As predicted, Mr Vikernes returns with another segment of the saga of his introduction to metal and his unique take on the genre that became one of the pillars of black metal, which increasingly looks like the last interesting thing to come out of music.47 Comments
Wrestling is the oldest sport in existence. One can find it in any culture on earth, Egyptian hieroglyphs depict various techniques, Islam recognizes it as one of the main sports for preparation in combat and European knights trained extensively as a lot of armored fights quickly become tests of who could pin who to be able to deal a finishing blow with a dagger through the gaps in the plate armor. Throughout the years wrestling has proven to be the best art for all forms of combat as every region in the world has at least one form of indigenous wrestling.
The British historian JFC Fuller brought a metal outlook to both his military career and his career as an historian. As clear-sighted observer of reality he was able to understand the physical and moral implications of the forms of human conflict. He was one of the leading minds in the early development of the theory of mechanized warfare. As a military officer he saw active service in both primitive and modern conditions – this gave his writings as an historian and military theoretician a solid grounding in real-world experience. His experiences with strange foreign cultures and his knowledge of the occult gave him a keen moral insight that shines through in his books. Fuller looks at history with a clear eye for effective outcomes; however, the men who had the courage and genius to effect these outcomes he romanticizes and lionizes as the heroes they are.16 Comments
By the 1990s, the CD reigned supreme. As the economy boomed, annual global sales surpassed 1bn in 1992 and 2bn in 1996, and the profit margins were the stuff of dreams. The CD was cheaper than vinyl to manufacture, transport and rack in stores, while selling for up to twice as much. Even as costs fell, prices rose.
The popular music industry peaked financially in 1996 but had creatively begun bottoming out years before that. Digital file sharing of lossily (and later losslessly) compressed formats simply burst the bubble of the industry’s festering corpse the ignorant had mistaken to still be moving as the putrefying gases bloated body cavities.19 Comments
Dauphiné Witch Trials, 1428-47:
Johannes Cunalis had a book of necromancy [librum it nigromanda], and that when he who spoke opened this book at once there appeared to him three demons, one named Luxuriosus, another Superbus, and the third Avarus, [all of them] devils…
An experienced music listener who is new to black metal asked for a doorway into the genre. This raises the question of how to appreciate black metal, which like most things in life is mostly mental preparation. Without context, black metal seems like any other loud genre, and it becomes harder to distinguish the newer tryhard junk from the original.
The best way to gain context is to walk through the history of the genre from oldest to newest. This approach, common in art, literature and philosophy, allows people to see what developed from what and what the reasoning for that was and therefore, what the reasoning is behind what is here now.
The result of this query was a simple list to urge people to explore this genre further. This list originates in the history of black metal music, but also in influences that can be identified among the bands as immediately relevant. Toward the end it extends more into general conjecture based on what shows up later in highly different form among the black metal works of relevance listed above it.
I. Proto- Metal
- Bathory – The Return
- Slayer – Hell Awaits
- Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids
- Sodom – Persecution Mania
- Sarcofago – INRI
- Merciless – The Awakening
- Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom
- Von – Satanic Blood
III. Black metal
- Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
- Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
- Burzum – Burzum/Aske
- Emperor/Enslaved – Split
- Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon
- Beherit – Drawing Down the Moon
- Varathron – His Majesty in the Swamp
- Havohej – Dethrone the Son of God
- Impaled Nazarene – Ugra-Karma
- Samael – Worship Him
IV. Second Wave
- Gorgoroth – Antichrist
- Graveland – The Celtic Winter
- Ancient – Svartalvheim
- Sacramentum – Far Away From the Sun
- Ildjarn – Forest Poetry
- Summoning – Dol Guldur
- Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
- Gehenna – First Spell
- Behemoth – From the Pagan Vastlands
V. Extended Contemporary
- Demoncy – Joined in Darkness
- Sammath – Godless Arrogance
- Mutiilation – Remains of a Ruined, Cursed, Dead Soul
- Absurd – Asgardsrei
For immediate death metal background to black metal:
- At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
- Carnage – Dark Recollections
- Godflesh – Streetcleaner
For heavy metal background to black metal:
- Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
- Venom – Possessed
- Angel Witch – Angel Witch
- Destruction/Tormentor – Demos
For hardcore punk background to all metal:
- Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
- Amebix – No Sanctuary
- The Exploited – Death Before Dishonour
- Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel
For electronic music background to underground metal:
- Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express
- Tangerine Dream – Phaedra
For progressive rock background to metal:
- King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
- Yes – Tales from Topographic Oceans
- Camel – Camel
- Greenslade – Greenslade
For classical background to metal:
- Anton Bruckner – Symphony No. 4
- Richard Wagner – Tannhäuser
- Franz Schubert – Unfinished Symphony
- Mozart – Symphony 41
- Haydn – Symphony 82
- Bach – Partita No. 5 in G major
Back in 1986, one lineup of Morbid Angel recorded what that lineup considers the first Morbid Angel album, Abominations of Desolation, which was later re-released on Earache Records in 1991. But three years later, the band re-recorded most of the songs in a streamlined form and released it as Altars of Madness, which the lineup of the band as was at the time through the present considers to be the first Morbid Angel album.
