Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Saviour Machine - Saviour Machine I

Self-released in 1993
Jeff Clayton: Guitars
Eric Clayton: Vocals
Dean Forsyth: Bass
Samuel West: Drums

Shadows may follow the man
One thing is leading the others
Follow the veil in my hand
Nothing deceiving my brothers
Look into my eyes, walk into my vision
Drift upon the streams, enter vast dominions
Welcome to my dream

Heavy Metal seeks to impose a reality. Pathos and drama presented as a spectacle meant not only to entertain, but to ensnare the hypothetical listener. Though we defecate most of what we consume, something must linger, time after time, something builds inside and affects in such a way that we cannot be said to have a capitalist transaction with it but instead an uneasy symbiosis.

The curious thing about the many realities that live inside us is that as roads to awe, they return endlessly in on themselves. Though there are higher places they might lead to briefly, they are not real, that is to say, they can not be communicated as a reality, they cannot be made stable and they cannot be graphed. The wilderness cannot be domesticated. The ultimate end of romantic art is a vague sense of inspiration, for what? Towards what?

It is no wonder that when pressed for it, most listeners of extreme music (or Heavy Metal in particular if you prefer) cannot quantify what it is they take from the music. They often attempt to divert the argument by exclaiming how if they were to try, words would cheapen that unquantifiable "it" that they return to. Whereas this might speak as to the lingual limitations of metalheads (or modern pop culture consumers broadly), it also betrays that there is something there that is worth protecting, something that the speaker feels tenderly about and that they will take special note not to blemish with easy talk, a fire they will not disgrace with lesser offerings. Can the gods, in 2011, still be angered by impudence?

As I've mentioned in the past, Heavy Metal music is so potent for a certain breed of teenager introvert because it seems so insular, so determined not to be scrutinized by outsiders and those who are false of spirit. Whatever meaning and inspiration the young listener takes from their favorite Heavy Metal records, they must wrestle the ghost, their "summoned entity". Look on the cover of "Live after Death" and tell me if you can battle the reanimated horror on the cover for his secrets of life and death. Do you dare?

Heavy Metal is not an easy friendship. If it were a bond it would eventually be akin to that of brothers (as the Manowar-speak, for all its gross commercial application, is not chosen in error), for as brothers quarrel and antagonize, they are also tied with illogical bonds of blood. To discover the potency of Heavy Metal, blood must flow. Again I am reminded of a thread on a metal forum where a man of at least three completed decades was railing against some other, more Dionysian black metal fan, whom exclaimed they like their beers and pussy in their metal. "Such things have no place in metal" he replied sternly, wizard glasses pressed closer to his eyes, "it is only meant for dark occult magickal studies". Do you realize how much a person has to suffer for Heavy Metal to say this, straight-faced, to the world? How much his early experience of growing up and his interpersonal relationships have been colored by the solitary ingress that some undead beast on a metal album cover inspired?

If you wonder how metalheads can be at once so elitist and insecure, start by examining their priorities in their teen age, as compared to their peers.

The paradigm of the mad alchemist up in their tower, concocting strange mixtures they only when they have felt them perfected do they intend to make public is another one I often employ. There's a mad brilliance in going through all the trouble to make a dense, unparsable artifact of romance, drop it in the culture flow, watch it sink like a stone to the dark depths below and then exclaim with pride "many will drown for years to reach the beauty I have created, and this is just as well!". I've been listening to, writing about and composing Heavy Metal for what is increasingly more of a candidate to be described as a "long time" (you know this once you realize more than half your life, and certainly all of the life that was worth it, has been spent around molten steel) and at the above description my heart still resonates warmly. It is I, I will dive into the mirror pool and I will unearth your beauty, or I will willingly drown and be forgotten, that is my gut response.

I believe most artists are secretly jealous of their listeners who reach the closest to the inscrutable core of majesty that they have - perhaps - by accident conjured. You, the close listener and appreciator of Heavy Metal, are neither friend nor brother to the musician that has created it, you are an usurper. They will begrudgingly tolerate and accept you for your patronage, perhaps. And if you show some free-standing merit of your own they will call you friend perhaps, but be certain, romance is a cruel mistress, it yearns for holocaust. The mad lover will kill every suitor first and then themselves to slide between her thighs.

