Sarcophageous film on Finnish heavy metal culture

Promised Land of Heavy Metal is a documentary about the history and philosophy of Heavy Metal and how it became such a big deal in a small country called Finland.

We tell the story of Finnish Metal, from its early “underground” days to the present success stories, by interviewing famous musicians, experts and events organizers, a psychiatrist and a doctor of theology. The film takes us literally from the graveyard to the Finnish President’s palace!

Why is Metal a religion for so many? What are it’s links to satanism and ritualistic murders? What made Metal mainstream in Finland? Why does the Finnish Church have Metal Masses? What’s the future of Metal, after LORDI won the Eurovision song contest and even the President approves? We hear strong opinions: some see Metal as the new folk music, while others detest it’s commercial aspect.

The film is narrated by Kimmo Kuusniemi, a filmmaker, Sarcofagus guitarist and a forefather of Finnish Metal. Kimmo has lived in England for 16 years, and sees the current popularity of Heavy Metal as a strange phenomenon. He was the one who fought for the metal message 30 years ago! What happened in Finland in his absence?

One of our aims over the years has been to prove how the vital undercurrents of Finland produced cultivated metal sensations over the years from the earliest heavy metal days, best exemplified by the inimitable Sarcofagus, to thrash and the Finnish death metal movement, finally creating a discharge of consciousness that erupted in mainstream metal sensations all over the world, leaving most of the more focused and gloomy explorers to repose in the depths.

Kimmo Kuusniemi, the founder of Sarcofagus, the earliest Finnish metal band, has aggregated his unique vision into a documentary giving sporadic but meaningful glimpses into metal culture in search of the ultimate question: why?

Written by Devamitra

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Two DIY Metal Books

Brief thoughts on two recent metal-related books, both small-print-run, DIY affairs:

A Salute to Heavy Metal Band Name Origins by Blair Gibson

Remember that book that was a list of every heavy metal band name gleaned from MySpace and Metal-Archives? You can get the real deal here instead: author Blair Gibson went out there to active bands and asked them to describe the origins of their names. And he gets them, time after time, for a fascinating study of detail that also reveals quite a bit about heavy metal. For example, the number of bands who picked word lengths and vowel distributions to make a good logo, or the number of tributes to earlier bands. Some stories are just bizarre and show us how bands ended up with enigmatic band names that are meaningless to the rest of us. Others make perfect sense and show a systematic approach to finding names that fit multiple criteria. For the casual reader, this book is probably doomed to the coffee table because it’s so easy to read if you pick up and start on a random page, or skim for favorite bands. However, it provides such a rich background of insight that it will fascinate die-hard metalheads and rock historians alike.

Glorious Times: A Pictorial of the Death Metal Scene 1984 – 1991 by Alan Moses and Brian Pattison

For good or ill, there is an obvious old-school revival afoot. Amidst all the vinyl lust and reformation mania, the hocking of the dusted-off thoughts and artifacts of the first generation of death metal ‘zine writers was probably an inevitability. Glorious Times, then, makes Alan Moses (Buttface ‘zine) and Brian Pattison (Chainsaw Abortions ‘zine) the trendsetters in what could easily become a highly active take on the metal nostalgia game (see the forthcoming Slayer ‘zine compilation and excitement surrounding it for proof).

Despite the “pictorial” label, Glorious Times instead features dozens of exclusive, band-submitted narratives and pictures supported by the authors’ collections of rare photographs. The tales look to be included in the book warts-and-all — editing, grammar and spelling — as submitted by the contributors in text form, and were solicited from a number of closely-related US bands, with a few stragglers from Europe called on to fill in the gaps. This creates something of a thread to be followed: one sees several names and faces pop up throughout the book regardless of the focus at any given point, which enforces a sense of camaraderie and makes a lot of the tour horror stories and rehearsal anecdotes that much more personally appealing and amusing.

While the above makes for enjoyable casual reading, the layout is unfortunately disjointed, rendering the “pictorial” side of the book distracting from the literary effect. The photo subjects are mostly well chosen, and the originals of high quality, but many of the images are bafflingly distorted from their original aspect ratios, are confusingly labeled or are oriented hastily with little regard to their context in the space of the book. It’s really too bad, as it undermines a lot of the documentary potential; a bit of caution with the aesthetic aspect, particularly for such an emphatically visual work, and this could have been legendary. Instead, it comes across as a fine idea with some haphazard execution that hurts its lifelong bookshelf appeal.

