Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Christianity, metal, and Christian metal

There's a large section of the underground metal scene that takes a rather principled stance against Christian music, and one that I've never fully understood. Viewing Christianity as a poisonous ideology? Fine, all well and good (though expressed more adolescently that I'd like it to), but refusing to listen to Christian music due to its inherent Christianity? Well, the silliness of this seems obvious- whether you necessarily know it or not, you likely listen to musical artists with differing (or even abhorrent) ideologies all the time, and taking a stance against Christianity specifically is a positional move. Not to mention where exactly the line falls with what defines something as "Christian" band. There's numerous musical collectives out there which feature Christian members (many of my own musical projects included) where Christianity is not actually a feature of the music. If there's anything my experience has taught me, it's that Christians are just as able to write songs about shit-eating serial murderers as the staunchest atheist.

However, there's the obvious trouble of Christian bands proper- where Christianity is an inherent ideology to the music that is expressed lyrically and musically. My issue with them has nothing to do with the ideology- I regularly listen to anti-white hip-hop with little concern, as I'm an adult who doesn't get virulently offended by those who might be positioned against me. Art is art. However, I have to speak out the other side of my mouth here by saying that most Christian metal (and Christian music in general) is quite terrible. I have a number of Christian bands in my personal musical collection, but only a small handful that I would listen to any regularity- those that, on a musical level, can stand up to their secular counterparts. It seems as though the best Christian metal is usually tied to hardcore or metalcore; Impending Doom, Common Yet Forbidden, and (to some degree, I suppose) Killers By Trade are all worthwhile artists in their particular fields.

So why does Christian metal usually fall flat on its face? Well, it's a simple matter, and very similar to the reason that NSBM fails so often: because it places ideology before music in many circumstances. If you would like to preach the teachings of Christ or a stance against some nebulous Zionist conspiracy, that's all well and good (though I think the positions themselves might be silly), but be sure to have sick riffs as well. Most Christian and NSBM bands do not because there's no system of quality control beyond expressing an ideology. Labels like Open Grave Records and any number of CDr NSBM labels often release very substandard releases that are only given a proper release due to their agreement with a label's particular ideology- the sheer number of terrible, terrible NSBM releases I own expresses this very clearly. Beyond the inherent litmus test of ideology, such labels seem relatively unconcerned with musical quality despite how substandard it might be.

But to divorce Christian metal from the NSBM comparison for a moment, I'd say that there's a deeper issue with Christian metal which prevents so much of it from being musically feasible which is, in part, tied to ideology. I don't inherently believe that the expression of Christian values is naturally antithetical to metal's basic aesthetic and conceptual tropes. However, the way many Christian bands go about it continues to drag them down to a feeble, uninteresting level. Christian bands, in effect, preach to the choir: ideologues simply looking for a reiteration of their personal values without any concern of fitting in to the genre they're ostensibly a part of.

Christian music (Christian metal included) comes from a position of conversion and propaganda more often than not. The goal of a Christian band is rarely to simply create great art where the ideology happens to be a part of it; rather, the priorities are switched. To be more precise: Christian metal tends to come from a position of weakness rather than strength. This is partly due to the form of Christianity preached in such music. Rather than taking the old testament's position on power, glory, and aggression against unbelievers, Christian bands tend to adhere to a modern, liberalized brand of Christianity where inclusion and egalitarianism is more important than the values of the religion itself. Christian metal is badly in need of a massive revamp to be relevant.

Anyone even loosely familiar with Christianity is fully aware that the Bible contains numerous tales of extreme subject matter perfectly fitting the aesthetics of metal: the suffering of unbelievers in hell, God's wrath striking down the unworthy through devastating displays of natural power, and an acceptance of suffering and cruelty in order to achieve a greater goal. So why is it that the lyrics and music of Christian bands don't convey this sort of awe-inspiring force of will and terror that the Bible so clearly emphasizes? Well, it's quite simple: people aren't as easily converted by tales of brutality and extremity as they are promises of the gifts of heaven. Yahweh, as we know, was quite cruel in the olden days of the religion, cursing those beneath him who did not properly worship- in short, extremely metal and viable as a topic for metal music.

So what is my ideal metal band? A group of fundamentalist, old testament Christians who are less concerned with converting unbelievers than damning them. I would love to see a Christian band that reveled in the suffering of heretics, telling stories of the destruction of entire city's through god's punishing hands. I don't need to be preached to- hell, a metal audience would likely be more interested and receptive to the ideas of Christianity if they were presented from a position of dogmatic, inexorable strength rather than the weak-kneed tolerance of modern Christianity. Long, dirgelike funeral doom songs detailing the suffering of Christ during the passions, violent black/death songs describing the smashing of Egyptian armies by the violent, swirling tides of the Red Sea- these are the stories and ideas I want expressed in metal, not a pitiable request that you repent, you know, if you feel like it.

Christianity can be metal. It's unfortunate that so many Christian metal bands reject it.

Review: Tha-Norr - Wolfenzeitalter

When I threw this album on, I was hoping to find another lost classic of early black metal. I can't say I succeeded, but this album is pretty cool anyways, and well worth your attention. Tha-Norr were German and they released this in 1995, before there was much of a scene in their country.

Let's get the negative part out of the way. Tha-Norr just aren't that great a band. This album features some really cool riffs, but also a number of well-executed standards, and some that simply hang out being black metal riffs. Some of the songs are powerfully structured, while others might benefit from rewrites. What's more, Tha-Norr's uneven songwriting isn't exactly offset by a striking aeshetic. This album definitely has its own sound, but it's not innovative by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it particularly refined.

So, if this album isn't a triumph of content or a leap forwards in form, what makes it worth listening to? I believe Fenriz has something good to say about this: "One can analyze a piece of music and deduce that it is black metal. But black metal is a feeling. And that feeling cannot be analyzed." And that's what Tha-Norr do right. They nail the feeling. How do I describe the feeling? Well, I could tell you that it's fearsome, enthralling, and hypnotic. That it suggests more of a medieval or pagan atmosphere than the usual diabolical scenes. But ultimately I'm just throwing labels at it, labels that apply equally to dozens of other good black metal albums. Maybe if I waxed poetic I could do a better job of conveying it, but as Fenriz says, I can't ANALYZE it, I can't really get inside it and break it down for you.

I'm not gonna cop out like that, though. The feeling isn't this mysterious extra "something," it arises from the way the music is written and how it's performed. You could even say that, in black metal, the chief aim of the songwriting is to conjure that feeling. So by telling you more about how Wolfenzeitalter (German for "Wolf Age!") sounds, perhaps I can get at its emotional dimension indirectly.

This is squarely in the early Norse tradition, reminiscent of the period before the style got leveled down into formulaic Darkthrone/Burzum plagiarism. It's based on driving powerchord riffs occasionally embellished with keys and tremolo leads, kind of like the really early Emperor and Enslaved. The guitar sound is cavernous and heavy, occupying a lot of space. Tha-Norr's most distinctive riffs often double back on themselves in unusual ways, and the drummer does a great job of complimenting this with staggering fills and interesting embellishments.

The album's musical soul is the trio of "Bowels of My Beloved Earth," "Wolfenzeitalter," and awesomely titled anthem "The Fortress Will Fall." "Bowels" is a masterpiece of repetitive songwriting, with keys building slowly over a pulsating base of guitars and drums. The break at 3:28 is perfectly placed, and hurls us into a really aggressive punk riff. Coming off that section, the sudden return to the sinister pulse--this time with straight double-pedal bass drums--is even more powerful. By the end of the song the singer is screaming something retarded along the lines of "I AM A VAMPIRE!" and totally pulling it off. "Wolfenzeitalter" is all charging, heroic melodies, with a flute interlude that's haunting instead of fruity. "The Fortress Will Fall" is a bit like the Oi! black metal that has become a German trademark, but Tha-Norr have injected the riffs with their signature convolutions. Evoking the flow of battle, the song moves from grim resolution into all-out aggression.

This is no undiscovered treasure, but it's somber, evocative, and powerful. It's a perfect soundtrack for reading, or just drifting off into a grimmer and more beautiful world. Not for those with a casual interest in black metal. For the people who listen to it because they feel it.

Bonus points for having cool fantasy art on the cover instead of some generic picture of a forest.

Buy this album on Amazon

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hypehammer: Toxic Holocaust's "Nowhere to Run"

Since the new Toxic Holocaust album is coming out soon, I thought I'd check out the lead single. This was a mistake. Misery loves company, so I convinced Noktorn to sacrifice 3 minutes and 46 seconds of his life by listening to it too. Our discussion follows:

N: God that was horrible. And why is it the single? People want fast, dumb, raw shit from Toxic Holocaust, not pussed-out early Metallica stuff.

P: Yeah, I was shocked. It just plods along, being a thrash metal song. It's like Joel actively decided to scrap what set Toxic Holocaust apart... He's traded in Road Warrior metalpunk for straight up retro-thrash.

