Monday, January 30, 2012

oh god oh man oh god oh man

I'll touch on this briefly.

Well, there's not much to say, honestly. It's not like I can really say that this in particular is a defining moment of black metal's ultimate descent into decadence and irrelevancy, but I'm struck with an unbelievable level of disappointment just the same. Not for the book itself, really- I mean, what else should one expect- but in the idea that metalheads are still so infatuated with the symbols and signs of their subculture, devoid of any meaning or significance, that they would gladly pay for a bloody, recently-shit turd like this one if it looked like a hand throwing the horns. The same goes for the mentioned Sasha Grey movie- Christ, put all the mentioned characters in one room together and a denial of a "hipster motive" becomes the sort of foxhole atheism that just isn't useful. None of it's going to be good; I just hope that most people don't have the motivation to investigate them further.

One good point: it led me to this delightful thing.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Black Metal begins here

Paganini's "Caprice for Solo Violin in G Minor, Op. 1/6." Before even Wagner and Grieg, the spirit lived in Paganini. He composed the caprices around 1817, and toured Europe in the early 1820s to astonished audiences who had never heard sounds like these coming out of a violin. A sallow-skinned, rail-thin, black-clad virtuoso, he was reputed to have sold his soul to the Devil. He did nothing to dispel these rumors. You could consider him the Trey Azagthoth of the Romantic era, though that analogy is, of course, better turned on its head.

Paganini's prefiguration of black metal should be obvious enough to anyone with two ears and a brain, but I do want to direct your attention to this: listen to that ominous trembling sound as Kogan drags his bow across the strings. It's a bit like a trill, but each note is separately articulated, which requires insanely fast twitch on the left hand. What that produces is a kind of analogue distortion, along with a harmonic effect that's really close to the kind of two-string tremolo picking pioneered by Thorns, Mayhem, and Burzum in the early 90s. Hearing it torn out of a wooden instrument through sheer skill and force of will sends shivers down my spine.

I just started a new part-time job at a classical music venue, and heard this piece for the first time ever last night (and again tonight). It was performed by this guy, and he fucking tore it up.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Get Into: Hecate Enthroned

It's been a while since I've done a proper "Get Into," and even longer since I've done one on an old black metal band! Time to get back to what I love.

You've probably heard of Hecate Enthroned, and probably know them as either Cradle of Filth wannabes or just some generic English black metal band. I can't speak to their later material, but lately I've been really enjoying their early shit. Their wordily-titled debut album, The Slaughter of Innocence, A Requiem for The Mighty, is a really enjoyable exercise in the lofty, sweeping, keyboard-embellished black metal of the ancient brood. Yes, Hecate Enthroned owes something to Cradle of Filth, particularly the vocalist's hair-raising shriek (which thankfully lacks the "angry duck" quality of Dani's early stuff), but they seem to have paid just as much attention to the Norwegian forefathers, especially Emperor.

My favorite track by far is album-opener "Beneath A December Twilight." Hecate Enthroned introduce themselves with a brooding disharmonic groove strongly reminiscent of "Wrath of The Tyrant" (in a good way), but just before the 2:00 mark they completely turn around and hit the fucking gas. The drummer drops a charging Slayer beat as the guitarists open up into an exultant harmonized melody that takes a full 8 measures to run its course. This sort of thing pretty much sets the tone for the album, and captures two of Hecate Enthroned's greatest strengths. First, they tend to write thrilling breaks and transitions, keeping the album interesting all the way through even when the guitars get a little same-y towards the middle. Second, they value pure ripping forward momentum, something that was lost in a haze of blastbeats as black metal became a formula. The other brilliant moment in this track, by the way, is 5:35. Just when you think you've heard it all, a crushing, much darker riff brings the song to a whole new level, setting up one of the most dramatic conclusions I've heard in a long time.

But it's the final full track, "The Danse Macabre," that hints at an even cooler Hecate Enthroned sound. Here their melodic sensibility is warped into something far nastier, and you can tell it's drawn from earlier writing sessions. I was curious to find out where the fuck this came from, and checked out their Promethean Shores (Unscriptured Waters) EP. Turns out I may like this even better than the full-length that followed it. This is some sick, primal shit--Second Wave black metal before it stopped drawing strength from the poison wells of death metal. Here, Hecate Enthroned still favor heavy guitars and power chords. They infuse their riffage with darker harmonic ideas, so that some proper dissonance creeps in around the edges, and they play fast sections that rip even harder than those on The Slaughter... The keyboards often provide an interesting extra dimension, instead of simply reinforcing guitar ideas or adding flamboyant embellishments. Every track is killer. I chose the sprawling "A Graven Winter" because it's fucking brutal. But you also have to hear the introduction to "An Ode For A Haunted Wood." So I stuck that at the end here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: DBCR - Two (2) Song E.P.

Kenneth of local punk band DBCR got in touch with me about reviewing his band's new 7", and had the class and generosity to send me an actual physical record! Needless to say, I couldn't refuse. Here are my thoughts.

If I remember correctly, DBCR stands for something along the lines of "Drunk Belligerent Confrontational Rock," and the band's bellicose self-presentation amplifies this message. Needless to say, this creates certain expectations--GG Allin? Pussy Galore? The Dwarves? The Cramps?-- and I was interested to hear how these guys approached their time-honored concept. I was immediately struck by their subtlety. Rather than blasting us with distortion and feedback, the two guitarists wield a warm, rich fuzztone. They skillfully play off of one another, creating interesting textures and moving in and out of unison at just the right times. Rather than incoherently foaming at the mouth, frontman Mike favors an articulate yell reminiscent of early-80s American hardcore vocalists like Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, and Jello Biafra, cramming tons of words into compelling vocal patterns.

If the two songs on here are meant to show two sides of DBCR, or two possible futures for their sound, then I strongly hope they follow the precedent set by their leading track, "Let Them Eat Bikes." It opens with a single guitar, on one channel, thrashing out the main riff and embellishing it with squiggly fret runs. In these first 10 seconds DBCR manage to give the song a definite character and direction. Before the drums even enter, I can already hear the badass groove. Without even hearing the bass, I know how this is gonna sound: DBCR have fused Sonic Youth and Motorhead into a single riffing style, and they make this improbable combination sound inevitable. It all unfolds from there, gloriously, with the drummer locked into the riff and the vocalist pushing ahead. He fumes, and occasionally gives in to full-on rage with a very convincing scream (my guess is he's played in straight up hardcore bands). This is a perfect punk rock single, a mailbomb of righteous anger crammed into a deceptively polished, catchy package.

B-side "Reverse Broken Window Theory" sounds like, well, a B-side. This is the slow jam, and while it's supposed to complement the energy of the first track it just makes me want to hear "Let Them Eat Bikes" again. The bluesy leads, rumbling basslines, and tom-heavy drumming of the verses owe a lot to The Birthday Party, which is cool, but I don't hear any of their power or danger. Melodically, there's just not much going on: the guitar and vocal lines kind of lack a raison d'etre, as if they're mostly hanging around to support the lyrics (which are admittedly cool). I'm also not a huge fan of the cleaner, deeper vocals here, partly because they remind me of Fugazi-era Ian MacKaye (not my thing). They're well performed, and I'd much rather listen to DBCR than fucking Fugazi, but this sound is just nowhere near as cool as the "barely restrained ranting asshole" thing on the first track.

On the basis of their sounds alone, DBCR definitely qualify as "ballsy" and "pissed," but I'm not sure I hear the "confrontational" or "belligerent"--the music is simply too clean and accessible. It's the lyrics, though, that make the difference, and I think they're actually central to what these guys are doing. While some bands rage against Christians, some rage against politicians, and some rage against posers, DBCR rage--eloquently--against affluent NYC hipsters and the plague of gentrification. This is urbanist punk rock, music oriented towards the defense of the rough, ugly spaces inhabited by working people and genuine weirdos. Armed with social theory and keen bullshit detectors, DBCR are not afraid to bash bike-normativity, "greening," and the cosmetic reconstruction of neighborhoods as skirmishes in the class war constantly waged by this city's rich against its poor. If "Let Them Eat Bikes" laments New York becoming a playground for successful graphic designers in cardigans, "Reverse Broken Window Theory" proposes a novel solution--fucking shit up. That's what punk's about, boys and girls.

My guess is that DBCR started off as the semi-joke band of a few veteran dudes, but quickly evolved into something more serious in all respects. That's a promising trajectory, especially since they haven't lost their sense of humor. I love the notion of a rock 'n' roll band that is also a sociological critique, and I am digging the blend of hooks and hate. As the weather gets warmer I'll definitely be jamming "Let Them Eat Bikes," and hoping for a new DBCR release with a slightly rawer vibe and more of that sick Motoryouth sound.

Fuck it, just download this EP for free.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Spewings From The Pit: Draize, Ruin Lust, Consumption, and Gang Signs (2/15/12)

The last two weeks have been a bit of a mid-winter festival for me. When I haven't been at work, I've been going to shows, working on music, staying out until the wee hours with my bros, sleeping until the afternoon, and chilling the fuck out. But "festivals end as festivals must," and now I'm ready to post your fucking asses off. Two shows in particular left me with more tinnitus than usual, a sore neck, and some angry muscles. I thought I'd start by giving you a brief report on the first one. (Edit: It's not as brief as I'd intended. Whoops.)

