.
Death Metal Angola tells the story of Angolan couple Sonia and Wilker who want to put on the first national rock festival in their country. They hope that this will unite a people broken by constant warfare, unrest, poverty an corruption.
In the trailer, Death Metal Angola lets us hear some of the music from Angola. It has death vocals, but sounds more like a hybrid between blues and grindcore riffs, with lots of lead fills and a more relaxed rhythm. As death metal and related genres seem to adapt to local cultures and musical preferences wherever they go, this provides an interesting insight into Angolan music.
The film will see theatrical release in early November and is being described as both a film about death metal and a film about war.
Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation. — Mark 3:29
Many metal bands feature occultist or Satanic imagery and lyrics. However, some metal bands took this Bible verse as a challenge and created blasphemy on a theological level, denying God with a philosophical basis.
Since metal has always been fervently anti-dogma and a firm believer in a boundaryless existence, the notion of sin is, in itself, a sin. Here are five anthems of rejection that took the final step and committed the unpardonable sin.
Incantation – “Rotting Spiritual Embodiment” (Onward to Golgotha)
Taking a mortalistic approach, Rotting Spiritual Embodiment claims that the Holy Spirit dies with the body that it inhabits, thus affirming an absence of all metaphysics and a sheer physical basis to life itself. This form of materialism proves more dominating than even atheism as it denies the basis for a holy presence and argues instead that it is mere physical illusion. The crushing and darkened power chords seem to compel the embodiment — the physical form of the spirit — further and further into obscurity.
Holy apparition, seeking death to save.
Sins of the flesh, the cadaver is unfit.
Penetrate the mind and body, spirit is incarnated.
Foolish ghost of god.
Embodied with the putrid corpse.
Trapped within the flesh.
Forever rots in misery…
Morbid Angel – “Blasphemy” (Altars of Madness)
A call to arms for blasphemy and a declaration of a life free from the clutches of religious dogma, this song takes a straightforward approach to blasphemy through invective condemning God and arguing for his invalidity. It also directly blasphemes the holy spirit in the chorus. Complete with Satanic and Thelemic philosophy, this is a sonic symphony straight from the fiery depths.
I am the god of gods
Master of the art
I desecrate the chaste
Writhe in the flesh
Chant the blasphemy
Mockery of the messiah
We curse the holy ghost
Enslaver of the weak
God of lies and greed
God of hypocrisy
We laugh at your bastard child
No god shall come before me
Blaspheme the ghost
Blasphemy of the holy ghost
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law
Rebel against the church
Drink from the chalice of blasphemy
Rise up against the enslaver
Immolation – “I Feel Nothing” (Here in After)
Immolation, while anti-religious, never took much of a Satanic approach to their opposition. They present their views from a more atheistic standpoint, and in the pulverizing song, “I Feel Nothing,” Immolation pose the question: Where is the Holy Spirit? The song describes a person who cannot feel the Holy Spirit within them and they refuses to force themselves to believe, so they reject its existence along with the rest of the trinity.
I don’t feel them in my heart
It is not hate
That I stare coldly at the son of god
I can not force the blood of Christ
To flow through me
God is love and his love is dead
Drown your sorrows in prayer
But your prayers will never change the world
I separate myself
From those who chase the spirit
I can’t fall to my knees
And pretend like all the rest
This is a soul that doesn’t need saving
Their paradise not mine; an illusion I will not believe
Divine presence of perfection, turns sour in my gaze
Why should I feel compassion for the suffering of your God
For all the pain he allows, I give him what he deserves
In the name of the Father,
In the name of the Son
Where is the Holy Spirit, I feel nothing
As I stare upon the crucifix, I feel nothing for a God I never knew
I refuse to embrace, and live by his word
I take not of his body
I take not of his blood
I don’t need salvation
Or his forgiveness
I don’t want his kingdom
My kingdom is here
Deicide – “Behead the Prophet (No Lord Shall Live)” (Legion)
When you think of blasphemous death metal, Deicide undoubtedly comes to mind among the first few entries. Not only does the band name advocate the murder of God but the entire approach of the band denies any form of inherent or mystical order. In “Behead the Prophet (No Lord Shall Live),” Deicide describe the Holy Spirit as foredoomed and proclaim a devilish victory over the holy.
Deny resurrection, behead the Nazarene son
Foredoomed holy spirit, our war at last be won
Legion crush Jehovah, see through the faceless dog
Untie our world from Satan
You know it can’t be done
Wipe away this world of unworth
Decapitation, Satanic rebirth
Off with his head to sever his soul
Beheaded prophet the suffer is yours
Virgin, mother murdered, once warned but now is dead
Destroyed heaven’s kingdom, in flames the righteous fled
Legion, thou has waited, to face the sacred dog
Satan’s revelation, this world will always be ours
End of god the way it must be
Behead the prophet, let Satan free…
No god, no lord shall live
What always has should never been
No god, no lord shall live
Behead the prophet and we win
No man to begotten, infant Jesus dead
End of god forever, cast among the souls of Hell
Thou who has imprisoned, suffer by your own demise
Execrate the revelation, MASTER SATAN RISE!
