Sunday, February 26, 2012

Just saw this band tonight...

And wondered why the FUCK I hadn't seen them before. Perdition, probably NYC's best d-beat/crust/noisecore, whatever. The sound quality on this is not great even for raw punk, but it's their only studio material on Youtube. So just turn it up. If you wanna hear more, download a 7" here. You can even supplement my half-ass post by reading Adam's smart and succinct write-up.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Usurper, "Blood Passion"

I have to go to bed "early" for work tomorrow, but here's some ridiculously heavy black metal from Diabolosis (1995), the first album of Chicago stalwarts Usurper. The obvious description is Hellhammer/Frost taken to a gut-busting extreme, and in that these dudes are a lot like Winter. But listen to that greasy main riff--it wouldn't sound out of place on an Alice In Chains track or an early sludge album. Long before "USBM," Usurper were playing a distinctively American strain of black metal, and one that actually sounded American. This is Lucifer's blues.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The neurosis of metal nerds (part 1 of 2)

Metalheads are simply an individual species of nerd. A nerd, most simply defined, is just a person with an intense fixation on a particular aspect of culture. Being a nerd isn't a bad thing in and of itself; it just means that you are more distinctly interested in something than a casual fan is. There's all kinds of nerds out there, with obsessions ranging from model trains to Star Trek and everything in between, and the vast majority of them are perfectly cool people who don't let their nerdy fixation overwhelm who they are as an individual. Unfortunately, there's a minority of bad nerds out there who ruin things for everyone due to their own personal hang-ups and arrested development. Since most nerds discover their particular passion in their teen years, they tend to form a fairly close emotional attachment to it that sticks with them throughout their lives, either through active participation in their hobby or through simple nostalgia should they hang it up. The negative side of this, though, is that those who don't quite make it out of high school unscathed end up using their hobby as some sort of metaphorical diary for their own misery, putting all their frustrations into it and fixating on it as a lone venue of control in an otherwise uncontrollable and unsatisfying life.

Most metalheads tend to be the good nerds, but there's plenty of bad ones out there who make heavy metal obnoxious for the rest of us and unappealing to most of the world. The bad metalhead is the one who ends up forming their identity around heavy metal, becoming overly protective and defensive about it due to an overgrown sense of their role in the metal scene. They obsessively bar outsiders from entry unless they go through some sort of hazing process, denigrate other genres of music reflexively, and desperately espouse the supremacy of their personal fixation at the cost of others. A lot of metalheads go through a phase of this (and I'm no exception) that usually leaves them when they gain a bit more perspective, but others become stuck in it, relating to the world through heavy metal alone and becoming progressively more obnoxious and vehement as the years wear on and frustration steadily mounts due to being perpetually 15 years old mentally. Do you know the grotesquely obese guys who play Magic: The Gathering primarily to mock new players and assert their own superiority? Well, the bad metalheads are those guys, just in a different form.

Bad nerds tend to arise from a lack of personal identity. The human brain is pretty good at protecting itself from uncomfortable criticism, so it tends to rearrange one's perceptions in a way that are more favorable to the individual. These particular odious metalheads, devoid of any accomplishments or personal qualities to define themselves by, desperately search for an external thing to define themselves by, confusing an interest in a particular subject as the equivalent to a real identity. Heavy metal is a great option for these types: it's big, complicated, has a ton of classification and compartmentalization, and most importantly, has a community built around it. The community's important because it's a social group with different standards than a more mainstream social group, who are more tolerant of social awkwardness and obnoxious behavior, and (like most nerd social groups) are much more resistant to ostracizing a member than well-adjusted people in everyday society are. Bad nerds flock to communities like this; having failed amongst their more well-adjusted peers, the lower bar set for decorum and a premium placed on general knowledge rather than the more ephemeral aspects of social interaction form a more comfortable environment.

Of course, the bad metalheads don't stop at seeing themselves as defined solely by their taste in music: that fixation becomes a worldview which gets projected on everyone else as well. The same thing happens in most intense musical subcultures: out of resentful narcissism (almost always there to mask self-loathing,) the bad nerd begins to promote his personal genre as being the greatest in music, requiring the greatest compositional skill, presenting the most high-minded of concepts, and featuring an audience of only the most discerning and intelligent listeners. Metal has a bonus of featuring a history of minor moral panic (which most of the nerds weren't even alive for) and misperception by the public which allows the nerd to soak up the delicious juices of manufactured victimhood and oppression. Suddenly, it all becomes clear: metal is the style of music for intelligent and strong people who are mocked and disregarded by the public out of stupidity and fear. Metal is a genre by and for the elite who perceive life as it REALLY is, devoid of the fictions and irrational notions of the herd. Metal is for geniuses, warriors, philosophers, and heroes, and by listening to it, I am all those things!


The best way to identify a bad nerd isn't by looking at what they love, but what they hate, which is usually the sort of thing which reminds them of their "oppressors": the likeable, socially capable, popular people who ostracized them in the past and began the cycle of self-loathing they were never able to escape. A great example of this is among people who play video games or tabletop games: if you want to immediately pick out a loathsome gamer, all you have to do is ask their opinion on the Call of Duty series. Some will enjoy it, some won't, but the bad nerds are the ones who venomously decry it as a horrible mockery of the fine art of video games. The more vociferous the reaction, the worse they are, but you're looking for one key element in particular which removes all doubt: whether or not they direct particular anger towards the people who DO play and enjoy the games. If they begin to express a torrent of irrational hatred for the series' fans, you've struck gold and have found the very definition of the bad nerd.

Why is this? Well, for those of you who don't play video games (which probably isn't a whole lot these days,) it's because the Call of Duty series is currently the most popular video game series in the world. More importantly than that, playing Call of Duty is seen as a perfectly normal activity; while playing an obscure Japanese RPG will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows from non-gamers, enjoying a few rounds of Call of Duty with friends is common for just about every young male in the country. Most importantly of all, and the linchpin of this particular breed of nerd's anger, though, is this: Call of Duty is not seen as "nerdy," and has a following among mainstream social groups who don't typically get engrossed in video games. Call of Duty is played by jocks and frat boys who wouldn't be caught dead with a copy of Eternal Sonata, and even though they're both video games, the jocks and frat boys blowing each other away with MP5s on Xbox Live would STILL laugh at the nerd despite the general resemblance in activity. The people who ostracized the nerd and humiliated him have now followed him into what he thought was a protected community and are slowly but surely changing its social standards to match those of the mainstream world. The nerd is left feeling enraged, confused, and powerless- just like he was in high school.

Feeling some annoyance at sudden interlopers in one's community is understandable to a degree, particularly if they're attempting to impose their own cultural values on a community that already has its own standards, but was distinguishes a good or bad nerd is in their response. The good nerd will roll their eyes, mock it a bit, and then just ignore it, understanding that in all likelihood it's not a genuine threat. The bad nerd, however, goes from zero to sixty without pausing for breath; it becomes a matter of life and death rather than annoyance, because for him, it IS a matter of life or death. If the interlopers succeed in changing the culture, the nerd will have to adapt or be ostracized yet again and have to find another community which will accept him. Because of this, the nerd isn't really just fighting to preserve a community he loves: he's fighting to preserve himself, terrified by the idea of losing the identity he's spent so much time and effort in creating. This is the source of the really crazy, overblown stuff you see from any kind of nerd who has a complete breakdown: they literally can't handle the idea of change, as they were unable to handle it before.

Bad metalheads work the same way: when they feel threatened, they freak out, and much like gamers, freak out a little bit extra due to the infatuation with victimhood they've embraced. The most obvious place that this can be seen is in the absurdly overblown hatred they have for whatever pseudo-metal genre happens to be popular at the moment. There was glam, grunge, nu-metal, metalcore, deathcore, and probably something else coming around the bend right now. It's readily apparent that the nearly psychotic rage many expressed towards these ultimately harmless offshoots is hardly indicative of a well-adjusted personality. Not only are these displays dumb, embarrassing, and incredibly inappropriate, but they have the side effect of making metalheads appear to be either crazy or mentally retarded. How heavy metal is perceived by the public at large should hardly be a substantial cause for concern by the scene, but if those bizarre outliers (who rarely contribute in a real way to the community anyway) could be ejected from the scene simply so others don't have to be afflicted with their presence, the added bonus of appearing less like petty men-children can be safely considered a net plus.


It's interesting to take a look at some of the metal artists out there who provoke the most ire and the syntax used to complain about them. There's no such thing as a synonym, really; there's a specific reason behind the words that we use to express ideas, whether conscious or not, and looking at the phrasing of statements can often elucidate their meaning better than the content of the statement itself. Take, for instance, Pantera, a metal band that's widely listened to by casual metal fans who often don't consider themselves "metalheads"- what sort of complaints to we typically see leveled at them? From my experience, it tends to involve phrases like "redneck music," "tough guy," "meatheaded," "jock metal," or references to Phil Anselmo's profanity-filled lyrical style and sometimes aggressive or offensive attitude in interviews or onstage. In fact, Phil Anselmo in particular is the target of the most ire of any member of the band, oftentimes treated like an idiot or someone who's not a genuine metalhead. But Phil's proven himself very intelligent in interviews, and his discography outside of Pantera, while spotty in quality, features black and death metal records made without receiving nearly the attention of Pantera. So what's the real issue?