On the coldest night of the year thus far I trudged across the concrete tundra to The Acheron, a murky warehouse venue where cyclopean amps hang from the ceiling on giant chains. Yeah, pretty fucking kvlt. The Acheron is special because it's a DIY venue dedicated to extreme music in all its forms, and in under two years of existence it's become a cornerstone of the NYC metal and hardcore scenes. In fact, it's a place where these communities cross-pollinate to the point of indistinction, and it's not uncommon to see bills defined less by genre than by the overall feel of the music and/or friendships between band members. Last Sunday's show was definitely one of these, mixing hardcore with crust, sludge, and black/death metal.

I missed the first act, some band called Nailed Shut, but arrived in time for Gang Signs. This power trio took the stage in Giants jerseys to celebrate a victory in some pro football game, and proceeded to bang out jacked, bulging riffs with an energy that completely justified their jock attire. While the music's intent was clear--it's about headbanging--it was hard to place stylistically. That, of course, is a good thing! After some thought, I've concluded that Gang Signs are basically a sludge band, but one that draws more on death metal than trad-doom and hardcore for its sonic building blocks. This is a pretty cool combination, but there's one problem--in my book, sludge pretty much fucking sucks. While Gang Signs' crisp, intricate riffs were far more interesting (and far heavier) than standard sludge fare, I still felt let down when cliche swinging "southern" rhythms undermined what could have been genuinely crushing grooves.

Nevertheless, in the course of their set Gang Signs brought me from "unconvinced" to "impressed and curious." They unleashed a fucking killer final song, working surprisingly pretty harmonic textures into an otherwise dense onslaught of chug and swagger. In this way, they brought the grim heaviness of masters like High On Fire while slyly hinting at the "fun" genre sludge has become. In the final analysis, I think a lot of TBO readers will really dig Gang Signs' blend of creative songwriting and blunt trauma. My hatred of sludge is--to some degree--a subjective thing, so it says a lot that I found these guys convincing, and that I've had this much to say about them! They'll probably show up here again. Check them out.

If Gang Signs were an example of how to do something interesting with a kind of shitty genre, Consumption were an example of how to do something sorta lame with a sound that's inherently awesome. This band plays extremely straightforward crustcore, crustcore so typical I would play it for you if you asked me what the fuck "crustcore" meant. (For those who don't know, it's basically the more metallic side of d-beat hardcore, which means that the guitar tone is heavier, the vocals are closer to metal screams, and you might hear some palm mutes and slow parts.) If you're a huge fan of the genre and live in the New York area, then you might want to see them, but otherwise this band is basically a placeholder.

To their credit, Consumption were much tighter than the norm for this kind of music. Their hands blurred with the speed of their picking, and they made it sound natural to play d-beats at thrash speeds. They certainly brought a few cool riffs and a nice breakdown or two. But the fact that these moments stood out to me was a glaring sign that the songwriting lacked character. Consumption are certainly not a bad band, but unless they start refining their riffage and diversifying their song structures they'll remain another symptom of the current d-beat glut.

In between sets I huddled around the space-heater next to a couple guys from the evening's headlining band, Draize, who had come up from Boston. I had never heard them before, but my friend had predicted I'd be into it. He was right. I'm not kidding when I say that Draize are one of the most extreme hardcore bands going today. They moved quickly from frantic d-beat and insane gravity blasting (I'm pretty sure those were gravity blasts???) into cthonic pit riffage, sprawling passages of ringing open chords that rarely led straight back into the fast stuff. It wouldn't make sense to call these breakdowns, because they weren't just moments of release--they were actually the center of music. Draize's songs revolved around hostile lacunae waiting to open wide, to exert command over every body in the room even as they effaced all traces of humanity. This crushing abstraction distanced Draize from traditional hardcore bands, and--to my ears--gave them a kinship with the strangest and most intense reaches of extreme metal. I was reminded of the colossal beatdown sounds of the legendary Straight Savage Style, as well as the breakdown-happy metalcore of fellow Bostonians New Lows.

While Draize's sound was impressive enough, this was also a case where the frontman truly mattered. Tommy Draize wasn't just a sick vocalist, he physically embodied his band, linking each riff to an elegant, clearly-defined gesture of wrenching violence. He whipped his limbs around with such force that he seemed to carve out a space for himself, literalizing the notion of "stage presence." Between his brutal hardcore dancing and his militant skin-punk attire, the guy came off like someone Not To Be Fucked With, but turned out to be an upbeat and super friendly dude (I still wouldn't fuck with him, though). Draize are an amazing band, and TBO readers will definitely dig this shit. It just doesn't get heavier or nastier. They've got a record out, and some dope merch. Check 'em out.

After Draize, a hardbitten contingent remained to see local heroes Ruin Lust, one of the only actual black metal bands to come out of the new crop of USBM bands. Strictly speaking, Ruin Lust play war metal or black/death, and they unloaded on The Acheron with a withering wave of tremolo fuzz and thick blastbeats. I'd really enjoyed listening to their rough demo tracks, but that night the show was more impressive than properly enjoyable.
In this live setting the guitars disintegrated into pure white noise, obscuring the finely crafted riffs that help set Ruin Lust apart from the legions of "bestial black metal" bands. It must be really hard to strike the right balance, so I'm not complaining, I just hope they're able to place more emphasis on melody the next time I see them. The sound problems did, however, allow me to focus more on the drummer, who was going to town on his kit with the abandon of an Iron Age warrior, looking up from his blastbeats to release powerful screamed vox in support of the guitarist/growler. Overall, the set was deafeningly loud and passionately delivered, and I came away thoroughly convinced that these guys are the real deal. I was also lucky enough to receive a free demo tape with a much better mix from their guitarist, Joe, and I'll be reviewing that on here shortly. In the meantime, download the rough demo or actually buy the actual demo.

I would write a more elegant conclusion to this post, but I am falling asleep and have to go to work tomorrow. Blargh!

Stoked for the new Marduk full-length?

I didn't hear this when it came out last spring, and shame on me for that. It rips. I have no idea what "Headhunter Halfmoon" means, but it sounds grim as hell, and it's a perfect vocal hook. The guitars and drums, of course, grind onwards into joyous oblivion. After years of Stupid Slow Stuff, Marduk have finally remembered what they do best.

P.S. I was working on a real post tonight, I swear, but then I had to write a job app! Sorry! Coming tomorrow, a review of two killer metallic hardcore shows from last week.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Some of my favorite RAC asskickers

A quick addendum, in deference to some concerns of Pavel's. I think it goes without saying that I'm a long way away from being a proponent of any sort of national socialist or white power ideology. I've never been affiliated with it and consider it wrongheaded and misguided at the very least. However, I'm as staunch a proponent of freedom of speech in art as there is, regardless of how hugely I may disagree with its ideological origin or lyrical message. I believe that every single person should have a voice in art no matter how unpopular that voice may be, and I also believe that there's substantial value to exposing yourself to viewpoints very unlike your own. I listen to many bands who espouse values I am massively opposed to- white power, Christianity, communism- because I'm confident enough in my stances on ideological issues to feel perfectly comfortable having them challenged. Moreover, I keep art completely and utterly separate from ideology and do not make choices about what music to listen to based on the people who make it. If a song is great, a song is great, and that's where it ends for me.

In addition, I'd like to say that my musical appreciation of RAC, NSBM, or any similar music is not at all indicative of someone ignorant of the reality of white power ideologies. In my home region of central Florida, the metal scene has a fairly large contingent of people who subscribe to such ideologies in varying degrees. I have spoken to them, been at shows with them, and associated with them outside of the music scene. Each one has known that I believe their stances to be incorrect, as they believe mine to be incorrect, and the vast majority of the time we've been able to have civil, intelligent debate about the subjects without any recreations of "American History X" occurring. I firmly believe that the way such ideologies are portrayed by many extreme anti-fascists is not only incorrect, but propagates the very ideologies they want to stamp out. Simply demonizing such people is not only ignorant, but serves to create a dynamic where white power groups are portrayed as a struggling, oppressed underdog. The best way to combat such ideologies is not through propaganda, but through open debate, discussion, and education. Otherwise, we run the risk of stereotyping, categorizing, and holding irrational prejudice against the very people we lambast for those same actions.

With that out of the way:

RAC is a fantastic musical genre, not only because the sound of it is so inherently pleasing, but because saying you enjoy it without exhibiting the appropriate amount of apologism for it is guaranteed to piss a lot of people off. Unfortunately for the more socially conscious among us, RAC happens to be just some of the most fun music on the planet. I'm a big fan of the style- more specifically, the variety that mostly appears from the '90s onwards, where the more thuggish, burly style of the early incarnations of the genre fuse with a more contemporary sense of pop-punk, making some of the most infectiously asskicking music on the planet. Here's a selection of five personal favorites of mine.

