Is nu/alt/indie metal at the same level of quality as old school underground death metal?

A reader writes:

Do you think the new underground waves bands like Cryptopsy are good like the old school bands. Or do you think that death metal is the only good option?

The new school metal has not, so far, come close to what the older death metal was able to do.

I don’t think this is stylistic, so much that people are thinking about different things. When you think about things like death metal, the big topics in life like death and justice and war, you are able to make death metal (complex thoughts). When you think about yourself, who are you gonna party with and what your parents are doing that you don’t like, you end up with nu-metal, metalcore, indie metal and other new-wave underground metal band types.

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Nu/Alt/Indie metal honors its origins in late 1980s Dischord bands, Fugazi included

strangelight-9_daysStrangelight, a new nu/alt-metal/indiemetal/metalcore/drone band comprised of members of Made Out Of Babies, Thursday, Red Sparowes, Pigs, United Nations, Goes Cube, Mussels and Kiss It Goodbye, will release its debut EP 9 Days on October 1, 2013 on Brooklyn hipster label Sacrament Music.

Written and recorded at vocalist Brendan Tobin’s own Ice Cream Audio in Brooklyn, New York in just nine days (hence the title), 9 Days aims to be a low-pretense version of the music presently in vogue in the hybrid metal/indie scene.

While their past and current bands share little in common, Strangelight — comprised of Tobin, Cooper, Kenneth Appel, John Niccoli and Geoff Rickly — focuses on the modern indie/metal hybrid ideal of jarring music that is also melancholic and self-indulgent.

But here’s where it gets interesting. The press release reveals the roots of indie/metal:

Drawing heavily upon DC visionaries, Amphetamine Reptile destroyers and Touch & Go noisemakers and named in honor of a track off Fugazi’s last record, The Argument, STRANGELIGHT offers up all the signature makings of an early ’90s Dischord band

DeathMetal.org has consistently offered up the idea that post-Minor Threat band Fugazi, along with Rites of Spring and Jawbreaker, provided the post-punk basis to all modern metalcore, drone, nu-metal, alt-metal, indie metal and tek-deth.

It’s good to see that a band such as Strangelight, which contains influences from foundations of the nu-indie-metal scene such as Red Sparowes, Pigs, United Nations, Goes Cube, Mussels and Kiss It Goodbye, in addition to more recent offerings Out Of Babies and Thursday, acknowledges this fundamental influence.

9 Days Track Listing:

  1. Split And Divide
  2. Mosh Party
  3. High Five Hailstorm
  4. Tiers Of Joy
  5. Xmas
  6. White Feather

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajrCZJgwoh4

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Social functions of heavy metal music

metal_onlyThe origins of human fascination with music remain unknown. A number of hypotheses have arisen throughout the years in an attempt to explain the utility of music to human civilization.

These vary from viewing it as arising as an individual occurrence with unique philosophical implications, to seeing it as a side-effect of language-based communication; a pleasant phenomenon but without any meaning beyond that. Regardless of its cause, the functions music provides are generally easier to identify.

Via the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, newly released academic research into the social implications of music has claimed that music functions as a way of bringing people together within a group. Specifically, the authors claim that music is a vehicle for projecting “information about the group’s shared mental state to a number of individuals at once.”

In this view, music is a type of broadcast that attracts people based on a topic and brings them together in unity of experience. This enables the group to consolidate its knowledge and then distribute it to all of its members, not unlike the social functions of good political science books, novels, speeches, movies or other memetic/viral communications.

As evidence for this new research, multiple studies are presented in which the authors posed questions to a test group designed to determine their emotional need to belong, and then compare it to how strongly they react to music. The findings were that there was a direct connection between this desire and its fulfillment through music. As a corollary, after researchers attempted to break down a group’s sense of belonging, the effect music had on it increased further.

While some metal fans may not wish to admit this, the genre does serve this role for many of its enthusiasts. That’s not to say it’s the primary reason for listening, over the sound itself; but metal as a social component does exist. Regardless of a person’s position within society, those who appreciate metal (therefore excluding those who listen ironically, i.e. hipsters) share something in common.

Alienation of modernity is present within all art forms of metal — whether politically, spiritually, or just plain exasperation at our disposable TV dinner culture — but unlike the solutionless protest music of yore, metal provides a constructive way of overcoming this. It allows a group of people who in some cases may not be able to describe themselves directly, to communicate through an art form.

What makes metal interesting is that it operates on many levels. At the lowest, it is simply exciting music. Higher up, it is complex music that attunes the individual to a certain naturalistic outlook. At the highest, perhaps, it helps metalheads reach others who feel similarly but perhaps never consciously examined their beliefs, and from that build a community around understanding.