Avoiding a peek into the controversy and the clash of personalities behind it, metal archaeologists today can look at the musical differences between these two albums. Altars of Madness focuses on a tighter and more streamlined style that too often slips into the type of verse-chorus with bridge that was used extensively on speed metal/death metal hybrids like Seven Churches and Rigor Mortis. This may show the influence of Texas band Necrovore, who established a more aggressive aesthetic but kept song structures closer to the NWOBHM model that speed metal used.
At the same time, other bands were taking a hint from Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and writing songs which had some repeated passages which could be used as verse and chorus, but behind those varied the riffs to give the song a unique structure. This opened up new possibilities that all bands entrenched in the rock ‘n roll “verse, chorus, bridge, solo, repeat” pop song format could not reach. In that new frontier, bands saw new musical and artistic possibilities, and the form of modern death metal began.
The first Morbid Angel album contained many of these aspects, particular in some of the odd structures used on the first track. For the most part however it stuck to good old fashioned pop song format with a few modifications, using the Slayer technique of introductory riffs and some hints from Possessed. This showed a dramatically different side of the band than the extended compositions of Abominations of Desolation which, while many used verse/chorus at their center, were more likely to vary riff form and use solos as a kind of second layer to the rhythm guitars.
Controversy continues to this day regarding which is the “true” Morbid Angel. As strange as it seems, the first recording may be the one that opened up more historical space, although its lesser production and expanded song structures made it less hard-hitting at any instance and thus less “heavy” or “brutal” to the audience, which is why the band wants it to be the first album: it is a better product. For many of us however Abominations of Desolation has long surpassed the first two Morbid Angel albums as the one most frequently listened to because of the depths of its complexity and musical imagination.15 Comments
Before there was high speed access, or even AOL and dial-up, or even access through your favorite local educational institution, there was a network of hackers and metalheads who traded information with each other through person-to-person dial-up. These were primitive days for technology with most computers maxing out at 1MHz and 64K of RAM, which is like 1/10,000th of a smartphone.
At that time one of the most revolutionary acts was to run an AE (for “Ascii Express,” the program used) line, which was like a 4chan for 1986: completely anonymous, where anyone could upload any file and anyone else could download any file. Metal fans swapped lyrics, reviews and concert information through these online resources, as chronicled in my articles in Perfect Sound Forever and 2600.
The Metal AE served as the ground zero for all metal-related communications and people calling in from all over the world, blue-boxing or otherwise phreaking calls or even using corporate networks to dial out locally. This is where I started, publishing the reviews that eventually became the Dark Legions Archive. The tribute site whose link follows contains some of the flavor of early days of metal on the net.1 Comment
Early death metal (Bathory, Slayer, Hellhammer, Sodom, Master) emerged as an aggregate of the past, comprised of speed metal (Metallica, Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Testament, Megadeth), late hardcore (Cro-Mags, Amebix, Discharge, The Exploited, GBH), classic heavy metal (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead) and thrash (DRI, COC, Cryptic Slaughter). As a result, most death metal bands exhibited some tendencies more than others, although the founding early death metal bands tended toward the type of tremolo-powered phrase-based riffing exemplified by Slayer.
For example, Deicide on its second album Legion arguably made the album that …And Justice For All wanted to be, with lots of choppy percussive riffing forming intricate textures from which a melody emerged. Early Master sounded more like a punk band with its simple song structures and emphasis on droning, protest-like vocals. Second-wave death metal like Death and Possessed had a tendency to apply speed metal song structures and riff styles. Even advanced death metal like Pestilence often sounded like a more technical and complex version of early speed metal.
But focusing on death metal requires we look at what was unique to it. Getting past the vocals and the intensity, what distinguishes it musically is its use of that tremolo-strummed phrasal riff. This in turn forced bands to escape from riffs integrated strictly with drums, and to as a result put more riffs into the song to drive changes that previous would have been done by the drums. That in turn forced bands to make those riffs fit together, what Asphyx call “riff-gluing,” so that songs avoided the “riff salad” plague that captured later speed metal.
