Some will tell you that metal cannot sell out because metal is not a large financial enterprise. The question then is, “What is large?” because if a genre supports dozens of labels, has top-grossing tours, and tens of thousands of bands, it seems that someone is getting paid more than they would otherwise.
I was so blown away by the first “Star Wars” film when I saw it in 1977, I went back two more times the same week to wallow in its space age fantasy. But here’s the thing: George Lucas’ creation, basically a blown-up Flash Gordon adventure with better special effects, has left all too many people thinking science fiction is some computer graphics-laden space opera/western filled with shootouts, territorial disputes, evil patriarchs and trusty mounts (like the Millennium Falcon).
“Star Wars” has corrupted people’s notion of a literary genre full of ideas, turning it into a Saturday afternoon serial. And that’s more than a shame — it’s an obscenity.
He has a point, and reveals a situation parallel to that of metal. Sci-fi was too hardcore and dry for most readers, but then if you add in princesses in skimpy costumes, wookies and light sabers, suddenly it’s… an action movie with soap opera aspects. The audience can tune into that, and so can all the basement greebos who will cosplay, imitate and nerd it to death.
Metal was also originally too hardcore and dense for most listeners, but then if you added in the drama of burning churches and murders, people could really get into that wacky far-out identity. Suddenly it’s hard rock with distorted vocals and Satan. The audience can tune into that, and so all the basement neckbeards emerge to record collect and/or emo it to death.
Two sides rapidly form in any debate: one side says we should have purity of essence of what is being done, and the other side thinks that this principle should be more malleable in order to support social popularity and commerce. I say stick with the purity of essence: metal was built on years of accumulated knowledge, and turning it into entertainment flushes that all down the drain.
The most recent album from Unleashed, Odalheim, is simultaneously the best and worst of days for this band. On the plus side, Unleashed have improved at editing down their material so it all flows smoothly and doesn’t ramble. On the downside, the band have adopted a style that is equal parts Dissection and The Haunted, which makes for an almost satisfying heavy metal experience ruined by kiddie rock band style antics on the level of nu-metal.
Let us be honest: djent is nu-metal for people who like jazz fusion. It’s slightly more subtle. The djent influence filtered into metal through The Haunted after At the Gates (just down the street from Meshuggah, who are the progenitors of djent). When metalcore came about with The Haunted, it wrapped djent, math rock, and melodic speed metal into one package. The result is a binary rotation between some really excellent heavy metal riffing with melody and the kind of bouncy daycare-sensibility music that made speed metal get dumb and wrecked death metal wherever it appeared.
People who need lots of internal rhythm of a similar sort to keep their interest are dumb. This is why we laugh at bands who overplay their drums in an attempt to conceal basically boring songs. If it sucks, just add lots of internal syncopation and delay your final beats just a sixteenth past audience expectation. It’s like Pavlovian terriers watching the mailman arrive. This part of this album is dumb. There is no other word for it, thus this is the best term: dumb. Repetition disguised as surprise. Only for idiots.
Odalheim is thus the album we wish Unleashed had made years ago. Tight, efficient and beautiful. If Shadows in the Deep had been more balanced, it might rise to this level of clean impact; if Where No Life Dwells had this amount of melody, we might find it mesmerizing. However, the glitch is that this album is barely death metal, but more like a mix between melodic heavy metal and bounce-metal, itself a proxy for nu-metal.
Albums like Odalheim are why black metal railed against trends: no mosh, no core, no fun, no trends. Odalheim obediently chases the late black metal trend, the melodicy heavy metal trend, the metalcore trend and the djent trend. These musicians do a great job of linking them all together, but the end result is like soup made by tossing every ingredient in your fridge into a pot of boiling water: muddled, disgusting.
That means that, while I can admire aspects of this album, I never want to hear it again. The dumb parts drown out the melodic material and the lack of definitive style obliterates its efficiency. There is almost nothing communicated here, only a background mood composed of beauty and bounce. It repeats itself. Nothing changes. Like heat death in a crowded room, Odalheim slowly dominates by repetition. And then? And then there is no will to resist. Nor to enjoy.