N: And even compared to that garbage scene, it's pretty bad. So is this an attempt to sell out or what...

P: Word. You could tell he was edging towards accessibility with the last album, but in a way that made sense for the band... Toxic Holocaust has always been kinda poppy, and on An Overdose of Death he was able to create some seriously catchy shit without losing the retardo speedfreak vibe. This new track is the opposite: devoid of hooks AND attitude.

N: It's completely phoned-in. It's obvious that he doesn't give a shit anymore. Anyone can listen to this and realize it's pointless and half-assed. I bet Relapse is regretting that 3-album contract now!

P: And as we asked of Morbid Angel, WHO are they attempting to sell out to???

N: It's not dramatic enough to draw in Hot Topic kids or anything.

P: Right...there are a host of other shiny plastic thrash bands offering much more compelling teenage kicks. It's almost like Toxic Holocaust is trying to attract those kids' dads!

N: Yeah, there's certainly a ton of boring rock influence here. When established metal bands turn to rock, they just get sluggish and old.

P: That's a good way of putting it... this dude is still in his prime metal years, but he sounds old.

N: I mean, look at the guy, he's fucking soft.

P: Last time I looked he had baby-fat. Which means he has NOT been doing enough coke and speed to make this kind of music. Perhaps that explains the slow song...

N: I bet he calls his mom every Saturday and has a really lame day job.

P: Heh, I like that image! Perhaps an IT guy at a small business. Or, better: frustrated manager at a yuppie restaurant. "Hey, team, I don't wanna come down on you guys but I kinda need to see those dishes getting washed faster..."

N: "Hey, uh, Ben, could you stop texting your girlfriend and get that coffee to the couple at table 3 before it gets cold? Oh, you can't? Well, ok I guess..."

P: Haaa! Anyway, it also pisses me off that he's admitted War Ripper was his side project, and put that E.P. up for sale on iTunes. I dunno why anyone would ever use iTunes, but now that War Ripper has been officially stamped with the Toxic Holocaust brand it's gonna sell pretty well. This reeks of a quick and easy cash grab, just like the new single.

N: I have no idea what War Ripper is.

P: Kinda cool crust punk stuff, but basically just a statement. Not worth listening to if you haven't already.

N: Doesn't that statement also apply to Toxic Holocaust as a whole?

P: Well, it does now.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

You don't hate hardcore, hardcore hates you

Ugh, now that Jungle Rot's been signed to Victory, they have all these obnoxious hardcore influences. Jungle Rot's always been a great, traditional oldschool death metal band, so to hear them add a ton of -core to their sound is massively disappointing. Guess they've decided to jump on the sellout bandwagon big time. I mean, it's not like they've ever sounded like this befo-

Well shit.

Lately I've been hearing a lot of people preemptively mourning Jungle Rot because they had the sheer audacity to sign to Victory Records. Comments range from a lack of understanding as to why they would sign to such a label (because it couldn't be that Victory is an enormous label who will pay them more than Napalm,) how they could betray the metal scene in such a way (failing to understand that musicians see musical communities in an entirely different way from mere fans,) and how they may inevitably start incorporating hardcore influences into their music, which to many metalheads is an evil just short of intentionally infecting children with HIV. Of course, as you can hear from the above couple songs, Jungle Rot has had hardcore influences in their music for a long time- as long, actually, as the band has been around. The NYHC present in Jungle Rot's music has always been one of their defining musical characteristics, but it was never a problem (or even mentioned, really) until Victory picked them up. So let's talk about why this is.

The people who intrinsically complain about hardcore are complete ciphers and not even worth talking about. Anyone not completely ignorant in the history of metal knows that hardcore has a been a sister to the metal throughout the existence of both the genres, from Black Flag's hardcore punk to Hatebreed's modern hardcore to Converge's metalcore to, yes, Envy's screamo. Every dimension of hardcore has had influence on metal whether one appreciates it or not, and the existence of hardcore is directly responsible for the expansion of heavy metal beyond anything more extreme than Judas Priest. What's more interesting are the people who are more situationally annoyed by hardcore- who constantly rephrase what they mean by 'not liking hardcore' to make their untenable point more salient.

One of the biggest defenses is that there's an intrinsic difference between early hardcore punk and modern hardcore; well, yes, there is. They do sound different. However, to suggest that modern hardcore is some completely different breed of music which rose from absolutely nothing is a ludicrous proposition. The development of the modern "toughguy" hardcore sound is one that took many progressive steps originating in hardcore punk; some of the late '80s/early '90s bands of the hardcore scene express this very clearly. Artists like Madball or Ringworm firmly straddle the lines of both oldschool and modern hardcore- in essence, there is no appreciable reason to dismiss one and not the other. You can say that you like one and not the other, you can insist that one is a more artistically relevant style, but you can't say that one is "real" hardcore and the other isn't.

Of course, this evades the whole reality of the situation, which is that modern hardcore (especially NY and Boston) is massively influential to some of the most lauded artists of the metal scene. Jungle Rot has always been a band clearly influenced by hardcore. Suffocation in particular owes a great deal of their early sound to NYHC, including their use of the "breakdown" technique (which deserves another post entirely) which was taken from hardcore and repurposed for the burgeoning style of brutal death metal. But even beyond simple, obvious examples like those, look at modern power metal's infatuation with perpetual chug riffs, which are simply evidence of hardcore by way of thrash- or more likely, just by way of hardcore itself as more and more metal musicians become significantly influenced by modern hardcore. The scenes are attached at the hip whether one wants to admit it or not.

But none of this explains why Jungle Rot getting signed to Victory tweaks people out so badly. A lot of it has to do with a legitimate (if still inexcusable) lack of understanding as to what hardcore is and just how broad a spectrum of music it contains; hardcore, of course, is just as varied as metal, managing to combine artists as disparate as Liferuiner, Heaven in Her Arms, and The Locust under its general umbrella. Victory for many years was essentially positioned as THE mainstream hardcore label, releasing music ranging anywhere from Bayside to Bury Your Dead, but it seems that they're only remembered in the metal scene for the legion of First Blood clones that at one point populated their roster. Hardcore, like emo, is a term that has been co-opted and so massively generalized by the metal scene that it ceases to have meaning. Those complaining of "hardcore influences" in their metal are really just talking about a very, very narrow range of musical techniques and concepts which make up only a tiny part of hardcore at large.

Which brings me to the final point, and the reason why people are angry that Jungle Rot has signed to Victory: image. With "hardcore" turned into this monolithic, one-note style in the minds of metalheads, all hardcore is the same, and all hardcore is necessarily bad as a result. Ignoring the breadth of the scene, the closeness of the two genres, and the entire history of hardcore influence in metal in favor of a reductionist approach has allowed what seems like a massive group of people to immediately dismiss Jungle Rot for daring to become a closer part of a scene they had always at the very least had one foot in. You don't hate hardcore, you see: you hate a certain hairstyle, the way certain notes are arranged, certain conventions in band names and album titles. You don't hate hardcore because you actually don't know what hardcore is. You don't hate hardcore; you hate the bizarre, incorrect image of hardcore you've somehow managed to cook up in your mind from years of incestuous interaction with people as ignorant to the genre as you.

In short: you don't hate hardcore, hardcore hates you.

Get Into: Stormtrooper (US)

I listened to Stormtrooper's Armies of the Night EP for the first time today, and got so stoked I had to share it immediately. What blew me away was how these dudes welded brawling UK punk to stripped-down NWOBHM. Sick, right!? If I hadn't looked 'em up on Metal Archives, I would still be laboring under the misapprehension that they were a British Oi! punk band pushing the sound in a more metal direction. In fact, Stormtrooper were a "US Power Metal" band from Arizona, of all places. To me, that makes them even cooler--these guys were clearly on their own trip.

If you like big blasting power chords, you will like Stormtrooper. The guitar sound is thick as an ox's neck and raw as a rusty razor, perfect for their mix of stomping midtempo punk riffs and epic shred. I can only imagine some close-minded 80s longhair hearing the title track and turning away in disgust after the first minute: "these guys are just punks, they can't even play their instruments!" Then, at 1:25, they bring in the solo and his jaw drops. In fact, it unhinges completely. 2:21 in "Search and Destroy" might be even more impressive. A mark of Stormtrooper's quality is that these transitions and juxtapositions never sound jarring--in fact, they're a highlight of the songs that you can look forward to with each listen.

Damien Black's vocal performance is pretty cool, too. He sounds simultaneously authentic and affected, at once highly musical and totally untrained. The dude has a flair for drama, and gives everything weird glam undertones. He changes up his "singing" with some really tough punk vox. The scream at 3:12 in "Search and Destroy" is classic. Oh, and there's usually a fake English accent.