As love will die within the force
That drains is from the grail
She drinks the blood of prophets
And she drinks the blood of saints
Between her legs they crawl in torment
For the souls they lay to waste
Upon the altar, the sacrifice begins
The dragon takes another, and feeds upon his sins
To live and breathe again

I have argued that Heavy Metal is a solipsist reflex. What beauty is there that you found, you stole, so on. Capitalist terms can and have explained the transaction of such art. Where did you buy your first Heavy Metal record, anyway? Did you climb a mountain for it? Did you cross unknown lands? Of course not. However romanticism has a slightly different aspect to it that cannot be explained in the words of commerce, one cunningly complementary to the main thrust of pathos, the lust for death, that is so infinitely marketable. In order to kill one must create. The romantic desires power to affect, to shape the outer as a testament to the control of the inner. This world must burn, must be raised to the ground and then the destroyer shall rebuild it in great splendor. This betrays that the outer shell, so distrusted and maligned by the dark hearts dreaming in the darkness, now in their thirties and still dreaming of 'occult studies' in their small bedrooms while their mother sleeps just a cold wall away, is something of importance. The romantic desires the world to enter them, they desire for themselves to have a place in the world. They only way for the romantic to achieve anything, really, is through sacrifice. All art for them is a sacrifice, even if the smoke that rises to the night sky, heavy with the vitality of burned flesh is meant for an unfathomable shade, a spectral god that nobody can really identify, a symbol of the great self.

Come before the sacred heart and sacrifice the mind
Come before the silent invitation to the signs
Let us enter frightened ones, suppress the need to hide
Let us cross the river's streams unto the other side

Out in the distance of all time and space
As the Force of the Entity reigns

The process of creating art is in this light a process of diminishing the self, cutting off the offering to burn, and then instead of waste in dissipation (which, in lack of monetary returns, is the only way the Capitalist can describe the act of creation), the hope is of impregnation of the outer world. It could be said that the only reason society tolerates the mad shaman, the reclusive poet and the drunken writer of low repute is because in the end, in how they offer to their higher, dreaming selves, they offer to everyone else as well. The act of creation, even if meant in the narrowest egotistical sense, is inescapably a step outside the self. It is illogical as it is economically counter-intuitive.

Heavy Metal often is concerned with satanic or demonic forces and much is made of that. The most popular modern interpretation of what the impulse for bands to glorify dark forces might signify is comfortably capitalist. Praising satan, the light-bringer, is to praise individuality and personal accomplishment. All these satanic bands can be read as if they're rational egotists, effectively creating monuments to their own imagined greatness. If you can sell it, then it must exist.

Elements of this reading I've often endorsed and felt to be true with stipulations. However in discussing the curious case of Saviour Machine, a band often considered to be 'christian metal', I have to discuss how the exception underlines the rule. What if in the glorification of any higher force (as satan, or the old gods surely are) is more important than the identity of the entity and its ethical demeanor (if any)? Is there truly such a great difference between those that glorify Azazoth and those that plead for communion with the Pantocrator?

White metal and black metal, the difference can be argued to be an aesthetic. It is the small mind that immediately rejects one of two siblings because they are wearing the wrong colours, in the end they are so much alike. The impulse of both is the offering to awe, a minor transcendence that connects all living beings through hope.

Follow me in madness, follow me in fear
Touch me in your silence, rape me in your tears
Let the sea sadness free the chosen one
Legacy of horror, manifest the son

If there is a God that Saviour Machine are calling towards in their debut album, its face is obscured by the killing light, much like Apollo, much like the great devil, Satan, much like the visage of the sun itself. Tributes to the eldest of all gods, do they bring us together or tear us apart? Saviour Machine do not urge you to join a church, nor do they have any judgment of non-believers to offer. Their faith is in freedom itself, an existential teliosis. Their burnt offering cannot be described in commercial terms because it has not moved me to either endorse any superficial creed or belief system. It has only inspired in me to keep on living, to create in turn and offer what I can, hoping to unlock something of myself I dread to realize exists. It can be said that Romance, the most selfish of fervors, leads to this.