Final War - Aryan Pride

Final War basically just sounds like The Offspring gone RAC. Unbelievably catchy stuff with fast, propulsive rhythms, a great usage of keening lead guitar, and a well-delivered, ranting vocal style, it's a great intro to the RAC niche that I call my own. This track in particular is a fantastic one- the guitar dropout near the end, the "Whooaaaa!" gang vocals, and the brilliant lead guitar theme all bring to mind the fiercer edge of Cali skate punk with RAC's insistent, demanding flow.

Hate Society - Hail Blood & Honour

Hate Society might just be the most cheerful, enthusiastic RAC band on the planet. The sunny, bouncy style of their tunes brings to mind stuff like Sublime as much as Skrewdriver. "Hail Blood & Honour" (there have to be at least a hundred RAC songs with that title) is one of their catchiest and best. I love the overly gruff vocals contrasting with the phenomenal riffing. The verse-prechorus-chorus flow is so impossibly organic in that great pop-punk style that it's utterly incapable of being ignored.

Whites Load - 88!

Whites Load is actually a Ukrainian band that appears to be a side project of some bigger members of the NSBM scene from that country. Most of their material is more on the heavy metal side of the RAC equation, but "88!" off their sole full-length is a straightforward RAC rocker with a great chorus, simple, engaging structure, and probably the best solo I've ever heard in an RAC song. A pretty unknown entry in the RAC field, but definitely one worthy of attention.

Oidoxie - Terror Machine

Picking up the pace again is Oidoxie, who bring a classic pop-punk/RAC fusion with "Terror Machine." It's about as pure a mixture of the two styles as you can get: the rough-hewn vocals and tense, insistent melodic sense fuse beautifully with the enthusiastic, rollicking rhythms and gang-shouted declarations. Middle of the road stuff, perhaps, but definitely a great execution of a traditional style.

Race War - They Were Heroes

Race War just might be my favorite RAC band of all time. Not only do they have pretty good production, in contrast to the bulk of the genre, but they create a brilliant cross-section of RAC, traditional metal, and pop-punk with their style. Simple, engaging, and organic, their style is burly and powerful as well as agile and propulsive. "They Were Heroes" is probably my favorite track by the band; who knew so much mileage could be gotten out of the most bare-bones and primitive three chord riff imaginable? But the beautifully lucid drumming and inconceivably well-plotted vocal melodies make for a track that's as memorable as it is dangerous to play around your leftist friends.

Post your favorite RAC bangers in the comments!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In case you forgot, Tool is a great band

An hour or two ago a Facebook friend of mine posted an open invitation to try and explain to her why Tool was any good, and why they were so popular. I took her up on it, and of course ended up writing way more than is socially acceptable for a Facebook comment. So I've worked it up into a Trial By Ordeal post. Because you, dear readers, should be convinced that Tool is a Fucking Dope Band. Kind of fitting that this little reminder of the obvious follows on the heels of Noktorn's much-needed defense of Cannibal Corpse.

I am not coming at this as a Tool expert, or anything of the sort. I haven't dug deep into their albums, and mostly heard individual songs on the radio in middle school and high school. But I'm always stoked when one of their songs comes on, and there are times when I just have to hit Youtube and jam out to some Tool. I don't think this disqualifies me to defend them, though. If anything, my scattershot experience of their music captures one of their greatest strengths. Tool excel at writing Big Hit Singles, and talking about why these are so cool is a lot more interesting than quibbling about the overall quality of their discography. I read that 10,000 Days had a ton of pointless filler on it, but if it also had "Vicarious"--and it did--then who the fuck cares?

What strikes me most about Tool is the dynamism of the music. Of course, it's not dynamic like Cryptopsy is dynamic--it's really repetitive. But even during the long hypnotic passages that open up in tracks like "Schism," Tool are doing things and going somewhere. They're adding layers, developing themes, etc. The simple guitar and bass parts mesh together into something much more than the sum of its parts. And, perhaps most important, Tool actually know how to play a crescendo! When the climactic change-up comes, it comes with tremendous force and grace. You really hear the music well up into something new, and yet it always seems like the new idea was hidden within what came before.

While the "tension and release" thing is undoubtedly a formula, the band makes it work. Their organic songwriting approach leaves a lot of room for them to truly play together. Tool
thrives on a shared intuition, a sense for inflection and timing and harmony that's been built up through years of practice and probably one of those mystical innate connections. I was stoked about Tool at about the time I was just getting into Led Zeppelin, and to me the connection seemed natural and totally obvious: Part of the pleasure of listening to their music is simply hearing it produced. On the outer fringes of metal and punk, where musicianship is subordinated to songwriting, we tend to focus more on the riffs themselves than the fingers behind them. Bands like Tool remind us that how you play it matters too.

Of course, Tool are pretty "uncool" to like, and that can affect how people hear the music, even if they don't think so. And it's true, alt-metal was pretty fucking reprehensible. But these days, I don't really see Tool as a part of all that. Rather, it was a small part of what Tool are/were about, almost incidental to their music. While they borrow metal techniques, I think they have way more to do with goth than metal. They're a musical and spiritual link between the primal occult weirdness of Killing Joke and Fields of The Nephilim and the whole tribal-industrial Burning Man thing that came into its own during the 90s. During the 80s, the members of Tool must've been tapped into bands further north on the West Coast like Red Temple Spirits and Savage Republic, who were building on UK goth, post-punk, and industrial at a time when their compatriots on the American scene were busy selling out hardcore and inventing "indie rock." Indeed, the true musical analogue of Tool might actually be Neurosis, who drink from the same aesthetic ferment and take a strikingly similar approach to songwriting (though not, usually, with Tool's elegance).

Tool are one of those rare bands that are popular for doing something right instead of doing something easy. They fused sounds and ideas from throughout the nasty underbelly of the 1980s, and then shaped them into songs that somehow do the pop thing without really being pop songs at all.
For all your contempt of things that don't have blastbeats, think about it--a 9 minute epic filled with drone and subtly shifting time signatures just isn't a pop song. And yet it gets stuck in your head and, if you're not an uptight square, makes you sing along with Maynard and pound on the steering wheel. Sure, Tool became the mainstream, accessible face of dark underground rock, but they also never stopped being dark underground rock. That's not selling out, it's winning.

Don't worry, TBO hasn't gone mainstream. We'll be back by tomorrow or later tonight with more posts on weird bands that scream in your face and want you to die.

Get into: Cannibal Corpse

The very idea of this article undoubtedly seems ridiculous. Why, exactly, would I need to promote Cannibal Corpse, perhaps the biggest, most mainstream-visible, highest selling death metal band of all time? No one needs any help "getting into" Cannibal Corpse- they're probably the first death metal band that half the metalheads out there were exposed to. They're the closest thing the death metal scene has to Metallica: a massive, widely-known band that forms the gateway to a whole genre of music for many. And, like Metallica, they're often widely despised and have, especially over the past five years or so, become a popular target of historical revisionism by those looking for an instant appearance of iconoclastic celebrity, saying that the band has always sucked, relied on shock value, and does nothing more than damage the mainstream culture's impression of death metal as an artistic entity through their obscenity and tunelessness.

Of course, as is usual given my feelings on extreme music and its relation to the greater culture, all that sounds wonderful to me. Let the mainstream culture be put off; it's not as though I was clamoring for their involvement in the first place. Obscenity? The absence of melody? A refusal to experiment? Where are these elements more at home than in death metal. I take no issue with a person hating Cannibal Corpse; frankly, the band is probably better without that person as a fan.

What I will take issue with is people mischaracterizing Cannibal Corpse as a generic, faceless, disposable band. Most often these sorts of statements tend to come from people who consider Portal to be death metal's ultimate goal; as someone who considers, say, Enmity to take up that title instead, my opinion tends to differ. Anyway, dismissing Cannibal Corpse as irrelevant is a statement so half-cocked and poorly thought out that it verges on objectively untrue. Not only was Cannibal Corpse an utterly indispensable part of making death metal what it is today, but the band's music itself is more often than not so excellent that they'd have a place at the adult's table even without their historical pedigree. Very few bands in metal history have managed to go so long and so far without ever compromising their personal artistic vision- while other death metal bands in the mid-'90s were busy experimenting with clean vocals, aping Cynic, and adding synths, Cannibal Corpse were plugging away on their own path, staunchly refusing to puss out or change in any fashion.

Stating that Cannibal Corpse's style is that of a "generic death metal band" is a gross misinterpretation of reality. Considering how long the band has been kicking around, they're some of the people responsible for establishing those aesthetic tropes themselves- if anything, generic death metal bands sound like Cannibal Corpse, not the other way around. But even this, I think, is incorrect, as no band truly manages to sound like Cannibal Corpse but themselves. The styles of riffing, drumming, vocals, and songwriting inherent to Cannibal Corpse's music are incredibly unique and nearly impossible to imitate, as they're the result of a band that has existed for over two decades: the style has been rarefied to the point where attempting to emulate it is a fool's errand.