Peel back the layers on the weird, personal-sounding criticisms of Phil and Pantera and you'll find a pretty simple core to a lot of them: the words used to describe them are the same used by outcast teenagers simmering with resentment towards "those asshole jocks" who make fun of them for being socially awkward. Phil has a shaved head, a gruff, hardcore-style vocal presence, and writes lyrics that express simple, straightforward, blue collar aggression without the Satanic metaphors, established symbolism, or intense hyperbole that defines a lot of metal lyricism. The band's aesthetic is that of hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-living Southern outlaws, and their music is immediately comparable to an intensified and stripped down version of stuff like Van Halen- all elements which are more immediately appreciable to a mainstream audience than the more overwrought elements of most extreme metal. This isn't at all to say that disliking Pantera is an inherent sign of social failure and insecurity, but citing social or aesthetic reasons which on inspection have almost nothing to do with the music itself certainly is. If you're angry at a band for social reasons, it's time for self-examination: more often than not, it's because you're afraid or resentful of the fans for reasons that have nothing to do with the music.

Ironically, given metal's overall aesthetic and thematic nature, a lot of the shots taken at bands like Pantera or styles like nu metal tend to run along the lines of them being "tough guy music," "thuggish," or "blunt"- the words used are those which suggest an intense, straightforward display of masculine aggression. A great deal of metal involves a hypertrophied display of stereotypical masculinity, with stories about war, honor, violence, and extremity taking up a large chunk of common lyrical themes. The difference between this and the way bands like Pantera express intensely masculine themes is that most metal bands convey them in an intensely exaggerated fashion: war is catastrophic and inescapable, violence is unbelievably brutal and elaborate, and distaste for Christianity takes the form of church burning and literal Satan worship. Pantera and other "tough guy" bands, on the other hand, express these masculine themes in an immediate and real fashion: instead of threatening torture and murder, they just offer the ass-kicking of a lifetime. For the insecure nerd, this is much more immediately threatening than the obvious fantasy of most lyrics: the members of Pantera most likely could beat the living shit out of the average metalhead (myself absolutely included,) and the fact that they indirectly laugh off the inherent absurdism of metal's aesthetic tropes means that they aren't afraid of the nerd's protective symbols. Angry nerds love to study martial arts, convinced that the elegance and skill needed for the form will allow them to overcome a much more physically imposing opponent, when in reality, their first attempt to use their Jiu-Jitsu techniques on one of their football player tormentors more often than not will result in them being face-down on the pavement within seconds.

In short, these bands and styles of metal (or metal-influenced music) tend to capitalize off the intensity and aggression expressed by metal, but couch it in terms more immediately applicable to the average individual. The neurotic metal nerd needs these tropes and stylistic ideas to direct his aggression, but he also needs them to be couched in fantasy to make him feel safe. The "jock" interlopers threaten and taunt him with a confident and practiced masculinity which reminds him of the social groups he was unable to be a part of and the qualities he was unable to embody. He cries and gnashes his teeth at these bands and styles and their constituent audience because they're often the authentic realization of the fiction he's built for himself. The normal, well-adjusted metalhead sees the drama of extreme metal for what it is: a fantastic interpretation of real thoughts and feelings which, divorced from a true persona with a genuine force of will, is completely meaningless. The nerd, though, thinks that he's granted that persona and will through the music itself, and is time and time again denied the satisfaction of realizing his fantasies whenever they're confronted by reality.

Occasionally, they believe too greatly in their fiction, and this happens.


Part 2 coming soon.

Forgotten Albums: Sodom - Tapping the Vein

With this post, we're gonna begin a new feature called Forgotten Albums, where we take a look at some of the more overlooked works of major artists' discographies. To fire it up, I'm gonna take a quick look at my favorite Sodom album ever: "Tapping the Vein."

Released in 1992, "Tapping the Vein" came out at a time when thrash was basically disappearing left and right in favor of either death metal or "groove metal" (I've always preferred the term post-thrash.) In the early '90s, there was a prevailing sense that every thrash band had to go SOMEWHERE; there were a few stalwarts who decided to stay the course and did all right, a lot who stagnated, and a lot more who wandered off into more experimental territory with varying degrees of success. Of the Teutonic trinity, both Kreator and Destruction ended up dicking around with pretty awful bids at mainstream success, but Sodom ended up doing really well for themselves by doing what seemingly no other thrash band decided to do (apart from, oddly enough, Testament years later): get more extreme than ever before.

"Tapping the Vein" is an unbelievably fucking brutal album. It's not unreasonable to call it a full-fledged death/thrash album, but rather than getting to death metal via actual death metal riffs or blast beats, Sodom takes the Demolition Hammer approach of simply playing thrash so heavy, fast, and extreme that it basically borders on death metal simply due to sheer ferocity. Tom Angelripper's vocals are a full-throated death growl, easily the most extreme he ever performed in the band's history, and the guitar and drum presence of newcomer Andy Brings and Chris Witchhunter is razor-sharp and rhythmically convulsive. There's an incredible sense of speed and tense, gnashing energy behind the songs on this album; the palm-muted tremolo riffs and hyperspeed skank beats give this stuff a feeling of claustrophobia and and dark energy that most full-fledged death metal can't even match. This stuff's definitely cut from the mold of "Darkness Descends," another thrash album that seems intrinsically designed for death metal fans, and both should be heard by such listeners.

I've never been particularly big on thrash, but "Tapping the Vein" represents a sort of ideal form of the style to me: it manages to be incredibly brutal and stack up against even modern death metal in sheer barbarism, but never sacrifices anything about its intrinsic nature as a thrash record to achieve those heights. It's unfortunate that it gets passed over so often in favor of Sodom's more formative works, but it's definitely worth more attention than it's received so far.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Get Into: Tyrant 666

I don't have the energy to write much tonight, so here's some shit that speaks for itself. 4 years ago I found this band on Myspace. This was well ahead of the current fad for cocktails of bottom-shelf black metal and watery hardcore, so when I saw that Tyrant listed their genres as "Black Metal/Punk/Blues," I was basically sold. The album, goofily entitled Reclaim The Flame, was not a disappointment. This doesn't really sound like any of today's trendy bullshit, perhaps because these dudes were actually in kvlt Swedish Second Wave bands like Vinterland and The Black (with Nodtveidt himself!). It also sounds totally old-school without sounding retro at all--the influences are apparent, but the style is distinctive, and this shit is heavy enough to go toe-to-toe with any modern-sounding band. Tyrant bring a bonecrushing wall of fuzzed-out guitar and bass, a brutal midtempo riff-form based on bludgeoning down-picked quarter notes, and a vocalist who sounds like Tom G Warrior in the Hellhammer days, only twice as tough and angry.

Part of the charm of Reclaim The Flame is that Tyrant clearly wrote it all at once and cranked it out in a single drunken recording session, probably live in the studio. Most of the slow songs are virtually interchangeable with one another, but they rule anyways. Tyrant broke up after recording this and a split with Alehammer, which bummed me out. But not too badly, because it's not like they really gave a flying fuck. Brews were crushed, Satan was hailed, black metal was made. Bang your heads, fuckers.

BONUS BATHORY COVER! notice how on the chorus they make it sound like The Misfits.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sick throwback nu-metal jamz (Part 1 of 2)

When I'm relaxing after a long day of painstakingly researching the kind of music that will make me look the coolest for promoting on TBO, you can probably guess what I do to unwind. There's only one answer to the question of what style of music best articulates the misplaced resentment of the suburban middle schooler: nu-metal. For me and a lot of people in my age bracket, nu-metal was the point of entry for heavy music in general. Nu-metal was for a long while basically the only "heavy" (whatever that may mean) music played frequently on the radio or MTV, and while certainly not full-fledged metal music from a taxonomical standpoint, certainly represented a big step up from the hardest of hard rock available at the time. Metalcore was still a ways off from the sort of market penetration it would end up achieving by the mid '00s, so nu-metal was basically the only game in town, functioning as the single largest gateway drug for novice metalheads to enter the realms of "true" metal (a phrase I'm using for lack of a better alternative.) Of course, like with every style of music which draws elements from heavy metal without actually being a part of the genre, a big contingent of the metal scene hated nu-metal for representing some sort of corruption of heavy metal itself, when in actuality it was a pretty independent style which just so happened to pique the interest of a whole host of people who would go on to enjoy a myriad of heavy metal styles.

