Monday, September 20, 2010

Absu - Tara

Released in 2001 by Osmose Productions

Sir Proscriptor McGovern - Vocals, Drums, Keyboards
Shaftiel - Vocals, Guitars
Equitant Ifernain - Bass

"With warriors like these, he won victories wherever he went. . . the heroes of a legend never really die, and a hundred years was neither here nor there for the Celts. Their champions remained unfettered by logic and could even be reborn through the transmigration of souls."
- Jean Markale

An occult belief system hinges on willpower; What is in binding effect in life - according to such doctrine - is not a physical reality governed by positivist axioms, but a shared communal dream-vision which is mutable according to what our will makes manifest. Therefore, eschewing Aristotelian concepts of causality, the occultist chooses to believe in their cosmology not because it has been enduringly proven and tested in external reality (or indeed, because anyone else tells them they also believe) but because they seek to make it manifest through willpower. Believe in the bridge and the bridge may hold you.

As a thoroughly atheistic being, I've always approached the religious or occult aspect of metal with a grain of salt. I believed my nascent quasi-ideologies as a teenager to be informed by reality and I only trusted them insofar as I could see they were the result of what is loosely considered by leftists to be 'historical necessity'. It's a dry mind-world, that, in which believing in nonsense was merely believing in nonsense. Heavy Metal shaped me extensively, but I only acknowledged its influence on my gradual adoption what I now realize is 'magical thinking' very much later.

Occult metal itself is difficult to parse unless the listener follows a similar path and is familiar with the semiotics that are constantly referenced. As I have never involved myself in any sort of occult study, I never could. However I came to appreciate it through, curiously, Heavy Metal that I considered to be much different to it and free of occult ties. This Heavy Metal, I realized slowly, is informed by the same basic existential concerns that occult metal is and as such it proved a stepping stone in acquainting myself with the latter.

Metal music on the whole is preoccupied with internal/external tensions. The cognitive dissonance between what one feels inside and what the world tries to violently convince them really is. They tell you you go to heaven after you die but you feel inside that after death there is only worm-food left. They tell you to work hard and be humble to get ahead but you feel inside that this world should be yours and work is for fools. Metal music glorifies the individual and trusts on their high functions to see them through the perils of community. At the same time, it is very aware of the low animal drives in the human and glorifies them as well. Anything inside you is sacred. Anything the world tells you should be inside you is suspect. Metal music belongs to nerds and outcasts and introverts exactly because of its awareness of this duality. Whom amongst them has not, at an early age, felt the pull towards higher ontology as an escape from the perils of the flesh? Some read sci-fi and fantasize about a life amongst the stars (and very far away from the flesh). Others get into role-playing games where they explore their desires safely away from the flesh. Others get into occultism and summon intangible forces of lust and power. Others listen to Heavy Metal and dream of a world where willpower dominates, where those that suffer less, and therefore are equipped less to manifest their will, subordinate to their domination of the Grand Maligned.

Heavy Metal is one of many ways for those that fear intimacy to justify it to themselves. Fear of intimacy, self-loathing and unfulfillment are the world-wide symptoms of humanity. Metal offers a bottleneck through which to safely explore some aspects of an otherwise overwhelming reality. It educates on interpersonal relationships with fantastic inner constructs of 'the other'. If this is all starting to sound like occultry, well... All Heavy Metal is in effect, occult metal. The music album is, when profound beauty is captured, a small ritual meant to suspend belief in communal truth and glorify the inner desire of the listener. The metal musician is not giving the listener a gift with the album. In fact, any beauty that the listener may capture from the monument to another person's narcissism, has to be violently wrestled away from the source. Metal musicians make metal music for themselves and they seek to take energy from their audience. The audience that manages to instead take energy for themselves through the ritual of listening, are not friends or compatriots to the musician at all. They should instead graduate to making their own art eventually because the channelling is much more exact in this fashion. The progress through the ages of Heavy Metal can thus me illustrated: series of independent, slightly insane alchemists, publicising the results of their latest project as if to say “I have done it, fools! See what you can chip away from this monument, what you can wrestle away from this Gordian knot, if you can”. Those that drink the concoctions are not consumers (with friendly consumer rights and other such nonsense) they are victims. This is why owning 5,000 LPs doesn't necessarily make one a valuable source of wisdom on music. What they have absorbed and what they're confident to speak about because of their time with music, does. A collector anxiety doesn't necessarily lead to that. Metal artists secretly (or not so secretly) loathe the consumerist mindset and it's the source of much anguish that the more successful they become, the more they're tied to the whims of consumers. When you hear a metal musician say things like "We do it for the fans", nine times out of ten you should run as far away as possible.