These bands exploded onto the world from 1983-1985, inspired in part by Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing which hit the ground in 1982. Slayer in particular stitched together classic heavy metal and ambient hardcore like Discharge and GBH and ended up with its particular formulation, taking the tremolo and riffs independent of drums from Discharge and matching them to the complex proggy structures of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with Motorhead speed and aggression. This was what launched death metal free from the shadow of speed metal, which was the first metal genre to break out of underground status despite being — for the time — fast, aggressive and dark.
If you want to get to the core of death metal, these albums might help. They’re albums I keep returning to year after year because they have enough complexity and that unquantifiable quality of having purpose and being expressive, perhaps even emulating the life around them and converting it into a beast of mythological quality, which makes them interesting each time I pick them up. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the players….
Slayer – Show No Mercy
While Hell Awaits has more expert composition, South of Heaven better control of mood and melody, and Reign in Blood more pure rhythmic intensity, Show No Mercy captures Slayer flush with the fervor of youth and the belief in big concepts. As a result, it is an intensity mystical album, uniting a narrative about war between good and evil with the actions of people on earth. It is not like Hell Awaits more solidly situated in a single mythology, nor like Reign in Blood and after an attempt to explore the dark side of modern existence in a literal sense. Instead, it is a flight of imagination mated to an apocalyptic vision of a society crumbling from within. As a result it is musically the most imaginative of Slayer albums, creating grand constructions of visions of worlds beyond that stimulate the fantasy dwelling within our otherwise obedient minds.
Massacra – Enjoy the Violence
Another early album in very much the style of Slayer but with intensity cranked to the ceiling, Enjoy the Violence shows a band intent on conveying intense energy through their music. To do this, they rely on not only near-constant breakneck speed but also vivid contrasts between the types of riffs that are used in a song, welding a rich narrative from riffs that initially seem simple like the scattered twisted bits of metal left after a battle. The result is closer to epic poem that punk music and blows conventional heavy metal and speed metal out of the water with the sense of unbridled aggression and lust for life that surges through its passages. In addition, it carries on the mythological tradition of Slayer but adds a Nietzschean spin whereby constant war for supremacy and domination is the only path not only to victory, but to personal integrity.
Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation
Most prefer the more refined versions of these songs from Altars of Madness and Blessed Are the Sick, but my ear favors these nuanced and unsystematic detail-heavy songs which feature more of a blending of textures into what sounds like a communication from another world heard underwater or through the croaking voice of a medium. Trey Azagthoth’s solos were best when he used his half-whole step leaps to make solos that sounded like the creation of gnarly sculptures, and these songs powered by Mike Browning’s drums and voice have more of an organic jauntiness to them than the later mechanistic tanks-crushing-the-shopping-mall sound of the full albums. In addition, this combination of songs strays from the later more interruption-based riffing this band would attempt and instead brings out their inner desire to rip all ahead go at all times, creating a suspension of reality like war itself.
Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
When the idea comes to mind of death metal at its essence, this album will be mentioned because it creates a sound unlike anything else. Incantation took the Slayer riff and song formula and slowed it down, doubled the complexity, and focused on alternating tempos and riff styles to create a building mood of immersive darkness. The result was not only aggressive, but melancholic and contemplative, like a warrior looking out over an abandoned bullet-pocked city. Detuned riffs collide and deconstruct one another, resulting in a sound like the inexorable flow of black water through underground caverns as civilizations collapse above. This rare group of musicians achieved a triumph here that none have been able to repeat individually, suggesting this album was born of a magic confluence of ideas more than a process (ham sandwiches on a conveyor belt).
Carnage – Dark Recollections
If you want “the Swedish sound” at its most powerful, Dark Recollections offers every component synthesized into a package that has not yet had time to become self-critical and neurotic, and thus is an unfettered expression of the thoughts of precocious adolescents translated into sound. The components of Swedish death metal are the modified d-beat, the use of melody to expand song development, a gritty electric explosion of guitar sound, and a tendency to write songs that are half searing budget riff and half horror movie sound track.
Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation
The first EP in this two-EP package is the more classic death metal version and packs a solid blast of inventive riffcraft staged with theatrical precision into songs that form narratives of the topics denoted in their titles. But the riffs are instant creations of their own, shaped from raw chromaticism and whipped into fury by two levels of rhythm, both in the change of chords and the texturing of the sounding of them. The result owes quite a bit to Slayer, Bathory and Hellhammer, but also to the punk hardcore underlying those acts and a good knowledge of dark metal of the time, and yet is still its own animal. Nothing sounds like this except it, and by giving itself a unique voice, it conjures a power of revelation that endows these songs with lasting enjoyment for the listener.62 Comments
Tags: Abominations of Desolation, bestial devastation, carnage, dark recollections, death metal, Enjoy the Violence, History, incantation, massacra, morbid angel, morbid visions, onward to golgotha, sepultura, show no mercy, slayer