Now that nu-metal has essentially disappeared as a major force in mainstream heavy music (although it's starting to come back in an updated form with stuff like the last Emmure album,) a lot of metalheads who previously dismissed it outright are starting to come around and look at the style with a less reactionary perspective. Because nu-metal is no longer the go-to definition of heavy metal for a pop audience unfamiliar with heavy music, metalheads are no longer forced to judge nu-metal through the prism of heavy metal. With the acceptance of nu-metal as an odd little branch off of rock music, it's become much easier for a devout metalhead to simply enjoy nu-metal for what it is- opinions on nu-metal are no longer a political position. After I discovered full-fledged heavy metal, nu-metal rapidly fell out of my regular rotation apart from occasional moments of nostalgia, but over the past few years, I've started to seriously revisit the style with an altered perspective. The results were a bit surprising: despite the compressed, fad-like nature of the genre's rise and fall in popularity, some of it has actually aged remarkably well, not universally suffering from the overtly dated sound that one might expect from it.

As such, I figured I'd offer some examples of stuff that's still surprisingly solid today. What exactly defines "nu-metal" is a pretty general concept, so some of the stuff I'll show off might not fall into the genre as you think of it, but keep in mind that nu-metal is a style that's more defined by its time period and general impression rather than distinct musical qualities, so try not to split hairs too much. As a bonus, Youtube has become to last bastion of those few remaining individuals who are still devout fans of the nu-metal bands of yore, so I'll also be posting the most hilariously awesome comment for each of the following videos. If anyone's interested in another couple posts that cover some of the nu-metal bands that have aged especially poorly, throw up a comment begging for shitty music.

Korn - Clown

To many, Korn represents the archetype of nu-metal in its purest form; probably the most successful of any of the big-name nu-metal bands, Korn still enjoys perplexingly high album album sales despite their almost complete disappearance from the radio. "Clown," off their self-titled debut, is a song which perfectly articulates why their older work still stands up years later, namely because it happens to kick an unbelievable amount of ass. It's a combination of three musical elements which can be specifically isolated. First and foremost is Brian "Head" Welch's unique riffing style: the combination of tense, essentially amelodic, almost ambient textures with crushing hardcore-derived chugging created a wonderful sense of musical tension and flow. Second is the phenomenal drumming of David Silveria, whose clustered, syncopated beats and emphasis on kick/snare interaction over steady hi-hat as the leading percussive voice created a musical environment which allowed the strings room the breathe and expressive their own rhythmic themes while contributing to the sheer force expressed in the songs' most intense moments. Finally, there's the vocals of Jonathan Davis, whose unique, varied, and expressive style of singing essentially created the blueprint of nu-metal vocals as well as blending well with the rest of the band's slow-burning, deliberately paced style. The result of these elements was music that really sonically conveyed the repressed anger, neurotic fear, and animalistic cravings expressed by the band's lyrical themes. There's a lot to praise about Korn's ability to match a sound to a conceptual aesthetic- many bands could learn from their sense of artistic unity.

Everyone has their own opinion on when Korn started to suck and just how far into their discography one should bother to explore. I'd say that the only really essential records from a "heavy music" perspective are the first two. "Follow the Leader" and "Issues" both have some pretty great pop songs on them, but the former marks the band's transition away from underground abrasiveness and sharp, ugly riffing in favor of a more conventional pop-rock sense of songwriting. Everything from "Untouchables" onward is just progressively greater levels of unlistenable.

A bonus track just because it's really sick and especially because the break at 2:00 is remarkably similar to the sort of breakdown structure you might find on a modern deathcore release:

Korn - Chi

Best comment from each video:

Clown - "maybe my #1song ever. Epic.. Why hasn't someone made a Dragonball Z video to go with this. The amount of times vegeta calls goku clown and all."

Chi - "@iEAT0rphans i dont think weed has ever killed n e 1(you know from smoking it)"

Mudvayne - Death Blooms

Mudvayne has always been without question the most musically proficient band from the heyday of nu-metal, effortlessly outpacing all others in both technical ability and compositional complexity. Hell, all things considered, they're probably the most musically proficient band I've ever encountered on modern rock radio or television. The band's debut album, "L.D. 50," is one which continues to surprise me every time I listen to one of its cuts- it feels like each listen reveals a new bit of subtle melodic texture or rhythmic interplay I hadn't noticed before. It's not very surprising when one finds out that the band was heavily influenced by death and black metal (citing Emperor in particular,) and it comes out not only in technical ability, but in the surprisingly gripping and multidimensional emotionality of their music. "Death Blooms," above, is a good example of the band at their best: even in the song's heaviest and most straightforward moments, there's an array of subtle melodic and rhythmic undercurrents at play, along with an impressively mature lyrical concept bolstered by a strong and confident vocal presence.

By all means, any metal fan should give "L.D. 50" a chance- and then stop there. Everything after that album is a complete musical atrocity, with the debut standing as a lone beacon of artistic dignity. Truly a horrendous fall from grace.


Static-X - I'm With Stupid

The absurd musical success of early Static-X is either raw genius or utter coincidence. "I'm With Stupid," off their debut full-length "Wisconsin Death Trip," is a very succinct explanation of the band's entire style: a sort of match made in hell between backwards baseball cap wearing date rapist aggro rock and what that same date rapist imagines "techno" to be in absence of ever having actually heard it. It's about as idiotic, primitive, and minimal as things get, with riffs rarely more complex than two chords, monotonously ranting vocals, and deliberately obnoxious, needling synths. It's a sort of jock impression of what "industrial metal" would sound like in theory, and a prime example of what I'm going to call the "Rigor Sardonicus Effect," where a band plays a unique style of music that's aesthetically obvious but still surprising to hear simply because you thought no one was dumb enough to actually do it. Out of this comes some fucking impressive music, though: the incredibly stripped-down, binary sense of songwriting and utter lack of nuance, dynamics, or variation actually give the music an intensely industrial feel despite not actually sounding like, you know, industrial music. In fact, it surpasses that: along with the ugly, convulsive clatter that makes up most of the music's content is a complete lack of any emotion or beauty. When combined with the distinctly odd lyrics which come off as a panicked, Tourette's-like disgorging of neurotic paranoia and self-doubt, the overall effect is something that's probably closer to the industrial ideal than a hell of a lot of "real" industrial music.

"Wisconsin Death Trip" is mandatory, and "Machine" has a handful of worthwhile tracks, but everything after is oddly dull, bland, and progressively more generic.

Best comment: "i like this song but dont like hearing when im playing runescape i only like listing when i play roblox"

Check back later this week for part two.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I listened to "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" tonight for the first time ever

For whatever stupid reason I sorta skipped De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Transylvanian Hunger when I started getting into black metal... of course I heard songs from both albums, and figured they were cool, but neither sound seemed like what I was looking for at the time--generally speaking, stuff that sounded like super-early Emperor and stuff that sounded like punk (Under A Funeral Moon, etc). Plus, even to a neophyte those two Classics seemed so damn standard, and nerd/contrarian that I am, I wanted to find my own way. Thereafter, Mayhem languished on my list of "shit I really should get around to." Well, tonight I was jamming some Mysticum as I stalked through the warehouses on a cold, wet night, and when that finished I saw the "Mayhem" listing just above it on my iPod, and realized I had DMDS.

Holy fucking shit does that album rule. While I didn't have my mind blown in quite the same way I did when I first heard Hordanes Land, I was every bit as enthralled. When I got back to my place I had to leave the headphones on to finish it, uninterrupted. I have heard a TON of black metal and discovered a lot of brilliant albums over the last 5 years, but Mayhem's first one still sounds completely fresh. Is all other black metal basically a footnote to De Mysteriis? Not completely, but close enough.

Some things I noticed, that a lot of other people have probably noticed by now:

1. EURONYMOUS. Not just a classic black metal guitarist, but a genre-transcending guitarist. Not a virtuoso, bu a consummate musician. The solo on Freezing Moon is hands down the coolest solo I have ever heard (that isn't Led Zeppelin), and it's crazy how he created a specifically black metal, specifically Mayhemic style for his improvisation. I have never heard anything like this anywhere else. On the rhythm parts, he plays with effortless authority. He doesn't pick as fast as people later did, but that actually make the music seem faster, because you can pick up on the pace of the strumming and the way it syncs with (or strains against) the drums.

2. Many times you think you're going to hear a riff repeated, but you actually hear a really cool variation on it, with an unexpected harmony or extra chord. This means that the basic riff-units are two or four times as long for Mayhem as they are for most Mayhem-imitators.

3. Varg was a great bassist! And the parts truly add another dimension.

4. Punk as fuck. Here, Hellhammer's doing at least two different kinds of blasts, changing up the usual snare-kick with a kick-snare pattern that's basically a sped up hardcore beat. "Funeral Fog" riiiips out of the gate with that shit. Another reason this album feels so fast.