Deny resurrection, behead the Nazarene son
Foredoomed holy spirit, our war at last be won
Legion crush Jehovah, see through the faceless dog
Untie our world from Satan
You know it can’t be done
No god, no lord shall live
What always has should never been
No god, no lord shall live
Behead the prophet and we win
No man to begotten, infant Jesus dead
End of god forever, cast among the souls of Hell
Thou who has imprisoned,
Execrate the revelation,
MASTER SATAN RISE!
Havohej – “Dethrone the Son of God” (Dethrone the Son of God)
Concluding this list is a cold and blasphemous sermon from the great Paul Ledney of Profanatica, Havohej, Incantation and Revenant among others. To go too far in depth about this piece would be to undermine its experiential value to new listeners. I’ll say only this: “Dethrone the Son of God” is the spirit of rejection translated into a litany embracing hell over the “pure” but delusional spirit of believers.
Rip the sacred flesh
Sodomize the holy asshole
Drink the red blood of the mother of earth
Masturbation on the dead body of Christ
The king of Jews is dead
and so are the lies
Vomit on the host of Heaven
Masturbate on the throne of God
Break the seals of angels
Drink the sweet blood of Christ
Taste the flesh of the priest
Sodomize holy nuns
The king of Jews is a liar
The Heavens will burn
Dethrone the son of God
God is dead
Holyness is gone
Purity is gone
Prayers are burned
Covered in black shit
Rape the holy ghost
Unclean birth of Jesus Christ
Heaven will fall
Fuck the church
Fuck the Virgin
Fuck the gods of Heaven
Fuck the name of Jesus
Every metal fan knows it: the look of incredulity on someone’s face when halfway through a conversation you mention that you listen to heavy metal. It’s a look that says, “Hmm… He seemed otherwise sane and cultured when we were just talking… Didn’t notice he had any problems understanding society’s unspoken rules on personal space or (sniff) hygiene… Why would he listen to that neanderthal drivel?”
That look presupposes a tired old trope of modern culture which is that the enlightened listen only to sensitive indie bands who sing about either love or “social issues.” These bands sing softly and semi-ironically about real world things like love, heartache, drugs or the quest for world peace. In contrast, metal embraces comically violent and magical subjects fit only for basement-dwelling neckbeards who play D&D on Saturday nights and rednecks who wear kitschy looking t-shirts with pictures of wolves howling at the moon on them. This “enlightened” mentality is similar to the trendy outlook that presumes all smart people should care about the same fashionable political causes.
I listen to metal music with its fantastic lyrics and imagery — rather than music with lyrics about real world stuff or political fashions — because it’s an escape. After I’m done hearing about the dramas of my friends, co-workers and families the last thing I want to do on my own time is listen to someone else croon about all their problems. Real world subjects are depressing to hear about precisely because they’re so commonplace and everyday. This includes the political, because the only reason people talk, sing or demonstrate about political issues is to make themselves look cool, which is a way to get new girlfriends, meet drug connections and gather around a social group.
Metal to me is anything but escapist. It is metaphorically accurate where the idea that human drama describes the universe is solipsistic. Nature is mercilessly hostile to human life, which can be snuffed out at any minute and one day inevitably will be. I spend much of my time contemplating the finality of death and the implications it has for our everyday choices and morality. Metal music by focusing on the bigger things — and by having an often ruthlessly dark sense of humour about human frailty — reminds me of the bigger questions in life and reflects the topics I think are really worth talking about.
Even more, metal gives a certain hope by expanding our view of the world beyond personal drama and political fashion. In a society where secularism and scientific rationalism have all but won out, it’s nearly impossible to believe there is anything magical or esoteric about the world. Whilst I am quite happy we live in a time when backwoods superstitions are not the basis of our science and medicine, there is something nonetheless dispiriting knowing there’s no such thing as miracles, no demons or sorcery, and no great cosmic quest to set ourselves to, just the weekday commute and a beer in front of the TV whilst watching sports on the weekend. That we live in a universe ordered by mathematics and the office timesheet. I think most metalheads recognise this and secretly yearn for an excuse to be able to see their world in terms of something grand and magical, whether that be through the prism of The Lord of the Rings style epics or by believing that reality is all ultimately a battle of wills between God and Satan.
H.P. Lovecraft, who is not surprisingly the biggest influence on metal lyrics in literature, articulated this kind of feeling about the modern rational age better than anyone else. A fervent advocate of the secular and scientific way of thinking as the only way to understand our universe, Lovecraft nonetheless posed his fiction as a great cosmic gambit: what if we’re wrong and the universe is in fact populated by powerful forces and beings beyond our control and far beyond the possibility of our comprehension? In other words, what if what we think is “rational” is in fact our own human projection and nothing else, and we will not find out until something dark and unseen attacks? Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!