There's no ephemeral salvation here (if anything this is a tortured record) but an inspiration of more lasting impact. The language used is universal, the symbols employed can be understood by any man of any creed. The message is as clear as it has ever been: to find oneself one must risk, they must create, and to create one must sacrifice with no small desires of immediate returns, only that though many drown in the darkness of their ingress, the few will find a way to unearth their capacity, a freedom that has been given back though always possessed.

Without hate, without pain
Without suffering insane
Without death, without fire
Without lies that feed the liar
Without war, without games
Without fear to take the blame
Without fame, without power
Without drugs to heal the coward
Without violence, without rape
Without sickness, without plagues
Without judgment, without crime
Without hope, without time
Without two, without three
Without torture over belief
Bring us love
Let us see
Set us Free


  1. Welcome back. This non-alphabetical format suits you far better.

    This is a beautiful album, but I have had far less time with it than you. At the earliest, I think I might have heard it a year ago, possibly through Asides-Bsides. It never takes me long to fall in love, though, be it with a woman or with art. I found myself singing the lines as I read your piece. I decided to listen to it again while I thought of something to say. After doing so, I think the only comment I can add is that I have yet to see the freedom in it. Melody aside, Saviour Machine's lyrics are incredibly morose and foreboding. Theirs is a world where the leads are in conspiracy with Satan, and where crime runs rampant. I guess I'll try analyzing the lyrics once more from your angle.

    I wonder if there is a difference in Greek and Canadian heavy metal culture? For me, heavy metal exists in two contexts: live and recorded. Live, it's a world where the musicians thrive off of their fans. I'm not sure that there are nearly as many introverts in metal as one might be inclined to believe; I think rather that apart from a few odd guys (the one man black metal musicians releasing cassettes in editions of 20 as an expression of hatred against the world) metal is populated by people who are for all intents and purposes fairly normal. They play live because they feel the need to create but they also feel the desire for recognition. They want their music heard and they want confirmation of that. On a local scale in a city like Montreal (of which there are few), the bands will be fans of one-another, hang out and headbang at each others concerts, confirming to one another that they should keep acting as they do. They know that they aren't the greatest bands in the world, so the beauty of the local scene comes really from the atmosphere at those shows. In stark contrast to permanent recordings, each night exists only once and vanishes into the aether. I have more thoughts on this, but I'm not sure if this is the appropriate forum. Suffice to say that I'm not sure we're as weird as we make ourselves out to be.

  2. Alex, thank you for your thoughtful comment.

    As I suffered hard drive failure, I downloaded only a few records so far and this is the one I kept listening to again and again. I felt that's reason enough to drop the alphabet, at least for now.

    I've been listening to Saviour Machine for more than ten years now, so yes, I do believe there is a cry for freedom in its core that, though derived from the melodrama of their gothic-power metal approach, oversteps it.

    It isn't to say that this record makes me *feel* free. Not at all. It is that this record makes me feel a longing to be free, and the way it inspires me is to create so as to be free.

    A candid anecdote that perhaps explains this better is that when I was first starting out in making comics, I listened to this record a lot. Now every time I listen to it I have an itch to draw, it pushes me to create.

    I personally do not consider what happens in live shows to be directly relevant to what Heavy Metal is. I've been to many shows, I mostly leave disappointed. Metal scenes are mostly scenes and not very metal, they're concerned with what you describe above, existing as an end in itself. What I'm interested in Heavy Metal is very much transcendence, the step outside of the transient & ephemeral.

    I think people are not as weird as they make themselves out to be but far weirder than they understand themselves to be, if that makes any sense. We are pretending to be weird in aspects of ourselves that are very normal, yet we are very weird in aspects that we are unaware about.