As far as I know Stormtrooper were sort of in a class of their own, but I can't resist throwing out some comparisons just to show how broad their appeal is. You will probably dig this if you like
any (or all!) of the following: Sham 69, Manilla Road, early Iron Maiden, Dead Boys, Cirith Ungol, English Dogs, G.I.S.M., Warfare, Venom, you get the picture. Total spikes'n'studs shit, for the Road Warrior crew.

Credit where credit is due: I first heard Stormtrooper on a sick tumblr. It's this badass metal chick who's really into raw thrash and metalpunk. Her playlist is exquisite--lots of gnarly bands I'd never heard. She also posts pictures of naked gals in leather jackets and stuff. What's not to like? Check it out.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review: Skepticism - Aes

Given Skepticism's previously exposed penchant for lengthy, ambient-tinged, deliberately composed works, it seems almost inevitable that the band would eventually choose to make a release composed of a single track- it's actually more surprising that of their discography, 'Aes' is the only record in such a vein. That being said, it's good enough that the band probably doesn't NEED another such release under their belt. Of all the overambitious, massive releases in the history of metal, 'Aes' is one of the best, and one of the only that doesn't collapse under the weight of its own ambitions. I guess it's to be expected that Skepticism of all bands would be one to pull it off, but it doesn't make 'Aes' any less fascinating or ultimately thrilling a release.

'Aes' is where the first strains of Skepticism's 'Farmakon' sound start to emerge, forming a neat bridge between the more traditional works of their earlier releases and the wandering, grey, somewhat experimental material that would define their latter era. To describe it more succinctly, 'Aes' sounds like something of a 50/50 combination of 'Stormcrowfleet' and 'Farmakon,' with many of the overtly depressive, straightforward elements of 'Lead & Aether' oddly absent. 'Aes' is not a release that indulges in the more purely melancholic feeling of codified funeral doom- instead, it takes a more circuitous and interesting route. Built off subtle, slow, delicately constructed changes in mood, melody, and rhythm, 'Aes' takes a great deal of time to get where it's going, but never stops being compelling for the listener.

All of Skepticism's traditional features are present- large swaths of floating guitars, heavy, somewhat tribal drumming, and forward-pushing organs taking up the bulk of the low end- but 'Aes' is constructed even more sluggishly and deliberately than any other work in Skepticism's catalog. Opening with a churning, grey, confusing clash of melodic voices and surprisingly uptempo drumming, 'Aes' progresses through a series of extremely distinct movements over the course of its half hour running time, passing through more traditional, epic moments ala 'Stormcrowfleet' and oppressive, lurking, nervous material in the style of 'Farmakon,' constantly walking a tightrope between the more immediate and the long-term objective of the song. Skepticism understands that keeping the listener's attention during a piece as long as this requires a delicate balance between immediately satisfying, viscerally appealing melodies and a certain lack of resolution that keeps the listener curious, and Skepticism executes this magnificently through the perpetually shifting textures of the song.

Each distinct movement tends to take up a handful of minutes, allowing the band to tread water within a certain mood before moving on to the next, either with a gradual flow of instruments to another form or through the abruptness of a sudden musical pause or key change. It's very impressive how intense and exciting the band manages to make such slow, pounding music; you never feel like your patience is being tested by this EP. As usual, Skepticism's phenomenal grasp of volume dynamics, pacing, and repetition allows the music to breathe more fully than nearly any other metal band on the planet- slow shifts in tempo, volume, and vocal timbre all come together to make this a riveting and easily studied musical experience.

A lot of people like to talk about the classical influence on metal, which is an idea I appreciate in the abstract but generally dismiss as wishful thinking. It doesn't help that so many of the people who advertise this cite people like Yngwie Malmsteen as the carriers of such a musical legacy. However, I would absolutely suggest Skepticism as being one of the most truly neoclassical projects in metal today, and 'Aes' makes this clearer than possibly any of their other releases. If you're interested in something progressive- and I mean truly progressive, not 'prog'- you should absolutely acquire this disc and listen to it closely. With 'Aes,' Skepticism have achieved a level of compositional elegance and intelligence rarely matched elsewhere in modern music as a whole.

Buy this album on Amazon

Friday, June 24, 2011

The metal nerd's collection (Part 3 of 3)

Well, here we are at the final installation of the metal nerd's collection. I hope you've enjoyed this jaunt into the mind of an irredeemable asshole and have narrowed your musical horizons as a result. I know I have on both counts.

1. Skyclad - I almost feel bad about this one because it's not like they're bad, but still, Skyclad is an incredibly nerdy band to like. Perhaps the first folk metal band, Skyclad allows the metal nerd to listen to a folk metal group that not only predates the bulk wave of folk metal but doesn't particularly sound like the rest of it either. Along with this is a huge discography precisely two people have heard the entirety of. A totally arbitrary favorite album can be chosen from the million they've released and it's completely legitimate because no one can contest your claim. This is one of the cases where the metal nerd wouldn't claim to LOVE the band in question, just to "appreciate their influence." Favorite album: inconsequential, but perhaps "A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol," which is still out of print.

2. Enslaved - This is a perfect band for the metal nerd because there's so many different directions they can take it. Early Enslaved is formative but still unusual black metal, influential without being completely obvious. Mid-era Enslaved is a total mess of different ideas and influences, and any album can be chosen for an appropriate identity to be sculpted around it. Then there's the new material, which verges on hipster due to its very obvious prog rock influence by way of Pink Floyd, but could be a neat reverse gambit for the metal nerd. Enslaved is a totally open field to be a douche about; the only thing missing is the right nerd to fill the niche. Favorite album: debatable, but I'd go with "Isa" simply because I can see a nerd describing it as "a great fusion of Enslaved's propulsive, bouncing songwriting and their intelligent use of prog."

3. Asphyx - Similar to Incantation in that they're a doomy, oldschool death metal band (note: to the nerd, anything slower than Brain Drill "bears traces of doom heritage") with a long history and a wishy-washy comeback. Still, Asphyx are a challenging nerd pick because there's really only one album to hang their hat on, being of course "The Rack." Using this as a mark of musical taste has to go beyond namedrop and into deep pretense when dealing with a well-versed metalhead, so nerds out there should use discretion when attempting to talk up Asphyx: you're in for a lot of work beyond many of the other bands listed in this series. Favorite album: "The Rack," simply because, what, do you think someone's ACTUALLY going to believe that you think "Last One on Earth" is their best? Please.

4. At the Gates - No, not the later material of course: I'm talking about "The Red in the Sky is Ours." A strange sort of polyglot album at the beginning of a band's career that was both influential and a departure from similar artists and doesn't really mark the direction the band would go in later? Sign the nerd right up. At the Gates' first has just enough esoteric elements and just small enough a listening base to be practically designed for nerd-worship, whether they actually like it or not. Favorite album: as mentioned, but be sure to mention a soft spot for "Slaughter of the Soul." It's become an amazing reverse gambit as of late to have an unnecessarily positive opinion of it.

5. Bone Awl - Cheating a bit simply because they're more obscure than the others, but I think they still deserve a place. Bone Awl has a sprawling discography, boring, samey music, and a mock-DIY aesthetic, all of which place this squarely in the nerd's fiefdom. Their intelligent lyrics mixed with the brackish, simplistic instrumentation suggests a non-existent depth that the nerd can pick apart forever if he wants and the punk influence is a great way to feel tougher than he actually is. Favorite album: could be anything, really, but I'd go with "At the Ellipse's Arc" simply so the nerd can talk about the band's "challenging use of third reich symbolism" in the cover art.

And that's a wrap. Music is gay.

Just in case you haven't heard this song...

Best metal love song. Best early NWOBHM single. But this is also one of those brilliant tracks with an influence that ranged far beyond its scene. If you like Swedish melodic black metal (or, errr, Gothenburg melodeath) this is of the utmost historical importance. Yes, the lyrics are absolutely ridiculous and that's part of the track's flamboyant majesty. It's almost like Prince writing speed metal, and who wouldn't want to hear that? Oh, you wouldn't? Stop reading this blog and go listen to Satanic Snoremaster, you fucking nerd.

Get Into: Satans Vind

In a stately procession, hooded acolytes file down the aisle of a burning cathedral. They look to neither side, even as timbers fall around their heads and scorching air shatters the stained-glass windows. Mounting the altar, they begin the ritual.

On their 2001 demo Forenade I Hat Mot Gud, Satans Vind crafted some of the blackest black metal you will ever hear. It really doesn't get any more hateful or unearthly than this. It's basically a "noise black metal" album, but it's also totally faithful to the Second Wave aesthetic. The production, which is the first thing you'll notice, defines raw. But it's also quite listenable: they went for obscene amounts of distortion rather than cultivating an obnoxiously trebly guitar sound. The riffs are simple, elegant, and evil as fuck. Even amidst the fuzz, the hiss, and the unrelenting din of the drums, these melodic figures remain easy to discern. Satans Vind could have produced a pointless racket. Instead, they've given us a searing and surprisingly musical ass-kicking.

