In addition to tape trading, compilation albums back in the day allowed a label to sell you one track from each of its most promising bands for a few dollars total, making them both a good way to find new bands and a cross between the mix tape and a radio show when you wanted varied listening.No Comments
Metal interviews are like connecting violent minds to an amplifier. The musician is given a chance to speak plainly, and rewarded for saying something outlandish enough to make a headline. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.
Much as “in vino veritas” describes how drunk people often accidentally blurt out the truth, interviews often get the essential thoughts out of musicians. Tired, often doing multiple interviews in a day, musicians are apt to cut to the chase. Further, since they’ve been working that part of the brain that makes language, they’re often at their clearest several interviews into the process.
Thus it’s not sensible to either discount interviews, or to wholly accept them without being critical. But recent comments by Nominon drummer Per Karlsson highlight why metal interviews will always be popular — the offhanded, casual and yet direct blurting of truth:
I’d say that black and death metal pretty much go hand in hand, but that’s just my opinion. I am a bit worried though, since more or less all death/black metal of today has turned into rock ’n’ roll or something, all the new bands seems to be more into retro-rock, either that or looking/sounding like Ghost. I am ashamed of what this has turned into, it makes me sick.
Score one for the surly musician. First it makes sense to discard is the “that’s just my opinion” which is a passive-aggressive way of saying that some opinions coincide with truth where others do not. Then to analyze his main point, which is basically that rock music is assimilating metal.
For a brief historical re-cap, metal is a breakaway genre from rock, itself a breakaway genre from blues, itself a breakaway genre from folk. Rock music represents a distillation of many traditions down to the simplest transmissible commercial product. It was always a simpler option to the popular music of the time, and then at some point in the 1960s it took over not just music but popular culture. Much of this has to do with how our commercial society worships whatever seems popular at the moment.
Metal never wanted to be rock. If it had, it would have stayed in the rock camp. It also didn’t fully want to be blues. The influences on Black Sabbath were not only previous rock and heavy blues, but progressive rock and horror movie soundtracks (these inherited heavily from modernist classical, notably Wagner). With metal, rock’s rather static textural riffing evolved into the power chord phrase, which is closer to the horror movie music than what rock was doing at the time.
This upset the existing order.
Rock music saw itself as the bad boy and rebel, the counterculture upsetting civilization. Now there was a counter-culture to the counter-culture. Where the rock boys were singing about flowers, love, peace and our bright future, metal brought in the harsh discordant notes of realism: idealism is poppycock, death is ever-present, and the obliviousness of the average person (see “War Pigs”) is what brings evil into the world. Where the rock guys thought you could fight evil with love, metal counter-posited that you can only fight evil with vigilance, and eyes-wide-open awareness of life, warts and all. That shocked the rock community.
Since that time, metal has been the go-to imagery for advertising firms, movies, books and other entertainment products to symbolize “rebellion.” They also try with punk. Metal and punk are the two drop-out genres that consciously elect to be outsiders, and to avoid just doing what other rock bands doing and, by following that trend, to choose “success.” Popular music is fairly simple: find a unique version of doing what everyone else is doing so your audience both recognizes what you’re doing, and has some unique “mental handle” that causes them to single you out. It’s basic memetics.
This means that entertainment products have both a core and a surface. The core is the actual musical content; the surface is the aesthetics, the quirk, the irony, the imagery, and so forth. Metal has rebellion both in its core and its surface. However, if that metal surface could be transferred to rock, the ideal product would result. The band that came closest was Guns n’ Roses who managed rock song format with later Black Sabbath-styled riffs and bluesy leads. If someone were able to make hard rock that felt like metal, the market would roll over and beg for them.
As a result, the primary threat to metal is bands that “look like” (surface) metal but are actually the same old stuff. A number of bands are indicted under this banner, including Opeth and all nu-metal (which under the skin is “rap/rock”). Recently this process has picked up more steam in the underground. “Post-metal” — which is basically late 1980s post-hardcore, emo or indie rock — has begun to be sold as black metal. Nu-metal with late hardcore stylings has been sold as death metal. The result is fans unable to tell the difference between metal and rock.
This advertiser’s dream will backfire. The more metal gets like rock, the more it loses its outsider status. The more metal shows up in “legitimate” publications and entertainment, the less it is consciously outside of the mainstream world. Like punk, it will end up a “flavor” of rock that is used to sell certain products like motorcycles, cologne, hot dogs and chain saws. This is what Karlsson is warning us against, and it’s a good thing we heed him.23 Comments
Sadistic Metal Reviews started sometime in the early 00s in tribute to the reviews of fanzines from earlier eras, in which a single sentence correctly categorized a band as the type of useless filler it was and dispatched it to the cut-out sale bins of history.
The grim fact is that as in nature, in heavy metal there are a few winners, and everyone else fails. This isn’t because they are fated to do so, but because they made the wrong choices. Usually, they have no actual artistic motivation, and so are imitating other successful acts for chicks, beer, prestige, an excuse for being stoned in the basement for a decade, whatever.
A band may have spent years learning its instruments, rehearsed for months, hired a good studio, taken all the right notes and had all the right parts, but something didn’t add up. This band had nothing to say, and so no one should listen.