For me, what begins as a question of why someone would listen to Ildjarn and not The Smiths ultimately boils down to how one views the world: either to see everything as knowable and within the grasp of human understanding, if we only figure out the maths behind it; or through the metal lens which views humans as tiny, arrogant and probably doomed. The former to me seems painfully dull and conformist, whilst the latter is dangerous but leaves plenty of possibilities open and ready to be explored. This is not a dichotomy between science and religion, because metalheads accept science, but a question of forward decisions: looking to what is important, what paths we should explore, and what might inspire us to be “better,” instead of merely safe, logical and inoffensive as science can advise us to be.
This conflict exists between a worldview that is hubristic about the capabilities of humanity (“Peace, science and John Lennon CDs will save the world!”) and a worldview that is more suspicious of straight and narrow paths. This second worldview that thinks there is always an undiscovered frontier over the next hill, always a need to veer off the well-trodden path, always going to be a reason to have to get your hands dirty. A worldview that embraces the inconveniences, imperfections and overall strangeness of being alive as actually part of the beauty of it. It rediscovers humanity by escaping our notion of humanity as perfect and instead looks to a universe of perpetual conflict and destruction for meaning. This is the world of metal and it is more real than your safe and trendy indie rock will ever pretend to be.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? People engage in the pretense that they are gods who can determine what is true because they want it to be true, instead of what is obvious. They deny reality to make themselves seem important like the pointless egotists they are. Instead, we put the metal before our personal needs and pick the best. Those who cannot handle this, leave the hall!
Morbid Slaughter – Wicca
Comprising two tracks of punkish early black metal tinged with the energy of a Motorhead or Impaled Nazarene, Morbid Slaughter aim to make music within the 1980s style of catchy simple music that also calls to mind Necrosanct and Slaughter Lord. Songs invoke melody for choruses and guide themselves with necrotic gasped vocals that sound like invective of an evil overlord conveying his legions to covert and merciless deeds. Songs fit the format of most proto-death bands in that there is verse, chorus and then a transitional or conclusive detour which returns to the immensely catchy chorus. This band will find its toughest competition is itself, and when they do a full-length will find themselves challenged by the need for songs to be distinct enough from each other to develop a personality to the album and each song. Clearly this band knows the early works of the years before death metal and black metal finalized themselves and can exploit that riff lexicon to great effect, albeit simplified by the punkish forward drive to simplicity.
Ramhorn – Lykophobos
With one foot firmly in past and present, Ramhorn attempts to integrate 1980s sounds like those of Kreator and Metallica with modern metal styled vocals, but manages to retain the sentimentality and passion of the earlier form and use it to constrain the otherwise more linear tendencies of current metal. Like Kreator, this band is chorus-heavy with emphasis on interlocking vocal rhythms to propel the sound forward, and borrowing from a wide riff lexicon it mixes a punkish sound with melodic speed metal riffing to contrast its more rigidly rhythmic hooks that underscore choruses. Vocals tend toward the black metal shriek with more clarity of enunciation and while certain riffs embrace a more modern sense of rhythm molded around the vocals, a strong old school influence mediates them. Much of the album centers around mid-paced tempi to accommodate this sound but varies riff form enough that the similarity contributes to the overall emotional atmosphere of the music. The old school parts, ranging from Iron Maiden through death metal at its peak, resonate well with this approach but the black metal-ish vocals seem out of place. On the whole, this album puts forth a solid if not dramatically exciting effort that has more integrity and consequent actual musical enjoyment than most of its contemporaries.
Hod – Book of the Worm
The Texas horde return with another assault of high-intensity multi-genre metal. On its surface, this band resembles Angelcorpse hybridized with Watain using some of the riff tendencies of the newer post-Nile/Behemoth charging death metal and blackened death metal bands. Underneath this however a wide variety of riffs simmer, quoting from and expanding upon speed metal, heavy metal, punk and early proto-black metal bands. The constant charging blast, reminiscent of Fallen Christ, allows the guitars to change riffs regularly in the rotational style that Behemoth perfected. Where Hod has really improved is in the vocals which take the whispered spoken style to a new extreme, borrowing the internal rhythmic variation of modern metal styles and giving it a more sinister air. The vocals guide the song and riffs change to accent those words with atmosphere. If anything, this band could benefit from both more variation and less; it would be great to see some of these death metal riffs explore different riff forms than the 4-5 the band has nailed, and it would help focus the music for it to pick a genre and grow more specifically in that direction, even expanding it as these musicians do with contemporary forms. While internal riff complementary behavior could be better, the randomness that plagues most local bands has not visited Hod. Of note also are the early-Deicide-ish chaotic but rhythmically varied leads which add depth to the songs.