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Why I’m a Hessian and not a metalhead

hessian_goat

There are many books, movies and CDs that float through our lives.

When we really like many of a certain type, we may identify with them. “I like Romance novels! I like disco!”

If you like the music, you’re a metalhead. You like to buy certain things and listen to them.

If you like the ideas behind the music — the lifestyle, the worldview, the imagery and most importantly, the spirit — you need to use a word that means you are more than a consumer of metal music.

You’re a Hessian. Derived from California slang from the time when Slayer were starting out, this term refers to the mercenaries who fought for both sides during the Revolutionary War — from Hesse, in Germany, they had long hair and fought like demons.

Obviously, this term belongs with the person who loves the abstract ideals of metal!

Anyone can be a metalhead. For under $100 you can get a starter collection, and if you hit the thrift stores, you can pick up some classic ironic metal tshirts for under ten bucks.

If you really want to appear extreme, you can go the ‘kvlt’ route and buy up classic releases on ebay, then refuse to like anything that has more than two chords.

Or you can be an Opeth fan and talk about how profound and progressive your music is.

Either way, you’ve bought yourself an identity with your cash and time.

But is that really a commitment? Nope, because you can whip that identity off in 30 seconds. Put the CDs back on ebay (where they seem to recycle; wonder why). Give the tshirts to Goodwill (same situation). Take the posters off your walls, buy a Miles Davis CD and a beret and you’ve got a new lifestyle.

But to be a Hessian means you identify with the ideas and have made them your own, just like when you find a philosopher who answers part of the question of life for you. You become a Schopenhauerian, or Nietzscheian, or Kantian — perhaps all at the same time.

Being a metalhead is just too easy. Being a Hessian takes commitment. I don’t begrudge those who want to pass through metal on their way somewhere else, and in fact cheer them on if they recognize this fact. But it’s the Hessians who always impress me.

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40 Candles upon the Altar of Heavy Metal

If we say that the average life-expectancy age in the western world is 80 and simplify things a little further by positing that half of those years are spent asleep during the night, then we’ve only got about 40 years to do some real, serious living. It’s been that many years to this day since Black Sabbath released their debut album, as good a day as you’re going to get to hail the 40th anniversary of Heavy Metal, and every single one of those years has been spent wide awake through procession of the daily sun and the darkness of the night. Heavy Metal arrived at a time to sentence a generation of delusion to death and confront the rest of modernity with the weight of reality and the power of the occult. A lot of newer generation listeners entered the Metallic planes of hell through bands that were breaking away from Heavy Metal’s Rock formalities and Blues atavisms, giving an impression that the older music was in most cases obsolete. From the moment that Sabbath had arrived and Satan unveiled his majestic black wings, the spirit of Metal was unlocked like a Pandora’s box that held all the secrets from the past and future, and the subversion of the present ensued, encoded in the language of the riff! Let us mark this unholy day with the truest celebration of Heavy Metal imagineable, as Devamitra introduces his epic compilation chronicling this wise and powerful art-culture:

History has become obscured, for few are interested to learn and explore the dawn of the barbaric and romantic sounds of metal music. All sorts of glam and joke bands are mistaken for Heavy Metal, which they aren’t, and many even believe there was never any serious merit, dark insight or focused direction to Heavy Metal in the past. The “Anvil of Thor” compilation was created to aid discourse on death metal and black metal with a friend of mine, as our musical learnings were composed in entirely different moulds and I wanted him to see the language of heavy metal with its forms, symbols and motion at least partially from my perspective. “If you don´t know the past, it´s impossible to understand the present.” Listening to these tracks in the preferred order as they appear in the playlist file, it should be easy, for example, to see how the tritone blues of Black Sabbath and the poetic narrative of Judas Priest contained the suggestion of high energy riffs as they appeared in occult bands Mercyful Fate, Death SS and Angel Witch, consequently mutating into Doom Metal in Trouble and Candlemass, Speed Metal in Slayer and Metallica and Epic Metal in Manilla Road and Manowar. This isn’t quite a “best of Heavy Metal” but one of the possible paths of seeing through core visions, techniques and moods of Heavy Metal music. For old heavy metal fans, it will hopefully revive fond memories of these sinister and majestic LP’s and for others, broaden the perception and hopefully bestow surprises.