The guiding principle of Sadistic Metal Reviews is that no amount of surface aesthetic can cover up a lack of conviction, content and motivation within. No one can paint-by-numbers imitate, or its cousin the recombining of known styles, and hope to get anything but a polite nod and “It’s OK, I guess, if you like that kind of thing.”
With this edition, SMR takes on the retro phenomenon. Every seven years like clockwork the great factory of wannabes runs out of “new” (usually basic math, like adding two genres together and getting a mystery) ideas and decides that ripping off the past is the safest path to fame and riches.
Hence these imitators are on the altar of sacrifice, awaiting our Sadistic Metal Writers for today’s edition of SMR, which tackles possibly the worst form of retro ever… the wannabe be 1991 Swedish death metal retro.
Our writers, from left to right: Daniel Rodriguez, Cory van der Pol, Max Bloodworth and Jon Wild.
Despite being disguised in every “Swedish death metal” cliche known to man, Repugnant appears to be a retro-thrash band that re-purposes early Entombed lyrics for ironic comic book appeal. This vapid gimmickry with a glossy coat betrays the similarity between this band and Ghost, with whom it shares personnel. Why not try the same shallow stunt, but dress it up as old Entombed for extra clueless metal tourist nu-fan dollars?
This album of Carnage riffs played backward between stolen Nihilist d-beats feels like a flowchart experiment in paint-by-numbers Swedish death metal cliches, with added groove so that even lobotomy patients can tap their feet to it. Entrails lay claim to the early Swe-death scene, but even a blatant clone band can be aim for higher than almost passable. If you take away the buzz-saw distortion, these are just old Saxon tunes sped up with more howling.
Why do bands constantly recreate Slaughter of the Soul? Perhaps because it’s so easy to do. Evocation make forgettable muzak by giving laundry detergent commercial jingles the mid-90s Swe-death post-Deliverance-style rape treatment. This pop muzak sounds every bit as bittersweet as a sad Blink 182 song but in disguise as mid 90s Scandinavian metal to allow Century Media to market it to metalcore kids on Youtube. More “another day at the office” unremarkable mellow-deaf who are given more legitimacy than the other bands for being around in the early 90s. It’s still butt rock with polka drumming and laryngitis vocals.
What most people got out of Swedish death metal was a certain guitar tone and vocal delivery. Complex riff arrangements, time signatures, melodies? Over their heads. So why burden the little dears with something they can’t understand? Instead, take the same music that bad Exodus clones were making in 1987 and dress it up in a “Sexy Swedish Slut Death Metal” Halloween costume. The only people who fall asleep when listening are the smart ones, and we should probably shoot them anyway.
Classic death metal is hard. What’s easy? Metalcore, which is any variation of metal where you use hardcore songwriting with metal riffs. Don’t worry about making the riffs make sense, just have the song go from one ludicrous riff to the next as if they were connected. Then have a mosh part. Hail of Bullets is aggressive like old school death metal turned up to ten, but disorganized so you hear mostly noise.
Remember all those Swedish bands who were almost up there with Entombed, but then dropped out? They dropped out because “not good enough” doesn’t mean you missed good by a hair, but a mile. Kaamos is reconstituted from also-rans in the Swedish scene and it sounds like it. These two chord riffs have zero personality mainly because their creators are obsessed with sounding Swedish. If this band were honest, Samba music would come out of the speakers instead.
What happens if you dress up Def Leppard in Swedish buzz-saw distortion and death metal tempo? I don’t know, because this isn’t as good as Def Leppard. It is however candy heavy metal with every third riff an AOR melodic transition but put into typical Swe-deth(tm) packaging, including Sunlight Studios (Boss Heavy Metal pedal dimed) production, wacky energetic drumming, and barfing pit bull vocals. But once you look below the surface, it’s a power ballad.
Bloodbath is just a bunch of jaded guys from whine rock bands (Katatonia and Opeth) making a parody out of death metal by throwing backwards Dismember riffs into a blender alongside Pantera groove metal riffs. For credibility they add the tremolo riff from Morbid Angel’s “Dawn of the Angry” to be a sufficiently quirky lifestyle product for people who ironically wear Entombed trucker hats and talk wistfully of the early 1990s, when they were four.
This all-star band with Scott Carlsson (Repulsion) and Nicke Andersson (Entombed) applies the Clandestine model of pairing up horror movie motifs on guitar with d-beats. Using a rhythmic approach that alternates between Repulsion’s high-intensity riding blast and a Motorhead-derived groove, this band is competent but formulaic. It escapes the rancor derived at its genre-mates for being what seems like something closer to an honest effort.
Morbus Chron suffers from flowchart death metal syndrome: play d-beat punk played on down-tuned guitars like the old school bands, toss in a stolen Sabbath riffs to remind people of the obligatory Autopsy influence, then maybe inject a zany Demilich/Cadaver “wacky sounding” riff to come off as “outside the box” and “original.” It feels like Entombed met up with a focus group who accidentally purchased a bunch of Oxycontin and tried to replicate Autopsy’s Acts of the Unspeakable.6 Comments