Cannibal Corpse has also always been a band unconcerned with the scene politics of oldschool versus newschool. Contrary to popular belief, Cannibal Corpse's musical style has changed dramatically over the course of their career- no, they've never added arbitrary elements like acoustic interludes, but they've sharpened, refined, and advanced on both a compositional and technical level. Cannibal Corpse's last few albums (without a doubt some of the most consistent and excellent death metal records released by such a venerable band) have positioned them right at the forefront of modern death metal, but even then the band's thrash roots are readily apparent. Cannibal Corpse somehow turns the gulf between oldschool, thrash-infused death metal and modern brutal death into a fine line and manages to walk it without difficulty. A recent video interview with George Fisher showed him lauding modern deathcore bands, and not as an attempt to curry favor with a younger generation: Cannibal Corpse is composed of guys who don't give even a fraction of a fuck about the scene's opinion of them, and it's resulted in an undeniably honest and true breed of artistic integrity.

In addition, though it's not a hugely important part of what makes them so good, it seems that many downplay the technical ability of Cannibal Corpse simply due to Paul Mazurkiewicz' restrained, steady style. Not only does this do Mazurkiewicz a disservice- what he lacks in flash he more than makes up in timing, intensity, and musicality- it ignores the rest of the band's abilities, with the exception of bassist Alex Webster (who absolutely deserves praise for his bass technique, but not at the expense of the rest of the band.) Not only is the guitarwork incredibly fast, technical, and dextrous even by modern extreme metal standards, but the riffcraft is organic, memorable, and exciting despite its ludicrous density. And of course, there's always the matter of the much-maligned George Fisher, who is diregarded for the same reasons the band as a whole is and in a similarly incorrect manner. Fisher's vocals are unbelievably forceful and savage, combining an older, more shouting technique with a modern sense of tone. His ability to swing from low to high without faltering is remarkable, as is his impressively clear enunciation as well as the sheer speed with which he can deliver lyrics during the music's most intense moments. He is, without a doubt, a consummate death metal vocalist.

Take the track above as an opportunity to learn, and pay attention to the following features:

-The perpetually shifting, evolving rhythms which reverse on themselves in a manner that's abrupt but not jarring.
-The completely ludicrous riffing which is very clearly rooted in thrash but just as clearly death metal in nature, with a note selection that is convoluted and brutal but absolutely logical in its construction.
-The magnificently textured bridge riff at 1:42 which does exactly the same thing that others laud Ulcerate for but is ignored because it comes from Cannibal Corpse.

That's about it, but I can't help but think I'm forgetting something. Wait, I've got it.

-The completely unbelievable amount of fucking ass the whole thing kicks.

(As a small addendum: I've met the guys from Cannibal Corpse numerous times milling around at metal shows. They regularly come out to the local metal bars to support the small, local bands that come from Tampa. Every time I've spoken with any of them, they have been incredibly kind, gracious, and appreciative of the support their fans give them. I have never heard any of them ever say an unkind word about anyone. They are true metalheads who have not forgotten their earliest days and refuse to let their success swell their egos or diminish their appreciation for the little guys. Very, very good people.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Cannibal Corpse- unanticipated level of dopeness?

Very cool new song. The riffing actually surprised me a good deal; it's still distinctly Cannibal Corpse, but doesn't seem quite as starkly chainsawing and dissonant as stuff off albums like "The Wretched Spawn"- honestly, the main riff sounds a lot like something Vader would do. It feels like this is a really natural progression from "Kill" with little hints of that modernized thrashiness off "Gore Obsessed." Sounds like a really good one is coming down the pike!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

holy fuck I didn't know that Conqueror covered this song

I just posted about Slaughter, and when I went to find the Youtube link for "The Curse" I saw this. Of course, Conqueror completely strip the song of its groove and replace it with pure militant bashing. And of course, it's a massacre. Hail Canada!

Get Into: Slaughter

I stuck this song on a mix for a party tonight, and it was the first time I'd thought about Slaughter in a while. They're really good, and if you haven't actually listened to them by now you damn well should. People talk about them as "death metal pioneers" because they played thrash so fast it wasn't thrash anymore, but this doesn't sound much like what death metal became, or even what most of it was at the time (mid to late 80s). If anything, Slaughter was like a crossover punk band that was really into Hellhammer. But while crossover tended towards spazziness, Slaughter was all about continuous, bludgeoning tremolo/chug attack. There's a liquid flow to the music.

Everything on Strappado is awesome, but "The Curse" is my favorite track. It's based on these thrashing micro-riffs that all follow the same basic rhythmic form but stand out clearly from one another, and the transition from each to the next feels totally natural, absolutely necessary. It seems like such an obvious way of writing metal, but I've heard very little in this vein. "The Curse" clearly came straight from the gut. It will hurt your neck.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Get into: Waka Flocka Flame

"When my little brother died, I said 'Fuck school.'"

It's surprising and welcome how rapidly hip-hop has settled into the metal scene over the past few years. With the must of nu-metal thoroughly blown away and urban aesthetics more fundamentally accepted through deathcore, slam, and similar styles, a metalhead also being a hip-hop fan is rapidly becoming the rule rather than the exception to it. A few years back, proclaiming a love of both styles would have at the very least raised some eyebrows and more commonly inspired snorts of derision; nowadays it barely elicits a second glance. Hip-hop and metal aren't fusing in any obvious way (apart from in the aforementioned deathcore and slam, which is a precarious statement at best,) but it's to the benefit of both. It's definitely a joy for me, as although my first love is and will probably always be metal, hip-hop is certainly my second passion, and quite often makes up just as much if not more of my everyday listening than metal.

With hip-hop's inroads in metal becoming firmer by the day, there becomes established a certain canon of hip-hop artists that are acceptable to the sensibilities of metalheads. Like post-metal artists bring metalheads into the post-rock fold, there's certainly a selection of hip-hop artists whose immediate style can be immediately identified as appealing to metalheads. Much to the fortune of both hip-hop and metal, most of these artists are pretty good; beyond the obvious (and typically lackluster) Necro, Ill Bill, and similar artists, there's other, very quality material out there that receives acclaim in both the metal and hip-hop communities: Odd Future, Tech N9ne, and Death Grips are but a few names worthy of real attention from all over the musical spectrum. Still, I personally believe that if there's a single hip-hop artist active today that best captures extreme metal's ethos, style, and overall atmosphere, it's one that makes no particular effort to appeal to any crowd other than that of hip-hop: Waka Flocka Flame.

I like to think that it's not just my metalhead mindset that makes comparing Waka's overall role in hip-hop to slam death's position in heavy metal as a whole. Both are brute, reductionist interpretations of their respective parents, as equally derided for their simplistic aesthetics as they are revered for their postmodern atavism. What you get from a Waka Flocka Flame track is very similar to what you get from a Devourment track: simplicity to the point of absurdity, incredible catchiness, and an insistent, bone-rattling heaviness which taps into the most primitive, reptilian part of the brain. Metalheads will immediately latch onto Waka's typical production style: bassy, ominous, and melodramatic, like a Wagner piece reinterpreted in the theater of urban criminality. The unapologetic forcefulness of Waka's music, in some ways both a progression and regression from the crunk sound which dominated the latter half of the '00s, is immediately recognizable to a fan of Waking the Cadaver: they have similar artistic goals and ways of achieving them. Waka regularly states in interviews that he's "not a rapper," and the argument could be made that he's correct: his words are not meant to be lyrically advanced or clever. They're confrontational, straightforward threats directed at various enemies.

Turn cops to Christians and choppers to claymores and the content of Waka's music isn't massively different from death or black metal. Listen.

New Begging For Incest tomorrow

One of the most hated bands in the European slam scene is finally coming out with their first full-length after numerous lineup changes. BFI's first material was pretty straightforward, stripped-down Waking the Cadaver worship, but the track above, off the new release, indicates a more blended combination of styles that ends up coming off like a more distinctly wiggerized Short Bus Pile Up. Sounds like an essential middle-of-the-road slam release for aficionados of the style.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review: Alaric - Alaric

How can I possibly hope to measure up to the epic posting spree perpetrated by Noktorn over the last week? I'm not sure it's possible. But I do have a pretty cool interview with Amebix's The Baron coming up, and I just received two sick Ride For Revenge promos from Finland's Kvlt Records. For now I'll start with this, which I've been meaning to write for a while.

Alaric is an Oakland band composed of metal and punk veterans playing apocalyptic post-punk, and this fall they released a self-titled debut album on 20 Buck Spin. This is one of the first full-lengths to emerge from the new wave of punkish goth bands, so I was pretty excited to hear it. At first listen, it is impressive indeed. In opener "Eyes" and second track "Ugly Crowds," Alaric approach over thumping midtempo toms with riffs reminiscent of Christian Death and Rudimentary Peni. Despite the overt gothiness of all the individual elements at play, these combine into a thunderous bombast that has more to do with the band's roots in metal and crust. The chorus of "Eyes," which first hits at 2:54, is a great example of this approach. Between the power-chord thrashing and backing chorus of deep male vox, it is seriously ominous.

Alaric have also written a couple "hit singles," really memorable, somewhat faster songs that sound closer to old-school deathrock or straight-up punk. "Your God" starts kind of slow but eventually bursts into a clever, irreverent kiss-off of a chorus--"I'm so tired of your God/cause he acts like a jealous child..." Towards the end of the album they improve on this winning formula with "Animal," which is gripping from beginning to end. A really nasty chugging buildup gives way to a long, intricate chorus. It's built up from smaller phrases that seem to push off from one another, like bodies in the circle pit this song will undoubtedly generate.