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Metal on piano

People always told me that I liked metal because of the sound. Well — that was true; however, it wasn’t the whole story. I liked the music too. When I got further into the genre, people would bring me the LATEST COOLEST THING EVAR and when I figured out that 99% of those were soulless shallow trash with some nifty quirk or aesthetic tacked on, I started telling people that good music was production-agnostic. You could play it on a kazoo, on a synthesizer, or on a tuba, and good music will still have whatever it was made you like it.

Here in my view is the proof — complex metal classics played on piano, sounding like a progressive rock interpretation of classical music:

Although Varg Vikernes is normally a bad source for information about reality, he did tell us how he saw his music:

When forced to take a stand I say today that it’s metal music. Metal with roots in classical music. – Interview With Raped Ass of Christ ‘Zine

Metal with roots in classical music. Classical music, most like the Romantic and modernist kind, with its roots in traditional music and transcendental thinking. And you can hear the proof of it when you translate your metal to piano playing.

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El metal de muerte en Español

If you are a Spanish-language speaker, or want to improve your Spanish as a second language, consider these:

  • Metaleros: Jairson Bathory translates and augments DLA texts in Spanish
  • El Negro Metal: Flavio Belisario translates and updates classic DLA texts on black metal.

Please notify us of any others.

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Black metal fans burning churches in Texas

Through the grapevine:

Eight Texas churches barely 150 miles apart have caught fire since New Year’s Day…Authorities determined seven of those fires were intentionally set and they are investigating one that broke out Thursday as a possible arson.

Standing in front of the charred rubble of his church, Mahfood said he considers the fires to be a hate crime.

“I don’t really think you can look at this devastation and not realize this has hate as its impetus,” he said. “We have probably experienced every emotion possible.”

United Media Toolbags

The official voices are remaining tight-lipped because they want more evidence before they lunge for a conviction. But if the grapevine is correct, this may turn out to be bigger for metal than most people realize.

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Death Metal Day

According to the Failbook page for the World Death Metal Day:

its celebrated by listening to lots of death metal and really LOUD and respecting death metal musicians and waas chosen to be on February 14 th because It was meant for those who were disheartened with valentines day and wanted to do something else.

You can celebrate on February 14, starting at 7:00 PM (GMT, we assume). More information here.

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An ennead of Terrifying visions – classic EP’s of Death Metal

Slayer – Haunting The Chapel
Napalm Death – Mentally Murdered
Rotting Christ – Passage to Arcturo
At the Gates – Gardens of Grief
Wings – Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne
Sacramentum – Finis Malorum
Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
Vulpecula – Fons Immortalis
Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate

This series of reviews shows the infectious potential of condensing the multidimensional texture of darkness and mythology into a carefully trimmed brief explosion with no room for filler or long, meaningless passages of droning, experimentation or interludes. Those who mastered the art of the metal EP or mini-LP are rare, but deserve all the more credit for their achievements. The fact that you can listen to everything we have here easily within the space of one evening does not mean that the unlocked experiences won’t stay with you forever.

Slayer – Haunting The Chapel

Showing a strong advancement in technique and an evolution towards a darker style that would be the staple of records to come by the band, Slayer throw off the camp shackles of their excellent first album, and give a more progressive approach to songcraft yet give more emphasis on repetition within individual riffs. The violent droning guitar timbre of Discharge makes itself ever more present whilst the musical language of Judas Priest and Angel Witch works itself within those patterns. The dissonant twin soloing of King and Hanneman is more suitable to this new direction also, whilst Lombardo’s aggressive battery finds more cohesion in using less variation and being more of an ambient backdrop than before, with Araya’s unmistakable rasp encoding itself sadistically within the depths. A bleak affair that summed up the apocalyptic meanderings of the speed metal movement and the embryonic beginnings of the death metal that was yet to manifest. -Pearson

