26 09 08 - 18:15
We got slowed up by the hurricane a bit, because when the power's gone and the water's gone, there's not much to do except kick back and play acoustic grindcore. But now that we're back online, here are this week's Sadistic Record Reviews, reaming the latest batch.
Metallica - Death Magnetic
We live in a world of hype. We were told this CD would be a return to Metallica's older form, something I oppose (why re-do the past? people want authenticity, and ripping yourself off is not it). What you get instead is a highly advanced form of pander. They sort of do the older style, by dropping to a muffled E5 chord, but that occurs between verses and choruses of their new alternative-metal-grunge-country style. There are surface attempts at extremity (squealy, shreddy leads from kirk, a few pick-ups and breakdowns) but they know their audience, and anticipate that they're thinking slowly, so it has the pace of a heavy metal record with a few brutal downstrums. The problem with such transparency in a CD it's that it's obvious to the pand that they're pandering, and so they make half-hearted attempts which mock good talent, notably in writing melodies that harmonize well between leads and rhythm guitar. If you find yourself enjoying this album, check over your shoulder, because surely an anal rapist is what's making you smile. As with all things Metallica since 1987, the melodies are well-written but the songs are confused and go basically nowhere, so you end up with a catchy chorus in your head and then a muddle as you try to figure out where that great clarity from their first album went. Avoid this turd of a CD. You will hear it for two weeks before you figure out what a farce it is, and then out of shame, will continue to pretend to like it, just like you did with those neo-homoerotic Pantera CDs a few years back.
Lustmord - [OTHER]
It takes one person in a room full of people to stand up and ask the question that shows the emperor's new clothes, unravels the ball of yarn, sends the walls tumbling down, etc. In this case, I have to ask: does anyone listen to noise music except as backdrop? Some noise, like K.K. Null or Maeror Tri, has enough musicality to suffice, but other bands, like Lustmord, Lull and Final, who most resemble each other, are droning passages to nowhere built on the dubious concept of "layers" whereby different sounds are stopped and started at different times, creating a perception of ongoing revelation without really going anywhere. I mean, Final for example had some great material, if you were alone in a silent place listening for a very linear progression from rough sound to the origins of melody, but even that was somewhat one-dimensional. Lull was fun to put on shuffle and put fans up to guessing which track was which, a task they always failed. Lustmord is another neat experiment that will be bought mostly for its novelty value. Atmospheric noise, some wind noise, a few hilarious crashes and thuds, then a guitar gently strumming the same three notes, all zooming and panning through a sonic space that seems designed more to distract us long enough to complete than to bring revelations. I know they work hard on this, and try to take it seriously, and I can see that in the end product, but I think that like postmodern literature, it's time to admit that noise as music had a few good basic concepts, but is an evolutionary dead end.
Auspicium - A Basilica of Black Stars
The introduction to this piece of later black metalwork takes after the Graveland "The Celtic Winter" introduction to the Gates of the Kingdom of Darkness, and then the demo launches onward into fast-strummed but slow-paced black metal with vocals cast upward like cats crying to an empty sky. Think of I Shalt Become and Xasthur in a feeding frenzy on the corpse of Burzum and you have the general idea, and this demo is comparable in quality to the better stuff Xasthur has put out. However, like most bands emulating the Burzum style, there is a lot of riding the drone and the harmony, and not enough dynamic change that makes enough oddball sense to inject meaning into each piece, meaning that we've got the metal wallpaper effect that reduces it to a soundtrack for any given thirty seconds of a mournful part of a forgotten Norwegian TV show. "Saltborne" launches this CD with a variation on the riff from Unleashed "Shadows in the Deep," but slow and fibrously ethereal in the way that distorted guitar can be made by those who want atmosphere. This song barely changes riff cluster (Unleashed-drone riff, dissonant counterpoint, and reversal) and does some "Det Som Engang Var" styled layering, with Ancient-esque Tangerine Dream-inspired lead guitars layered over it, toward the end as it is about to fade out, making it quite linear. "The Crane" has Swans-y drunk on a rainy day chanted vocals, but goes similarly nowhere. Something indicates a Black Funeral influence to this track. The final song doesn't massively deviate from the formulae enumerated above. Better than average / not enough that others will radically notice / we know you know how to write black metal, but what do you have to say with it?