Obscure Oracle – Roots of Existence
Obscure Oracle homebrews metal that combines liberally from many influences but keeps a focus on a NWOBHM/progressive metal hybrid enriched with late speed metal and some death metal technique. The band faces a challenge in trying to wrap these influences into a compositional voice that is consistent enough to communicate. Vocals chase the death metal style rasp with higher and lower register versions accompanying one another. Lead guitars explore not only diverse styles of music but the harmonization that NWOBHM made famous, which in addition to numerous classic riff archetypes places this band firmly within that zone. In addition, the band borrows and expands upon tropes from speed metal, notably Testament and Metallica. Much of Roots of Existence verges more toward melodic metal that avoids the Scandinavian style and instead uses complex song structures and the rhythms of 1970s progressive bands to flesh out the parts of guitar melody, but transitions between passages with death metal-styled tremolo riffing. The band could work on integrating its different styles more smoothly into a voice so that oil-on-water separation does not occur, and with some of its detours into progressive and blues territory might make sure that it avoids all known templates, including progressive ones. On the whole this album shows the creativity and idiosyncratic combination of styles that fueled the early years of death metal, but packed into a power metal infused style that keeps the band both current and coherent with the traditional spirit of metal.
Blood Urn – Unchain the Abhorrent
Creating within the old school death metal that favors vast internal contrast, Blood Urn craft songs which culminate in musical vistas composed of riffs leading up to decisive moments of conflict and differentiation. Riffs use extensive chromatic fills but not exclusively so as wrappers for rock rhythm as most of the nu-death post-Nile bands, and songs achieve enough internal variety to suggest purpose. The high degree of internal balance results in collections of riffs that are picked for their place in the song, not a song made of the riffs, for the most part, with an internal process of equalization bringing highly disparate riffs together. Vocals take on the older style of deep chanting independent of the rhythms of drums or guitar that gives an arch feel to the material. The sense of otherworldly power and removal from the mundane is borne out by the higher density of this demo than most contemporary metal albums because although the newer material has more detail, it also has less internal communication, and thus the detail appears as on the surface only, like a form of adornment and not structure. Like other newer old school bands such as Herpes, Blood Urn focuses on atmosphere, in this case enhanced by its competent and somewhat more rock-star guitar than older school bands tried. If these adventurers are able to keep up the underground spirit of distrust for all things that pacify and satiate the thundering herd, the solid groundwork of this demo could blossom into a potent style.
When a band is accused of “selling out,” the first instinct most people have is to attack the definition of that phrase. In reality, “selling out” is easily delineated: changing your music/art/writing to reflect what the audience expects.
In metal, selling out usually consists of making the music happier, simpler, less tormented and more pretentious. This allows the people who are dedicated to not noticing anything real about their world to listen to it and have it confirm their existing bias that the best course in life will be to “keep on keeping on” by shopping, voting, bragging at the water cooler, watching television, eating fast food and otherwise being oblivious to everything.
Selling out can be compared to the difference between a home-grilled hamburger and a fast food burger. The home-grilled burger uses real meat, spiced and cooked with care, and does not look elegant but is a good balance of taste and nutrition. The fast food burger is made from ground-up bits of animals, filled out with soybeans and sugar, and most people prefer it because it tastes more like candy and nutrition, lol.
When a metal band sells out, it makes the conscious decision to alter its music to appeal to some audience. This can include an “outsider” audience that only likes ultra-lofi two-chord bands, or the usual meaning, where the music gets closer to big radio pop. When metal bands sell out, they damage metal by bringing in all the stuff metal tried to escape in the first place.
These five albums represent some of the worst sellouts in metal history.
At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul
The first At the Gates album took our breath away. A weird mix of metal, folk, progressive and classical, it achieved an idiosyncratic voice of its own the way early death metal was prone to do. Then the band faltered, losing a key member and recording albums that did not feel with albums. Suddenly, this new album burst onto the scene and the old school death metal heads rushed forward to find… the exact opposite of what made this band great. Instead of inventive death metal, Slaughter of the Soul brought a warmed-over version of Metallica Ride the Lightning that had been given the Swedish melodic metal treatment. Songs swung easily with simple melodies that would have fit better in a television commercial or schoolyard song, and song structures fit an entirely predictable mold. Nothing challenged the listener; everything was sweetened, like biting into a hot glazed donut with extra icing. It made you feel icky inside, as if you had just been assimilated by the vast mass of people in modern culture who forcibly ignore any incoming ideas which do not fit into their own ego-worship and denial. However, the album was a stunning commercial success and inspired the metalcore movement, in which post-At the Gates band The Haunted applied this template to late hardcore and created a whole new audience.