Napalm Death – Mentally Murdered

This work is like a convergence of Napalm Death and Carcass, having left From Enslavement to Obliteration and Reek or Putrefaction behind in order to expand on their styles, towards Harmony Corruption and Symphonies of Sickness respectively. By Napalm’s standards, at this point in their discography, these songs are quite lengthy and structured with an attention to detail that recaptures the subtle shifts in mechanical motion of the earliest side to Scum. This technique is re-invigorated by the cleaner production, relegating the extremity of fuzzy bass for the sake of a twin-guitar assault that creates an hypnotic and delusional sensation, and shows the input of Jesse Pintado who would go on to record another highly influential work of Grindcore – Terrorizer’s World Downfall. Composition is practically freed at very the earliest moments of songs onwards, unlike previous Napalm Death albums where these parts were used to establish exactly which single riff will become immersed in a barely discernable anarchic explosion for the rest of the 30 seconds of music. Instead, it’s given a more Death Metal treatment, e.g. in ‘The Missing Link’, the opening riff seems to degrade over time into smaller grinding patterns until the fragments are juggled like sacks of meat by morbid Death Metal riffs. This is where some of the tremelo melodies that would tear through the rotten wall of sound of Carcass finds its place, accompanied by the mocking lead guitars of Bill Steer. The human tornado, Mick Harris is even more precise than his previous effort, but doesn’t lose any of his epithet’s justification. Lee Dorrian’s vocals become more guttural and undecypherable, conceding to the futility of mainstream political discussion. The seeds of an approach closer in line with the burgeoning interest in Death Metal were sown here, simultaneously taking Grindcore one step further away from reaching the dead-end of short and simplistic outbursts of truncated riffs and hollow statements. -ObscuraHessian

Rotting Christ – Passage to Arcturo

Warm, playful and overflowing with the abundance of inspiration in the rediscovery of ancient shamanic techniques of mystical metal creation, the Greek pioneers of Rotting Christ forsook the aggravated modern noise of grindcore in time to ride the wave of blackness that usurped the European metal underground. Remnants and glimpses of 80’s fast modern metal (Slayer) give way to an astral, luminous intensity of synthesizers and slowly picked melodies that suspend the themes for a moment to enable the mind to stop wandering and relish the unholy moment of concentration, in a yogic gesture of blackness. Few have ever used the crushing sonic world of black and death metal to so fully immerse in ethereal ritual, and such rare examples as Drawing Down the Moon preserve plenty of subtle reminders to this widely heard classic of European black metal. As their chaotic exhortations in countless zines of the period conclude, Rotting Christ’s hybrid of gothic and black metal aimed for an architecture of the infinite, regal sunsets of lost kingdoms whose landscapes are not for the eyes of mortals, except in dreams and in death. As “Forest of N’Gai” aptly proves, black metal was at its height when not contorted to fit the schemes of a political ideology or an orthodox Satanist movement, but like the great works of literature a realm of fantasy of its own whose symbols are rooted in our deepest unconscious fears and desires. This sub-space can then be used by the analytical mind to figure the patterns of generation for a multitude of creative, even lunatic, concepts. -Devamitra

At the Gates – Gardens of Grief

The original Gothenburg gloomy melody cult made one of their strongest statements on this early EP, pressed from demo to vinyl on the first year of the band’s existence. Fresh from life disrespecting bands such as Infestation and Grotesque, these Swedes nail the most desperate guitar harmonies since Candlemass, but infect them with the viral sensibility of a flux of death current. As if plugging the Sunlight Studios into your brains in direct interface, Svensson’s tremolos rip and rend mercilessly apart the soul of the beast that dared expose its true feelings of living in a world of hypocrisy and uncertainty. The band has preserved the most fragile moment of the Swedish death metal underground, the precarious balance between the catatonic psychosis of headbanging under alcoholic influence and the deep, burning, thoughtful soul of an encrypted Romantic in a world of pain and disguised memories. It all takes such tangible form in Tomas Lindberg’s cracking, maddened scream: “I am at the gates – Lord of Chaos – Let me sleep”. The fear and anger of At the Gates’ most revered albums will always remain something that divides audiences according to their response to such emotional cues, but “Gardens of Grief” is the un-terrorized, exuberant sound of youth that realizes the presence of death and dives into it headlong, appropriate to the Per Ohlin dedication in the liner notes. -Devamitra

Wings – Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne

An all too brief EP from Finnish gloomophiliacs Wings, as ephemeral as the tortured existence that is enshrouded in these twisted sounds of darkness-raped melody. Almost like the missing tracks from Cartilage’s cult classic ‘The Fragile Concept of Affection’, this continuation goes further to explore the sombre moods of songs like ‘Why Do I Watch The Dawn?’, in their Replicant-like reflections upon the transience of a human existence placed between the crushing, vice-grip of nothingness. Wings don’t peturb the balance of pace of slower, more expansive lakes of hypnotic melody that made up Cartilage’s contribution to their split with Altar, but there is greater focus on creating a doomier atmosphere, leaving no space for the grinding riffs of the past incarnation – a technique that parrelleled the Swedish Unleashed on their first album. Instead, an older treatment is given to the bouncier riffs, which could be heard as Punkier passages, but as this EP comes together as a whole to reveal, these bridge the narrative that seems to span across both songs with a mid-pace tempo in which the drawn out melodies pass through towards an expressive, quite neoclassical riff of totality – encompassing all the hopes that are weighed down by all the sorrows in the journey towards death. This poem in two parts is a valuable recording of Death Metal history, as a valid direction for these Finnish musicians to have taken following the demise of Cartilage, with all their weird melodic knowledge as baggage. -ObscuraHessian