Legendary heavy metal band Judas Priest have released their first new music following the departure of longtime guitarist K.K. Downing. Entitled “Redeemer of Souls,” it is the first single off the upcoming album of the same name. It reveals a band simultaneously keeping with modern expectations of heavy metal composition and production and staying loyal to their roots in the NWOBHM movement.
“Redeemer of Souls” will trigger mixed reactions. While it shows some updated sound, this track at least is standard heavy metal fare, avoiding the later attempts of the band to update their sound after the explosion of speed metal reshaped the metal landscape. In a statement, guitarist Glenn Tipton confirmed the conservative nature of the album:
Sometimes in the past we may have come under fire for being too adventurous musically – so we have listened…From start to finish, Redeemer of Souls is 13 songs of pure classic Priest metal.
Judas Priest achieved its universal acclaim for its development of heavy metal into a cogent, distinct art form. Later to become one of the two main pillars of speed metal’s foundation (along with punk), the band has maintained its central status as a metal icon for decades, despite perhaps a natural decline as the band goes into its fifth decade. Redeemer of Souls will be released in America on July 15th via Epic Records.
After death metal and black metal had made their meaningful contributions, a cry rang out: support the scene!
By that it was meant that you should go to local shows, buy records, and otherwise give monetary subsistence and publicity to local bands.
They left off a key detail: which local bands?
Actually, they don’t want you to ask that question. All local bands, they hope. That way, even if their bands are talentless, they’ll be able to sell merch and music because, y’know be cool man, support the scene!
In fact, what “support the scene” really means is “abolish quality control.” Forget trying to have good metal bands, let’s just have a lot. That way everyone can play at this neat game called being as cool as Euronymous or Azagthoth.
I have a different philosophy: support the good bands, and ignore the bad. This idea is often called “natural selection.” It means that if you want a strong scene, you only support the strong candidates, and let the weak ones die out.
Post-1994 people have no idea how cruel, judgmental and intolerant the older scene was — or how much this worked to its benefit. People shunned bands that weren’t the complete package: music, lyrics, name, imagery, music, production, visual art, and personalities. The scene was more elitist than these faux-elitist hipsters could ever dream of being.
It was downright hostile to people who didn’t “get it,” where “it” was a complex and insular culture so alienated from the mainstream it saw anyone who believed society had a future to be a mental failure. It saw society itself to be insane, and headed for doom. It realized how modern life was constructed of very many ancient lies, fluffed up and re-covered to look shiny and new.
The underground is not a place for joiners. It’s not a place for me-tooers. It’s not a place for the extra people of humanity who, having nothing they really care about, go casting around for an “identity” they can manufacture out of things they buy and activities they attend.
Don’t support the scene. The scene is a parasite. Support the good metal bands, and death to the rest.
For those who caught our review of the – – – /Dawning split some months ago, the intentional mystery behind – – – may have created some interest. Artists disguising themselves is nothing new; all of black metal disguised themselves under pseudonyms and paint like nocturnal vigilantes. Authors such as Thomas Pynchon are famous for their reclusive refusal to be photographed or interviewed. And in occult and ambient music, the situation gets even more obscure.
– – – create music that sounds like a heavy metal hybrid with the vaguely occult black metal of the style that Deathspell Omega made famous, but with a mix of heavy metal in the balance such as one might find from Paradise Lost or Primordial. The result floats gently through the speakers and is both familiar and highly distant. We were fortunate to gain access to the concealed personality behind – – – for a short interview on the nature of existence, music and possibly why black metal has lost its way.
When did – – – originate, and what can you tell us about the lineup?
I wrote a lot of minimalistic music when I was about 15-16 years old. Back then I didn’t have a guitar, just an old keyboard. All the music I wrote, I wrote down with the help of some MIDI-software. I didn’t think I would do anything with the MIDI-files, I just wanted to write some music. Several years later I found all those MIDI-files (about 50-60 tracks) and thought it would be fun to add drums and some guitars. Thus was the music of – – – born.