Still, Alaric doesn't really reward repeat listens, and I think it might've been better as a very good 4-song EP than an uneven 8-song album. Too often it simply drags, even during the better songs. And when the weaker tracks yield a payoff, as in the reasonably anthemic chorus of "Alone," it's not enough to justify the minutes where not much is happening. One problem is that Alaric rely almost entirely on their vocalist to carry the music, and that's simply an unreasonable expectation to place on the singer of a punk/goth/metal band. There's plenty of space here for cool riffing, especially on the verses, but I just don't hear many powerful hooks or interesting textures. The other problem is that Alaric seem too wedded to playing slow. I think it's an attempt at being grandiose and atmospheric, but playing slow without cool riffing is just plain playing slow--low on energy, and inherently not as cool as playing fast. It says something that "Laughter of The Crows," the album's longest track, finally gets exciting when Alaric pick it up just before the 4:40 mark. Alaric want to be some kind of slow, "doomy" goth band, relying more on atmosphere than overt riff-power, but they've failed to realize that atmosphere comes from riffs.

While I've harped on about the songwriting, I think what this comes down to is an identity problem. Alaric are at their strongest when they draw confidently on metal and hardcore, flowing into the aggressive playing that comes naturally to them. When they restrain these impulses in attempts to be more indirect, to be more stereotypically "post-punk," it just backfires--They're not doing justice to themselves or their chosen genre. I'm on the fence about this album, but I'm definitely optimistic about Alaric. These dudes just need to loosen up and rock the fuck out.

Thanks to Dylan at The Bone Reader for hooking me up with this promo. The review will be reposted to his site pretty soon, but TBO readers get it first.

P.S. This band does have a pretty cool name. Aside from sounding badass, it's a pun. Alaric menaced the later Roman Empire as king of the Goths.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blog plug - A Lifetime In Dark Rooms

I figured you might be tired of reading overblown appraisals of the significance of a website, so here's something you might enjoy.

A Lifetime In Dark Rooms is to horror films what Trial By Ordeal is, in some ways, to metal. Handled solely by Cliff Evans, the blog contains some of the best reviews/analyses of horror films that I've ever seen. With a keen understanding of film-making's elements as well as an intuitive grasp of what makes a truly great horror film, he dissects horror films in an unapologetically academic manner, treating them as art first, films second, and "horror" and the grab-bag of stereotypes the word invokes last. His writing is intelligent and analytical but eminently readable, and of five or so films he's recommended that I've managed to check out so far, every one was excellent and unique. In another parallel to Trial By Ordeal, though, he doesn't let the academic tone of his work prevent him from analyzing work typically dismissed as prurient or exploitative: check out his brilliantly lucid two-part analysis of "A Serbian Film" for a firsthand example.

If you're into horror or intelligent analysis of film in general, you owe it to yourself to check this out. My only complaints are his somewhat erratic update schedule and perhaps consciously restricted article length- frankly, at the end of just about any of his reviews, I want to hear more about his interpretation of symbolism, cinematography, and atmosphere.

And though it's mentioned infrequently, he's a metalhead, too.

A long, strange story: An incomplete and half-remembered history of the Metal Archives (Part 3 of 3)

This, I imagine, is where the accusations of self-indulgence and pretense will fly fast and thick. It's also where the narrative becomes the most fractured, as it's not only my story, but the sort of many other users on the Metal Archives, and many people in general. Trying to capture the point I have in mind is difficult, because I'm not sure there is a point- just an endless series of partial thoughts, feelings, and ideas, of contradicting statements and acts and probably no real resolution in sight. This is where my story and the story of the site converge, as well as where it ends- but it doesn't really end. Both are works perpetually in progress, and these pieces have only captured a small part of either. Maybe, though, you'll be able to glean something from it- unsatisfying, strange, and difficult as it may be.


On the waves of users: the first was older, more deranged, and more cynical. The second was less of all those things, but in reality, I've come to discover that the second wave of users were all just a half decade away from becoming the first. The '05 and '06 teenagers who joined up looked at the older users and wondered what the fuck happened- there rarely seemed to be a normal, happy, settled one among them. Of course, in a few years, life happened to us and we started to understand why so many people decay into mental illness, drug abuse, and other destructive walks of life. Some bad relationships, failed bids at college, and lingering unemployment quickly but the second wave in nearly the same position as the first- it just took some time, and by the time we got there, we'd basically forgotten that it was simply the resolution of what was nearly written in the stars. The site, with its freedom, weirdness, and propensity towards transgression didn't simply attract a bunch of freaks and then us as well. We were freaks, and so we were attracted to it as a result.

My writing reached its most ridiculous fever pitch around '08/'09, when I was dealing with a particularly destructive relationship, a sort of breakdown in my relationship with my family, and the looming sense that the direction I was going in life- my major in college in particular- had nothing to do with what I actually wanted. It's without a doubt the worst period of time I've experienced in my life. That being said, it was extremely productive in some respects: I wrote reams of reviews, wrote a ton of music, and experienced perhaps the most creatively fertile era I've had. Granted, I was hardly loving it while I was going through it- the misery was pretty all-consuming, and it's probably only for the writing and music that I didn't eat a bullet- but looking back, it makes much more sense than it did at the time. The funny thing about this is that I wasn't the only one doing it, and those insane, obsessive interactions with the Metal Archives that I detailed in the first entry were mirrored in many of the users around me. With many of us at the end of high school or the beginning of college, the economy rapid spiraling towards places unknown, and our personal lives dissolving around us, we poured our time and attention into the Archives- a sort of infinite realm of busywork with which we distracted ourselves from reality.

With the newest wave of users, there's a very different feel. The mid-teens which have just joined the site in the past few years, and will soon come to form the essence of the site itself, don't seem quite as damaged or bizarre as we did, and certainly not as much as those who first forayed into the forum's murky depths. They are, in a sense, normal, paralleling metal's increasingly mainstream position in the greater culture, and while they obsess over the database and reviews like we did, they do it for other reasons. We did it as an escape from misery- they do it out of a sense of duty and contribution. As kids who have grown up with the internet- the contemporary internet- they are more electronically fixated than any generation before. While my wave of users was raised with the internet as well, the internet mode of learning and culture had not quite fully asserted itself on the culture at large. Things were more organic and free-flowing; the newer wave, though, learns about metal through guides on various websites, acquiring the discographies of Mayhem and Deicide and Iron Maiden and voraciously devouring them all at once, structuring their exploration of art like they would the curriculum of a mathematics course. They don't go to shows much, nor do they buy music, nor hang out with other metalheads: they are isolated and commune with the music almost entirely through the internet. In many cases, for all they know, heavy metal might be something entirely fictional.

The new wave's obsessive interest in the Metal Archives- more numerical and quantified than ever before- isn't an expression of avoidance like ours was. It is instead, on a subconscious level, the only way they know to experience metal and feel like they're adequately contributing to it. With the absence of physical music, metalhead friends, or even local shows and bands in their lives, metal becomes something almost entirely digital, to be experienced, manipulated, and added to with the computer alone. The Metal Archives, in this respect, becomes a sort of symbol of the genre in their eyes; by contributing to the Archives, they get the sense that they are contributing to metal itself. Growing up with Wikipedia as an omnipresent force, they're better at seeing negative space than anyone else and, amusingly enough, appear to be terrified of it. The unknown must be known; gaps must be filled; the unattainable must be attained, and if impossible, should not be a goal. They are simultaneously the most capable and potential-filled people I've ever seen and those most unwilling to take advantage of it, so afraid of the possibility of failure and ignorant of the benefits of risk that they huddle, alone, dwelling in the comforting glow of the established and defined.

All armchair philosophy and sociology- and, of course, a topic for another, much larger article. We'll get back on track.


Everyone assumes that their home will always be as such, when in reality, it changes hands like anything else. When the forum started to shift in the direction it's heading now around '09, myself and many others in my wave of users were pretty cantankerous about it. You have no idea how many discussions I've had about the Archives which parallel a normal person's discussions about the different eras of "Saturday Night Live"- "this year was cool but shitty, this year was good but uncool, this year was just a big ball of shitty and uncool rolling around together." I'm smart enough to know that it's just human resistance to change. The Archives aren't worse than they were before- they're just different. And more importantly, they're not for me or my group of people anymore. The site has passed- in spirit, if not ownership- into the hands of the '07s and onwards, pushing it in a direction very different from its origin and certainly not one for the likes of me. I still post there from time to time, but it's more habitual than anything- day by day, it grows more foreign, and at one point or another in the future I'll likely fade out of the it entirely like most everyone does eventually.