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First in Line: Metallica – Kill ‘Em All

metallica-kill_em_allThirty years ago, a struggling band from California unleashed their first album and changed the world of heavy metal forever. The genre that they may not have invented but certainly formalized was speed metal, and it represented the start of heavy metal’s journey away from verse-chorus rock into the dual worlds of hardcore punk intensity and progressive rock song structures.

At first, these changes were less obvious. Kill ‘Em All owes a huge debt to the heavy metal that came before it, and embraces many of the conventions of rock music as well, but it funneled them through a singular filter and achieved a uniformity of sound. In addition, this new style crept in with a number of innovations, like the use of introductions and instrumentals to change song structure, that presaged where this new subgenre would go.

From a casual observer’s position, the first Metallica album isn’t that far removed from its predecessors. The dual influences of UK heavy metal and hardcore punk are clear, as is the distinctive feature of speed metal: the muted strum that produces a choppy explosive sound from percussive lead rhythm guitar, allowing the construction of more complex riffs by making the power chord a building block instead of a place where the riff rests, as open chords are in rock.

Kill ‘Em All showed a new blueprint for metal that developed the extremity of Motorhead with the intricate riffery of Judas Priest and other NWOBHM bands, making for a brainy album that relied on speed to cram all of its power into songs of a normal length. In addition, the speed kicked it up to a new level of complexity in riffing. Speed reveals the sparseness of a riff, and so the one- and two-note riffs of the past would seem immensely repetitive at a faster pace. Thus the riff itself grew with speed metal.

Conceptually, metal grew up with Kill ‘Em All as well, at least partly. Yes, there were some embarrassing songs that sounded like West Side Story retrofitted for violent Northern California speed metal gangs. But more importantly, there was an epic view of existence. Songs about fate, about the fall of civilization, and dark lore that reveals the topics feared by daylight conversation all gave the album a weight beyond its (merely) heavy riffs. Like hardcore punk, this was the howling voice of the apocalypse at our door.

One of Metallica’s most important contributions was to liberate the riff from the drums, hence the “lead rhythm guitar” designation that appeared with many speed metal bands. Following the lead of UK crust punk bands like Discharge, Metallica viewed the drums as a background timekeeper which framed the riff loosely rather than accentuated it, and thus the riff could change without the drums changing. This allowed the riff to change more frequently without forcing tempo changes, although the band delighted in abrupt and surprising tempo changes as well.

Speed metal took this pattern and ran with it. While its antecedents are clear, such as the proto-speed metal of Satan/Blitzkrieg and Motorhead, and the fast-fingered intricate melodic riffs of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the new speed metal band from California turned up the intensity and pushed aside conventional song structures. This set metal free from the world of rock, and laid the groundwork for the next generation, which would not only inherit the true lawlessness of hardcore punk, but build up complexity to be closer to the world of progressive rock.

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The strong link between heavy metal and high intelligence

heavy_metal_high_intelligenceAfter years of society looking down its nose at heavy metal, it appears to be showing up in unusual places: high intelligence occupations, health and academia.

Even though metalheads are still a discriminated-against group, with long hair for men, tattoos, loud music, mentions of Satan and chaos magick banned in many workplaces and government offices, the forces of metal are rising worldwide.

Wired reports on an intelligence-research prodigy in China who, after mastering difficult subjects in a fraction of the time it would require even another gifted person, takes the day off to see a “Satanic heavy metal concert.” Then returns to studying intelligence itself.

Over on the Wall Street Journal, Jon Wiederhorn reminds us that “Metal Music Can Be Good For You,” mentioning among other things that metal can “keep fans that have been scarred by trauma feeling alive and surrounded by family” and that “heavy metal has never faded into obscurity.”

All of this follows an article from a few years ago, “Gifted Students Beat The Blues With Heavy Metal”, which revealed how many who society would consider its best and brightest are turning to metal.

At DeathMetal.org, we don’t find this surprising. Metal is more brainy at the compositional level, meaning how the riffs fit together to develop themes, than rock music or even jazz, which tend to be cyclic. It tackles the big subjects that people would rather forget about, and thus attracts the smarter alienated teens who find the lack of order in life to be appalling.

But best of it, it delivers a punch to life. Like spice in food, combat, sky-diving or a new idea, metal brings out the terrifying and empowering all at once, making us view life with new eyes. That could be the healthiest of all.

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Helvete, famous Oslo black metal hangout, returns

helvete_store_oslo_black_metalBack during the golden age of black metal, the shop Helvete was the focal point of the Norwegian black metal movement. Run by Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, the store was the go-to spot for the genre’s elites to spread their music and ideas.

After the first media explosion of black metal occurred, Helvete shut down in response to negative reactions from the community. Shortly after, it became famous after the events surrounding Euronymous’ death and gained mythic status amongst the newer fans to journey to and attempt to understand what had occurred there.