Metallica – Metallica
When metalheads first heard “One” on the radio, the general sentiment was worry. We all knew of the temptation of radio metal where bands toured in luxury buses and got loads of cocaine, chicks and fast cars. But …And Justice For All had its musical moments despite the awful rock-style drumming and simplified catchy songs, so the hope was that Metallica had gotten it out of their system. Then came the self-titled monstrosity. The first hint was the choice of eponymous name late in the career of Metallica, which suggested a break with the past. Then, the new logo: silver foil-embossed, stylized and slick. Then we heard “Enter Sandman” on the radio and fears were realized. Gone were the complex song structures and innovative riffs, but the use of melodic composition on guitar persisted from …And Justice For All, albeit in a form that fit well into the MTV lineup. Songs backed away from topics that might unsettle people into fairy tales about fears and personal drama, including the rage drama that Pantera was making famous. Metallica fans hung their heads, neatly folded their tshirts and put them at the back of the drawer, and covered their tattoos with black bars. Metallica had finally sold out.
Death – Individual Thought Patterns
As the 1990s progressed, death metal emerged as the clear next big thing. This came after nearly a decade of the music industry denying its existence, mocking it, and doing their best to conceal it. A number of them made overtures: if you could just drop the scary alienation, anger and post-human view of the world, maybe The Industry would work for you like it did for the Crue, AC/DC, etc. At this point, Chuck Schuldiner of Death was putting a lot of effort into making himself the founding father of death metal, and he fired his previous band for a mostly new group who came up with a heavy metal/death metal hybrid. That alone would have been bad, but what was worse was that he changed the music artistically as well as stylistically. The rage at a numb, callous and selfish world was replaced with personal drama, overplayed public compassion, and the kind of hollow rage that people sitting in air-conditioned homes direct at a world that “just doesn’t understand me.” Even worse, the music itself became saccharine. The wild lion of death metal became a neutered animal dependent on daily feedings of peer group approval. Not surprisingly, people loved it then and hardly mention it now.
Morbid Angel – Domination
After the public hounding that Ilud Divinum Insanus received, most fans forgot the previous great Morbid Angel disappointment that essentially fragmented the band. Thousands of death metal bands languishing in obscurity perked up when they saw Far Beyond Driven flirt with Exhorder-styled extreme metal and still make hordes of money. In the timeless and impeccably insane logic of record labels, it was suggested that death metal bands take the same route even though it would mean abandoning their fans and yet not being able to fully dumb down enough for the brocore generation. Morbid Angel came out with this disaster of a fourth album in order to try to bridge the gap and ended up (predictably) failing both. Where previous Morbid Angel albums showed inventive songs, Domination featured one interesting riff per song slowed down and mated with another couple of sludgy, partially doomy, and unforgivably bouncy Pantera-styled riffs. To accommodate the injection of nonsense into death metal songs, Morbid Angel broke them down into simpler songs that resembled the happy go lucky “beer metal” songs of the past: verse-chorus, chanty foot-tapping title of song repeated, and an artistic outlook which more resembled wounded anger than any kind of delving toward a hidden truth. After this album, the band fell apart and reconstituted itself in new forms, trying to recapture some vein of composition that might appeal to lots of MTV-reprogrammed listeners and yet still be death metal. Much like Bigfoot and the perpetual motion machine, it might be out there somewhere, but as of yet Morbid Angel has not found it.
Dimmu Borgir – Enthrone Darkness Triumphant
As soon as black metal hit the newsstands with stories of church arson and murder, record company stooges devoted many hours of thought to the simple question of how they could re-package it for the Hot Topic kids. Dimmu Borgir found the first workable solution with Enthrone Darkness Triumphant which mixed mall-goth, Cradle of Filth, and carnival music to come up with a style that reveled in its own randomness and made its listeners feel profound for having picked up an incoherent but inscrutable mess. The lush keyboards of mainstream Gothic dance music mixed with the darker rhythms of Nine Inch Nails and guitar influences from rock/metal/rap hybrids in order to interrupt the occasional black metal riff so it never came to fruition. The result became the artistic equivalent of a pop tart: thin bread crust around mystery ingredients mixed with sugar. Naturally, people loved it because it allowed them to “be black metal” (ist krieg!) without leaving behind the same digestible pap they had been swallowing for years under the rock banner. But the CDs seemed to fly out of stores, and black metal fans changed from lonely dissidents to bloated mall denizens looking for a new thrill to blot out the days of tedium as they tried to pretend they wanted to even be alive. Even more importantly, this album opened the door to “black metal” as a container for whatever you wanted to throw in it, which made the truly dark hearts of the record company execs jump with joy and visions of bank transfers.
Image: would you trust a cigarette company with marijuana? Most likely, they would do to it what they did to tobacco, which is remove variety in flavor and replace it with innocuous but consistent brand-perfect sensations.
If you create anything of beauty in this world, people will be attracted to it. They will want what it has, but because achieving that would require them to change themselves, they will instead make a version of your beautiful thing that fits their needs. This will become popular and soon idiots everywhere will adopt their dumbed-down version of your beautiful thing, effectively ruining what you have created.
