How to write bad black metal: the hot tub

On an intuitive level, we can tell that some black metal sucks, and some is good. The difference mostly has to do with the state of mind of the musicians.

When a musician is in a sane frame of mind, they want to show us a journey that parallels life. They are passing along learning, as all art does, but they’re doing it in a form that shows us the experience, and not the conclusions.

Lazy musicians, propagandists and idiots take another approach. They view a song as a binary proposition, with a good and a bad represented directly by parts of a song.

You can see this in all boring or pointless art: there is no journey, no struggle, no learning. The characters or objects in the art face a dark evil, then suddenly see the light, go to the other side and everything is OK. That light can be God, Satan, liberalism, Nazism, sex, drugs or any ideal. It’s just a very basic technique that’s common to people who haven’t thought through the whole “art” side of music.

To them, it’s just music. You find something that sounds cool and hey, that’s all there is to it. This is what mature artists hate about jazz and avantgarde music. They hate “music for music’s sake” that it means nothing, so it either comes with some baggage of theory to “explain” it, or is like that art exhibit where you see a stuffed rabbit impaled with a dildo sitting on a Bible wrapped in a condom, and you’re supposed to think it’s profound.

And when you think about it, all really great art resembles some struggle we’ve faced in our lives. Early black metal sounded like social isolation and a yearning for more in life. It sounded like a rejection of the comfortable sounds of the blues and church music, replacing it with minor key distorted hellhavoc from which elegant melodies somehow emerged. Not what you expected? Or more likely, what you experienced: when you get away from the crazy crowd, and look at nature and your own soul, you find something of greater value than the callow affirmation of “we can all get along, honest” peers.

Bad black metal — and bad metal in general — suffers under what I call the “hot tub” syndrome. Because it is binary, and has a good state and a bad state, and wants us to go from bad to good, the song can have only one major event: the transition. Because that transition cannot be explained by the art itself, but requires added “theory,” it’s random. As a result, the song needs a lot more embellishment to make the transition believable at all.

The result is a lot like this:

Eddie Murphy – James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub

We sing a song of the hot tub — how great it will be to be in the hot tub, how cold it is out here, how lonely we are outside the hot tub, etc. ad nauseam. Then we get into the hot tub, and how warm it is! And then the song ends.

Watch your favorite terrible black metal bands and pay attention to how they compose the songs you hear. Are they two-tone, in/out of the hot tub songs, or like early black metal, are they epics that slowly and subtly build to a point where you are ready to make whatever steps are necessary to get in the hot tub?

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Swedish Death Metal – Daniel Ekeroth

Swedish Death Metal by Daniel Ekeroth is an easy and enjoyable read that recounts the glory years of Swedish Death Metal told in large part through the mouths of those who actually lived it. Ekeroth presents the history of Swedish death metal, focusing mainly on the release of seminal albums and demos, and the means by which fanzines and tape trading played a role in the development and proliferation of the Swedish death metal genre. This is definitely a worthwhile read if one is looking for a chronology of all of the important bands, namely Bathory, Nihilist/Entombed, Dismember, At the Gates, and Therion, that played an important role in the development and consolidation of Swedish Death Metal. Additionally, the layout of the book is such that it is easily navigable, making use of handy headings, subheadings and band headings, which also make this a great quick-reference text. However compelling, it is a slight draw back that the various snapshots throughout the book interrupt the flow of the read, and are laid out in such a way as to provide a distraction. One may be better off reading the book through and then returning to the snapshots at a later date.

In addition to analyzing the careers of many important Swedish Death Metal bands, Ekeroth indulges the curiosity of the reader and earns additional merit for mentioning important non-Swedish bands such as Master and Deathstrike, and for emphasizing the role of Morbid Angel in the overall development of Death Metal. Interestingly, the author seems at pains to make sure that the reader understands the relationship between Crustcore, Punk, and Metal and adds some welcome depth to his account of Swedish Death Metal by mentioning Discharge, whose strumming style and melody would influence countless metal bands. If you are looking for a chronology of the glory days of Swedish Death Metal, this book proves enlightening. Thankfully, there is little mention of Slaughter of the Soul and second rate Swedish bands such as In Flames and Soilwork that would later hijack, dilute and all but destroy this once living art form.

With that said, readers beware! Ekeroth has a tendency to try and convince his reader that death metal was all about “fun” back in the day and tends to present the extracurricular activities, namely drinking and partying, as the highlights of many bands careers. Although Ekeroth’s goal was to tell the history of important bands, releases and tours, I believe this book could have been improved had Ekeroth attempted to explore the philosophical underpinnings of this genre and refrained from presenting Metal culture as simply an offshoot or replication of self-indulgent rock culture. New frontiers await those willing to explore this aspect of Swedish Death Metal and Ekeroth’s book may in fact prove to be a trailblazer. Time Shall Tell.

-TheWaters-

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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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