I also want to talk about the drums. Holy fucking hell. Supposedly the vocalist also played drums, but they must have been programmed on a haywire vintage drum machine. Rather than giving everything a sterile sound, the drums are crucial to the album's organic and mysterious feel. The blasting--and that's all there is--is so inhumanly fast and so "badly" produced that it often blurs together into a pulse or a continuous crash. It seems to fluctuate in volume or intensity, so that some snare hits really jump out at odd times. This happens in a more or less regular pattern, but not necessarily where measures begin. I think this is really cool, and so should you.

Some biographical info: Satans Vind was the side project of Swedish guitarist Surth, better known for the shamefully underappreciated Svartsyn. Nothing is known about Pesth, the vocalist/"drummer." Wouldn't be surprised if he was actually a ghost. They recorded this demo in 2001, and an untitled one in 2003. Maybe I'll track that one down later. These guys were kind of similar in spirit to Ravengod, the raw, nasty side project of Hoest from Taake. Check out my old post on them here.

If you like black metal, you will like Satans Vind, or at the very least appreciate them. If you don't like them, you should reconsider your interest in black metal. This demo is veeeery hard to find, so downloading is really the only option unless you're rich and have a lot of time on your hands. While we aren't an mp3 blog, I figured I'd save you the trouble of searching for it. Here's a LINK. Hail Satan.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The metal nerd's collection (Part 2 of 3)

We're back for the second installment of the metal nerd's collection, a look into the minds of the pretentious cred-hungry cretins who are increasingly infesting the metal scene lately, desperate to soak up any praise for their taste for being different if not actually good. Here's another five bands that are essential to such a character's collection.

1. Gorguts - Much like Immolation, this is shooting fish in a barrel. Just about any pre-'98 tech death band is a good choice for the metal nerd, but Gorguts' extra-abstract and atonal style in their later career makes them perfect fodder for someone seeking to flatter their own sense of taste and style. It goes without saying that the nerd will emphasize the latter two albums in the band's catalog, but he'll probably mention the early two in some capacity- maybe to refer to them as "minor Gorguts." Favorite album: "Obscura," undoubtedly. The sheer Immolation-style nerd cred of that album is unbeatable. For bonus points, the nerd might say they have a particular soft spot for "Considered Dead," but NOT the sophomore release.

2. Darkthrone - This is actually a very specific case. The ONLY album appropriate to reference by the nerd from Darkthrone's extensive catalog is, of course, "Soulside Journey." To discount the entirety of Darkthrone's seminal career as a black metal one is a daring and clever move on the part of the nerd, and harping on the technicality and compositional elegance of the band's first death metal work is a quick ticket to get noticed in a world where that album is mostly forgotten. Ignore the fact that "Soulside Journey" is mostly forgotten because it's just not that amazing an album: this is about appearances, not logic. Favorite album: "Soulside Journey" with an entirely random mid-era album like "Total Death" as a backup.

3. Incantation - Not much is better for the nerd than oldschool, doomy death metal, and what's more oldschool, doomy, and deathy than Incantation, who sucks up all the interesting elements of the oldschool NYDM scene and regurgitates them with all the fun and enthusiasm entirely stripped away. The reams of identical albums the band has released allow, similar to Angelcorpse, the nerd to impress his personality on them, making the actual CHOICE of album almost totally irrelevant. Saying that you enjoy Incantation is a positional statement in and of itself- any conversation beyond that is just meaningless detail. Favorite album: the metal nerd cannot actually name an Incantation album, but they will say "I'm a big fan of their slower work."

4. Demigod - We can't ignore the Finnish scene, can we? Demilich is an obvious contender but simply too many people actually enjoy them for it to be feasible. Adramelech is another good choice but doesn't have the sheer namedrop factor necessary. Demigod, on the other hand, is in just the perfect niche: no one's heard them even though everyone knows their name and history, their primarily lauded release for a long time required a ton of money to acquire on Ebay, and they're still kinda-sorta active which keeps them in the public's mind. Favorite album: "Slumber of Sullen Eyes," simply because claiming another would be so implausible.

5. Tiamat - So the metal nerd needs a classic doom/death band from the more romantic side of the equation to hang his hat on, but the Peaceville 3 are just too straightforward. What should he do? Step sideways and go for Tiamat, who no one really listens to but are revered by many people pretending to listen to their copy of "Clouds." Tiamat's music isn't as openly weepy and cloying as My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost, but the real advantage these guys have is how they totally fell off the map when they turned into a rock band. Favorite album: some transitional work between their rock and metal eras, in order to talk about the "amazing synergy within."

Check back tomorrow for the final installment. Don't get into the pit, though; you might tear your bootleg Electric Wizard shirt!

The metal nerd's collection (Part 1 of 3)

Over the past few years, a certain breed in the metal scene has risen up to overwhelm forums, blogs, and indeed even some shows: the metal nerd. Not to be confused with the metal geek, with his honest and unashamed love of Helloween and D&D, the metal nerd is more concerned with establishing his credibility in the metal scene and setting himself apart as an individual than defining his own actual taste. The metal nerd is an obsessive contrarian, but not one of the traditional sort, opposed to everything popular. The metal nerd is only opposed to the most distinct appearance of popularity. If you've ever seen someone say that "Hell Awaits" is Slayer's only good album, you've almost certainly run into a metal nerd.

Below is a quick list of bands that metal nerds particularly enjoy. Note that not all of these bands are bad- some are quite fantastic, actually. Still, there's something in every single one that makes them perfect for the metal nerd to establish his credibility with. If you enjoy more than 2/3s of this list, chances are you're a metal nerd and suicide is the only option.

1. Immolation - THE arch-metal-nerd band. Perhaps the most defining band of the metal nerd, Immolation comes at a perfect crossroads between technical/progressive modern death metal and abstract, oldschool death metal. Immolation's lengthy discography allows the metal nerd to take a completely random stance on any one of their releases and be praised as an intellectual simply because only intellectuals listen to Immolation. Album of choice: "Close to a World Below," but "Failures for Gods" is probably an even nerdier option due to its bad production and lack of popularity compared to its younger cousin.

2. Ulver - A black metal band that turned into an electronic/ambient project? God, what could be better for a nerd than to show an appreciation for two esoteric styles of music at once! Really though, the metal nerd is more concerned with the band's early work, which manages to marry fairly straightforward, accessible songwriting with a degraded and harsh production style which tricks many into thinking they're listening to more extreme music than they actually are. Album of choice: "Kveldssanger" just to appear interesting when in actuality they listen to "Nattens Madrigal" more.

3. Megadeth - Of the big 4 it was a difficult sell between Megadeth and Metallica- the former has some hint of underdog status and a classic thrash vibe sure to attract someone seeking credibility, but Metallica's overt popularity and accessibility makes it a phenomenal reverse gambit for the metal nerd. Still, Megadeth's lack of immediacy and obnoxious main personality makes it win this round. Of the big 4, they're really the only option: Anthrax is too silly, Slayer is too actually awesome, Metallica is too difficult to pull off pretending to like, but Megadeth is just right. Favorite album: something arbitrary from the later career such as "Youthanasia."

4. Overkill - Following the thrash trope, what's a better thrash band to profess a love of (or the hidden quality of) than almost completely forgotten band Overkill, whose total lack of recognition now is only matched by their total lack of recognition throughout their career. Another, similar bad thrash band that might be supported would be Testament, but Overkill's perpetual underdog status lets them win. Overkill's discography is massive and no one has actually heard any Overkill release, so it's very easy to completely manufacture details about them and never be called on it. Favorite album: I cannot actually remember the name of an Overkill album and looking one up would be far too much time spent on Overkill.

5. Angelcorpse - With a war metal image and basically amorphous music, Angelcorpse is a blank canvas for the metal nerd to impress his personality on. Angelcorpse lacks personality, which is perfect for the metal nerd, as it allows him the opportunity to make of them whatever he likes. Does he like it because of the riffs? The lyrics and imagery? Maybe the blasting, but MAYBE it's the slow sections! Who knows! It could be anything and nothing; when you like Angelcorpse, you don't actually have to justify anything about the band. Favorite album: "Lucifer and Lightning;" a benighted comeback album is a great opportunity to Make A Statement about one's taste.

Come back tomorrow and the day after for parts 2 and 3 of our exciting exposé!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review: Diocletian - War of All Against All

After listening to this album a couple times in fits and starts, as I read and fucked around on the internet, I decided I wanted to really listen to it. I'd already heard enough to be very impressed, but hadn't invested enough energy to connect with the music. I wanted to get it. Normally, what I'd do is crank this up on the speakers, stand in the middle of the room, and headbang, gesticulate, thrash out, whatever. But I'm recovering from surgery at the moment, and extremely tired. So I did something different. I just lay down on my bed and let War of All Against All wash over me.