5. Breakdowns! Unlike almost every BM band after them, Mayhem weren't afraid of syncopation or backbeats. When they drop into half or quarter time, shit gets heavy as fuck. Deathlike Silence may have labeled their productions ANTI-MOSH, but from the thrashing fast sections to the lurching, grooving slow parts, Mayhem play black metal as body music.

6. Not as repetitive as you might think. It drones and pummels away, but there'll be subtle shifts in one of the guitar parts, or the bassline, or Hellhammer will start introducing staggered cymbal and snare stuff into the blasts. No neat little sections here, everything liquid.

7. Attila rules, and lends a real sense of tonality to his vocals. There are some melodies, and hooks!

This is just sublime. I am so glad I finally heard this. And I'm glad I waited too, because now I can hear how it utterly dwarfs the imitators. A new all-time favorite album, for sure.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Get into: Fanisk

NSBM mostly sucks- everyone knows this. Like most genres of music which are inherently attached to an ideology, the ideology tends to come before musical quality in most cases, leading to a bunch of boring or outright terrible sounds which have no purpose other than to function as propaganda. As an adjunct to this general principle is another that's equally consistent: the more ostentatious such a band is about their given ideology, the worse the music tends to be. Most of the really good NSBM tends to be of the more subtle variety; the presence of Hitler, an SS symbol, or a swastika on an album cover more often than not means that the music within is utterly tragic.

Fanisk is one of the only exceptions to this rule. Look at the above cover: there's a giant, GIANT, completely unignorable swastika on the cover. The swastika is actually glowing. If the swastika could somehow blink with a bunch of LEDs like a Christmas display, I'm pretty sure it would. However, it just so happens that the music contained within the album is not only some of the best NSBM I've ever heard, but some of the best symphonic black metal I've ever heard regardless of ideology. Seriously, listed to the above track and try not to be impressed that it's made by a couple Nazis from Oregon.

Their Oregon origin might have something to do with the music's quality itself; while the band predates the Pacific Rim black metal style by a few years, it has many of the elements which would come to define bands like Wolves in the Throne Room: long, sprawling, linear songs, reduced vocal presence, and shimmering layers of synths and guitars creating a wall of somewhat droning melody. Fanisk, however, takes these typical elements and tempers them with a distinct edge of NSBM aggression and pride. Their songs aren't written so much as painstakingly composed; there's less "riffing" and more slow, ostentatious revealing of melodic themes over the course of long, winding tracks. The somewhat brittle production and speedy drum machine brings to mind acts like Daemonlord or Nevelrijk, where the too-fast, rushing rhythms give the glorious sort of melodies a wonderfully enthusiastic template to twist and turn over. Listening to a Fanisk track is an exciting experience, and the influence of classical music is more readily apparent in this stuff than in anything Yngwie has shit out over the past decades.

Now I just wish there were a few less swastikas on their album covers so I could show them to more people.

(A quick note: I'm pretty sure Fanisk's interpretation of national socialism is a bit sideways of most. They're pretty lyrically abstract and don't seem to dwell in mind-numbing racist boredom- they seem a lot more Savitri Devi than Vaginal Jesus about things. I'm not well-versed enough in nazi occultism or paganism to pick apart the details, so someone with more knowledge of what exactly is getting covered in the lyrics will hopefully comment, but for those put off by obnoxious "gas the Jews" chatter, there's a lot more going on.)

reverorum ib malacht actually put out a full-length

I can't believe it actually fucking happened. Of all the bands in the world which everyone forgot about, Reverorum Ib Malachtactually released a full-length on AJNA Offensive late last year. From what I've seen it doesn't look like anyone's actually HEARD it (big surprise,) but it's still kind of cute in a nostalgic way. Who knew that they were actually a band?

I got into black metal when DC++ was fading away and Soulseek was the main hotness for acquiring obscure music (before download blogs and torrents devoured everything.) Because Soulseek had a bunch of chat rooms attached to the program, one of the biggest being a black metal room, there's a whole host of obscure little bands who gained prominence basically out of nowhere due to word of mouth hype and typically disappeared just as quickly (Wormphlegm being one of the sole exceptions.) Reverorum Ib Malacht was one such band: a cassette-only black metal/ambient project with a lineup that was Shrouded In Mystery that was a really big deal for like 3 months until everyone forgot about them basically at the same time. Looking back, I guess it was sort of the pseudo-LLN version of Deathspell Omega or something. It was kind of a big deal for a while, and a lot of people were super stoked about them being some sort of future of black metal, claiming it was really disturbing and True Satanic Music. It made an impression on me when I was like 15 (which is about as old as you can get and still have this sort of thing be particularly resonant,) so checking this stuff out again has been sort of a nostalgia trip for me. No, that doesn't mean I'm actually going to listen to the full-length.

Listening to the above track now, though... my god we liked some dumb shit.

Based Style/Cloud Rap


If there's one person who's really responsible for this style of hip-hop becoming a distinct stylistic entity, it's not a rapper at all: it's Clams Casino, a 23 year old physical therapy student from New Jersey who just happened to become probably the most important hip-hop producer in the scene today.

An amateur producer with no particular ambitions of becoming a big-name hip-hop icon, Clams essentially stumbled onto a production formula that would end up becoming the foundation of the "Based" style, pioneered by infamous outsider-art rapper Lil B. Defined by hazy washes of synths, wordless, looping vocal samples, and a drugged-out, simultaneously melancholic and joyful atmosphere, the end result is pretty straightforward to any Music Person: it's little more than post-rock and shoegaze brought to hip-hop. While Clams himself doesn't seem particularly fixated on those styles of music- it seems like the similarity is more coincidence than an intentional merging of styles- the resemblance is immediately apparent, and its result so instantaneously appealing and logical that it becomes a wonder why no one thought of it before. Listening to a Clams-produced track is a lot like listening to Devourment: you're sort of incredulous that this is where the parent style ended up going rather than originating from.

What Clams Casino's sudden and massive explosion in notoriety around the hip-hop scene (well, the hipster edge of the hip-hop scene, that is) signifies, beyond establishing the based style, is the death of "instrumental hip-hop" as we knew it. Instrumental hip-hop was originally the pantheon of music that was aesthetically similar to traditional hip-hop beats but simply wasn't suited for an MC to rap over- however, Clams' beats have basically wiped off the entire chalkboard by displaying that just about anything imaginable can be rapped over by an adventurous enough MC. Often too slow or too scattered to conceivably work for a verbal flow, Clams seems to entirely ignore the basic principles of hip-hop beat construction, throwing rappers to the proverbial wolves to try to make sense of his rhythms. Some of his most far-out musical creations barely seem to have any coherent rhythmic center at all; they drift aimless and ambient, with only the murkiest, most distant accompaniment of bass drum or chiming electronic effect to provide a dim set of lights to guide a rapper.

It goes without saying that this sort of strange, wandering production would necessitate an equally strange, wandering rapper to match it; after all, cloud rap isn't supposed to be an instrumental genre. The first, biggest, and most important artist in the establishment of the style is none other than Lil B, a rapper who has massively divided the hip-hop scene, leaving equal numbers of frantic proponents and venomous detractors gnashing their proverbial teeth at one another over his veracity as an artist. Lil B's work and persona have been dissected up and down in just about every major music publication, so I won't devote excess text to describing his style. Instead, here are some important bullet points:

-An unformed stream-of-consciousness rapping style, often fully improvised, which places less importance on clever wordplay and rhyming and more on displays of naked emotion and authenticity
-Subject matter which ranges from subversively shallow, monotonous ranting about money and bitches to uncomfortable earnest and straightforward commentary on society and morality
-A visual and auditory lexicon centered around simplicity, lo-fi production values, and amateurish honesty halfway between Daniel Johnston and a teenager's awful Livejournal poetry
-A bizarre self-made philosophical system which itself necessitates a whole article to describe accurately

I have no doubt that the dreaded "W" word is heavy on the tongues of commenters, and that's perfectly logical: Lil B's, and the style as a whole's, artistic and aesthetic sense does have a lot in common with traditional "white" standards- or what we perceive white standards to be. The importance of racial issues in this movement is pretty minimal, though, and does nothing but cloud what's happening musically. The based style isn't a movement of black culture reappropriating white aesthetic elements so much as simply exploring some of the opportunities naturally available in hip-hop. Lil B's deliberately amateurish style (very deliberate- check out his work with The Pack to see that he's a perfectly capable rapper by all traditional standards) and trenchant focus on naked displays of emotion and almost childish earnestness are a clear musical decision which give the based style a distinct musical and artistic identity- and one that shouldn't be ignored simply due to its resemblance to some elements of "white" culture, whatever that means.