Behexen - My Soul for His Glory
This sounds like Sodom around the time of M-16 put their brains around writing a black metal album, combining the uptempo Burzum moments with the plodding rhythms of Darkthrone, yet keeping the surging riffs and pumping syncopation of later Sodom. The first song does its take on the Burzum rhythm from "Det Som Engang Var," complete with the dissonant harmony toward the second half of the song, but it goes nowhere we the adventurous want to go. Instead, it returns its energy to a loop from which it cannot escape. Where this album really shines is in the riff judo department, where it keeps up high energy like Angelcorpse and Merciless in a cage match. They should really stick to this and leave the black metalisms to others, because here, they don't particularly complement the music. This band should just go retro-speed/death and call it a day. Like most things in life that are good but not good enough to search out, this album's about a B and will amuse the upper quadrile of human intelligences for up to a week. These songs start with riffs that would make anyone want to fight but then drop into Abyssic Hate styled three-note Burzum-ish dirges, and then trail off. They are competent at fast three-chord rippers, and derivative with everything else. I would like to like this. But it would be hard to see it as having any permanence, even if it is a competent continuance of technique.
Cancer Bats - Hail Destroyer
Throw Hatebreed, Pantera and Motley Crue into a think tank and have them come up with an album to motivate street snipers to resistance, and it would sound roughly like the Cancer Bats. It's catchy, and chorusy, but just where you think it might get stupid some structural variation bursts forth with enough power to surprise you. One of its better innovations is what I'm calling the chorus majora
, which is where a verse/chorus structure expands into another type of chorus, one that restates all its principles in a harmony of disharmony. Vocals sound like metalcore stalwarts Meshuggah or The Haunted, but there's more punk in the rhythms and riff structures, which makes it less of a battering ram preventing you from even thinking about the music playing. It probably will not fit a metal audience since riffs are too close to known archetypes, but might please fans of Superjoint Ritual or later Cathedral.
Helms Alee - Night Terror
As the new gold rush for the music industry, superseding hip-hop which was our last hope to escape the stale hipster repetition of freaky new same old from rock music, post-rock is a new age and yet still undefined enough that people can have fun playing with it. Unlike too many other bands to count, Helms Alee have not forgotten that "to play" music means "to play," and they have created here a fun hybrid of Maudlin of the Well, King Crimson and older Filter, something that rocks and then breaks into pure chaos, through which it finds a non-linear path to resume its linear rockin' along. Insouciant female vocals, buttermilk in a warm tinged with a yet unrealized sourness of outlook, waft through the music like dancers dodging night porters in speakeasies. Chaotic, deconstructed, it tries to leave us behind, but then comes back like a boomerang, needing to be heard even in its total secession from reality. This CD has an obsession with strategically placed silences and elision-as-transition which sometimes reminds me of 90s aggro-pop bands like Joydrop or Medicine. I liked this, even if it isn't my style of regular listening, and if only postmodern prog rockers will really "get it" enough to get the logo tattooed on their flesh. It's probably the best of this batch, living up to its starkly artistic cover.
Elite - We Own the Mountains
Very reminiscent of later Darkthrone, around the Total Death era, or perhaps some of the middle-period Gorgoroth and Ancient material, this CD attempts fast black metal with an explicitly melodic but not rockish outlook, and achieves that fairly well for a solid but not exceptional album. Variations on riff patterns from many years of underground metal appear here, used to great effect alongside droning bass, in a high-speed attack like a black metal version of Centurian or a melodic version of Angelcorpse. It is basic; it is not profound; it is compellingly rhythmic; it is better than most doing this style. What is solid here is the tendency to write in the old school style of verse/chorus interrupted by interludes and transitions, and its ability to maintain speed and energy throughout without becoming redundant anger like some of the past bands attempting this aesthetic. Like many early Swedish melodic bands, Elite develop a simple theme early in the song and repeat it with layers until the song ends, which gives the song a certainty that other styles lack, but also locks this CD in one dimensionality.