The lineup is just me. On some tracks a friend of mine sings.
The music you play has a lot in common with both avantgarde black metal and the type of instrumentally advanced heavy metal that Therion ventured into with its third album. What style do you identify as your own, and what are your biggest influences?
When people ask in general what music I play, I usually answer that I play heavy metal. There are so many genres in the metal corpus so just to begin answering what kind of metal one is playing is rather impossible. And if heavy metal doesn’t suffice I’d say I play dragon metal.
For the piano compositions I’ve had the great Flemish composer Wim Mertens as a big influence. Also Michael Nyman, Roberto Cacciapaglia and Ludovico Einaudi. The guitars are just buzzing tremolo melodies to accompany the piano tracks.
Much of your work seems to be based around the notion of secrets; if not outright secrets themselves, the revelation of hidden meaning. Do you think there are hidden meanings in life around us? Are these metaphysical or material?
To answer the first question: Yes, I do think there are meanings in life around us. If this meaning is hidden or not I can’t really tell. To acknowledge that there is meaning around us is in itself a great step toward a life that isn’t nihilistic and/or fatalistic. But then you’ll have to validate whether these meanings are good or bad. I’ve chosen to believe that the meanings I’ve found in life are good ones. I don’t know this by necessity and I can’t persuade anyone that this is the right path. I believe that there is a reality and that I, as a human being, am capable of knowing something about it.
Since I have to relate to a material world to even begin to grasp the metaphysics, I’d have to say “yes” on this question (I interpreted it as an inclusive disjunction). I don’t think any materialistic substance can hold a Principle (of something higher). We interact bodily with the materialistic world and with our mind (soul), through the study of metaphysics, the Principles (how to know the meanings epistemologically).
Why did you choose the name “- – – “?
I used to name my music project files that way. And then the name stuck.
As – – – goes on, do you think you have “matured” or “improved”? Is there a difference?
Maybe lyrically, but not musically. I still use the old MIDI-files I wrote several years ago.
Where will you go next with – – – ? Will there be more recordings, a change in style or a different look at things?
I have no idea. I think I will try to write something new from scratch. It will probably not sound exactly the same.
What personally attracted you about underground metal, and keeps you bonded to it twenty years past its glory days?
Probably the creativity. There are a lot of interesting bands that have a genuine sound or have really talented musicians. There is always something new and fresh that you can find in the great sea of underground bands. You don’t see the same creativity around the big names in metal.
Are your songs based around symbolism from which riffs are created, or do you base them around riffs and layer symbolism on top of those?
If by symbolism you mean the lyrics then: yes. I usually have some tracks ready when I begin writing the lyrics. Then I puzzle them all together.
If by symbolism you mean that I have a clear idea about what the tracks is going to be about, then: no. The lyrics are written separately from the music.
If someone wanted to find out more — but not too much — about – – – , where should they look?
Look toward where the sunrise, and in to the names of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite’s divine. Otherwise you should try google: “- – – “.
As author of The Heavy Metal FAQ, I have wrestled with the question of how to define metal over the years. Since it uses the same techniques as any other form of music, but used in different proportions and combinations, I have always focused on the idea that unites these uses which makes metal so obviously distinct from rock, punk and other forms of music.
To this I’d like to add another idea: metal is not literal. That is, metal tends to view the world through a symbolic or mythological lens. It does so to reflect our inward sensations about what is going on, plus a historical viewpoint which requires a more high-level view. The details don’t matter as much as the form, in metal, and we pay attention to the form and then put it in a folk-wisdom format.
Archetypal examples of this can be found in classic metal like “War Pigs” (Black Sabbath), “Hardening of the Arteries” (Slayer), “Painkiller” (Judas Priest) and “My Journey to the Stars” (Burzum). In these songs, mythological forces clash to reveal a truth of everyday life. They inform us about our time and put us into a symbolic and emotional framework with it in which we want to fight it out, fix it, struggle and win.