In an instant, I was half asleep. My imaginings transformed into dreamings. But then a particularly commanding riff would snap me out of it, and for a minute or so I would listen with rapt attention before lapsing back into slumber. Even as I dozed, the music loomed over me like an iron fortress veiled in fog. In my most vivid dream, I looked down on a glowing chamber where jackal-headed gods carried out some brutal rite. I owe these visions to Diocletian.

The trance passed as the album reached its denouement. I woke up a few minutes into the fifteen-minute final track, "Fortress of the Unconquerable." On my first couple listens I'd quickly lost interest and skipped over it, taking it for the usual pompous outro track. But since I was already lying in bed, I left it on. I remember feeling slightly disappointed with myself for falling asleep, since I hadn't consciously paid attention to the album in the way I had hoped. Then, I fell asleep again.

Some five minutes later, I swam back into consciousness only to be seized by sudden dread. I felt as if my surroundings were no longer safe, as if mundane reality had receded and the vacuum had been filled by a hostile force. Instinctively, I tried to figure out what was wrong. Then I remembered there was music. I heard layers of pulsing drones and shimmering, shifting humming noises. Over all of it was a repetitive keening, the lament of some fantastical instrument that must have been half flute, half sawblade. I was about 2/3 into "Fortress of the Unconquerable," and the plodding martial riffs had given way to an extraordinarily eerie ambient passage.

It had really crept up on me, I thought. And then I realized that this was the sound of the war of all against all. Because most of the time it's not the thunder of guns and the clang of steel on steel. Mostly it's a secret war, those undercurrents of violence that course constantly around our feet. The little acts of mastery and domination that characterize our relationship to the world, for worse and for better. The hostility buried within apparently civil interactions. The power of the police and the schools. The strangulating grasp of the market's "invisible hand." And underneath it all the world-wrecking forces of Chaos, ever present yet ever concealed, whispering to us of ruin and liberation...

Listen to this one the whole way through.

Buy this album on Amazon

Demo-lition: Amputation Spree - Terminal Velocity

Amputation Spree is some sort of industrial/progressive death mixture out of North Carolina who released their second EP on June 5th, 2011. Let's see what's up.

Pavel: The art is a nice change.

Noktorn: The music isn't much better than usual, though. Everyone's convinced that THEY'RE the ones who are going to change metal with whatever dumb idea they have. Plus the production's atrocious.

P: It sounds a lot like Gojira to me, minus the technicality. I'm actually not against the atmosphere they're going for here. It seems like at its best it's pointing towards an apocalyptic cyberpunk vibe. But...

N: They forgot to write riffs.

P: Right. And key parts. And the vocals always rigorously double the keys. The riffs are generally thrash riffs but it's not clear why they're written the way they are. They suffer from Krallice syndrome. "Well, those are unusual harmonies, sure, but the riff is still kind of aimless."

N: The drum programming is really, really bad, and to be honest it might as well be instrumental for all the good the vocals do. The real problem with this stuff is that it just all feels so aimless.

P: It's like an attempt at stylistic synthesis that isn't driven by an inner musical goal.

N: It's a bunch of fairly arbitrary aesthetic ideas just jammed together without purpose. All the riffs are just rhythm and texture studies. There's no REAL riffing. And that's sort of the crucial building block of metal.

P: I think there's potential here, but they need a clearer vision of what they're trying to do. Like if he's going for "futuristic chugfest," that's naturally going to sound very different from "haunting cybersludge." They should probably drop the keys for now and concentrate on riffcraft until that's really solid. There's a lot of good ideas here but they're pieced together poorly.

N: This sounds like the first project of some kids that want to put all their cool ideas into one project, because if they do, it'll end up being something REALLY SUPER COOL! They need to learn some restraint. And turn down the fucking bass.

You can download the entire EP for free at the band's Bandcamp profile here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011



Weird vintage death metal I found on youtube

In this little death metal archaeology project I let myself be guided by the coolness of cover art, carefully selecting only the finest fruits of my labor to share with you, dear readers.

Caducity were from Belgium. They played "epic death metal." Have you ever heard of this subgenre? I sure haven't. This stuff is really bizarre, especially the fluctuations in tempo. Their first album, released in 1995, was entitled The Weiliaon Wielder Quest, and it featured hit singles such as "Gymbrea's Enriching Wisdom, Part I: The Sorcery of Chaos Hanzwarin, Part II: Savouring of the Tricorn Flesh." Whoa.

Invocator were Danes playing death/thrash. They clearly practiced a lot. Excursion Demise came out in 1991, but to me this stuff still sounds as weird as it must've sounded back then. I generally hate self-consciously "technical" music, but the coolest thing about Invocator is that they're not wanky at all. The fast riffs manage to be both ripping and intricate, while the thrash breaks achieve heaviness through convolution. Also, the title track features some rabid mosh sections that sound waaay ahead of their time. Listen at 2:07. Is that...metalcore? Throwing in such a brutally simplistic riff only adds to the inhuman atmosphere... Invocator rules!

This came from Sweden in 1993. Morpheus have virtually nothing to do with the "Swedish sound," though, and that makes Son of Hypnos an even weirder dead end on the evolutionary tree of death metal. If anything, this album seems to anticipate the "clicky" or "clinical" tech-death that would arise later in the 90s. These riffs follow a totally alien logic, refusing to make any concessions to the listener but still COMPELLING him to headbang. So fucking weird. Someone gave this a 15% on Metal Archives because of the "horrible" production, and while I can't really fault him on his decision, I totally disagree.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review: Sepultura - Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation

It's hard to even properly interpret Sepultura's earliest works considering the direction they went later. Everyone's firmly aware that Sepultura began as a raw, unformed, primitive death/thrash band before evolving into one of the more seminal and technically accomplished bands of thrash's golden age, but making albums like this one cognitively jive with releases like 'Arise' is still challenging. A lot of people forget that at the beginning of Sepultura's career, they were knee-deep in the brackish Cogumelo sound of related bands like Sarcófago (which Wagner Antichrist would later establish after his brief term with Sepultura was up) or Holocausto, not the refined sound of American thrash that they would later come to more or less emulate. It's because of this that opinions on 'Morbid Visions' tend to miss the mark in my opinion; a great number of people put an excessive emphasis on the relative brutality or extremity of this album and the rest of Sepultura's pre-'Beneath the Remains' output and not enough on the pure songwriting involved. Is 'Morbid Visions' the most extreme work of Sepultura? Probably- but it's also a rather confused, very unrefined album that is more significantly dated than many similar records from the same period.

The most immediate sonic comparison is, rather unsurprisingly, Possessed, filtered through the more barbaric and primitive lens of early Teutonic thrash like Sodom or Kreator. A release date in late '86 gave the Brazilians plenty of time to spin 'Endless Pain' and 'In the Sign of Evil' in anticipation of their first full-length, and it shows: the ranting, too-fast vocal performance, tension-laced tremolo riffing, and sloppy, juvenile instrumentation are all directly derived from the German camp. From Possessed, though, comes a more immediately dark and twisted feeling, the hellish and fiery sound of which was clearly a conscious takeaway from 'Seven Churches.' Even though this is Sepultura's most brutal and crude release, it's still not quite as antagonistic and self-involved as 'I.N.R.I.' or 'Campo de Extermínio'- this album is the sound of kids who really look up to Slayer but are basically unable to achieve that level of instrumental prowess at their age. Hints of the sheer brutality of the Cogumelo scene will pop up in fits and starts in the form of sloppy, uneven blasts and even more malevolent than usual riffing, both of which dot tracks like 'Mayhem' with little ceremony or sense.

The playing is uneven and crude and the production is the same, but what I think prevents this album from really entering classic territory is the songwriting itself. As previously stated, this is clearly the sound of Sepultura trying to emulate several contrasting, combative styles of thrash at once, but the combination of all these different influences doesn't end up displaying hybrid vigor so much as a diluted sense of self. The riffcraft tends to be rather generic and over-simplified, with too heavy a reliance on typical thrash riff structures, a lack of rhythmic variation, and a lack of variation from track to track. Oddly enough, many of the musical ideas here are present on later albums- 'War' is like a prototype of the title cut off 'Arise'- but refined and streamlined, which really seems to be what Sepultura was originally made for. Even at a young age, Sepultura weren't quite the drunken sociopaths that many of their Cogumelo brethren were, and even on 'Morbid Visions' you can tell that they aspire to more mainstream and traditional ideas of quality.

All that being said, 'Morbid Visions' certainly occupies a crucial spot in early extreme metal history simply by virtue of its sheer influence. In one fell swoop, 'Morbid Visions' essentially codified the style of Brazilian thrash (even if it wasn't really a sterling example of it) and set up the beginning of Sepultura's legacy. While this is certainly not their greatest work, it's an invaluable look at the early Brazilian scene and the first real volley from one of thrash's pioneering bands.