People don't easily get over Heavy Metal once they get really into it, and those that never did will never understand them. One can listen to metal music just for the catchy melodies and rhythms for all their lives and not get it. Or one may listen to metal music for years without acknowledging the spell that is weaved when they get really into it. They might scoff at the ignorant manchildren that have taken metal to be something akin to a religion for them. And it is detestable on some level, to see grown men worship the artifacts of the self-discovery of other, bigger men.

But is it the worship of the artifact, or what it could mean that ensnares listeners? Heavy Metal doesn't make tidy sense. There's lots of unexplored corners in it. It creates an ambiguous space, open to interpretation but very catalytic to an expression of personal fantasy, desire, will. It's like a conduit. All Heavy Metal is what some mockingly call 80's metal "Dungeons & Dragons metal". It serves the exact same function as sci-fi literature and role-playing and all that: let's pretend my willpower shaped reality. What kind of world would that be? Those that graduate from listening to other people's metal to making their own are those that are the most affected by the power of this process. They told you you couldn't do anything of value in this life, but this music allows you to shape a world. Not 'the' world, but then, they never mentioned there are more than one worlds...

Modern living scoffs of one's desire to tyrannically shape 'the' world by willpower and force and for good reason. However it is the duty of the individual to the individual to realize that while his community will never accept his Quixotic fantasies, he must treasure them, glorify them, take them to their logical conclusion, inside. This is the only way for the fantasist to remain alive. Tearing out your fantasies is the same as cutting off your own head. This is why people turn to the arts, a pure creation space in which they may manifest in as tyrannical or gentle terms they desire, their own reality. All art is narcissistic and all human beings have a beautiful narcissus in their hearts, gazing at their warped reflection in the mirror pool. Listening to Heavy Metal is much more interactive than listening to pop music because the metal listener needs to wrestle anything beautiful away from the creator of the music, to make the entity the creator summons, their own entity. The telltale mark of this process is when the listener graduates to being a creator of worlds themselves.

I don't believe in free will. I do not think there is some metaphysical force tied to the physical body that I call 'Helm' which makes pure choices about my future. I believe completely and thoroughly that everything 'I' have done so far is the result of all the inner and outer forces that are applied on me, on which I have no metaphysical control. And given that these forces remain the same if we were to rewind time, the exact same sequence of events would have played out - and if not, it would be due to quantum irregularity, not because of my Helmghost living in my brain or my tummy or wherever. I don't seriously believe in the concept of self, even. Yet, I listen to and create Heavy Metal, a music that glorifies will even at the face of destruction.

It has taken me a long time to parse why. It seems what I believe and what I do are asynchronous but after all they're not. I do not have any choice but to find beauty in the idea that I have a choice. This realization has helped me immensely to realize that ideological systems are very petty things to which we retreat to out of fear borne of a challenged inner-reality. Neither is my positivist/humanist/leftist ideology nor my determinist bent in conflict with the high romance of Heavy Metal. After all, my fundamental existential beliefs, that things will be alright in the end, that my story will make sense and perhaps a contentment will be achieved before I die, are as irrational and fabricated like any the axioms of any occult belief system. I may have no god, but I have hope, and hope is always a thing of human sentience and magic.

As said before and will be said many times again: Romantic art does not lead to romantic act, I will never slay and conquer for my heart's love to thrive. I will instead, live communally as a member of a community. Inwardly I shal be, through art and word, what my lust desires me to be. Those that feel cheated by romance because it didn't make them into a god should readdress what it means a god to be. Heavy Metal is not a self-help book, it will not get you chicks and success in the workplace. If it is anything to do with other people, you've misunderstood it. They've got their own inner struggle going on, what about you? Heavy Metal defies you to tear from it any meaning you can. And like all art, it is a sort of therapy for it. Heavy Metal stabilizes higher belief (“try to find meaning in this”) while leaving the lower turmoil to rage (“fight me and slay me to achieve this meaning of yours”). Real life doesn't allow this, it tells you that your low impulses are ugly and you should always hide them. But the only way for the human to entertain high concepts is if their animal lust and desire that provides them the fuel for living, is glorified, is seen in all its endless beauty and horror. The narcissus longs to fall inside the dark mirror pool.