A Storm of Light - And We Wept the Black Ocean Within
So if later Corrosion of Conformity and Skepticism were traveling to a gig together, and got thrown into a Vulcan mind-meld, this might be what it would sound like. Droning but artsy, it is Pelican as informed by underground theatrical metal from Therion through Agalloch, more indie than metal but just when you think it is going to veer into R.E.M. territory, it surges back with a metallic power in the conflict between its riffs. Like Skepticism, A Storm of Light know how to set a scene with keyboards and guitars intermeshing as a fuzz which finds harmony only in its most disassembled soundwaves, but like more modern bands they are able to bring their audience to a core handful of rhythms and riff shapes that are repeated despite interruptions. Like Neuraxis, this is a break from the worst of the *-core (metalcore, deathcore, mathcore) in that it aims for continuity -- even if glaringly simplistic -- where others try to keep the chaos in motion as a way of, like riot bullhorns shouting slogans, suspending our ability to think and judge while we nod our heads. This CD will appeal to post-rockers and indie metallers most but shows a better understanding of metal than most of these Only A Sentence Is Enough type band name bands.
Diocletian - Decimator
It's a good season for Thergothon- and Skepticism-inspired doom, probably spurred on by Sunn-goatse who took those and Winter as inspiration, and Diocletian mixes that into death/black of a NYDM-inspired variety. This trudges. It drones. It holds chords and then returns to its original impetus. Then it explodes into racing high-hat blasting mayhem with undertones of melody. It does this again and again, with jazz-like drum commentary in the background. It adds death metal passages and hints of black metal in the chording of its faster complements. There is some promise in the tendency to use bass to provide countertheme, and in its ability to manipulate tempo, but the whole enchilada is not yet ready. Its sense of tempo is reminiscent of Incantation, and its songwriting, of Emperor, but it frequently falls into a rapidly devolving mess. Clearly thought has gone into this work, for which I'm grateful, but it needs more development and more clarity for it to have a personality, a character, as makes classic albums distinctive.
sBach - sBach
Some will call this post-rock, I'll call it postmodern rock or postmodern hard pop. Using sounds collaged from daily life, including video games and telephones and machine noise, sBach make quirky and playful pop that has a metal/hardcore sensibility in how it handles dynamic change. Warning: many of these sounds are irritating, annoying, even, and like a good postmodern novel, it's a chore to get through, but every bite is packed with inventiveness and a sense of ludic absurdity that enjoys mocking the seriousness that shakes its fist at it from the sidelines of rock'n'roll pretense.
US Christmas - eat the low dogs
What is post-rock? It's rapidly becoming rock, and in the meantime, there are bands trying to stake a place in the hybridsphere. If you ask this reviewer, post-rock is ambient rock music, with the drums set back and the standard pop format put on hold; it's like what emo should have been but got sidetracked into buttery self-pity instead. US Christmas takes a straightforward approach informed by indie-alternative in the 1990s style, mixing at atmospheric Pelican-styled drone with Burzumish lush harmonization and Iggy Pop-styled naked whipper vocals. There is not enough dynamic change for metalheads, but a good use of harmony that calls to mind Agalloch or Kyuss, and Motorheadish rhythms that just about anyone can enjoy. Like all post-rock, it blends in a good deal of acoustic and instrumental breakdowns, which is one way this rises above the hordes of post-rock that are arguably just upgraded *-core bands with more drone and emo vocals. Sometimes this reminds me of the second and third Danzig albums, attempting to write an epic song that anyone can toe-tap to, but there's a good deal of atmospheric lead guitar noodling that reminds me of the second Carbonized album or the later tracks from the Repo Man
soundtrack. This CD is as much alternative as post-rock, but in doing so, it presents one way for post-rock to get out of the *-core ghetto which keeps it from developing any harmonic structure of interest.
Withered - Folie Circulaire
This band takes the current state of underground metal, gives it proficient riffing and the kind of musical knowledge one gets from studying songwriting, and just about gets away with a very subtle indie influence underneath the kind of underground classic study that can only come from those who love it. Reminiscent of a slower, more musical Fallen Christ, this band throws in the riffs and stops short of making a true salad of them, preferring to return to melodic chord progressions for choruses and to round out their music with instrumental flourish. It holds together well, but does not in the contrast between steps reveal enough in negative space to convey an idea in the underground style, making me think these guys should take the Acid Bath or Superjoint Ritual path and write rock songs with metal riffs, as that lends itself more to their harmonic style. Although it would be more repetitive and less densely riff'd, the album would end up being a triumph because this style of riff is still terrifying to that audience. In the meantime, this technical death/black metal is enjoyable, highly competent, and while nothing new unpainful to listen to unlike the recent raft of new stuff from the "true underground" camp.