If you have anything after the initial pressing of this album, you have the 'Bestial Devastation' tracks from Sepultura's split with Overdose tacked on as a bonus- considering the impossibility of finding an original copy of 'Morbid Visions' (or even a copy of the isolated 'Bestial Devastation') it only seems fair to discuss that as well. Even more overtly Teutonic than 'Morbid Visions' and somewhat less preoccupied with the burgeoning death metal sound 'Morbid Visions' clearly attempts to emulate, these short, violent tracks could easily be b-sides from 'Endless Pain', with an almost identical vocal delivery and chaotic, jerking drum performance. The aggressively '80s production (replete with vocal echo and half-distorted guitar) has a charm to it that 'Morbid Visions'' hazy cavern tends to lack, and the songwriting seems more genuine, enthusiastic, and less self-aware than the material off the band's first full-length. I personally prefer these tracks to anything off 'Morbid Visions,' but since getting them together is something of an inevitability, it all comes down to a matter of taste. I will say, though, that the Wagner-penned 'Antichrist' is probably my favorite track on the entire disc, mostly because it absolutely sounds like a forgotten Sarcófago track, with its ludicrous, clumsy blasting and adolescent joy.

Regardless of my particular feelings on this album, it's rather inevitable that I'm forced to recommend it to anyone interested in early metal. Enthusiasts for oldschool, primitive death/thrash will likely find a lot to love here, but more important than that is the historical relevance of these tracks. It rarely gets more authentic or archaic than this in extreme metal, and anyone who wants to hear the very earliest fires of death metal burn will need to pick this up as a matter of course. Even if you don't like it in particular, it inevitably occupies a valuable space in anyone's collection.

Buy this album on Amazon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Get Into: Milk Music

Ok, this band isn't metal, nor are they hardcore, properly speaking. But they sure as hell listen to both. I saw them last night opening for The Men at Death By Audio, and they fucking killed it. There was some problem with their equipment, so they were "less loud than usual." It says something about the quality of their riffs, and the nature of heaviness, that they were still heavy as hell. The singer asked to have his mic turned down, so that he could yowl into it with even more conviction. They were tight and ragged. As it should be. They were totally cool with having beer cans thrown at them. Right on. They briefly had to stop playing during a fight, but then got right back in the groove. Punk as fuck.

Milk Music play a forgotten genre whose name is still whispered by some in far corners of the realm: GRUNGE. Many metalheads will recoil in horror at the term, but I'm not talking about Pearl Jam or whatever. Milk Music are deeply into the thrashing garage punk and alienated underground rock of the late 80s and early 90s, the real bands that were ripped off during the commercial orgy of "alt-rock." I'm talking about bands like Mudhoney, Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr., and England's legendary longhair shoegazers, Swervedriver (who are touring right now!).

With rolling eighth note riffs, simple hooky leads, and moments of beautiful harmony, Milk Music evoke a gray emotional spectrum ranging from disaffected rage to disaffected happiness. They're not interested in "doing something new," because they like old shit. They're not interested in finding some obscure band and copying their sound, because they have something to say. Mostly, these guys want to write good songs. And that's how good music happens. Their debut 12" LP, Beyond Living, was released last year. It's headbanging rock'n'roll at its purest. If you can't dig it, stop listening to music with electric guitars.

P.S. If you want to download Beyond Living, here's a link posted by my friend Adam at icouldietomorrow.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An amazing look at early death metal

If you at all love historical looks at death metal, you'll be amazed by this.

Within the bowels of Google Groups are massive archives of Usenet posts from the early '90s. One of these archives is of the old Usenet group alt.rock-n-roll.metal.death, the first (to my knowledge) place for death metal fans from across the world to talk about their favorite genre online. The oldest posts (from the inception of the group) come from November 1993 and extend forward from there. As you can probably guess, getting to read in-depth discussion of death metal from an era right at one of the peaks of extreme metal is utterly fascinating. 1994, where a bulk of the posts originate, was a seminal year for black and death metal- and soon afterwards, one of the darkest times for extreme metal as a whole. This archive of posts is an invaluable look at the culture of extreme metal from the early-mid '90s, and it's amazing to see just how much things change as well as how much they stay the same.

There's a lot of really interesting aspects to these early posts. For one, how even in 1994, the idea of 'death metal' was all but consolidated and established in the minds of metalheads. The idea was imprecise and fuzzy even then, after many of death metal's most formative works had been firmly established as canon- Slayer is tossed out as a sort-of death metal band while arguments over where Carcass fell at any point in their career are a regular debate. Even more fascinating (and somewhat funny) is just how many people considered death metal to be a transitory fad. Many of the posts on the BBS state that death metal had already been pushed as extreme as it could go and was ultimately an artistic dead end, with some suggesting that oldschool thrash and speed metal (two distinct ideas) would soon make for a resurgence. Response to albums like 'Heartwork' is perplexing- they associate it heavily with bands like Iron Maiden, which seems odd, but remember that the idea of melodeath didn't even exist yet.

So what are big talking points in 1994? Cynic is one of the most prominent, with opinions of 'Focus' just as divided as they are now. Oddly enough, the usage of terms like 'technical' or 'progressive death metal' were firmly established, and bands like the aforementioned Cynic, Atheist, and Pestilence are heavily lauded on the BBS for their creativity and forward-thinking music. Others look towards grindcore, with Napalm Death always on the tips of tongues as well as Anal Cunt, Meat Shits, and Extreme Noise Terror. Deicide is a hot topic, with some referring to a strange, never-explained incident where the band was beaten up by their fans(?). Entombed was the preeminent Swedeath band, but Dismember and Grave rarely come up.

Perhaps the most surprising thing, though, are the elements which haven't changed. Intelligent, refined discussion on the nature of subgenres and style are common, and far more civil and even-handed than you're likely to find on modern metal forums. Discussions about death metal in the greater context of heavy metal and where the genre might go in the future- if it would have a future at all- were an essential part of the scene, just like they are now. And, of course, the overwhelming passion for the style, the discovery of new artists, and trips to the record shop were just as essential in '94 as they are today- though the album covers might have changed, it's truly amazing just how little has changed on the way through the years. Check it out; it's a truly amazing tribute to the years many of us missed out on.

Review: Acephalix - Interminable Night

This one's going to be a bit more straightforward than usual, since it's late and I'm tired. Last Friday I expressed my ambivalence about Vastum's Carnal Law--the album had a lot of strong moments, but it also wasn't all that convincing as death metal. Now, I want to follow that up by reviewing its counterpart, Acephalix's Interminable Night. These two bands share three members, and both play modern reinterpretations of old-school death metal.

Gotta say, Acephalix blow Vastum away. Rather than attempting to create some kind of death/doom pastiche, they focus on doing something new with the old Swedish template, and pull it off admirably. All the signature elements are here: driving d-beats, punkish riffing, gothic tremolo passages, "chainsaw" guitar sound, wild and flashy soloing, etc. But none of these sound quite the way you expect.

Some of this originality can be ascribed to Acephalix's background as a crust punk band: the d-beat riffs are much closer to hardcore than those of Entombed or Dismember, but they're also uncommonly long and thoughtful, and all the heavier for it. These aren't canned "death metal riffs" or "crust riffs," they're Acephalix riffs. They've imbued punk riffs with the intricacy of death metal, and it sounds sick.

But there are other influences at play. It's clear these guys really dig Grave, who happen to be my all-time favorite death metal band. With their crushing grooves and high-speed bashing, Grave were on a very different trip from the Stockholm crew. You can really hear this sound in the fourth track, "Rebirth Into Perversion," but a Grave-esque focus on brute force pervades the album. Rather than just rehashing Stockholm shit like most retro Swedeath bands, Acephalix are able to establish a character of their own by drawing on everything that was coming out of Sweden in the early 90s.

Finally, this album has a "hit single" in the form of the first track, "Christhole." It even has a sort of shout-along chorus, which hits at around 1:37. It's built on these greasy midtempo riffs that I'm pretty sure are not part of the old-school canon, and more power to Acephalix for throwing out the rulebook to include them. The vocalist also sounds great here. I know he's probably saying "Christhole," which is pretty stupid, but you can also convince yourself he's saying cool things like "nazgul!" or "grindwhore!"

If Interminable Night has one weakness, it's that it's frontloaded. It might've been better as a long E.P. If this album has another weakness, it's that it came out on Southern Lord. But I like it anyway. Oops.

Buy this album on Amazon

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hypehammer: What do Destroyer 666 and Katharsis have in common? They both suck.

In our Hypehammer posts we usually select a shitty new album, suffer through it, and then sit down together to talk about how much it sucks. This time, though, we were just having a casual AIM conversation, ripping on massively overrated bands, and realized it'd be worth working up into a post. Basically, we got on the subject of Destroyer 666, and took it from there.

N: All that Australian black/thrash sucks.

P: Eh, I really like some of those bands, but Destroyer 666 blows.

N: They're fucking awful. Like, all their music, not just the newest stuff. It's the most boring shit in the world. I seriously feel like I'm listening to a different band from other people.

P: Same! Seriously, to me they're the perfect example of music where "melodic" and "epic" are just these vapid catchphrases referring to "riffs that aren't dissonant" and "really long songs."