Sacramentum – Finis Malorum

A true gem, Sacramentum’s first EP showcases a style that is melodic and emotive in a manner not unlike countrymen Dissection and Unanimated. Epic, catchy and well crafted compositions are multi-layered not unlike Emperor minus keyboards, the rush of guitar notes being vibrant and lively, with little emphasis towards a rhythmic expectation, as one would expect with most heavy metal and hard rock music. Simultaneously moody yet without being whiny, this early release by Sacramentum showcases a band who are able to master quality control and bring the best out of all the elements that define their music. Alongside At The Gates, artistically the finest Swedish metal act of the 1990′s. -Pearson

Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed

Fast, raging black metal with the fury of early Deicide and the sharp harmonizing typical of Mayhem and Immortal’s ‘Pure Holocaust’ come head to head, in the guise of technically precise, abrupt songs. Shouty hardcore vocals, warm synth overlaps, a near constant blastbeat and anti-humanist lyrical concepts indicate a desire by known Norwegian musicians to advance the aggression of the black metal style and shift it’s idealogical focus away from romantic nostalgia. This brief E.P. lacks the spark of Norway’s foundational acts, but remains an influential statement of the subgenre. -Pearson

Vulpecula – Fons Immortalis

Who would have expected Chuck Keller to open the gates to very Orion itself after the folding of the aggressor squad par excellence Order from Chaos? As if a continuation of the promise of the astrological and alchemistic symbolism of the former bands’ lyrics, Vulpecula slows it down and strums soothing, yet vigorous melodies while the vocals multiple into wraith-like dimensions of rhythmic rasps and Keller’s leads occasionally burst into the aggressive, spasmous flight of an eagle amidst a thunderstorm. “Phoenix of the Creation” delves into exercises in authentic space synth, while “The First Point of Aries” harkens to the mid-paced woodland meditations that the Norwegians used to record at Grieghallen. Occasionally slightly hindered by the band’s eagerness to cram all the influences from Schulze to black metal into one short EP, the mere richness of it invites the ears to take their pleasure at will from the Babylonian garden of ponderous and prestigious movements that are achingly attractive and acceptable in their innocent refusal to complicate things with dissonance. Credit also goes for the lead guitar efforts of Keller on their traditional melodious injection which easily avoids the neutrality of more pop oriented bands trying to do the same. Almost like envisioning a “new age” approach to the genre, Vulpecula is an alien saucer amidst the orbit bound technologies of “progressive” death metal. -Devamitra

Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate

The first new release that’s being reviewed for 2010 and it’s already giving distinct impressions of the kind of quality that made 1993′s ‘As the Angels Weep’ a genuinely classic EP. Divine Eve keeps the form of this new material far simpler, stripping away the Death Metal-infected sludginess for a more rudimentary homage to early brutal music like Celtic Frost. ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ makes its own unique statement by honing in on the nihilistic and warlike spirit of the Swiss legend’s To Mega Therion magnum opus, even invoking the same battle-horns on ‘Ravages of Heathen Men’ that bring focus to the beauty of conflict and strife in a meaningless universe. The varied tempo of grinding riffs set to a dirty bass guitar adds to the atmosphere of struggle as an outlet for this primitive, instinctual response to the world. ‘Whispers of Fire’ being the exception on this EP for the constantly up-tempo pace, it’s a pleasure to hear such slow and sludgy music churning visions of the darker universe beyond our lives of comfort and languish. The final and most devastating touch of ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ is how Divine Eve makes extensive use of the piercing tone that Xan’s grating guitar setup produces, highlighting the spiral passage of powerchords by revealing their hidden, melodic architecture, ingenuiously managing to explain and enhance this rugged approach of legendary lineage. It’s about time the band produced a full-length and they’ve proved that they possess more than enough knowledge of unholy riffcraft to do so. -ObscuraHessian

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