Today, I am callous
Tomorrow, I am king
Immortal, strong, exultant, and conquering

My song and my word are iniquitous
Gathering assemblies in days gone by

Fire burns with the Pillars of Mercy
My chariot races through saw-toothed hills,
And hurls through every valley and mere

Pillars of Mercy
Watchtowers collapse before the lift of the twilight,
I am swift in battle
My voice is heard

And Absu, oh, Absu are floating down there in the bottom of the pool. The vehicle of a Texan that has taken the name 'Proscriptor McGovern', they explore beautifully embroidered semi-invented mythologies which feed into their Occult belief system. Absu is a manifestation of an entity which Proscriptor both owns and belongs to, both worships and subjugates. That tension is volatile. Often Absu sound out of touch with any external reality, at other times they ride the serrated edge of demagogy (as in, I want to believe what they believe because it is so fervently expressed, not because it sounds correct - again, consider occultry) and at all times they are absolutely manic, raging in their self-worship. Imagine the dance around the ancient stone monument, the fever-pitch that it reaches, that is “Tara”. Are they dancing for their god anymore, or are they dancing for they've become gods? That fleeting impression is what Absu try to capture and prolong as long as possible, a cosmic masturbation beyond and above the concept of time and history.

Their vehicle is a curious middle point between old-school forms of Heavy Metal, full of power chords, palm mutes and ABCABCA riff structures, the linear drawn out melodies and screechy vocals that characterize the second wave of black metal and the infectious rhythmic backdrop of thrash metal. What does this all mean to the uninitiated? It means Absu on "Tara" hit the trifecta: the hooks are parsable and joyous but not to the expense of the romantic journey, and the savagery, it is endless and beautiful. A blooming, violent internal world to explore. Truly, very few metal records I've heard come close to the virtual expanse of Tara's landscape.

Blazing to their pikes
Turning to dust
Gusting with the wind
They dream of an older delusion

Reigning, raining
Dampening the empire
Their excursion burns with the ashes

Calm lakes mirrored
Glistening everywhere
They rove through the waters and fires

Silent seas paused
Enlightening low light
Their visions for imperishability

The weakened flesh
Expecting downfall
Their ashes spread through lightless, starless skies

The Eminence
Not expecting wind
They now think of a newer illusion

How did this happen? The morphology of this record is fascinating. The initial impression, as far as I can recall it from almost seven years ago, is that this record sounds thin, the drums too up-front at the expense of the guitars and the drum sound isn't that robust to boot. Also the singer had a lot to say. At the time I was coming from a mainstream metal background more or less and I had grown used to the uniform, sanded down and over-compressed sound of metal, so this took a few years of readjustment. But once it did I found a lot of joy in the jagged edges, for isn't a joyous life, brimming with violence and lust, a conception full of unexplained and unexplored edges?

"Tara" turns its seeming weaknesses in deep strengths: That the drums are high in the mix became justified once I started to realize just how much nuance there is to the drum tracks here (whereas the riffs are finely crafted but their form static). Proscriptor is not only the singer but the drummer and his choices on how to support the stellar riffing on display are worth much study. What this black/thrash mixture achieves, that neither ingredient on its own can, is a constant sense of propulsion through extended melodies. Black metal has the extended melodies, but it often relies on a rhythmic drone to underpin and mesmerize. Black metal of this type is a morphine drip journey downwards, through small deaths. Here instead Absu switch up the beat underneath the riff very often and always to the effect of something fast seemingly going faster, a tried and tested thrash metal technique. Where Absu show their brilliance and grace is in making their compositions - which are inherently riff-salad, there's not much harmonic movement here - cohere and seem linear enough to allow for fantasy and travel. A lot of thrash metal, in hardcore punk fashion, indulges on this or that riff for only a brief moment and then either starts again with a new one or ends the song. The sound of angst and discontent, to make an emotional parallel. Here Absu switch through great many riffs too but very rarely do I get the feel that they're stopping something, and starting something else. The deluge flows, and every aspect of the instrumentation contributes to this. The constant singing, which I once thought overdone, helps in this, and that the guitarists prefer the tremolo-riffed railroad melodies instead of more thrashy choppy guitar parts also lends linearity. There is very little empty space here and this record goes on and on, with no filler to be found.

That is the only criticism I have for this record really, it's too good to be this long. The senses are dazed after twenty-twenty five minutes of this assault. The second side of the record might not get the attention it deserves. I solve this by listening to the second part independently often, as well as generally listening to music in the way music is meant to be listened to.