N: I'd rather listen to Katy Perry than D666.

P: Ooof. Not sure I'd go that far. But at least she's hot.

N: Whoa, really? She's not at all attractive to me. She looks like a soccer mom but not in a milfy way, more like a "let herself go" way.

P: Well, don't get me wrong, I'm Team Gaga all the way. But speaking of looks and music... maybe that has something to do with why people like D666.

N: What do you mean?

P: Well, they LOOK great. They look more metal than almost any other band. And so maybe people expect the music to be awesome, and just trick themselves into liking it?

N: I don't know man, i think any band that has to lean THAT heavily on traditional metal imagery probably sucks ass.

P: I think it's a cool style, but anyway, war metal guys are usually fat Nazis, right?

N: The way it should be!

P: And in contrast D666 are, like, the prettyboys of war metal. They look like the Paladin characters kids create in RPGS. But they're also wearing spikes n shit, which makes them evil and warlike, or whatever. Everyone sees them and thinks "whoa, those guys are impressive! they must be legit!" But when it comes down to it their music blows.

N: They literally just sound like a 50/50 fusion of the ideas of 'death metal' and 'black metal' with zero personality of their own. It's like you put the wikipedia pages for the genres together and threw in some boring major key riffs.

P: They're also really into Teutonic thrash. But I actually can't believe how much they love Destruction, because it's like they completely missed the point. Fluid, intricate riffs? Short, dynamic songs that never get boring? Actually thrashing instead of occasionally using palm mutes to remind people of your "thrash metal influence?"

N: Actually, what they really sound like to me is modern Impaled Nazarene without the raw riffcraft and catchy songwriting. Way overly streamlined and modern but without that pop sense of fun and attitude that Impnaz has.

P: Hahahahah right on!

N: People keep talking about how sick D666's riffs are, but WHAT RIFFS ARE THEY!!??

P: Exactly.

N: I don't fucking hear any of them!

P: THERE ARENT ANY! There's just a series of flat tremolo powerchords, moving in totally predictable patterns from measure to measure. They don't have any momentum of their own, and the lack of a drumbeat (just blasting) makes it even worse.

N: Yeah, the only album of theirs I own is the newest and it's amazing how fucking static that music manages to be.

P: Yeah, you hear a "melody" happening and its just like "4 beats of this note, 4 beats of that, blasting keeps happening, 8 beats of this chord, ok cool. That was majestic, right guys? Right? Are my spikes on right?" To me, the guys who did this kind of music right were Marduk.

N: Yeah, though they shoulda stopped after Panzer Division Marduk.

P: Sure, but old Marduk rules. Actually, here's a theory of mine. Suppose you want to ferret out a well-concealed black metal poser. He's not a WITTR guy, and he actually knows a fair amount about black metal.

N: So, like a Hospital Productions "black metal and power electronics" guy?

P: Perfect example. So, tell him how much you love Marduk. He will dismiss them (and you) with the wave of a hand. Not only because they're Not Arty Enough, but because he knows that a lot of real headbangers hate them too, and that talking shit about Marduk is a Thing To Do.

N: And your point is?

P: Well, now he's taken the bait. Close the trap! Remind him that the kvlt Katharsis albums he so avidly collects follow pretty much exactly the same "blasting and chords" approach as a band like Marduk, except they DON'T HAVE ANY RIFFS. So, dude, why not bump some Panzer Division instead? Oh wait, because you're a fucking pussy.

N: Katharsis fucking blows. Don't even talk about them to me. God. I suffered through vvorldvvithoutend to review it. Oh my god. Stealing from Darkthrone but taking 10 minutes per song to do it.

P: They are so impotent. They just let the chords hang there, as if they spoke for themselves.

N: What a weak fucking band.

The moral of this story, children, is that Marduk owns.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Seth Putnam: Death of an underground legend

So what's actually extreme to you? I mean, we all like extreme music, right? You're on a blog about extreme music, you talk about it with your friends, you go to shows where extreme bands play- you're involved in extremity, right? Well, how extreme is it really? A lot of your 'extreme' bands get sold in record shops alongside Celine Dion. You never have to worry about your safety when you go to one of those supposedly 'extreme' shows. Hell, no one's even bothered by death and black metal anymore- they're as much a commodity as any other previously underground genre of music. Your fake rebellion is getting repackaged and sold back to you by wealthy people who've never even been to a show where extreme bands played.

At an Anal Cunt show, all of that bullshit got turned over and dropped on its head like an unhappy father with a screaming baby in his arms. At an Anal Cunt show, there was just as much chance of you having a good time as there was you getting the shit beaten out of you by one or more staggering drunks in the crowd or on stage. The threat and the extremity was very real; songs composed of either blasting, frantic noise or some of the most devastating, hard-bitten power violence you've ever heard were the perfect soundtrack to the threat of getting your face kicked in by someone.

And the person typically doing the face-kicking? Seth Putnam, who died yesterday at 43. For over twenty years, Seth worked with Anal Cunt and other projects to keep the extremity in a scene that was rapidly turning into just another commodity for people to sell. The spiritual successor to GG Allin, Seth would get fucked up out of his mind on any combination of drugs and alcohol imaginable, storm on stage, and attack the audience both musically and physically with the sort of fervor nearly unimaginable in a world where Amon Amarth sells bobbleheads and Manowar has condoms emblazoned with their logo. Never compromising, never letting the fans down, and never giving up no matter how hated they were (no, thriving on the negative energy,) Seth Putnam didn't give a fuck about anything in the world apart from going further and harder than anyone else had ever gone before.

Seth obeyed zero rules in his own life or in Anal Cunt. One release might be ass-kicking punk rock, the next might be noisecore, and the one after that could be a set of acoustic tracks about respecting women- it didn't matter, because Seth realized how arbitrary and stupid everything in the world actually was. Moreover, he never apologized for anything he said, publicly spouting some of the most extreme misogyny, racism, and anti-social things that have ever been heard from an extreme musician and never once suggesting that any of them were inauthentic or worthy of being apologized for. Did Seth actually believe in what he said? It doesn't matter, and he knew it didn't matter: all that mattered was the red-hot hatred for everything that drove him in his life and music.

Seth Putnam was one of the last heroes of the true underground. He loved extreme music, extreme culture, and extreme life in a manner few of us will ever be able to understand. Extreme music has been dealt a blow with his death that will take a long while to recover from, whether you think it should or not. Tonight: get drunk, pick a fight, set something on fire, record a demo, throw up, get arrested, pass out in the street, beat your wife, go to a show, or crash your car to pay tribute to one of the last great legends of real extremity.

I know they suck, but...

This video is hilarious and awesome. So much fun is being had. Before becoming just another shitty fake metal band, Three Inches of Blood hit on a charming mix of sincerity and goofiness (not irony). Their shameless combination of Maidenisms and metalcore-isms yielded a handful of great poppy tunes, and this is one of them. You don't scream that hard for a joke band. Yeah, he's a "bad vocalist," but it sounds great to me. Maybe that's my punk side talking? Point being, sometimes metal is just about running around in the woods with your friends. If you're not down to destroy some orcs, go listen to Weakling and cry about your poorly attended gallery show.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Goregrind beyond Carcass (Part 2)

Hey there! Didn't see you! Welcome back to the second (and final... for the time being) edition of GOREGRIND BEYOND CARCASS, where I give you a quick tutorial on goregrind bands that will actually give you more scene cred than Skagos! Honestly, what's not there to love? It's got indecipherability, extremity, the possibility of irony, and a distinct, flashy aesthetic all in one package- hell, Aquarius should be stocking some of these bands any day now! Let's begin.

Last Days of Humanity

Yeah, I feel like I'm cheating a little bit since these guys aren't exactly unknown. Still, Last Days of Humanity is too often seen as a jokey fringe band, basically the metalhead's equivalent of the rocker who has a Cannibal Corpse CD lying around to make his friends laugh. In actuality, LDoH have always evidenced great songwriting, boundary-pushing extremity, and an acute sense of brutal aesthetics which makes them instantly memorable. Each of their three full-lengths has something fantastic to offer. The first is a fun slab of Carcass worship for all the Haemorrhage fans out there. The second features them truly coming into their own and defining extreme goregrind for years to come, deleting much of the Carcass and amping up the speed, intensity, and groove beyond anything heard before. But the the third and final full-length (from which the songs above comes) is what really makes them. 'Putrefaction in Progress' is, in my opinion, one of the most extreme pieces of music ever composed and performed by human beings. Nothing more than a collection of brief tracks showcasing impossible-to-tab, unbelievably fast guitar riffs, effects-laden, roaring vocals, and one of the most terrifying displays of blasting stamina ever laid down by a drummer, this album is an indispensable part of anyone who claims to enjoy extreme music's collection.