The forum is, as a whole, much friendlier and more inviting than it used to be. Much bigger, too- as I said before, I remember the days where you knew every active poster by memory; now it's completely impossible. I'd say that the exchange for this (my own opinion, though many are inclined to agree) is that the level of discourse has gone down on average. The typical discussion on the older incarnations of the Archives tended to be more nuanced, with longer posts, deeper discussions, and a distinct sort of unified set of basic, concrete artistic values- as well as mercilessly underground, with threads about major bands sort of chuckled at by reflex, if still treated seriously. It was a forum for black metal tapes, forgotten private press thrash records, and the wild, untamed, experimental edge of the metal scene. Nowadays, it's closer to a "normal" metal forum than ever before: straightforward opinions, discussions that tend towards bigger bands, and a sort of plain, unadorned manner of conversation. The taste in music, also, has changed greatly. It seems to me that the userbase's overall tolerance for extremity has gone down, likely due to the larger, more mainstream nature of it. Discussions about brutal death, grind, and raw black metal were more frequent- Paysage d'Hiver was a common favorite, and discussions of deathcore were borderline verbatim (the reversal of which has been, of course, to my relief.) Now it's more traditionalist: power metal, oldschool or retro black and death, and modern, mainstream movements like post-metal and black/shoegaze.

There are four major events which I would say truly shaped the way the forum has turned. While the new form of the Archives isn't one that appeals to my sensibilities, I'm not going to sit here and complain about it like an old man decrying "this hip-hop music"; I'll accept that my era has come and gone. And since this is a story, at its heart, about people, these moments take the form of users: I believe in naming names (not to suggest the nefarious intent that turn of phrase naturally possesses,) especially since the my position there is more of an antique than anything and these names in particular greatly impacted the form of the Archives today. This, more than anything, might show the trajectory; they're not listed in chronological order, necessarily, because my memory fails me:

1. UltraBoris departs the site - While I've already discussed him at length in the previous installation, his leaving the Archives massively, if implicitly, changed the site. Even in its earliest incarnations, the staff of the Archives have tended to have a bit less in common with the average users than one would think: while, especially in the earliest phase, the users tended to be weird, deviant, and not entirely functional types, the staff were usually the more squared-away and normal: regular jobs, families, and possessing a certain level of mainstream acceptability that many of the users lacked. Still, among these types, there were still those who had a reputation as being a bit more fast and loose with the rules, willing to mingle and argue with the regular users, and generally not positioning themselves in a state of authority over others. UltraBoris was in many ways the figurehead of this set of the staff. He was playful, funny, and jovial, not taking his position as a moderator seriously and rarely, if ever, commenting on the actual staff work or policies of the site. In most regards, he was just a regular guy who loved metal and saw the moderator tag more as a way to make edits easily and get his reviews accepted quickly.

His leaving signaled the slow but steady erosion of this sort of moderator personality. Others continued after him but slowly fell off or were shown the door, leaving in place a more curt, professional, and strict staff with less tolerance for bullshit and a more authoritarian manner. Eventually, this led to the extremely permissive policy on freedom of speech getting progressively scaled back, and distanced the staff from the userbase in a big way. The days of being able to get into insult matches with moderators without a ban ever being a possibility is long gone- they simply don't have the time or patience anymore. It's probably this that I miss the most of anything.

2. The butterfly sisters take hold - The butterfly sisters, despite their name, were a set of male users from the second wave who were most known for their protracted, multi-page conversations amongst themselves in the forum's general section, almost always about personal, emotional issues that annoyed and alienated the other users. Each was renamed "Butterfly Sister X," where X was the name of a flower- another artifact of an older style of moderating, where users who weren't worthy of a ban might have their name or title changed to something insulting and relevant (I always liked one of mine: The Esteemed Noktornius I - "Writer, philosopher, apex of humanity.") It was an effective and funny way of reprimanding posters who, while at the core solid and musically intelligent, were straying into more obnoxious territory. The butterfly sisters, however, never really picked up on it. They were annoyed by the change and took issue with the staff of the site over it, but they continued to talk (and talk, and talk) about the minutiae of their personal lives basically unabated.

The Archives always had a sort of unwritten policy against excessive personal talk- it was, as elder administrator Nightgaunt often said, a metal forum first and foremost. With the existence of a general forum, personal discussion was bound to arise (I'm certainly not innocent of it,) but never had it become the focus of users' posting like it did with the butterfly sisters. Some attempts were made to staunch the bleeding, most severely by deleting the picture thread where users (female ones in particular) had begun to treat the site like Myspace, but the damage was done and the unspoken moratorium against the personal had essentially evaporated. Now it's nearly unrestricted, and as a result, the amount of actual interaction between users in the general forum essentially outstrips that of the metal forum- not helped by older members like me, who still want to talk to the same people but are disinterested in the overall musical taste of the forum in newer days. The forum is more social than ever, but it's also less metal.

3. Autothrall arrives - In the most intense period of the competition between hells_unicorn and I, there was a sort of race between us to see who the first user to 1000 reviews would be. In many ways, it was the highlight of the pseudo-rivalry we'd established, and a good chunk of the site's userbase was watching as we churned out review after review, perpetually seizing the lead, falling behind, and repeating in the rankings. There was a fair amount of excitement built up around it, and the two of us were so evenly matched that it was anyone's guess who would end up taking the crown. We both emerged as writers at about the same time and so far outstripped anyone else in numbers that it was a genuine showdown of the nerdiest, most metal variety. It was silly but fun, and the achievement of 1000 reviews for any individual user was a milestone that a lot of people thought difficult to imagine. Sometime in the twilight days of our informal competition, with both of us deep into the 900s with the finish line in sight, a user named Autothrall emerged from out of nowhere and began posting reviews at a completely absurd rate. He raced up the user rankings faster than anyone had before- we figured, of course, due to stockpiled reviews from his own site getting copy/pasted to the Archives. Through no fault of his own, the sheer speed and number with which he was posting reviews prematurely ended the competition simply because attaining 1000 didn't seem like a big deal anymore. I don't even remember who hit 1000 first now- I think it was hells_unicorn- but soon after, Autothrall usurped the top spot, and we realized that even without stockpiling, Autothrall wrote at a rate and with a consistency that was literally impossible for either of us to surmount. Now he sits at over 3000 reviews, with hells_unicorn and I hovering around at 1650 and 1500 respectively. The show was over.

Autothrall was fucking despised by a pretty big chunk of users (myself included) initially for a lot of different reasons. Making the race fizzle out was only a part of it. More importantly was the sense that he was a sort of interloper, a dark horse writer who showed up out of nowhere with no attachment to the site itself- similar to the reaction from employees when a company hires a manager externally instead of promoting from within. Moreover, his style of reviewing- tight, concise, professional, and magazine-like- and between this and the speed with which he rose to the top of the pile, he was viewed as a sort of mechanical nightmare of a reviewer, lacking the personality, uniqueness, and attachment to the community of other big-name writers. Of course, this was all just bad timing on his part- had he been attached to the community from the outset of his writing, he likely would have been more accepted, with his written voice's evolution on display for others and his interactions with other users helping to sculpt his place on the Archives. I've grown up since then and abandoned the juvenile resentment of him that I once had- while I'm still not personally very fond of his writing style, opposite as it is to mine, he's a solid, professional writer with a place at the table- but his legacy still stands.

By unintentionally cutting the legs out from under the reviewers on the Archives who enjoyed the persistent competition of reviewing, a lot of the energy and interest in it that had made the site such a great critical resource was lost. Autothrall isn't just the top reviewer- he has nearly double the number of the one under him, and isn't slowing down his pace at all. Everyone is aware that short of spontaneously combusting he'll never topped, and so goes a good deal of the excitement of the reviewing community. In some ways, it makes sense, though: Autothrall's jack-of-all-trades style does befit the new form of the Archives more than either my or hells_unicorn's more esoteric and specialized manner of writing. Ultimately, though, his arrival signaled a shift in the reviewing community of MA that has never really been recovered from.

4. Droneriot's failed suicide attempt - Super crazy, super drunk, super German user Droneriot (he'll hate my capitalization of his name) is one of the oldest users still kicking around the board, well known for his intense disapproval of, well, most music, long, scathing reviews, and various musical projects. One day, drunk and depressed in the Archives' dedicated IRC room where various regulars hang out, he stated his intent, and then followed with a blow-by-blow description of his suicide attempt via broken glass. The reaction of the forum's users, especially the newer ones, was oddly hysterical: lots of pleading for him to reconsider, displays of concern about his mental health, and the general huggy, "we're there for you" sort of reception the day after that's about as far from a metal forum as it gets. I couldn't believe it, and neither could Droneriot when I talked to him about it, who said that "they were acting like the Christians they claimed to hate." I'm inclined to agree.

It'll sound remarkably callous, but circa '04, a drunken suicide attempt on the part of a user would likely have resulted in endless jokes, questions about why it failed (and suggestions for a repeat performance,) and, in general, an utter lack of sympathy or emotional connection. It wasn't that kind of place; it was a forum filled with weirdos, degenerates, and crazies, none of whom would have looked on a drunken, poorly planned suicide attempt as something to soften up over. Droneriot, as one of those original members himself, was able to find it bizarre- but the majority of the forum reacted in exactly the manner one would expect the average person to: dismay, fear, and tenderness. It's perhaps the single moment in time where it could be most clearly proven that things had changed: the Archives as we knew it was over, and something unfamiliar had been erected in its wake.