The based style is still in its infancy, but in the wake of Lil B has come a surprising second leader in the form of Soulja Boy, who has in many ways jettisoned his original pop-rap style in favor of this much more abstract aesthetic. Soulja Boy's work is a little less overtly positive and nostalgic and more distinctly drugged-out and "weird," coming off more like a reinterpretation of mainstream rap tropes through the cloud rather than Lil B's odd sideways move. It's no less relevant, though; while Soulja Boy is clearly still finding his legs stylistically, and has a less immediate and consistent output, his interpretation of the based style has plenty to offer, and I'm eager to see where he goes with it as time passes and he matures into the new style he's so eagerly adopted.

I'm not really sure what to make of this stuff; it's hardly getting any mainstream airplay, and the artists in the scene itself seem more interested in releasing reams of free music online than generating sales, but it's acquired a surprisingly large fanbase in a pretty short period of time, so who knows. I think it goes without saying that the parallels between this style and a lot of extreme metal and punk are readily apparent, so for those of you who don't regularly listen to Chris Brown like I do, you might want to give this stuff a shot.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

You guys listen to Wardruna, right?

Just checking! Lately I've been recovering from some sort of stomach virus and lying around reading A Game of Thrones, and Warduna has become my constant soundtrack. To the loremasters among you they're undoubtedly old news, but if you haven't yet listened I can't recommend this project enough. Noktorn did a post many months ago about how much he hates the folk side projects of metal people, and I generally agree, but there has to be an exception to any sweeping generalization, and this is it. An evocation of the past, rather than a clumsy attempt to recreate it. Grounded in post-industrial and ambient music, rather than New Age bullshit or goofy fantasy tropes. Steeped in nightside skaldic lore. The reason Runaljod has a 99% average among four different Metal Archives reviewers is that it's actually perfect. Enough to make me forgive Gaahl for ruining Gorgoroth!

The secret hero of Wardruna, by the way, is the guy who plays mouth-harp. Dubstep bass has got nothing on the original wobbles!

ADDENDUM: if you want to see some more substantial thoughts on Runaljod and ambient music, check the comments section below. A couple people mentioned the lack of apparent pattern in this music, and I wrote a reply that ended up being almost a full album review.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Deathcore I Actually Enjoy, Part II: With Dead Hands Rising

How do you make Gothenburg-style melodic death metal that isn't weak and boring? There've not been many satisfying answers to that question. At The Gates did it for one or two tracks on Slaughter of The Soul by actually living up to their potential as riff-writers. The Crown did it by actually being a really fast thrash band. Hypocrisy does it by actually being a death metal band. Amon Amarth did* it by actually being vikings. But they've all missed the obvious answer: just crank the extremity up to 11 and then drop a GIANT FUCKING BREAKDOWN. Turns out that works just fine.

This is also a good answer to the question "how do you write deathcore that doesn't suck?" Working in a more melodic style seems to have helped WDHR focus on the songwriting elements that make music truly heavy. They actually care about the fast parts, whipping off tight, thrashing riffs instead of blundering through a morass of pseudo-technical noodling en route to the chug. But get to the chug they do. Highlight is the call to moshage at 2:10. "LET'S BURN THIS MOTHERFUCKER DOWN!" Indeed.

Thanks to my bro/bass player Travis for showing me this tonight! Check out the "Get Into" I wrote on his main band Grudges a while back. (No bias. If my friends are in lame bands I just don't write about them.)

*edited at the suggestion of perceptive readers... new Amon Amarth does suck.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Heldentum, "Wildsaulied"

Just found this tonight in my eternal wanderings of Youtube, and thought it was worth posting straight away. Heldentum shared two members with Absurd, and this band seems to have been an outlet for some more aggressive material. Because it fucking rips. Headbanging thrash all the way with a fist-pumping break for some sick NWOBHM-style soloing at 00:23. They nail the heroic feel without ever letting the consonant harmonies become bland, adding just a hint of something darker on the riff that hits at around 00:13. The main riff at 00:23 is very clearly a place where they decided not to just repeat the classic phrase that opens it--they actually develop the idea. But the coolest moment, by far, is the grim majesty of the chorus riff that hits at 00:55. Oh, and those German vocals. So full of spite!

On "Wildsaulied," Heltdentum seem to be borrowing from extreme speed metal (Kreator) and hardcore punk (the Misfits) to create something that is most definitely true black metal. Rather than imitating other BM bands from the Second Wave or later, they've built up a distinctive sound "from scratch" by returning to the bands that influenced (or could've influenced) the genre when it was coming into its own in the early 90s. There's a more general point here: to create something new and interesting within an established genre, try inscribing your music with a sort of alternate history. Show us the latent possibilities that the founding bands missed.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


For reasons I can't entirely explain, I never really 'got' Ripping Corpse until about a month or so ago. I'd heard Dreaming With the Dead numerous times, but it just didn't click. Have you ever had one of those, "How in the fuck was I so oblivious?!" moments? I certainly did. I was pretty much sick and tired of every other death metal band one night, and decided I was gonna put Dreaming on my Zune for the drive over to a friend's place...

Holt shit! How was I so oblivious to Shaune Kelley's riffs? My god, these are riffs to die for. It's infuriating that RC seems to be primarily remembered as "Erik Rutan's first band" (and Rutan had little musical input anyway) and not as one of the BEST death/thrash bands ever. The riffs are sleek, sexy, catchy and complicated, but never lose their emotive and infectious feel. Brandon Thomas possesses a freakishly good drum sound, as well as very bouncy and tasteful approach to blasting. And then, the icing on the cake is Scott fucking Ruth. His hardcore-derived grunts and shouts are some of the most bad-ass vocals in metal; adding a charisma and uniqueness to the vocals that  makes this album that much better. Words are superfluous this time, just listen:

Deeper, deeper, in the woods they're found
Chanting, chanting, Cthulhu cometh now
Sacrifice, sacrifice, give it flesh they sing
Calling, calling, the lord blasphemy...

Review: Ljå - Til Avsky For Livet

A Norwegian black metal album that sounds more Swedish, and somehow becomes a really great album because of that. Ljå is a name that my eyes must have skimmed over countless times, yet the three letter Norwegian translation of 'scythe' didn't leave much of an impression. Not until recently; as it has actually become a new favorite. One of the most exciting and genuine takes on the Scandinavian sound of anything released after the turn of the millennium. To loosely describe Ljå's sound as the best traits of Taake, Sorhin, Kvist, and The Black fused in a way that is at once gloomy yet brutal is at once true, yet too-generalized. Ljå's sound is a natural product of equal parts Swedish and Norwegian influence, with some subtle idiosyncrasies that distinguish it from more generic marriages of Scandinavian styles. Though the frosty, melodic leads that characterize the Swedish trademark seem to give this album's sound tremendous strength.

At first listen, it seems as if Ljå's sheen of Swedish influence is interwoven with the moods and general atmosphere found in some of the DSBM (yes, the term is very dumb, but at least you'll know what I'm referring to here) scene. For instance, the gloom of Strid and Nyktalgia seem to seep through periodically, yet Ljå's music is original enough to keep itself from becoming too saturated with that particular sound. There's no denying that there is also definitely some thrash and heavy metal influence here - when the band resorts to the low end of the fretboard, the Hellhammer/Frost spirit really comes out. Through a keen tradeoff between icy tremolo leads and blocky, thrashy riffs, the band creates an album that in many ways hearkens back to what 'black metal' meant in it's early stage. It's nearly something from 1987 transplanted in 2006. And this album's fusion of past with present creates something familiar and original, but ornate enough in composition to really move the old-school influence beyond what it originally may have been. Progressive work, where subtlety is a strength, and specious philandering of ten-plus influences is never abused for the sake of proving a point. The songs being well-crafted, developed works, are strong alone in songwriting. It's how there's a peculiar sensitive aggression burning within these ten songs, that really gives this a fiery spirit all its own.

The musicianship is tight and the percussion is quite pronounced in the mix. The drum work is often fast and blast-happy - perhaps also being the single largest connection with the Norwegian sound on this album. The juxtaposition of the speedy, death-metal styled drumming with the pseudo-complex melodic lead guitar isn't anything terribly original, but it Ljå have a way of doing it where the mood approaches mystical yet brutal. It's sombre and dark without being morose. The thrashiness is the reason for that; rejuvenating their highly nuanced style of composing, where there is a well-crafted playoff between riffs, hooks and chilly high-note leads. The songwriting isn't anything too out of the ordinary; just the mere mix of influences and styles here creates seemingly conventional songs that are actually progressive and original; each one with an identity and character. No songs goes undeveloped here; it's a refreshing, creative display of new dogs doing old tricks well. One of the finer black metal releases of modern times.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In case you haven't been paying attention, Soulja Boy has basically become a genius

Okay, since you're reading this blog you probably remember "Crank Dat" and basically nothing else (and probably despise the very existence of the individual who made it on principle.) Well, I'm making this post to inform you that the shit that Soulja Boy is making these days actually sounds like the above track more often than not. Drugged-out, shoegazey washes of synths and light, distant percussion forming a gentle, ocean-like bed of music for stream-of-consciousness rapping to drift over in an equally airy, imprecise manner. Basically, black rappers are taking stuff from white hipsters and applying it to hip-hop and creating something utterly brilliant, beautiful, and enthralling out of the ingredients.