10 09 08 - 08:35
From the book Blake and Goethe: Psychology, Ontology, Imagination by Martin Bidney
For Goethe as well as for Blake, fruitful competition between opposing forces is the law of life in both mind and world. The contraries are mutual opposition, but their creative tension is the life-giving power that paradoxically unites them. As Goethe says in one of the "Talismans" from the "Singer's Book" of the West-East Divan:
"Im Atemholen sind zerierlei Gnaden:
Die Luft einziehn, sich ihrer entladen.
Jenes bedrängt, dieses erfrischt;
So wunderbar ist das Leben gemischt.
Du danke Gott, wenn er dich preßt,
Und dank' ihm, wenn er dich wieder entläßt."
("Talismane" II. 17-22)
[In the act of breathing there are two gifts of grace: taking in the air and being relieved of it. The former oppresses, the latter refreshes; life is so wonderfully mixed. Thank God when he burdens you, and thank him when he sets you free again.]
Or, as Blake puts it: "Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence" (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Pl. 3). Contraries are crucial to human existence, and evidently to cosmic existence as well: the concepts of attraction and repulsion had been given prominence in the intellectual world of Blake's day through the influence of Cartesian and Newtonian science. "Without Contraries is no progression," no life in mind or world, is what Blake means when he says, "Opposition is true Friendship" (MHH Pl. 20).
We find in both Blake's and Goethe's visions of creativity in mind and cosmos a kind of breathing motion, what Erich Trunz calls "Emanatio and Regressus," emanation and return. In a passage from Conversations with Eckermann (11 April 1827) Goethe develops this image into a powerful reverie:
"I like to think of the earth with its circle of vapors metaphorically as a great living being, which is engaged in an eternal inhaling and exhaling. When the earth inhales, it draws to it the circle of vapors that approaches its surface and thickens into clouds and rain. I call this condition the water-affirmation [die Wasserbejahung]; if it lasted inordinately long, it would drown the earth. But the earth does not permit that; it exhales again and sends back up the water vapors which spread into all the spaces of the high atmosphere and thin out to such an extent that not only does the brilliance of the sun cross through them, but the eternal night of endless space is seen through them as a fresh blueness. This condition of the atmosphere I call the water-negation [die Wasserverneinung]."
What Goethe calls the earth's affirmation and negation of water is an instance of what Blake would call "Attraction and Repulsion." In the nonhuman universe, Goethe sees no need to distinguish between destructive negations and creative contraries... All contrasts in nature are part of her breathing; one feels that life and death themselves are, by implication, another manifestation of an eternal cosmic inhaling and exhaling.
When distilled philosophically, moral absolutes are simplistic visions of the world in that they fail to grasp the natural mechanism of the whole that relies on the interactions between opposing forces. Good and Evil, Life and Death, War and Peace -- these are dualisms in which we've taken the superficially pleasing force and converted it into an absolute without realising that the opposite is required for the maintenance of a higher force. Although life is pleasant and we would hate to see those that we love die, death is necessary to allow new life. The dualism of Life/Death is transcended for a higher purpose: growth.
Black metal hails the realisations of such thinkers as Blake and Goethe by bringing into focus the denied aspects of these dualisms and praising their functions. Black metal was responding to an age where this rhetorical absolutism as derived from Judeo-Christianity saturates all sociopolitical discussion, aiming to bring a sense of holism echoing the thoughts of the Romantics and of an even older pre-Christian Europe where what was natural was more important than what was pleasant (good) or unpleasant (evil). Darkthrone emphasised the dark, cold, and evil forces that create impulsive, Dionysian passion within us. Immortal constructed a fantastical world of Winter storms and epic battlefields. Emperor created works which brought struggle and chaos into a sense of a majestic order. Most of Burzum's work used fantasy to force us to dream of realms where the presence of exciting aspects that have been utterly denied in life leave us feeling that this concrete, absolutist world is boring and mundane -- perhaps even dead -- and forces us to question whether we live in an age of progress or whether the holistic ancients really lived in a greater, natural, more Human age:
Between the bushes we stared
At those who reminded us of another age
And told that hope was away
We heard elvensong and
Water that trickled
What once was is now
All the blood
All the longing and pain that ruled
We are not dead
We have never lived
-- Burzum "Det Som En Gang Var"
06 09 08 - 08:39
Musical tastes and personality type are closely related, according to a study of more than 36,000 people from around the world.
The research, which was carried out by Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University, is said to be the largest such study ever undertaken.