In the original incarnations of these three articles, I talked a lot more about myself. I ended up deleting nearly all of it- it simply didn't seem relevant. In the end, I think I've come to realize that the rather odd relationship I have with many in the metal scene has less to do with the "character" and its role and more to do with being a relic of an era that's now passed.

I haven't really been interpreted differently over the years- I was a pretentious asshole then, I'm a pretentious asshole now, and I will probably continue to be a pretentious asshole in the foreseeable future. The difference is that before, I was the community's pretentious asshole- a known quantity, an established member, and someone that, ultimately, most grew to accept as one of their own. And just as importantly, pretentious assholes were more common in those days: abrasive, sarcastic, prickly metalheads who didn't want to help you decide which Iced Earth album to listen to first. Now, though, things are different. The metalhead of today is friendlier, more tolerant, and has lost some of the bite and verve which made approaching them in the past a tricky ordeal. I am no longer the community's pretentious asshole so much as a stranger who enters your home and mocks your interior design sense. The Archives feel foreign, now- I barely recognize any of the names, and the overall vibe of the place is just so off that I can't find the flow of discussion anymore.

It's okay, though, and it's not as though the place was designed with me or anyone else in mind. Communities change, evolve, grow, die, and are reborn elsewhere, and it's up to you to either keep up or leave when the time is right. I suppose I've kind of straddled the fence these past couple years, but I can't help but be curious what will happen in the future. In the end, it's not that the community misperceived me: I misperceived the community, failing to see that it was no longer the place I'd grown up.

We all leave home one day.

Jesus Christ looks like me...

Slick and polished, stitched together from shockingly disparate fragments, and sprawling over an unbelievably bloated 9-plus minutes, this song embodies a lot of things I hate about heavy metal. It sounds like metal that learned nothing from punk, like Pete Steele selling his hardcore records and trashing the legacy of Carnivore, just to piss people off. It should put me to sleep, or make me really mad, but instead whenever I get to the end I wish it were longer, and I play it again.

A long, strange story: An incomplete and half-remembered history of the Metal Archives (Part 2 of 3)

To give a proper history of the Metal Archives, like a history of any other website, necessarily involves a level of oversimplification and deception. For nearly anything I say about it, I can come up with a handful of counterexamples; for any theory I try to apply, I can think of a dozen others equally applicable. You'll undoubtedly read a lot of things in these entries and wonder where they're coming from, which is a perfectly reasonable reaction. You have to remember, though, that the Metal Archives you see today is a beast so radically different from its inception- hell, so radically different from half a decade ago- that it can barely be considered the same thing. Since the site's establishment a decade ago, nearly the entire userbase has departed and been replaced by new members, and slowly but surely, the original culture was eroded away and built on top of. What remains of the old concept and feeling is like a shadow that flickers around the edges of the body that exists now. The internet, though, is ephemeral, and even I have trouble remembering a lot of it. Trying to remember something that happened online is much like trying to remember a dream- and after all, neither, in the end, are real.

This is the part where the things I talk about will likely put me at odds with a lot of members of the Metal Archives community, both new and old. Given my admittedly contentious position in it, it only makes sense, but keep in mind that they're simply one individual's heavily colored and utterly subjective experiences. Still, they're experiences nonetheless, devoid of any desire to manipulate or distort. With that, read on.


The Metal Archives is at its core a database, and apart from the thin line of security and verification that the moderators provide, one that is essentially open for anyone to contribute to. Because of this, characterizing the nature of the Archives as being dictated by its overseers is like saying that World War II was won by Roosevelt alone rather than the individual soldiers that fought it. This is not to minimize the contributions or role of the administrators and moderators- obviously, their contributions to the structure and form of the site are crucial- but the ultimate heart of the Archives is distributed among an uncountable number of generally anonymous, faceless users who assemble and perfect most of the content the average person interacts with. While the site was established and refined by a very small group of people, the grunt work of endless band submissions, reviews, and forum posting has always been handled by a much larger, and, in many cases, very different group. While, as stated at the end of the first section of this piece, the early expeditionary force of the Archives was filled to the brim with the socially and philosophically deviant, the more formal power structure (if I can use such a dramatic term) of the site has always been much more normal. Moderators were never chosen from the sections of the site detailing their voracious love of heroin, which is a good thing for the structure of the site, but not always as good for reflecting the reality of its userbase.

Now, the internet is very anonymous: in the most general applications, it can be said to be perfectly anonymous, as minus an extremely dedicated stalker, government intervention, or your own fuckup, it's extremely possible to remain utterly unknown to the average person while still interacting with them. That being said, the internet is also only as anonymous as you choose it to be, and as it has further entrenched itself in the fabric of our culture, more and more people are choosing to let its anonymity slip away. The ego, like a diver struggling to surface for air, rarely lets itself disappear entirely, and in many circumstances, it seems that the more effort is made to quash it, the more stubbornly it insists itself on those around it. Look at 4chan: a site where enforced anonymity was one of its main selling points still deals with the personality clashes and desperate bids for recognition that nearly any other social community does. On the Archives, anonymity was never forced to such a degree, but seems to have been established by people who never thought of it, or of the personalities that would arise, as a potential issue.

Here is a more straightforward version of that roundabout paragraph: the Archives has always had, and continues to have, an unwritten system of status and celebrity. I know how dicey a claim this is to make; not only will many consider it a sort of slight (which it isn't, really) or patently false, but others will level the accusation that it's merely a manifestation of my own ego- after all, I'm one of the better-known writers there, and above and beyond that one regularly accused of rather staggering displays of narcissism and attention whoring. This is fine and to a minor degree accurate- however, the celebrity associated with certain users is hardly limited to myself; in fact, when it comes to that feature, I'm a small fish in a big pond, and probably smaller now than I was a few years back. But already I'm tired of talking about myself- let's get back on track. Keep in mind that there's many aspects of the site which can be broken up into discrete social groups: forum posters, moderators, site updaters, etc., many of which comingle and feature members which occupy more than one group at once. But since most of my experience is with the writing side of things, and because I think you'll be better informed by a more precise view of a smaller part than an unwieldy, misinformed glance at its entirety, I'll be focusing on that more or less exclusively.

As I said in this article's first part, a combination of several factors in the site's structure and userbase led to the Archives containing perhaps the most intense and important community of metal critics on the internet. Not only did the site's policies result in a standard of writing far above that of the average (which has only increased over the years,) but the site's position as the center of metal's web presence, its point system, its user rankings, and its large community of metal critics itself resulted in said critical community becoming one of the most fiercely and directly competitive I've ever seen. When one of the larger names on the site writes a new review (especially a contentious or vehement one,) it isn't merely shot into a vacuum; it's discussed, questioned, and occasionally torn apart on the site's forum. The site has always been host to a stable of remarkably talented and prolific writers who all, in a certain section of the community, eyed each other as competition. Be it for the person with the most reviews or the owner of a less numerical and more subjective title, there was a sense of battle to the writing process which improved the writing itself. Write something you know the community will feel opposed to and you'll have to defend it, so seal up your logical holes and be prepared to settle into a long stretch of debate.

The vast majority of reviews on the site are contributed by people without a particularly large background in writing; typically, they'll do a handful of reviews on a lark and then disappear. The community I refer to on the Archives is a small subset of extremely prolific and equally talented writers perpetually in contact with one another, and frankly, the pool is small, with probably no more than twenty at a time being "big name reviewers" regularly producing content of interest due to the name behind it alone. It's hideously incestuous, undeniably self-serving, and occasionally unbearably pretentious- it's also, it turns out, the breeding ground of some of metal's best writing, and continues to be the first and best proving ground of new writers. Hate the egos which may emerge, but understand that they're a reflexive byproduct of the structure which produces such quality work.


Each of the big name writers was, in a sense, competitive. We were hardly slashing each others' metaphorical tires in an effort to get ahead, but upon reading a really excellent piece by another person, the immediate reaction was usually to get in the game and try and top it. There were various goals among the writers, insofar as what particular ribbon they might be going for at any given time. For instance, I was a numbers person: while I never did bullshit reviews simply to get more under my belt, I had a certain mechanical system in place and was able to push out an alarming number in a surprisingly short period of time. Others might be length people, trying to write the longest available on the site (which, with my Catasexual Urge Motivation review, I think I've attained, through no intentional effort of my own,) or humorists looking to see how many punchlines they could dot an album's review with. Amidst the larger writers of the site were tons of different voices, personalities, and styles of writing, distinct enough that in many cases you could identify a review's author simply due to its descriptive tendencies. It's the rare result of so many people getting together and comparing proverbial notes on the fly.