The rest of my initial impression had to do with just how much the singer had to say in the course of the songs, and how much of it was impenetrable by my young mind. Well, I'm 26 years old now and I still can't say I've got a comprehensive grasp of the mythology here, exactly because it's so intertwined with what I guess to be Proscriptor's belief system. But it no longer matters to me to literally capture the intent, otherwise I'd be missing the point of this music. Tara is a record that most of all in my collection captures this feeling of a fantastic dream-world made manifest through sheer joyous willpower. And much like how in Dungeons & Dragons I do not want to be railroaded by the Dungeon Master into this or that path, I let my willpower dictate what this all will mean, what journey I will take. I do this in full knowledge of how Tara might not always let me do what I want (indeed the sound of battle and conflict is a defining aspect of "Tara") and that at all times, the journey will be finite, but for a time, believing in this bridge may make the bridge hold me.

I have made, for myself, a space within Time
I mutely descend to the cavity of my Cell
I am the furtive seeker ensnared Underneath


  1. Really interesting take, and the framing, with wholly appropriate (and well extrapolated) nods to problems of "modern living" and the notion of freewill.

    Tara's unwieldliness is its chief charm IMO. Always gravitated to bands that built their own systems and didn't admit listeners with open hands. Never willing to craft art that will conform to a "user's" apparatus, the artifact INSISTS that the user conform their apparatus so they can appreciate the art. That's a form of tyranny I can get with.

  2. Yes, exactly.

    I worry if I'm too wordy and if I take too roundabout a path to the subject sometimes but I don't think I can write in any different way.

    Heavy Metal albums wish to tyrannically subjugate the listener first and then have they wish for them to rebel and dominate. What other music does this?

  3. No, not "wordy." More at William James' "circumscription of the topic," which corrals the argument's object with a series of related pontifications...

    Other music that does that? First wave American "free jazz," AKA "Fire Music," viz., (late) Coltrane, (mid) Ornette Coleman, almost all the stuff on ESP Disk, BYG Actuel, etc. Also, definitely not a fan, but "Noise," especially the Japanese stuff, which is also equated to audial S&M: Merzbow, Massonna, CCCC, etc.

    Enjoy "Fire Music," but it's basically appealing to the "burn shit down" impulse that's running through my veins for 20 out of the day's 24 hrs. Plus, I'm enjoying it for the wrong reasons; it's angry music, angry anti-establishment music made by blacks who were railing against an establishment of middle to upper-class whites and a phalanx of music critics who thought they were collectively a bunch of squawking chickens; Dave Brubeck, who was white, had a PhD and clean-cut image, was the face of their "Jazz."

  4. I have very little knowledge on Jazz but I can believe it might work like you're suggesting. Noise music I'll have to counter-suggest that it's not trying to dominate, it's trying to provoke annoyance and disgust. Noise is about sickness, it's about showing sickness and asking 'here it is, what are you going to do about it?'. Whereas aesthetically, HM aims towards a tyranny of beauty and then, 'what are you going to do about it?'. In this way, HM has a classicist conceit (I shall awe you with godly beauty) whereas noise is post-modernist (shit on your face, how do you feel?).

  5. This article has already been helpful in constructing a slightly better understanding of the occult for myself. One I already had a grasp on, but I know it's a better hold now.

    This is also a band that has slowly grown on me. At first the sound seemed far too foreign, far too little variation and a far too complex lyrical field. Time and patience has allowed that outer shell to crack more and more revealing something truly enjoyable. Like you stated, coming to an understanding of how important the drum work is in relation to the guitar work is a real key to Absu. Which was not immediately grasped since most Heavy Metal does not have the same process. It also doesn't hurt to have now experienced them in a live ritual.

  6. Metal has definitely aided in the construction of not only my 'character'/identity but also my art, albeit of which is in a visual format (dare I plug?). While I find your analysis of energy being transferred from audience to the creator interesting, I gotta say it seems to me that over-participation by the fans is what has killed metal (at least as a community), and while participation of the many will not dissuade the few of 'maximum' caliber, the added clutter does make the more obscure genius harder to find. Then again this probably only applies to people who hope metal will provide a financial escape from employment as opposed to an existential one, or creating the art for any reason other than the art itself. Perhaps I am just a greedy, selfish bastard.

  7. Of course you may plug. You exist.

    I don't think there are/should be metal musicians for whom the expectation is to make a living off of metal; They are - and should understand themselves as - people who are hoping to make a living off of providing live music entertainment for people. Very much not the same thing.

    1. I don't think there should be either, which is what I was trying to say. Although if they are making a living off of performing metal music they are making a living off of metal, that is offset by however much life they put back into the art form/metal itself I guess. And as much as I hate to defecate upon this blog with self-advertising, the whore in me cannot resist. There is more in scraps, but it's all very old since I am generally too lazy to bother producing professional-grade work I could sell prints of let alone scan and upload them.