Bodies Lay Broken

These guys never did anything outside of the goregrind box- they just did it better than everyone else. Most likely a goofy side project of members from more established bands, Bodies Lay Broken did oldschool goregrindcore with tons of catchy riffs, brutal vocals, and propulsive drumming, with a flair for simple yet engaging songs that never drop the brutality but are always memorable. A fair amount more punk-influenced than the typical goregrind band, Bodies Lay Broken always felt like a goregrind band with closer ties to the more oldschool strains of grindcore than most, making for music that gutter punks and obese metalheads can listen to together as one. Proof that humor in music is best backed up by actual talent and songwriting.

XXX Maniak

Yeah, there's been a lot of bullshit flying around this band in the past, with accusations of drug addiction, the project being a joke band to scam goregrind fans out of their money (that doesn't really work,) all sorts of bizarre affiliations with Relapse, but fuck what you've heard because no matter what the motivation behind it the music is sick. XXX Maniak is (was?) a drum machine two-piece that makes frantic, brief grind songs with an alarming depth despite their brevity. It's amazing what these guys can do in 20 seconds, with full-fledged compositions coming out of the woodwork, feeling complete and whole no matter how short they happen to be. There's a ton of little elements to this music that make it so fantastic: the incredibly clean, ultra-heavy, chromed off production style, the ripping and tearing tremolo riffs, and the chaotic, multi-layered vocals are all impressive. But the real star of the show just might be the samples: all custom made by the band, and always toeing the delicate edge between hilarious and distressing. It's just about perfect.

Intestinal Disgorge

Well, we might be bending the rules a little bit here- frankly, Intestinal Disgorge straddles a lot of different lines musically, from death metal to crust punk to harsh noise. At their heart, though, they've always been a goregrind band, highly influenced by early noisecore groups like the Meat Shits. Intestinal Disgorge's music is sloppy, deranged, and probably improvised a lot of the time, with lurching, groovy riffs suddenly transforming into wholly random tremolo picking. Sometimes they use a drum machine, sometimes they use a real drummer- there's little precision or logic to how the band works outside of attacking the listener as brutally as possible. The star of the show? The vocals: louder, more insane, and more terrifying than anything you've heard before. The sheer number of vocal styles employed on an Intestinal Disgorge album is nothing short of insane, from normal death grunts to inhaled gurgles to Impetigo-style yattering shouts to the infamous 'bitch screams' which closely resemble the sounds a schoolgirl makes when you rape her in the urethra. Wonderful bedtime music.

Hymen Holocaust

Simple, filthy, grooving, pornographic, bloodsplattered, and designed for a night of getting drunk and throwing chairs at your friends in your shitty about-to-be-foreclosed house- in short, exactly what goregrind should be. Hymen Holocaust is a phenomenal band heavily inspired by Mortician and porngrind, so their take on goregrind is probably the most grooving and accessible of all the bands I've discussed. This makes them no less phenomenal though: every Hymen Holocaust track is packed to the brim with disgusting, chugging riffs designed to get you headbanging and succeeding with alarming frequency. If anyone was getting tired of the art fag pretenses of a lot of the previous artists, here's the antidote: Hymen Holocaust is big, fat, stupid, and fantastically brutal.

I hope you've all learned something about goregrind and will go on to trade in your Discordance Axis CDs for weed and goregrind tapes very soon. Let me know what you think of all the artists we've covered in the comment box. Keep grinding.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: Vastum - Carnal Law

This is a weird one, and difficult to review because I can neither cast it on the pyre nor enthusiastically endorse it. 20 Buck Spin is always a toss-up: sometimes they release really cool underground shit, sometimes they release disposable "art metal" for the Stereogum crowd. Vastum's Carnal Law is somewhere in between.

I'll say it up front: This sounds like people who aren't that familiar with death metal trying to make death metal. (Which is weird, because Vastum shares 2 members with the super legit crust-turned-DM band Acephalix.) What am I getting at with this accusation, though? Well, it seems like they're going for "old school doom/death," but this doesn't sound like Autopsy, nor does it sound like Asphyx or Winter, and it only faintly resembles Bolt Thrower. In fact, Bolt Thrower are the ONLY obvious death metal influence I can detect here, and Vastum are sadly lacking that band's crushing midtempo riffage.

Vastum's flagrant non-deathiness is embodied by the limp 6/8 chug riffs that crop up all over the place. Just over a minute into the first track, "Primal Seduction," or a mere 22 seconds into "Devoid," you hear them whip these out almost by reflex, as if they were self-evidently heavy. But they're not. And they certainly don't command you to headbang. It's as if, by locking into a 6/8 "groove," Vastum have somehow surrendered the ability to actually groove or grind. These parts don't offer much in the way of interesting melody, either--mostly filler vaguely reminiscent of Reign In Blood on quaaludes. The only time Vastum can get 6/8 to work is at about 1:15 in "Spirit Abused," where they take a more black metal approach to the riffing and the drummer gives everything some much-needed rhythmic compression instead of settling back into the usual thrash cliche. Sadly after about 30 seconds they revert to the awkward mid-paced chug. Nobody who actually listens to death metal would settle for this kind of mediocrity. But to someone who has only a faint idea of what death metal sounds like--thanks to some Slayer or his high school buddy's Cannibal Corpse albums--these riffs WOULD sound like the heaviest thing on earth, because they offer the appearance of heaviness.

The weird thing is, Vastum's tenuous relationship to actual death metal can also work in their favor. First, there's the overall sound--it's really hard to pin down, which is another way of saying it's original. This is clearly not true old school--it's way too polished--but it's also on a completely different trip from most self-consciously contemporary death metal bands. It's cavernous and menacing, and there are really cool touches of melody and harmony in the slow parts. The two vocalists give hair-raising performances, and it's probably worth hearing a track or two for these alone.

Second, there are the fast parts. These are pretty sick, in part BECAUSE they sound so unlike traditional death metal. There's nary a tremolo riff to be found. Instead, Vastum seem to draw on their roots in crust and thrash, without giving way to the typical gestures of either scene. You'll hear d-beats, but never accompanying the syncopated punk-style riffing used by Entombed or Dismember. You'll hear thrash riffs, but always with a heaviness and complexity that hints at death metal. The phrasing in the uptempo riffs is generally outstanding--they're the musical equivalent of long and elegant sentences. Check out 0:55 in "Umbra Interna" and 2:05 in "Devoid" to hear what I mean. 1:32 in "Re-Member" sounds a bit more typical, but it's heavy as fuck.

So, it could be argued that Carnal Law is less a failed attempt at death metal than a pretty cool reimagination of it. But that doesn't make the former point of view any less valid. This is a band with real potential, but they need to focus on their strengths--cool thrashy riffing and sinister leads--while also upping the death quotient.

For my part, I worry that we may have finally found the death metal equivalent of Wolves In The Throne Room. Pacific Northwest? Check. Superficial appropriation of major influences? Check. Sounds impressive to people unfamiliar with the genre? Check. Lyrics about shit that won't scare away the hipsters? Check. Let's hope the next release proves me wrong. For now, give this one a listen and let me know what you think. It probably comes down to personal taste.

Next week I'll review the new Acephalix album, Interminable Night. What I've heard so far sounds dope, and it will be interesting to see how it stacks up against Carnal Law. Look for that Tuesday, or Friday at the latest.

Buy this album on Amazon

Thursday, June 9, 2011

VOID WRAITH (T.B.O. Mixtape, Vol. 2)

Here's a new continuous mix from Ian, Trial By Ordeal's official Galactic Mixlord and Graphic Destructor. Great for raging with your bros, or for piloting a damaged starship through the haunted ruins of a colossal space station. If you are a new reader, be sure to check out his first creation, 1,000 Years of Bloodshed. Anyway, I'll let him take it from here:

Outlaw ships running silent through the vast gulfs of galactic hinterland. Weary forms hunched at obscene terminals, wired forever to astral machinery. Oily Black horrors lurk in strange cages, gibbering mindlessly in anticipation of the coming bloodshed. Shoals of Crenelated corsairs cut through the void, haunting the dark corners of Imperial shipping lanes.

1. Excerpt from "Space Music" - Nurse With Wound
2. Droid Sector - Nocturnus
3. Eternal War - Bolt Thrower
4. Star Destroyer – Crystal Age
5. Addendum Galactus - The Lord Weird Slough Feg
6. Endless War - REALM
7. Chaosmöngers - Voivod
8. Excerpt from NGC 1981 - Saturn Form Essence
9. Myöhempien Aikojen Pyhien Teatterin Rukoilijasirkka - Oranssi Pazuzu
10. Sonic Attack - Hawkwind
11. PossiBLeUniveRSZ - Psudoku
12. Destroying the Cosmos - Vektor
13. The Edge Of Forever - Order from Chaos
14. Unstoppable Force - Agent Steel
15. Flaming Metal System - Manilla Road
16. The Tablets of Destiny - Nibiru
17. Planet Pot - Spaceboy

P.S. For your convenience, here's a separate download link for the COVER ART.