The above track is actually just one example of the rapidly growing "based" style of hip-hop (also getting referred to as "cloud rap" in some circles.) I'm super into it at the moment, and if there are enough weirdos who comment on this post who are interested in this development in hip-hop, I'd be happy to give a primer on the who, what, and why of it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fuck "darkness"

A few days ago Wolves In The Outhouse played a well-publicized, apparently wolf-themed gig with Chelsea Wolfe in LA. For those of you who haven't heard of her, Wolfe writes pretty standard singer-songwriter stuff reminiscent of that disgusting "freak folk" thing from 6 or 7 years ago, but she laces it with inoffensive atmospheric noise and some vaguely metallic electric guitar riffs, while shamelessly copping imagery from black metal, neofolk, and goth. Half a decade ago it would've been kinda weird for a solo artist, even one as painstakingly edgy as Wolfe, to play a gig with an extreme metal band, even one as flaccid as WITTR. But now it seems perfectly natural. Something is wrong here. Of course, I'm not at all against cross-genre performances or collaborations, but I'm sure as hell against what this performance represents--the scooping-out of formerly rich musical genres into hollow vessels for a homogenized, affected gloom that renders them all commensurable. How did this come to pass? I think we can get to the heart of the matter by focusing on one little adjective.

For the last couple years, the internet echo chamber has resounded with the flagrant overuse of the label "dark," as well as cringe-inducing synonyms like "occult" and "doom-laden." Hack critics and cynical culture salesmen bandy about variants on "dark" as a kind of catch-all descriptor for everything from extreme metal to hardcore to indie rock. They say it as if it actually told us something about the music. But nothing could be further from the truth. "Darkness" is such a nebulous concept that it's virtually useless. Mayhem is dark. So is Throbbing Gristle. So is The Cure. So is Tom Waits. So is Schoenberg. Of course, these artists exude completely different feelings, have completely different sets of thematic concerns, and work with completely different musical vocabularies. "Darkness" isn't an emotional affect, isn't an atmosphere, isn't a proper mood--it's a tone, a shade, the shadow of a shadow of a feeling. When we say that something is dark, we're saying little more than "it's not cheerful." Sure, there are times when it makes sense to say that, but writers who treat this as some sort of substantial statement about a band are fucking idiots, or really fucking lazy.

I'm not just ranting about bad writing, though. I have two concerns. First, all this babble about "darkness" makes a fetish of it. It's as if "darkness" were a real aesthetic quality with some kind of inherent value, as if its mere presence made music good. Eg: "Dude, how can you say Leviathan is for posers? That shit's so dark!" With this attitude holding sway, "darkness" has become a stylistic condiment to be liberally sprinkled on almost anything. Just look at the new roster of "dark-core" bands on Southern Lord. A few of these bands happen to be really good, and seem to come by their atmosphere honestly (APMD, Xibalba), but take a look at the rest. The Secret? Nails? Seven Sisters of Sleep? A couple tremolo riffs and some "occult" imagery on their merchandise doesn't make these bands anything more than mediocre screamo, powerviolence, and sludge, respectively. (SSS goes beyond mediocre. When I saw them live they lived up to their name, literally inducing me to doze off while standing up.)

"Darkness" has become a brand, a buzzword, something to be touted in press releases and in a body of critical writing that has increasingly come to resemble said press releases. Just head over to Pitchfork and read their new shit on Factory Floor--they work "dark" into the first fucking sentence, and it's prominently featured in the link to the article. When you read that a band is "dark," it's not just a feeble attempt at describing their music, it's a signal that the music is pregnant with cultural capital.

Second, lumping together disparate genres under the risibly nebulous heading of "dark music" disregards the fundamental differences between them, obscuring the distinct ideals and musical strategies that make each style what it is. Finding common ground between genres is fine, but it's folly to look for commonality in a pseudo-feeling, in an aesthetic concept so devoid of content that its embrace is all-encompassing. It's not just stupid, it's pernicious. Why? Because people start mistaking a trivial point of convergence between far-flung bands for some kind of essence shared among them. "It's all just about the darkness, dude."

That sure makes things easier for the dilettante. Black metal is "soooo craaaazy" and a real trip--if you just forget that it's a glorification of war, a religious invocation of Satan or Odin, and an expression of total scorn for the comfortable world of liberty and equality. Death metal can be great fun at parties--if it's just about zombies or whatever instead of graphic accounts of murder and rape. Neofolk is really nice background music--if, to you, the Algiz and the Sunwheel are just edgy "occult" symbols that you can't wait to purchase on some new Mishka crap.

Thinking in terms of "darkness," then, allows listeners to hear their own garden-variety malaise and rebelliousness instead of hate, bloodlust, elitism, nostalgia, total alienation, and any other number of genuinely challenging emotions and ideals. And then the trendy kids seek out worthless bands that channel the "darkness" without any of the cognitive dissonance or complexity. Even worse, they treat the music as a vehicle for dark vibes while paying almost zero attention to the music itself. Bands that can write songs are ignored. Bands that can pay a good graphic designer thrive.

Of course, this isn't just about "darkness," per se. My goal here was to diagnose a cultural disease--the reduction of strongly defined musical genres and subcultures to a single set of empty gestures--by working up from its most prominent symptom. All sorts of current musical and cultural ventures contribute to this flattening effect without necessarily using the word "darkness." If you're still not quite sure what I'm on about, there are some websites that embody it. Just take a look at Cvlt Nation or Actual Pain, or the aforementioned Mishka. And for the record, FUCK THAT SHIT.

The few, the proud, the tortured

As I said in my post about Wormphlegm, I'd be following it up with a post detailing a handful of torture doom artists who actually make good on their promises of sickness and overwhelming oppression. Most torture doom bands kind of suck because they don't understand the subtler elements of the music: developed song structures, unique melodic sensibilities, and a well-crafted aesthetic, all of which come together in the following bands to make that rarest of breeds: the worthwhile torture doom band. Note that some of these artists might not fall into the category of "torture doom" as some purists might describe them, but whatever; it's about a feeling, not a set of bylaws.


Senthil began, in my mind, as a pretty standard Wormphlegm-worship project. One of the first out of the gate after the torture doom concept exploded, they started off with the "Crypticorifislit" demo, which is a pretty listenable if relatively generic slab of torture doom that gained them a lot of attention. Unfortunately, they followed this with a split with Portuguese funeral doom band Bosque, who ended up greatly overshadowing them; their side of the split, in the form of the sprawling, two-part "Premeditation," came off as slapped together, overlong, and distinctly repetitive. After hearing this, a lot of torture doom fans (including myself) basically wrote them off as another failed attempt at Wormphlegm's unbelievable heights.

But this turned around significantly with their cassette-only EP "Septisemesis," which you can hear above. With this release, Senthil finally found their legs and broke away from the remaining similarities to Wormphlegm which still lingered in their sound. Senthil's style became realized as a potent, malignant breed of basement-crafted torture doom, more caked in filth and dissonance than nearly any other band in the style. While bands like Wormphlegm celebrate medieval torture and occultism, and others like Funeralium concentrate on drugged out depictions of nightmarish depression and insanity, Senthil decided to make the torture doom of the modern serial killer. Rather than a refined, clean sound, the music of "Septisemesis" brings to mind the sort of bloodscapes found in films like "August Underground," where innocent, unwitting victims are subjected to unspeakable rituals of cackling mutilation and humiliation, streaked with blood, cum, and shit before finally dying, slowly and painfully, in concrete cellars filled with rusty knives, fetish porn, and the ghosts of a dozen others past and future. It's an intensely real and disturbing style that truly brings a new face to the torture doom style.

(Plague is also a pretty cool guy. I still prefer his other project, Nivathe, to his better-known work in Senthil, but this tape is certainly worth a look.)

Planet AIDS

It's to the great misfortune of the doom scene that Planet AIDS only managed to produce a single EP before breaking up, but it's so fucking good that I'm willing to celebrate them anyway. Taking a very different tact with the torture doom style than most, Planet AIDS juxtaposed extreme funeral/drone doom with noise and ambient elements, with a distinct emphasis on electronics which helped to set them far apart from the pack. Their sole, monolithic work, "Apocalyptik AIDS," is a brilliantly realized one-track composition which slowly and painfully develops over the course of 28 excruciating minutes, with slow, thunderous programmed drums distantly pounding under a bed of feedback-soaked, maliciously dissonant guitar, slowly articulating more detailed "riffs" as the tempo increases, before the insistent throb of destruction and darkness explodes and dissociates into what sounds like completely improvised noise.