Over the course of metal’s lifespan, it has several times been afflicted with the curse of popularity. During the middle 1970s, bands began cloning what Black Sabbath did and mixing it with the more radio-friendly sounds of Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who and Deep Purple. The result gave metal such a bad name it required an underground genre, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, to renovate it with punk energy and DIY spirit. Then in the late 1980s, speed metal bands started selling out and making radio-friendly jive that quickly destroyed the genre because no one wanted to associate with it anymore. Only a few years later in 1994, underground metal imploded as clone bands and outsiders began making imitations of the new sound that used songwriting conventions and “values” from other genres. Most recently in the 2000s metal became “socially acceptable” and became basically a cover story for lite jazz and indie/emo which now could claim they were groundbreaking and authentic.
But I digress. Let us look at a brief history of bands that helped ruin metal and see if we can figure out where their influences ended up in today’s milktoast hybrid metal.
Pantera – Cowboys From Hell
Before this album came along, speed metal had a certain gravitas to it. Songs were about war, human moral conflict, literature and the apocalypse. Then along came Pantera and injected a bro-sized dose of personal drama into it. After Pantera, speed metal included talking about how angry you are, getting drunk and starting fights about whose jeans are out of fashion this season, and raging about your inability to retain women who are not covered in naturally-growing wool. It was a strike of Idiocracy against the intense music of Metallica, Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Testament, Anthrax and Megadeth that dumbed it down to the Belieber level, just with more angsty testosterone. Not only that but the complex songs got replaced by verse-chorus and lots of “emotional” vocals accompanied by softer guitar parts. The path to death for speed metal started with this watered-down, dumbed-down, ego-drama path to stupidity. Luckily after they had made their money, Pantera disappeared and the band members went on to more reputable projects.
Cannibal Corpse – Tomb of the Mutilated
In the year that death metal reached its peak, Cannibal Corpse release an album that made death metal accessible and in doing so, made it a satire of itself. This is Dethklok before Dethklok. Borrowing from the percussive style that Suffocation innovated, Cannibal Corpse took out all the complex songwriting and replaced it with somewhat complex riffs in predictable format. It took away difficult rhythms and topics and replaced them with I-puke-blood style blockheaded lyrics. They also introduced Pantera-style songs about sexually mutilating women because women are difficult and sometimes all one can get is a brojob back at the frat house. This album crushed the growing death metal movement by putting a giant IDIOTS AND SYCOPHANTS WELCOME sign over the door to the genre and convincing people that songs with blockheaded gore lyrics and simplistic structures under grunting incoherent vocals were more “death metal” than the complex music of integrity that defined the genre at the time.
Cradle of Filth – The Principle of Evil Made Flesh
Point your TARDIS back to 1994. Black metal was in full-swing, having just put forth all of its founding works and then exploded in a media-fueled inferno of murder, anti-Christian and politically incorrect sentiments. In come the “smart” people who figure they can make a buck off this new phenomenon. Their formula: make Iron Maiden style metal with the new screechy vocals and make it emo so that kids can feel like it sympathizes with their horrible lives where their parents just totally control them and stuff. Then mix in the usual “teen paranormal romance” rambling about vampires and evil and you have baby food for coddled toddlers. It took some brains to like black metal, but Cradle of Filth asks nothing so challenging of its listeners! Even more, this band introduced the “carnival music” style of putting radically different riffs next to each other so that the listener loses track of song structure entirely. These songs are basically advertising jingles and warmed-over Goth rock stuck into second-rate metal, but all the kiddies brought their sweaty dollars to Hot Topic because they felt it “understood them.”
Meshuggah – None
Right in the middle of 1994 it became clear that black metal and death metal had left the building. They had said what they wanted to; people had to either top it or find some easier and sleazier way to do. Ripping off the percussive textures of Exhorder, Prong and Exodus, Meshuggah came up with a “new” style that consisted of over-extending ideas from previous and better bands. It’s worth mentioning that Meshuggah’s first album was 80s speed metal with death metal vocals, but that it was extremely boring. Meshuggah figured that if they just made their style more dramatic and used lots of choppy riffs with shiny new “complex” polyrhythms, they could fool a new generation into liking their stuff. Without fail, it worked, and now metal bands find it necessary to incorporate the worked-over 70s groove with two-chord texture riffs and claim a “djent” influence. At its core, this band remains the same bad 80s speed metal that failed on its first album.