  3. Regretting discarding your disks?

    For many bands, I think the live setting is absolutely integral to their art. This is certainly true of the obvious examples (Mercyful Fate, Mayhem but also Saviour Machine*). I realize that this is a result of our divergent opinions (I don't consider heavy metal to be as separate from its parent, rock, as most others do) and it may be because I was raised to appreciate the live setting. I've been to mediocre concerts, but I can appreciate what happens at a great one or even at just an okay one. I wouldn't separate that from Heavy Metal's identity.

    It might just be a matter of you not being able to appreciate what happens. Human beings are transient by our nature: the cells that make up our body are mostly doomed to die in the space of hours or days, and the very atoms of which we are composed are cycled. The only real thing that we carry from day-to-day and into the grave is our stream of consciousness, and our past experiences form part of this. To go out for one night and engage in a transient experience means we have achieved something transcendental, and these experiences do matter in the long run. When Cronos talked about being gathered in the worship of Heavy Metal, he was on to something despite (or due to?) being drunk. Even those not-so-hypothetical local musicians (who are often my friends) are engaging in it. They strengthen their devotion cultishly, I guess, but they amplify their passion for the consumption and creation of metal through their communion. End pop-psychology rant. Basically, I would say that just because it doesn't fit in to your version of what Heavy Metal is doesn't mean it's not a necessary part.

    I think I understand exactly what you mean in your last paragraph. It's certainly the case for me.

    *Check out this show review. There must truly have been something special that night. I realize that such events are rare, but they do exist and they are no less necessary for their transience.
    Link: http://www.tollbooth.org/creviews/sm98.html

  4. Naturally I've been to *some* live shows where there has been a summoning of something, an entity as I usually go on about. I'm just saying it's not often this happens and it seems like a bad investment to keep chasing that when I have the records and I can privately achieve what there is to achieve with them.

    Would I go to a Saviour Machine live show circa 1993? Yes I would.

    Would I go to a million of mediocre shows meant to feed a scene I do not belong in, so that people of mediocre skill and aspiration can feel better about their devotion to metal music? Well, no.

  5. I guess it's a matter of personality types. I often feel the need to go out and be social, so for me cheap shows have value. It's as much if not more about the people at the concerts than it is about the music. I can enjoy going out with my friends, getting drunk, and having a good time.

    Is this essential to Heavy Metal? I guess I'm still trying to figure that out (my last post was typed late at night). I need it, so maybe it's part of my Heavy Metal (if such a thing exists) but not Heavy Metal in general. I'll re-examine my thoughts.

    There is a distinction between the conjuration ceremonies and the standard concert, certainly. I've been to maybe 10 of the former, and probably less. In many cases, I've found that they're the result of one-off shows or very small tours. Vast ocean-spanning package tours are generally less worthwhile.

  6. I also enjoy going out with friends and socializing and whatever. I tend to go to non-metal shows for that so as not to be disappointed in the music, though.

    I am open to everyone's version of Heavy Metal, certainly that aspect - of socialization - could be a bigger part in yours than it is in mine.

  7. To me Heavy Metal is as much about inner conquering the outer as it is also about the tension between solitary and socialization. Both ways of being are hardcoded into our DNA and Heavy Metal feeds from not only these intrinsic motivations individually but especially from the constant conflict between them and uses it for it's own ends. Heavy Metal is a vampiric spirit which craves for more of everything and in the process electrifies everything you're willing to sacrifice to it.

    I go to about few metal gigs in a year and most of the time I'm satisfied. I pick my venues with care so that the bands I go to see mean something to me and most of the time they manage to throw a good show if not great. Then I let that electrified, alcohol-fueled warm bliss to take care of the rest. Also I love to sing a long when bands play my favourite songs. I think there is a strong feeling of sharing that what is me to other people who accept and understand it involved.

    I'm also relatively new to Saviour Machine. I first came to this album about two years ago and while I love it I am still not sure why, besides the obvious hooks and all.

  8. I wonder how much I'm missing out on by not getting semi-drunk for shows, heh.