After languishing in other business purposes for over a decade, as of this August the location of the original store will be reclaimed for its 1990s purpose: spreading black metal. Neseblod Records has decided to relocate there and is busy setting up a museum experience to preserve the history of the genre. Featuring classic releases and rare flyers and posters, the project aims to revive interest in what inspired the original black metal musicians to create what they did.

Throughout this endeavor, the project has had the support of Darkthrone‘s Fenriz, who has directly involved himself in the moving process, guiding the presentation to be as realistic and truthful as possible, which can only help increase awareness of both the history of the genre and its future exploits.

In this case, realistic and truthful means making the past come alive once again and remembering those ideals, which are timeless, and carrying them forward into a new time. At least, that’s if they want to avoid nostalgia, which pretty much killed off the souls of Generation X before they even hit their forties. Those interested in seeing documentation of the progress can head over to the Facebook page.

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Witches Mark – Witching Metal Ritual

witches_mark-witching_metal_ritualThis affectionate tribute to the days of classic metal, both NWOBHM and its more bombastic American cousin, fits into the same vein as material like Gehennah, Nifelheim or Diamonsnake: it’s catchy, with overemphasis on the flourishes of the past, but can be compelling for its sentimental view of the world that comes off as poetic.

Witching Metal Ritual features motives from the initial heavy metal era but played with the energy and less responsive drumming of hardcore punk, with occasional touches of the speed metal techniques of the early 1980s. However, what drives this recording are its melodic moments and the use of lead guitar as a running commentary to create a sense of detachment.

Vocals are chants with harmonized singing at intervals, and these complement the guitar, but it is the six-string that sustains emotion. If the album has an achilles heel, it is that too much of this guitar is lead which introduces complexity with more variety in riff could have been powerful. Similarly, drums may be a bit too detached for this style, although it creates an interesting effect.

Witches Mark are more creative than most of the bands who attempt this style and forge a unique sound for themselves that seems influenced by some of the more proggish material in the metal world of late, but is based very much in simple heavy metal riffs and grandiloquent moments where a collision by one or more motifs creates the kind of “heaviness” that metal is famous for.

However, much like later Ihsahn, the tendency to fill sparse songs with internal complexity can lead to listener disorientation and often prevents themes from fully developing. However, the faithful rendition of the past, including a vocalist with a wide range and crystal pipes, may over-ride that with a mood that is hard not to like.

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Metal across borders

orphaned_land-band_photo

At a recent concert in Tel Aviv, Israel, a remarkable thing happened: two bands from two different cultures, Jewish and Arab, stood up together and performed a concert.

“We are metal brothers before anything,” Abed Khathout, bass player for Khalas (“enough” in Arabic) said. His comment was underscored by Koby Farhi, Orphaned Land’s lead singer. ” Tonight is the second time we’re playing together — Orphaned Land and Khalas, as Israelis and Arabs. Having a brotherhood, sharing the stage, simply shows that Rock and Roll music is above politics, ” he said.

Farhi added, “The purpose of art is to represent harmony and coexistence in places of disharmony.” This marks the first time the bands were able to do this, after a similar show in Egypt was cancelled in November.

The more pressing question might be whether metal, the music that decidedly is not about peace and harmony, achieves a greater sense of balance by allowing people to speak honestly about their ambitions and desires, instead of hiding behind layers of social pretense.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF4vfL9JMqs

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Metal and weightlifting: worship of strength

hrmmphIf this world fears anything, it is strength. Most music artists portray themselves as thin, frail and sensitive. Our leaders like to cry in public. Some however recognize that health does not come from preservation, but pushing ourselves to the limits, in both mind and body. Jim Wendler is a powerlifter and out-of-the-closet metalhead who promotes that point of view.

A professional weightlifter, Jim gives advice on how to properly build muscle so that your body is suitably formed. He’s had numerous successes and he published an e-book where he outlines techniques to become BIG. You will not find advice on diets to slim down here, only diets to bulk up, on the assumption that you’re also flinging iron (a type of heavy metal) around on an hourly basis.

Wendler is part of a new breed of heavy metal associated athletes like fellow bodybuilder Jamie Lewis, who believes that having a tiny head is compliment. Like Wendler, Lewis also advocates metal in and out of the gym, as well as crushing posers wherever he finds them.

If you’re interested in building muscle, check out Jim’s website for tips. From the t-shirts he wears and endorsements he makes, we know that Jim works out to Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, Darkthrone and other metal bands both above and below the underground line. Perhaps the music of strength and the behavior of strength have found a balance with each other. Further, he’s in a metal band that makes death-grind that is alternatingly frenetic and doomy.

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