Opeth – Orchid
You can pitch a market one of two ways: on one hand, you can be “just one of us regular guys” and pull a Bruce Springsteen (or warmed over punk); on the other, you can claim that you are so far out and deep that only a few deep people can understand you. The best is to hide the former in the latter so that you are selling the “profundity” of sing-song music for children but it gives them a chance to pop on a Fedora and think they are really so deep, you know totally deep, that no one can be as deep as they are. Opeth sold itself on being “open-minded,” which is this message: we are different from the rest of metal because we use acoustic passages instead of just solid heavy metal riffs. What they choose not to tell their fans is that they are more like everything else that is not metal, so to like this stuff is to admit you fail as a metal listener and go back to pumping radio pap through your Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. But every underconfident basement-dwelling pretentious geek loved this stuff even though it consisted of a simple formula, soft verse and hard chorus, that is most famous for its use among nu-metal bands. Nonetheless, Opeth opened the door for people who wanted to signal to the world how profound and different they were, and now most bands are tinged with the same simpering pander that makes this music sickly sweet and an inch deep.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Most humans understand reality through social definitions because this flatters their pretense of being important in cold and empty universe. Others prefer to find meaning through bonding with reality in all of its darkness. For noticing the difference, we get called sadists.
Algebra – Feed the Ego
Late 1980s speed metal gets a strong infusion of Slayer-styled energy and tempo. If you can imagine second-tier speed metal bands using the riff patterns and rhythmic shifts from Reign in Blood, you grasp the basic idea here. This makes for fun listening but underneath the surface, an ugly hard rock influence shows, and the derivative nature of the riffing makes it hard to take seriously.
Cradle of Filth – Total Fucking Darkness
They released the demo of the band that initiated the downfall of black metal. Like Opeth, Cannibal Corpse, Meshuggah and Pantera, Cradle of Filth made a name for itself by taking a new style and dumbing it down for an audience that wanted spoon feeding. Notice the idiotic hipster trend of inserting the word “fucking” to make an otherwise recombinant title seem edgy. What you will hear on this lengthy demo is basic deathgrind verses with melodic heavy metal choruses kicked into high speed and aggression with borrowed technique. Oh wait, there are keyboards so you can feel more profound than your friends for listening to such an open-minded band. This entire thing is transparent and shows how from an early date, this band was scheming to make a vapid but “profound” (like dreamcatchers, Ansel Adams posters and Eckhart Tolle) sound. While it is not explicitly terrible it also fails to make any lasting connection to the inner layers of being, like higher brain functions or what we sometimes call a soul.
Ending Quest – The Summoning
In my dream, I was in a vast house by the seaside. In the east wing, the hallway had endless doors. I opened one and immediately recoiled. I was in the retro-Swedish death metal room again! Ending Quest provides a better than average take on the retro style but does not achieve any level of impact such that it must be listened to. Imagine mixing a melodic Necrophobic-style lead rhythm riff into a more rock ‘n’ roll version of Entombed Left Hand Path in the riff department. Then work in elements of the death ‘n’ roll that came a generation later: abrupt cuts, bouncy grooves, relatively standard song format and lots of melodic hooks. The problem is that after a while it starts to sound like sonic wallpaper because it uses roughly the same approach and template to writing each song. Thus what emerges is a dozen songs that feature familiar motifs and all run together into a blur of Swedish-tasting death metal with hard rock undertones.
Final Conflict – Ashes to Ashes
I always enjoyed this late hardcore offering but never found it as hard-hitting as the Cro-Mags, Amebix or Discharge. There’s a good reason: if Descendents decided to make a hardcore, it might sound like this. Riffs fit the patterns of basic California hardcore adapted to the stream of powerchords attack of the Exploited or Cro-Mags. But ultimately, this is melodic punk. Vocal melodies predominate with heavy focus on chorus and riffs work in enough melody to be predominantly hook-driven. Add to this lyrics that span a gamut from radical anarchistic sentiment to mainstream right-wing moderate calls for defense of rights and freedoms, and you sense a movement looking for a purpose. However Final Conflict create an album without filler that hits hard and keeps riding that violent energy which makes this a hardcore album you can appreciate without descending into total alienation. It’s probably a great workout album.
Greenleaf – Trails and Passes
Do they ever tire of peddling the same hackneyed crap? This sounds like early 1960s angry rock, with a heavy MC5 influence. Bluesy, with extended rhythmic breaks and emphasis on a hippie vocal, this band might think they are related to metal but this is purely on the aesthetic basis that they use distortion pedals. Baby Boomers love this stuff because it lets them revisit their ancient pointless youth in the free love and whatever-stupid-shit-you-think-is-OK-man 1960s, but for the rest of us this retro detour is a dead end.
Humut Tabal – The Dark Emperor ov the Shadow Realm
Some of our writers here think highly of the Texas scene but it seems to me that much like Texas itself, the scene there is composed of odds and ends. Such is the case with Humut Tabal who are jack of all trades and master of none. The basis of this album is promising melodic black metal with too much influence from the ersatz article like Watain, but the band know how to write some songs that verge on the beautiful. Then they drop in some idiotic riff straight off a Pantera album and reduce the IQ in the room to Juggalo levels. While their melodic approach, reminiscent of Dawn and Sacramentum, is basically really good, the band overplay it and end up with an album that disappears into its own sound. On the plus side, these songs remain distinctive enough to tell the difference, which suggests this band has the ability to have a bright future if it wants it. But maybe drop the two-word trendy name and the ridiculous “ov” style spelling, get more of a purpose, and stop trying to please everyone at once. You can’t do it because it should never be done.
Mordbrand – Imago
As a genre descends, it improves in attention to details including basic musicality but fails at its center where meaning lies. This Swedish death metal revival band bash out a formula at either fast or slow speeds, but the effect is the same. It is focused on chorus as hook like the later Sodom records and never really develops past having a cool melodic idea for a riff; songs are essentially in standard format and take huge influence from later crustpunk which was by definition formulaic. There are parts of this to admire but the whole adds up to less than the parts.
Steel Prophet – Omniscient
Middle 1980s style speed metal picks up a few stylistic flourishes from power metal but basically stays in the great quest for a catchy chorus that can be backed by lots of muted downstroke strumming. Melodically, it closest resembles Judas Priest but adds some Manowar-like touches. Songs fit more into the rock ‘n’ roll mold of building everything as a support structure for the vocals, and drums, bass and lead guitars generate a backgrond that is too busy to make this anything but the kind of sonic assault waged by a fast-sell commercial. The vocalist exhibits quite a bit of talent and none of the players are bad, but the way they choose to combine this material resembles the frenetic activity at a shopping mall in that for all that it is busy, it never gets anywhere.
Dawn – Nær Solen Gar Niþer For Evogher
This re-issue tempted me but ultimately I have decided it lives in a duality: it has great melodic ideas and riffs, but insists on the type of semi-random songwriting that later became famous with metalcore. Riffs shift into other riffs without any real sense to the arrangement; by rock theory, this is OK since they’re in the same key. But in metal, the riffs talk to each other. Sometimes this band tends to like to bash out fast repetitive melodies on a plodding rhythm until the audience shoots itself. But scattered throughout this album in abundance are good melodic ideas and some really great riff pairs. If the band had worked on song structure and arrangement more, this could have been an A-level black metal album.
Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory occupies a distinct niche in the publishing world. Inspired by academia, it nonetheless attempts to construct theory around the motivations of black metal, instead of trying to fit metal into existing academic theories as most publications tend to do. While it missteps somewhat by included adulterated post-collapse black metal in the genre such as Wolves in the Throne Room and Liturgy, the journal digs into topics that neither metal underworld nor academic hierarchy can address.
Anticipating its third and fourth issues, Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory calls for papers and art for those forthcoming issues. You can download the first issue of Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory from the Punctum Books website; a donation is optional. The journal seeks the following:
This third issue of Helvete focuses on the sonic aspects of black metal, specifically noise music’s interactions with black metal—the interruptions, creations, and destructions of signals as black metal. Proposals are welcomed that discuss and experimentally demonstrate not only musical feedback but conceptual feedback as well, and the way that black metal works through feedback as a process. Experimentation, fiction, and speculation in contributions are encouraged, including writing and art that resonates as a background hum, drone, or cascades in a foregrounded scream. Preference will be given to proposals that move beyond a position of reflecting black metal towards creating black metal noise themselves.
Issue 4 is tentatively titled Black Metal and Politics, and seeks to give a concentrated platform to the conversations that have been happening alongside our theoretical work, regarding black metal’s complicated and diverse relationships to politics. The complex subject of politics and black metal, directly and para-musically, has long been brushed up against within black metal theory work, but rarely unfolded at length. We would like to reserve this issue of Helvete as a forum to begin to address and perhaps even articulate some of these discussions. While some may insist that black metal (as a diverse field of culture and music) exists outside of politics or cannot be described politically, it frequently sparks political repercussions, and its history courts political controversy. These include headline grabbing moments such as Varg Vikernes’s arrest in 2013 by the French government on accounts of suspicion of planning a terrorist attack; Norway’s implementation in 2011 of black metal education within its foreign diplomats; Nachtmystium’s forced cancellation in 2009 of a concert at Scion Rock Fest in Atlanta, Georgia; Inquisition’s forced cancellation in 2014 of their Vienna, Austria concert due to alleged connections to NSBM; and the complete ban on black metal in Malaysia in 2006. Most recently, Behemoth‘s recent encounter with Polish and Russian authorities has been well documented in the mainstream press. It may seem that the proposition that black metal is apolitical is itself a (privileged) political position. The editors of Helvete are accepting proposals for essays that focus on politics and black metal. Contributors are encouraged to suggest topics such as Black Metal’s interactions with nation, race, linguistic, gender, religion, and culture. Special consideration will be given to the explorations of the negotiations that the individual makes within the city or community, using black metal as a verb rather than a noun.
For more information, see the website for Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory. The deadline for both proposals is August 1, 2014 but may be extended to accommodate late notice for many people of this call for papers. The next two issues will be edited by Amelia Ishmael and Niall Scott.