In contrast, most music is either sensuality-based or protest music. Sensuality-based music is exemplified by stuff like Shakira. Protest music really exploded in the 1960s, but reformed itself with punk, which took a more abstract and yet earthy view. Where the 60s bands sang about politics, punks sang about everyday life and the insanity of existence. This finally culminated in thrash, which used hints of metal’s mythology to make the personal into the universal, as in “Give My Taxes Back” (DRI), “M.A.D.” (Cryptic Slaughter), “Minds are Controlled” (COC) and “Man Unkind” (DRI).
Metal does go wrong sometimes and get literal. The worst of these are the ego-based songs, as in Pantera, or the songs about being metal and going to shows and the like, which are generally just dumb. It is not surprising that these are not favorites of the genre because they drop away from that 30,000-foot view and instead become more personal drama like the rest of our society, which explains why its institutions don’t function and its ideas are corrupt.
Interestingly, other genres are not literal either. Progressive rock was famous for songs about weird adventures in fantasy worlds that had striking parallels to our own (compare to JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis). Classical music tends toward fantastic descriptions from literature and history. These are genres of the weighty and impersonal, not the direct and immediate and personal. They have a different scope and internal language.
Jazz is the outlier. When sung, it tends toward protest and sensual lyrics. When instrumental, the sound of it suggests a combination of the two: a kind of secular (no meaning greater than the material and immediate) version of imagination, but applied to literal experience, such that it forms a kind of texture without a unifying core. It communicates the loneliness of modern isolation and a retreat into the personal complexity of the mind.
Where metal stands out among modern genres is that it still embraces this viewpoint, or at least did until the nu/mod-metal started appearing. Part of what makes such a viewpoint necessary is that metal, despite being about killer riffs, is not about the riff. It’s about many riffs stitched together to make an experience so that when the killer riff comes out, it has a meaning in context that makes it heavy. No song is heavy from just one riff. It’s heavy because when you get to that super-heavy riff, everything else has set it up to resonate.
This in part explains the audience of metal. Mythology, historical significance and topics of philosophy do not inspire the honor students, who are busy working on their careers (and the obedience-profitability nexus that these entail), or the average student, who is busy in a world of his/her own pleasures and delights. They do however appeal to the outliers, the dreamers and dissidents, who might find class boring because they find society boring and purposeless, and instead turn toward fantasy and a bigger, more abstract realism to express themselves.
Speed metal tyrant Dave Mustaine (Metallica, Megadeth) takes to the stage with the San Diego Symphony to play guitar solos in place of violin leads.
He will play along with “Summer” and “Winter” from Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air,” Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” and Antonín Dvořák’s “New World Symphony.” Mustaine described these pieces as shredding, fast and melodic.
In addition, the guitarist revealed some surprising background to his own music:
Mustaine also talked about Megadeth’s classical influence since its formation.
“On the very first song on our very first record, I actually played piano … Funny thing was, it was a very, very, hacked up version of Beethoven’s Fugue in D Minor and going back and listening to the actual performance of Beethoven, it’s kind of like, ‘Nice try Dave’ because it was close to it, but I mean, I was a gutter kid that grew up on the street and was playing from memory. I was surprised I could even play the piano.”
We live in a land of confusion. Most people here have trouble differentiating between a conclusion and a method used to reach a conclusion.
Take for example the phrase, “That’s logical.” To most people, this conjures up a list of things that are accepted as having a basis in logic. When you ask them to parse something new, which involves applying a method to each sequential detail in order to find out how they fit together. That’s difficult; tracking conclusions and having a whitelist/blacklist of accepted ideas is easier.
If you want to know how metal calcifies itself, it is through these conclusions. Darkthrone ended up sounding the way they did as a result of their method, putting together all the pieces and coming up with a bigger direction. When bands imitate Darkthrone, none of this happens, and thus none of the music is nearly as good. They know how to imitate it from the surface inward, but they don’t know why it came about it and thus, how to charge it with the meaning the original had.