It suggested classical music fans were shy, while heavy metal aficionados were gentle and at ease with themselves.
"One of the most surprising things is the similarities between fans of classical music and heavy metal. They're both creative and at ease but not outgoing."
One website for some time has been telling you about the relationship between metal and classical: this one.
Ever since we formulated our theories back in the formative years of 1988-1991, we wrote about the synchronicity between metal in classical in mood, in outlook, in music theory, in song structure, and most of all, in type of songwriting -- the narrative circular composition that is shared between both classical and metal.
Everyone else told us we were nuts. Then out of the woodwork, came help -- Bathory speaking of a classical influence, Burzum mentioning it, Celtic Frost speaking of it, and so on.
We've been right and everyone else has been looking in the wrong place. But as more evidence comes out, the position becomes clearer: it's heavy metal that inherits classical in the popular music realm, thanks in part to its prog and movie soundtrack heritage.
Keep spreading the word.
02 09 08 - 07:21
Whitechapel - This is Exile
I had a flashback to the early days of 1993. Death metal had just about peaked, and many people were looking for the next big thing -- in terms of style. Brutality was the catchphrase, and since millions of American kids had just rediscovered early Napalm Death thanks to a desperate search for the roots of underground metal, new bands were popping up that promised to be more brutal than before, usually by playing much faster and eliminating all melody. This flashback was prompted by hearing the hype about Whitechapel in one ear, and the reality played in the other.
Cycles repeat because there are usually relatively few different options in life, but infinite ways to pull off the winning option. After death metal croaked and black metal blew itself out, the usual retro cycle came in, where the remnants of the last decade are swept into a dustpan, recombined, and out comes the "new" solution. What has happened in the merging of metal and emo, pop punk, alternative and new hardcore is a lot like what happened in 1983 when the first thrash bands formed: metal riffs in punk song structures. But punk has grown up, gotten more technical, and in order to justify its dystopian nature, has taken the aesthetic from 1960s protest songs -- jarring, slightly dissonant, poignant bittersweet, etc -- and blended it with technicality, creating what I refer to as The Cinema of Discontinuous Image. Much of this is the influence of MTV, which specialized in videos in which rapid cutaways from radically different imagery were seen as desirable; these later influenced how Hollywood films dialogue, so it's not inconceivable they influenced metal. The new hardcore is technical, melodic, and like carnival music in that it moves between ludicrous extremes without building continuity, because being deconstructive is its political fashion.
Whitechapel isn't alone in being part of this new genre -- let's call it metalcore -- that embraces many variants, some as "death metal" as the recent Behemoth CDs, and others as punk as Fugazi but obviously more mile-a-minute. Do people ever get tired of hearing the next most extreme thing? They should, since this stuff isn't extreme; it's sped up, and not in any meaningful way from the first Morbid Angel album. It's like shredders showing off without knowing how to write songs, and since its basic concept of being protest deconstructive is fundamentally opposed to the ideas of songwriting anyway, this music ends up being a random pile of stuff that's hard to play mixed in with stuff that, like Meshuggah, sounds hard to play until you realize it's rhythm noodling on a chord. Whitechapel lives by this variation, where fast scalar single note playing is followed by five-position power chord shred riffs, and then the song collapses into some percussive geometries from the E chord, then repeats with keyboards added, this time. Songs build up to a peak frenzy, and then just end. Nothing is learned, nothing is created, but it has political authenticity -- comrade Stalin is pleased! -- because it is deconstructive protest music that emphasizes the following tenets: life is terrible, there's nothing we can do, give up now, wail and whine instead of doing anything, it's not my fault, it's not your fault.
The synthesized faux death vocals don't help either. I can see how this CD would impress someone new to the genre because it tries to "break barriers," but these are all stylistic. It has nothing to say except perhaps to add on to The Brat Manifesto, which is a giant scroll containing all of the justifications created by the human species for doing nothing about its problems, personal or collective. Whitechapel screams out a kind of fetishism with child abuse, poverty, self-destruction and failure, because these excuse the heavy weight of having to take on life. Hint to Whitechapel: all of the great bands became great because they took on that heavy weight like a charging bull and found a way to convert it into positive enemy, like inverse aikido where the attack ends up converting his own momentum into a throw of his hapless prey. You, on the other hand, have run from it, and that is why you are this season's trend and tomorrow's ash on the wind.