The real star of the show, however, is the vocal performance, which stands to me as one of the most remarkable in the history of heavy metal period. A ranting, dogmatic declaration from some sort of perverted and obsessive priest, the lyrics are taken entirely from the Book of Revelations, describing in dramatic detail the ultimate end of the world as we know it. When juxtaposed with the heinous, malignant music that slowly swirls and writhes beneath, what is designed to be a statement of God's eternal glory and magnificence becomes a hellish dreamscape of darkness, suffering, and the ultimate triumph of evil on the planet that once was our home. It's tough to get through but a very worthwhile piece nonetheless; I tend to listen to it two or three times a year, and each time it's as enthralling as the last.

Stabat Mater

The funeral doom project of Mikko Aspa of Deathspell Omega, Stabat Mater is a wonderful example of what can be done with torture doom's most traditional elements. Unlike many of the other bands listed here, Stabat Mater is extremely conventional, using the standard funeral doom tropes of slow, mournful lead guitar, static, pounding drums, and deep, cavernous growls- even the song structure of "Give Them Pain" is little more than an alternation between two main riffs. What makes it so compelling is Aspa's intuitive grasp of long, sinuous melodies and how to use the degraded production to the ultimate benefit of the music itself. Of course, the real centerpiece of this track in particular is the seemingly endless, utterly horrific sample of a woman being whipped and screaming in pain. It's not a loop, and Aspa's position as a publisher of BDSM pornography suggests that the sounds are taken from his own personal collection. The screams are some of the most heinous found on a metal track- wildly unhinged and alternately loud and distant, they often dissociate into a mewling, defeated whimper- perhaps even more frightening than the more obviously horrendous sounds.

Stabat Mater brings essentially nothing new to the funeral doom table, but executes the style so well that it rises head and shoulders above the rest of the torture doom scene. While "Give Them Pain" stands out as a particular gem in the project's sporadic and irregular catalog, most of the other material is just as good, with perhaps the most distinct apex being "Above Him," the sprawling paean of Christian defeat found on the 6-way "Crushing the Holy Trinity" split. While I think Aspa's output tends to vary wildly in quality, Stabat Mater is among his most consistent and worthwhile work.

Black Bile

Much to my chagrin, Black Bile doesn't have any samples available on Youtube for you to check out- which isn't much of a surprise, as the Cypriot project's output is limited to a 100-pressed CDr demo which sold out of just about every distro on the planet within a couple months of its release. Cut distinctly and unapologetically from a Wormphlegm-cum-Senthil mold, "Cloacal Meditation" is an unbearably creepy, basement-recorded exploration of the blackest reaches of human misery. "Cloacal Meditation" doesn't develop so much as wander, lost and alone, over the course of its 29 minute running time- I feel it's best described as the soundtrack to someone trapped in an ancient labyrinth of sewers or catacombs, desperately feeling along the stone walls in pitch darkness for any sort of exit. It's harrowing, filthy, and immensely hopeless, making it a demanding listen even within the already demanding niche of torture doom. If you think you can stomach it, it's certainly worth a try from the style's seasoned veterans.


Rounding out the pack is Bunkur, one of the oldest entries in the style who tend to take a lot of flack for their admittedly somewhat pretentious style. Omitting six-string guitars entirely for a dual-bass attack, many have described their style as "ultradoom," owing to their infatuation with the most straightforward cliches of doom driven to their most absurd conclusions. Bunkur is far on the droning side of the torture doom style, tending to smash a single riff into the listener's forehead for an almost interminably long time before changing things up. What makes them worthwhile, though, is their particular atmosphere; Bunkur sounds like World War I given a soundtrack, with the grinding monotony and horror of trench warfare represented by the equally grinding and horrific repetition of the music itself. While it's hardly the sort of thing a first timer should be exploring, there's more to their music than might first be let on- even if it arrives from there actually being less than nearly anyone else.

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Collapse In Eternal Worth:" ripping new Goatwhore song

I've always considered myself down with the Goatwhore, but never followed them. Maybe that was because they're on Metal Blade and are kind of "mainstream" for extreme metal, but hangups like that are ridiculous, and I'm glad I'm over them. What I heard off Carving Out The Eyes of God was devastating, and this is just as cool if not better. Despite being named Goatwhore and having a vocalist who sounds like he's puking, these guys play with real grace and agility, gliding between disparate riffing styles without ever letting up on the amphetamine hardcore groove. At this point you should all know that Goatwhore is grounded in vintage metalpunk, Motorhead and Discharge style, and I'm happy to say that foundation remains strong beneath the black/death/thrash riffing.

You will notice that this is a "lyrics video," and that's because this is music for shouting along. I have no idea what it means to "Collapse In Eternal Worth," but I'm chomping to "digest the archetype," and you know I'm always down for "filthy rites of outrage." The coolest moment of the whole song, for me, comes at 1:50, as Goatwhore change up the riffing and order us to "mount the wings of death." A horrible cliche to be sure, but as that epic thrash riff enters it just clicks, reminding us that some images are cliches because they're inherently awesome. I love that Goatwhore always have and always will stubbornly insist on writing about Satan and how cool he is and how we're all gonna jump God in some dark alley and fuck that dude up.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Looking back on Wormphlegm

This isn't quite meant to be a "get into" since it's less about Wormphlegm as a band and more a look at their historical importance in doom. I mean, yeah, of course you should listen to Wormphlegm- they're one of my favorite bands and have released nothing but essential work that any so-called "extreme music fan" should already be very acquainted with. But this is more designed as a retrospective of what they did in doom, and how they influenced the deeper reaches of the genre in ways that are still being felt today. This isn't about Wormphlegm's sound so much as how their sound sculpted extreme doom, so I'm going to be writing with the assumption that you're at least familiar with their work.

Wormphlegm were probably the first band to really make their bones in the metal scene via filesharing. In 2001, the band released their first demo on a 100-limited cassette, entitled "In an Excruciating Way Infested With Vermin and Violated by Executioners Who Practise Incendiarism and Desanctifying the Pious," which made its way around the deepest reaches of the underground doom scene (the Finnish one in particular) but otherwise made no waves in the greater metal community. It wasn't until an enterprising fellow or two decided to rip the tape to MP3 and start shuttling it around the various filesharing services the they truly began to find an audience. In particular, the turning point was Soulseek- when Wormphlegm's tape hit the Soulseek crowd (a few years after the demo had been released, mind you) things went fucking insane, and this is where the story really begins. Were it not for filesharing, Wormphlegm would likely still be a footnote in the doom scene, known only to the sickest and most depraved individuals out there- as it stands, though, they're nearly a household name.

Wormphlegm's demo tape essentially created extreme doom as we know it. Yes, there were other extreme doom releases before it and in theory many releases which came out parallel to it that weren't necessarily influenced by it, but let's be real: every extreme doom band out there today owes their existence to Wormphlegm, without which they would be completely different. The demo tape itself posited a style of funeral doom that dropped much of the traditional melancholy and beauty in favor of torturous dissonance and darkness, resulting in music that was far and away some of the most extreme sounds heard ever in doom (or metal, natch) without question. The tape is, of course, utterly brilliant for many reasons, but actually, like most seminal, formative works, has little to do with where the extreme doom scene would later go.

What many people forget about Wormphlegm's tape is just how ambient and droning it is. The "torture doom" style that many have suggested Wormphlegm to play (and form with the tape) has been suggested to be a sort of fusion of funeral, drone, and death/doom, but the drone and ambient elements come out stronger on Wormphlegm's demo tape than they do on any other torture doom release. In many ways, this makes it some of the darkest music that's ever been released in this vein, owing to the seemingly static nature of the music itself along with Wormphlegm's utter mastery of how to make long, winding songs which slowly unfold in a manner so deliberate and subtle that tracking their development is nearly impossible. Of course, this wasn't really the element which struck people the most- instead, it was the sheer cruelty of the aesthetics, in particular the hideously deformed and chill-inducing dual vocal performance which to this day strikes me as one of the most malignant and harrowing I've ever heard. I think that this tape still stands as one of the most extreme and torturous musical pieces I've ever heard- while it's over a decade old at this point, little matches up to it in sheer barbarity and brilliance.

This tape, or its MP3s at least, ushered in an entirely new era of extreme doom metal which essentially captured the attention of the doom scene entirely for the latter half of the '00s. Everyone and their brother came out with an extreme doom project- some good, some bad, but nearly all tending to fall short of the original. The problem is that most people didn't realize that what made Wormphlegm so essential and remarkable was the incredible songwriting and pacing of their music and how it bolstered and was bolstered by the extreme, raw aesthetics. This resulted in a lot of projects which captured the basic sound of Wormphlegm, but not the terrifying mood and memorability of their style- most of it ended up seeming sort of shallow, particularly since the simplicity of the elements at hand are so easily misinterpreted as a freebie to cult stardom (like most funeral doom) rather than a challenge to create something truly unique out of such bare-bones ingredients. While the demo tape created extreme doom as we know it, little extreme doom before or after actually sounds like it, making it a sort of "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" for the style- revelatory, influential, unique, and basically impossible to replicate in style or quality.

A half decade later in 2006, Wormphlegm released their first (and so far, only) full-length album in the form of the vinyl-only "Tomb of the Ancient King." Eagerly anticipated and quickly fired across Soulseek as soon as it got into the hands of a slavering audience, the reaction was extremely positive, but strangely mixed in its positivity. "Tomb of the Ancient King" was released in a very curious environment by musicians who were firmly aware of the influence of their earlier work. One of the things which makes Wormphlegm so interesting is that, despite the rather cult and underground trappings of their music, the members themselves are quite approachable and active in the internet doom community. Frequently posting on and having a somewhat hilarious tendency to pop up whenever the band's name is mentioned (sort of like saying "Biggie Smalls" in a bathroom mirror at night,) the members have proven themselves quite aware of their influence, and in some ways created "Tomb of the Ancient King" with a clear understanding of their position and the expectations of their audience.

(I'd like to take an aside to say that the Wormphlegm guys, despite the sheer insanity and horror of their music, are incredibly nice and humble fellows who are a lot of fun to talk to online! It's neat to see a band with such an undeniably dark and cruel aesthetic feature members who feel no need to play characters, and whenever they pop up, it's a joy to chat with them about what they're doing and the other projects they're involved in. Here's hoping they run across this article in a fit of Googling!)

In a lot of ways, "Tomb of the Ancient King" resembles what "nowadays torture doom" sounds like more than the band's original demo tape, but as a product of Wormphlegm, functions as a display of what more conventional extreme doom SHOULD sound like rather than what it is. The full-length jettisons much of the murkier, more ambient tendencies of the demo in favor of a more straightforward, riff-based attack which is surprisingly catchy and memorable despite the sheer brutality of its style. Most extreme doom resembles this more than the demo tape- a sort of blackened, ultra-heavy, oppressively slow take on stuff like Winter. Wormphlegm kicks it up a notch with their custom brand of wonderfully nuanced and layered songwriting, however- riffs slowly change and morph alongside the atmosphere, and where the vocals have been scaled back from their ostentatious display on the demo, the rest of the music has picked up the pace a bit to balance things out, making each track on the full-length a multidirectional and detailed composition which rewards multiple, careful listens with a sense of organic, whole songwriting rarely seen elsewhere in doom.

In many ways, the issues I take with torture doom (a term that, while somewhat silly, I've come to accept as a fairly legitimate description of the style) are the same as those I have with funeral doom as a whole (torture doom's arguable parent.) Funeral doom launched with bands like Skepticism and Thergothon, whose unique styles and brilliant songwriting helped establish funeral doom as a unique and fascinating entity of its own. Unfortunately, most of the musicians out there who loved these bands didn't understand the finer aspects of what made them so great, and ended up making simplified, stripped-down versions of these sounds that weren't nearly as revelatory. The component elements- simple, big riffs, slow pacing, seemingly static percussion, deep growls- were taken to be the sum of the music, missing out on all the subtle elements which truly made those bands what they were in terms of quality. Much of it has to do with mood- Thergothon's paeans to existential sorrow and the irrelevance of the individual in the face of the universe and Skepticism's mixture of melancholy and seemingly pantheistic glory in the study of mankind's relation to nature were replaced with what amounted to Peaceville doom/death's weepy, gothic self-pity. Similarly, Wormphlegm's crushing inevitability and demonic sense of occult victimization was instead replaced with simple, bland stories of rape, torture, and murder no more interesting than the average death metal album.

Like funeral doom, torture doom does have its share of worthwhile artists who carve their own niche out of an overdone sound- in fact, as the years have worn on, it seems that torture doom has slowly begun to distance itself from the plain Wormphlegm worship of yesteryear and created a fertile ground for unique, interesting artists- my next writeup will be a quick look at a handful of torture doom's worthwhile constituents. Still, Wormphlegm reigns, in my mind, as the king of torture doom, and a king of heavy metal in general, proving just what can be done with the musical elements that others so carelessly throw away.

Get Into: Catharsis (and Holy Terror)

If you are a straight up Metal Dude who has never really listened to hardcore, here's some shit that should hook you in. For the last couple days I've been completely immersed in the world of Holy Terror. Unlike beatdown or crustcore or powerviolence or fastcore, Holy Terror isn't really a subgenre, because it's hard to pin down why these bands sound different from anybody else playing d-beats and breakdowns. It's more of a movement of like-minded bands, and it all radiated out from Integrity during the 90s. While Hatebreed were perfecting a streamlined, punchy brand of jock aggression, Integrity were using some similar elements to develop music with a completely different feel. They worshiped Cro-Mags and Discharge, but also paid careful attention to the sounds and symbols of early extreme metal. Even on their first album, Those Who Fear Tomorrow, Integrity were beginning to bring the stark brutality and lofty drama that have become the Holy Terror aesthetic.

The name is derived from The Church of Holy Terror, a theosophist cult founded by Integrity frontman Dwid Hellion. It has roots in the Process Church of The Final Judgment, as well as the ancient gnostic tradition, and seems like a kind of Satanic re-interpretation of Christianity. Or something like that. But being a Holy Terror band never meant toeing Dwid's ideological line, or even sounding a lot like Integrity. What these bands had in common was imagination: Hardcore had been a rigidly prosaic genre of music, obsessing over politics, scene beef, or tough-guy bravado, but Holy Terror bands pushed beyond that, striving towards a kind of spiritual revelation. They wanted to create eschatological hardcore, not just bemoaning the coming apocalypse but actively rallying the troops for the final battle.

Of everything in this vein I've heard thus far--and there's still a lot more to hear--Catharsis evoke the most classically "apocalyptic" atmosphere. Their two full-lengths, Samsara (1997) and Passion (1999), are as grandiose as hardcore gets, and do pretty much everything a good metal album should do. Catharsis can hardly be accused of aping Integrity's monolithic thrash'n'chug. Instead, they raced through intricate, through-composed songs full of exultant leads and some pretty grim tremolo harmonies. Tracks like "Choose Your Heaven" have far more genuine melody than "epic crust" ever did. They did draw on the formal tropes of primitive metallic hardcore--the thrashing fast parts, the half-time buildups, the chug breakdowns--but these show up less as discrete musical building blocks than as fleeting moments within a torrent of rage pouring over everything in its path. They did some pretty weird shit too, like the last two tracks on Passion. "Desert Without Mirages" is a surprisingly convincing cut of brooding metallic reggae, and "Sabbat" is based on a sample of that wailing Mediterranean folk singing you might know from the latest Rotting Christ album or The 300. Totally pretentious gestures, especially from the perspective of the hardcore rulebook, but this is the kind of daring, outrageous stuff that makes music fun to listen to.

Their frontman, Brian, brings some totally bestial roars that wouldn't be out of place on a black-thrash album, as well as a strongly defined anarchist agenda. He was apparently known for long-winded preachiness, but this must be based more on his monologues between songs than the lyrics themselves, which often aren't overtly political. From the song titles and moments of intelligible singing, it seems like they're mostly about the destruction and/or subversion of Christian ideals. But I think his lyrics do have a political significance. My guess is that Catharsis have less to do with today's bullshit "be nice to living things" anarchy than with the explicitly Satanic anarchy of the late 19th century, when opposition to state power was cast in religious terms. The first militant anarchists saw how conservative justifications of state power drew heavily on old theological arguments, and aligned their war against the god-like Sovereign with a war on the sovereign God. For these guys, smashing the state was just part of a broader struggle to throw off millenia of internalized servitude.

Still, despite the fact that these guys were probably militant anti-theists, this is absolutely religious music. Filled with the wrath and jubilation of single-minded fanaticism, it's a fitting soundtrack to some ragged outland prophet calling down the doom of a decadent city. But for Catharsis, as for the other Holy Terror bands, spiritual experience isn't confined to the spectral "beyond" or its miraculous intrusions on our daily life. Rather, it's about a kind of material transcendence found in the violent ecstasy of the circle pit.

While I've become more and more interested in Holy Terror shit over the last couple years, I owe a big thank you to JGD of The Living Doorway for turning me on to more bands on this scene (including Catharsis) with his post on Ascension a few days ago. He's done a number of great posts on this stuff, as well as other strange and extreme relics from the 90s, a decade that's long been a glaring gap in my hardcore chronology ("Uhh... Converge? Hope Con? Refused?"). All the relevant Mediafire links are over there, along with some pretty hilarious write-ups. Here's Passion and here's Samsara. Check that shit out.