Especially threatening to popular music is the process of calcification by which the method of the past generation becomes the conclusions of the next. Darkthrone makes a great album; everyone imitates it; as a result, that sound becomes stale and disassociated from the meaning it once had.
It was once common for metalheads to complain about being misunderstood, and their music not being understood and accepted. Now it is accepted, and it has rendered it harmless. What did that rendering was all the metal bands ripping each other off, churning the original ideas into a mush of imitation. In fact, the problem is that metal when understood is in fact misunderstood, and keeping it not-understood is what is required for people to go back to method instead of just trusting its conclusions as gospel and repeating them in recombined form.
Metal is in fact like a snake consuming itself. As soon as orthodoxy is established, it is destroyed and its destroyer rises only to be in turn consumed itself. Parallels can be drawn to ocean waves cresting and then self-destructing, the need for forest fires, how predation ensures that prey animals get smarter, or other natural metaphors. What it fears is the calcification and a related process known as social acceptance. When a group of people encounters a new idea, it mocks it, then tries to destroy it, and finally accepts it. But once the idea is accepted, the process of calcification happens as society assimilates the idea as conclusion and throws out the methods, but even worse, the nature of having the idea accepted means a process of compromise which shaves off the parts of that idea that offend various segments of society (think of a PTA meeting: can’t move the parking spaces, or you upset either the church ladies, the teachers’ union, or the parking authority). Social acceptance destroys ideas through imitation and compromise.
This process goes back to metal’s birth. The members of Black Sabbath couldn’t get on board with the happy hippie world around them, so they made their own music which destroyed that illusion with powerful sound. They were reacting to the acceptance of conclusions from the past period, the 1950s, in which people were fed on Dale Carnegie style salesmanship as a means to success. As a result, society stopped being truth-oriented and started being feelings-oriented. Happy feelings meant a sale. Ten years later, happy feelings meant social success. Salespeople knew that acceptance and inclusiveness made sales, so they made their advertising as innocuous as possible. The hippie movement imitated this but used politics instead of profit (at first) as their guide.
The problem was that the hippie portion was just as fake as the 1950s salesmanship portion. Similarly, the current imitation of the 1990s black metal scene or worse, the 1980s emo and shoegaze scene, is completely fake. The fifteenth Blasphemy clone is as burnt out as the fifteenth Beatles clone or fifteenth Dale Carnegie graduate. All of it is emulation of the past through its surface, which fundamentally disturbs the metal outlook. For underground metal, all that is left is to seek total nihilism or negation of values, or to pick values that cannot be compromised and thus cannot be assimilated by society. If you want to know why metal has been drifting toward extremes lately, this might explain it.
All of this is a rather long path to saying what every teenage music fan does not want to face: it’s time to stop talking about how you are misunderstood. You don’t want to be understood. Even more, being understood would destroy your chance for growth and turn you into an identical suit-wearing conformist droid marching off to do the same stuff the last generation did, and we can see them drinking themselves to sleep every night. When people obviously don’t get what you’re about, thank them. They’re helping you grow, just like they’re helping metal grow every time they run into a WTF moment and toss it out in the dustbin.
When Black Sabbath shifted from trying to be a hard rock band to trying to make a horror movie sound appear in guitar music, they opened a new world. It was not a world that would resist opening for long anyway, since if you mix Iggy and the Stooges with the prog rock of the same era like Jethro Tull and King Crimson, you get something a lot like Black Sabbath.
But guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and drummer Bill Ward did it first, and during the first decade of their career fought through the enduring questions of the genre in prototype form. While Black Sabbath gets classed by most as “proto-metal,” or not quite yet metal, it is also clearly not quite still rock ‘n’ roll. In this perpetual liminal state Black Sabbath, like metal itself would a generation removed, rediscovers itself again and again as a way of outracing the calcification and corruption of message that is common in modern life.
In Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi writes his memoirs for a book that is both everything and Black Sabbath fan could want, and not enough. He writes about everything important and brings out some moments of great clarity, but then at some point the book expands like a drunken conversation and spills too much ink on the less important later Black Sabbath works. Iommi also has an offhand and conversational way of explaining things from his point of view that does not flesh out the details and background enough to let people know what was really going on. However, the juicy stories of rock ‘n’ roll excess, and most of the potent decision points in the Black Sabbath career, are not missed.
Those first songs are often described as scary. I liked horror films and so did Geezer. We used to go to the cinema across the street from our rehearsal place to see them, so maybe it was something that subconsciously directed us to that sort of thing. I know there is a Boris Karloff movie called Black Sabbath, but we never saw it at that time. Geezer came up with the name Black Sabbath and it just sounded like a good one to use. (54)
The narrative starts out fairly crisply and over time slouches into many unresolved threads the way most retrospectives do. The early days were clarity, but after that chaos reigns. Sensibly, Iommi does not spend too long on the days before Black Sabbath, but does set enough of the scene to get the narrative rolling. After that, very little detail is given, and the conversational takes over. Iommi will say that they went to a house or studio somewhere and mention no other detail, but he does spend a lot of time on human relationships. He describes people and their patterns. He also talks a good deal about relationships in the bands and the states of mind of the various players as albums were released.
It may be that a Black Sabbath fanbase wants to hear more about the mechanics behind the later Black Sabbath albums, solos and side projects, but to this writer much of this material was redundant. Not that it was mentioned at all, but that it was internally duplicative and went through similar patterns without identifying them. Like a night at the bar, the description of events begins with a clear context, direction and development of events, but devolves into a description of personalities and factual data that seems to focus on complexities.
I hope it is not insulting to say this, but people are not as interested in the later Black Sabbath works as they are the earlier ones. We would have preferred the same crispness, detail and narrative integration of the first three chapters be applied to the middle three, with the later ones giving less detail and more of a linear narrative. The reason for this is that the formation of those early albums and the Black Sabbath sound is what defined this band for eternity and will make it forever important. The later stuff shows us four guys out of their depth reacting to the changes in their lives.
We used one of Ronnie’s ideas in its entirety, which was ‘Atom and Evil’, the first track on the album. And we used bits of each other idea. Some of Geezer’s riffs would come halfway through, or some of mine. We just swapped them around, building songs. It was a great way of working. INstead of having to come up with everything myself, everybody was completely involved in it from day one, and that helped me immensely. We wrote about six songs this way. (352)
Details such as the above provide meaning to the listener because we are curious about such things. What made some albums more listenable or more interesting than others? In the compositional process, and the formation of decisions, we can see how they are distinct. Sometimes too much focus on personality and politics not only obscures the narrative, but is a substitute for discussing how decisions were made. Buried throughout are nuggets of clarity such as the above. These make the book not only memorable but poignant, as you can see why so much attachment occurs between these musicians, and how their knowledge of each other was more than practical, but a deep appreciation.
Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath will stay on the shelves because of its subject’s importance to rock music and heavy metal. It will also provide much fodder for others to discuss, as it touches on everything once. While some of us might prefer a two-volume set, with Volume I for the Black Sabbath albums from 1970-1976 and all of the depth of narrative that makes the creative decisions made during that time relevant still, as a quick read and overlook of the Black Sabbath experience Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath succeeds and also gives us rare if erratic insights into the story behind the band.
I wrote an article about the cross-influence between hacking and heavy metal. It covers the use of alternative media, like BBS and AE lines, to convey a hidden truth that is shared between metalheads and hackers. The article is entitled “Hacker Metal” and it is published in Perfect Sound Forever webzine.
For those who remember the early web, Perfect Sound Forever is an e-zine that started in 1993 and has run continuously since. It derived its name from an early Sony/Philips ad designed to convince people to switch to compact disks, and covers all forms of music including a fair amount of metal.