I attained my level of notoriety significantly in part to the quantity and speed with which I was able to write, pushing through the rankings quickly to hover near the top. My primary competition was in hells_unicorn, a writer who continues to contribute to the Archives and who I stumble into conversations with regarding reviews on a pretty regular basis. The two of us, during our most fervent periods of production, were perpetually neck-and-neck for first place on the site, regularly dethroning each other only to fall behind again two days later, and who would rip through unreviewed content in the site's regular virgin review challenges, vying for the crown in each one. We were, in some respects, cheered from the sidelines, which makes sense considering how, in many ways, we were polar opposites: he dealt primarily in power, thrash, traditional, and progressive metal, while I handled extreme metal almost exclusively. He tended to review entire, sprawling discographies of bands, covering obscure Japanese singles of major artists and other such strange niches in a collection, while I tended to flitter somewhat randomly between underground artists- a demo tape here, a self-released album there. It was almost a competition to see which writer would be the "face" of the site: the older, more refined traditionalist, or the younger, rawer, transgressive one.

Nowadays, hells_unicorn has greatly expanded his reviewing pallet; though his musical philosophies are still rooted in the traditional forms of heavy metal, they now form a prism through which he tackles a surprising amount of extreme metal records, resulting in a genuinely perceptive, unusual, and interesting take on albums like "Transilvanian Hunger" or "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas." His writing, especially over the past few years, is some of the best in metal criticism. I expanded in a reflective way: over the past few years, I've begun to review many prog, thrash, power, or otherwise non-extreme records from the perspective of someone rooted in the extreme edges in the genre, which has exposed me to a heap of new musical ideas, some great records, and hopefully, some new perspectives on classic albums left mostly unexplored by the metal writers of the world infatuated with Enmity and Intestinal Disgorge. In truth, neither of us were quite as striated and one-dimensional as we might have appeared in our more fervent days- while we've certainly expanded since then, we were never as focused with laser-like precision on our particular niches as it might have seemed. However, when placed in proximity with one another, and in the unspoken competitive environment of the Archives review community, we became more caricaturized than we might have been otherwise.

This brings me to the core of, perhaps, this entire series of articles: the identity of the Archives reviewer, and how it can tend to get away. As I said before, like it or not, there is a certain status and celebrity associated with being a big-name writer on the site; this is not to suggest that it has any meaning or real value, but the system exists. With such a large and competitive pool of writers, though, to stay at the top of the pack necessitates the constant production of new content and the perpetual refinement of the written voice in order to maintain visibility. While this leads to better and better writing, it also takes its toll on the person behind the writing, who, subconsciously enslaved to public opinion, ends up slowly but surely catering to the whims of the crowd, and often ends up losing much of themselves in the process. This happened, to a certain degree, with me. But I can be fairly sure when I say I'm not projecting; it's something I've seen happen several times before, and, in particular, to probably the best-known writer in the history of the Archives.

I'm talking, of course, about UltraBoris.


Given your likely position as an internet metal nerd like myself, you have probably heard the name before. UltraBoris was one of the earliest moderators on the Metal Archives, and also its first and most foundational big-name writer. In the site's infancy, he flooded it with reviews- short, punchy, funny, hyperbolic ones, most often about thrash releases both classic and forgotten. He continues to be one of the most revered and romanticized writers in the history of the site because, though his brackish, abrasive style would not immediately suggest it, he was a remarkably talented writer. Unafraid to use distinct, colorful, outlandish description and phrase his love or hatred of an album in terms both vulgar and undeniably witty, UltraBoris evidenced an incredibly ability to cut to a thrash record's heart in a concise and eminently readable fashion. Perhaps his most remembered work, oddly enough, is the one most at odds with his standard: a scathing, essay-style review of "Master of Puppets." Extremely long (especially for its time of publication,) abstract, literary, and very much unlike a standard album review, this review is perhaps the most influential to the entirety of the Archives' stable of writers, creating, in essence, the essay-style review many of us practice and positioning himself to be remembered for as long as the site exists. Eight years after its writing, its value, both as a review and as a critique, are heatedly debated.

For a long while, UltraBoris was the number one reviewer on the site and one of the most popular moderators, but over time, conflict seemed to arise between him and other members of the staff- first in private, later in public- and eventually he departed without any sort of protracted goodbye. It was never explained by himself or anyone else why he left- every once in a long while, he'll impishly post something brief and pithy, more to be amused by the landslide of attention it will receive no matter its nature. In many ways, he's the origin of the Archives celebrity- a title which, I'm sure, he never wanted. In fact, I'm almost positive that he didn't want it, especially when a message from him emerged years after his departure, posted by a fellow moderator and friend of his. As the Archives' forum has been reestablished several times now, posts before 2008 are no longer possible to find, so it's entirely possible that the message in question is lost unless backed up on another member's hard drive. While I feel like I'm coming to court empty-handed without the message available to print, I'll paraphrase its contents as best I can.

UltraBoris stated that his dissatisfaction with the site and his decision to ultimately leave it was caused by, at least in great part, a loss of identity. UltraBoris enjoyed reviewing thrash albums, and felt that it was the genre he was best equipped to write about- he had fun pulling apart the riffs and expressing his enthusiasm for the craft. However, over time, a peculiar thing happened- his writing style, rooted originally in his own personality, began to feel less like his own and more like a character's. UltraBoris stopped being a moniker and became something of its own entity, and began to disengage from the person behind it, endlessly striving towards an increasingly minimal end result, following the obvious steps in its writing in make an UltraBoris review that would please the public. After enough time, he decided to simply break it off entirely; the attention wasn't worse the loss of identity that it brought with it seemingly as a matter of course.

It's only recently that I've begun to realize that where UltraBoris was then is very much like where I am now: unsure, disconnected, and wondering where, in a way, it all got away from me.


The nature of celebrity- whatever form it might take- is that it takes your appearance to the world more firmly out of your own hands than anything else can. Your persona- or, at least, your character- is distributed into the public domain and manipulated into the form that serves it best. This would seem tragic were it not for the fact that you help it along the way: ultimately, you are the one who goes through the motions, usually so infatuated with the idea of attention and status that you fail to recognize the pitfalls of your course of action. I wanted- both consciously and subconsciously- to be a major player in metal criticism, which is both piteously lame and surprisingly attainable. To some degree, I've managed to attain that goal, but in the process, I've realized it wasn't myself who attained that goal so much as my avatar, which is as much in the hands of others as it is my own. While it might be the puppet that I operate, the puppet is there to entertain the audience, first and foremost- and so, in many ways, I've been usurped by my own creation and had it confounded with the authentic article to the point where trying to pull the mask off, even now, poses a unique challenge.

The biggest lie we tell ourselves (and often loudly crow in a defensive gesture) is that we don't care what others think of us. Humans are social animals, and we can only slightly more deny our need for approval from our peers than we can our need for air or water. The best we can do in most circumstances is to acknowledge this foible and consciously minimize its impact on our lives. We do this in various different ways. I've done it through a sort of compartmentalization; keeping different aspects of my life separated from the others through various symbolic gestures. For instance, I keep my life in the metal scene distant from my "real life" (whatever that might mean) by using pseudonyms and rarely letting the two intersect in any meaningful way. I've come to realize, though, that this has its own set of problems: while I've kept my life in metal mostly separate from my life outside of it, its response has been to take on a sort of life of its own; the character of Noktorn, once used as a simple measure of anonymity, has in many ways become its own entity, no longer reflecting who I actually am to the degree that I'd like.

In the interest of full disclosure, and perhaps to unite the two in the manner it always should have been: I am Noah D. Richards of Bradenton, Florida. I am Noktorn, but Noktorn has also become something in and of itself: a brand name, a voice, and a distortion of its parent now severe enough that I feel the need to reel it in. And so, there I am: real, living; a human behind the sheets of text.

This series of articles began as an attempt at a watershed moment of self-exploration. I realized that, over time, much of the discussion of my writing had become less about the content of my work and more about my personality, with the writing used as little more than a platform for others to use as a foundation for a more personal critique. I was, at first, perplexed by this, and sought to remove the veil in a manner that would hopefully ameliorate some of the more poisonous perceptions of me that have become so entrenched in the minds of many. For some reason, though, I was unable to express it properly. The first part of this piece went through two long drafts, both scrapped entirely, before I arrived at what it is now. The first was too apologetic and whiny; the second, ironically, sounded exactly like something that Noktorn would write. Both were scattered, borderline incoherent. It was only the third time around that I realized the reality of it: this wasn't a story about me, and I had no interest in writing an autobiography. It was the story about my small part in a very large change in the Archives and the metal scene as a whole; how I arrived, unintentionally, at a major shift in the subculture's worldview and unknowingly went along for the ride. And I realized that, by talking about that rather than myself, I could better communicate something about me than if I approached it directly.


We have one part left, where I'll discuss myself, how my character has been formed, and what it means in terms of the Archives, as well as an appraisal of where the site is now and how it got there. Read on and enjoy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The day has come - selling my entire collection

Times have gotten hard in Florida- harder than in many parts of the country, and especially bad in my town in particular, where the true unemployment rate for my age bracket hovers around 25%. Things have gotten rough enough that I've decided to bite the bullet and do the unthinkable: put my entire collection of music up for sale. I have well over 2000 CDs, tapes, and records available, and any reasonable offer will be considered. I'm looking to get rid of these quickly and in bulk, so jump on the opportunity while it's available. I'll accept nearly any form of payment (apart from trades, of course,) so contact me at with your offers and questions.

My entire musical collection, almost perfectly up to date, can be viewed here: