Monday, August 8, 2011


I appreciate a band who has the gall to print their name
and the same title of the record twice on their cover

1984 Roadrunner Records
Lord Petrus Steele (R.I.P. 2010) Vocals / Bass
Keith Alexander (R.I.P. 2005) Guitars / Vocals
Motherfuckin' Louie (still alive) Drums

It is not true that humour has no place in Heavy Metal music. What instead will forever stand outside its range is levity. Weightlessness, the feeling of suspension from one's sense of reality (and fantasy is the reality of the solipsist) is anathema to those concerned with the pressure of gravity, the inner pull to personal truth and eventual self-destruction. Trapped in the killing vector of the black hole in the center of the universe, in the endless time in the in-between, this twilight, radioactive half-life of distance do you have time for petty jokes, fool?

Of course not. You are cursed. Levity is for the children (as opposed to the wisest of all: teenagers!) that have yet to realize they are alone. They the cursed make curious art instead, ironic in the sense that they are underpinned by the lack of underpinning, the aesthetic of suspended animation. The only thing worse than being a child is being a man-child, the product of arrrrrreeeeesssted development. Heavy Metal is often accused of this, what with dragons and skeletons and blood and guts, but how the morbid joke at the chaos core of romance is comfortably sidestepped: Heavy Metal is in on the joke, but the joke is a heavy burden, man.

Levity doesn't belong in Heavy Metal, but sadness shall prevail. Heavy Metal is hilarious, life is hilarious and then you are born dead, you traject and you die. Close your eyes and consider the vast darkness of the universe. No, seriously, do it. If you cannot, this ceremony is not for you, you are just a bystander writing a critique of a critique. You are unwanted. Wimps and posers please evacuate the premises. The rest of us (me), eyes closed, blackness in mind, add the counterpoint: A black star in the sky pulls everything towards the center, slow crush. We (I) are a tiny nothing compared to this vast force, yet we resist. Where does the power come from that keeps us upright, why this lust for continued existence, why not give in to gravity and crumble into nothing? Because. It's hilarious, isn't it?

That's the morbid joke in the center of this American proto-thrash band named Carnivore. You probably know them by a different name and you probably took them more seriously than they ever intended to be taken under that secondary guise but that's not really very important at this point in 1985. The sideways vagina dentata on the cover of this record grins, because all Petrus Steele had to offer the world really has been achieved on this debut. Another sad joke, isn't it, to peak so early, before you even get your shit together. Then you put out more records and you're more successful, but you know the deal inside: it's all diminished returns. Then twenty years later you're doing live one-offs back in the ol' Road Warrior getup to recapture the essence of that first, killing joke. You traject and you die.

But enough about death (for now, always, for a time). This record is about fear of death, ergo, life! Here's a joke: this record is basically akin to a jazz record where the band is reinterpreting jazz standards, only with Venom as jazz. Such irreverence! And like that one jazz record most music nerds hold in high regard, I like it more than the source material. Recombination wields strange glamour some of the time. There really isn't much to say about this record from a morphological standpoint, not because it's not well made (it's actually quite perfectly done, this is the Poetry of Subculture, and these are one hundred records after all) but because what's on offer is already a bit passe by 1984. Metallica's just about to release Master of Puppets but they've already peaked with Ride the Lightning a year earlier and that record sounds absolutely sci-fi compared to Recombinatorial-Venom on display here. There are however a few - very funny - musical innovations worth reporting here, and so I shall report, although they wound the high-concept flow of this piece. If for no other reason than because they wound the high-concept of this piece. It's hard not to get snarky when writing about Carnivore. It's hard not to bite into something, that is. What's available most readily usually is one's own flesh.

Morphologically, this record is not very much about riffs, it's about changes. This comes from Venom, and through them from earlier forms of rock and roll. There's a vital power in singing two bars over E chug and then going to the fifth for another two bars, alternating between hell and earth (heaven, the octave, as is funny and proper, is absent). Carnivore play very fast and there's a lot of double-bass but underneath all that they're on the Kill 'Em All stage, their music is naive. The glaring exception to that mode is their slower passages (punctuated by cowbell, of course), where their Black Sabbath worship can easily be spotted. That aspect of Petrus Steele would be explored so very thoroughly on future offerings, but on this debut it's a rare occurrence, rare enough to be a punchline. As any great comedian, they know that the vital humours are excited by sudden variance, by the illogical. It's funny when someone trips and eats gravel because human beings are supposed to walk upright and to not make such simple motor mistakes, you know? Likewise for a raging thrash band to bridge from their raging thrash to a chorus of "God is dead" while a cowbell and Cure-like-clean guitars chime in, is illogical. It's funny, but it's not a joke. Even morphologically, Carnivore are all about this effect. The constant double-tracked vicious vocals of Petrus Steele (rolling his r's all the time, of course), mixed high and pulling heavy duty on narration sound less threatening and more like a character because well, they are a character. But if all you can do with this character is laugh at it, you idiot, you're laughing at yourself and you don't even know it. You're already dead and you don't even know it.

Here's some psychomusicomorphology and I'll burn in some music-critique-hell or another after I realize-I'm-already-dead for it, surely. This record feels uncomfortable sometimes because it's too well-played. What I mean about this is that I get this curious feeling when I listen to it that the leader of the band (possibly Petrus Steele, but it'd be funnier if it was someone else, like Louie the drummer) seems to be pushing everybody else too much. There's so much effort here to make the double-bass line up with the rhythm guitar chug, so much attention paid to make the record sound not-sloppy but instead linear-muscular, that it becomes a bit pitiful (and therefore funny) on some level because the musicians here are struggling with playing above their level. Visionary-dictator decreed it vital to his cosmology, and there probably were a lot of takes to get this record to sound as together as it does. I bet live they were a different proposition. This is a big separation from early Venom but - tellingly - not later Venom. Carnivore had a full soul from day one.

So what is it that this band is saying that requires all this hard work, isn't this about a joke in the end? Well, the whole record is a lyrical highlight for me, I could just post any song and discuss that but you know what would be funnier? What if I posted every lyric of every song instead? (don't worry, I'll do only the first three tracks as they have a conceptual arc) Yes, yes, excess. What did you expect, for me to cater to your attention span? I piss on your attention span. If you're squirming in your seat now, you haven't realized that you've been asked to leave many paragraphs earlier. You thought you were a man but you now realize you're a child! Cooked in the fire and served with a side of irradiated radish, infant!


They live beneath the ruined city
Call the subways home
Anxiously wait to see the sun
And a land as of yet unknown

Gone below to escape
The death of the nuclear winter
Ice and darkness
Due penance for the sinners

Six generations 200 years later
Their ancestors crawl from their holes
Hungry and frightened and barely surviving
They're tired of living like moles

This record starts by setting a scene of post-apocalypse. "The Terminator" had come out only a year earlier, you can hear the sound effects of Skynet robots shooting lasers in the intro. "They live beneath the rrrrruin'd city..." With the first rolled r, we know what's up (only we're wrong, but that's the thing with Carnivore). Humanity has destroyed itself, the monument towards actualization of modernity that is technology has self-imploded. This sin against what we learn later is the negligence of carnal, primordial self-interest, will to power, receives fitting penance of two hundred years of nuclear twilight. Then, a new-but-old breed of man emerges, he is our √úbermensch, to him is the love letter of this record.

Up on the surface a fate worse
Than dying, meeting
The end of the food chain
Teeth yielding pain

I sense that living human beings
Dwell below my feet
An important source of protein,
You are what you eat

Post Armageddon, neo-barbaric,
The nuclear warriors due battle
to satiate our hunger
We breed human beings as cattle

The character is at his most cartoonish in the first track, as if Petrus Steele is shielding himself from 'serious' scrutiny by painting with the broadest strokes first. Those that persist for later songs will get a more personalized version of the nihilist philosophy later on. For the initiated however there's a positive trait to how broad this record starts, this is, I dare say, something of an anthemic starter. How many times I've sang "postarmageddon, neobarbaric nuclearwarriorsdobattle!" along with Petrus I can't count. In some ways, Carnivore were my Judas Priest, if you get my meaning. It becomes increasingly difficult to sing along fully with latter parts of this record, however. The joke bears heavier and heavier.

Hunting in packs ready for the attack
We eat our prey raw-rabid animals
Frothing and ripping the carcass
We're stripping our own yes we're cannibals
Eat or eaten beat or beaten
I am on my life rest assured, a predator

Broken splintered bones, boiling blood
Torn and bleeding skin
Blackened burning flesh melting fat
Amputated limbs
Eviscerated, lungs torn out
Heart ripped from the chest
Decapitated, a meal of
Vagina and breasts

The second aspect of Carnivore rears is head here, the 'slow part'. They sound at their most menacing here but the cowbell+Black Sabbath thing mellows out as the record progresses. Again as I said, Petrus Steele has the tendency to be more frank when the music is slower (is this a more general realization? Does fast metal inspire more arrogance and force and therefore more distance between lyric and personal reality? Is this why doom metal fans are so taken with their slow metal and its dirgeful testimony? It might be harder to lie without muscular, linear speed metal to back you up with bombast. In this sense perhaps Skepticism are the most honest metal band there ever was. "And Stream brought meanings, and stream brought words..."). The truth of this particular Carnivore-breakdown can be found in the introduction of the misogynist theme, as we go from "I am what I eat (I eat hu-mans)" to "I eat vagina and breasts" which means "I am lonely". Joke's getting heavier...

Eyes plucked from sockets, gaping holes
Through which picking brains
Phlebophilia love of blood
Life spills from the veins
I detect the scent of prey by
Her menstruation
You have been chosen
The main course

Petrus Steele impresses us with his medical dictionary here and then delivers some of the best Heavy Metal writing there ever was. Congratulation indeed. If you're laughing at this, I sympathize. If *all* you're doing is laughing at this, you're missing the point. Well, I guess that's the encapsulation of this whole text and the essence of Carnivore, really, but I'll keep going. Forever, really, I'll keep going forever and then I'll be dead.


Greetings and felicitations children of technology

Drool dripping out
My tongue hanging south
Saliva flowing free
My eyes full of lust
My balls gonna bust
Give yourself to me
Thirst I can't quench
Come here you wench
There's something that I need

I'm a meat eater
I'd like to meet ya
I know I'll reach ya

When you thought there'll never be as embarrassing a Heavy Metal Lust Song as the early versions of Metallica's 'Hit The Lights', Carnivore up the ante. This is such an one-two linear, muscular, DUMB metal song, it's perfect. "I'm going down, dive! dive!" ENTER SOLO and then woman fake-orgasm moaning? This isn't funny on purpose you fucking ironic pig. Have you known real loneliness? I've sang along to this song many times and all I'm singing and all that Petrus Steele is singing is "I'm lonely, I'm lonely, I'm horny, I'm lonely :((((" over and over again.

The hunger I feel
Makes you a meal
Oh girl you sure taste sweet
By my hair pull me there
Guide me to your treat
Spread your legs I'll seed your eggs
Oh, feel me deep

Note the interesting turn from the first song to the second. The act of sexual-cannibalism, the 'vore fetish' as it were on the surface seems like a selfish reflex. To eat the mother from inside, to consume all that is nourishing to the point of un-logic, to the point of sense-death. For the sorcerer exhaustion is ecstasy. In-human, Un-holy. However Petrus Steele here introduces (knowingly or not) the idea of sexual - cannibalism as an act of insecurity, of self-loathing. What he's presenting in the above passage is not wanton self-fulfillment at his partner's expense, it is servility. Virility is a facade in Carnivore, underneath is a fear of women and a desire to please. If you've made it this far, you know this is going to get funnier/sadder, ultimately human. This is a very human record, this 'Carnivore' caricature is very very human. I feel him utterly, and I'm pretty sure you do as well.

Oh, you don't?


Lick me she begged she pulled
Down my head I love to eat pussy
A taste so fine like sweet april wine
I won't trade for any money
did you cum I eat and run I live for sodomy

:( :( :(


I live to war it's in my blood
If I want it I take
The men I've killed the children slaves
And all the woman I've raped

Between my legs I've got
What it takes to be called a man
Fighting, feasting
Fucking all I can

Moonlight on horseback till death we will ride
Northern winds pushing us towards suicide
Mars god of war masturbating in rage
Wild libido I've freed from its cage

The reality here is that what it takes to be called a man is the desire for self-destruction. Not to rape women and hold child slaves, but the desire to destroy oneself. Your only human power is that of overcoming. The ultimate overcoming is to kill oneself not out of sadness but of ecstasy-in-life. There's a philosopher that's all about this, I can't remember his name...

I eat the brains from my enemy's head
I proudly wear their scalps
I burn their towns to the ground
To me the prisoners bow
Muscle, sweat, long hair and dirt
Leather, fur and chains
My uniform torn and worn covered with blood stains

Testosterone mates with adrenaline
Bearing a son of insane aggression
Woman will never know or understand
the power men feel to kill with their hands

For what it's worth, I think Petrus Steele is serious here and at one point in time believed this to be a real dividing case between the sexes. Caricature aside, this is a read of gender norms and sexuality that might seem unfounded today for a person that is well-read in sociology, psychology and history, but what if you've mostly read that one philosopher whose name escapes me at the moment?

The issue is not whether Peter Steele is right or wrong, it is on what he chose to manifest in his Heavy Metal record. Again, the key to appreciating this is not to indeed feel like a strong chauvinist male pigdog that fucks and feasts and rapes what they can (I have no such experience, and I doubt those that do would care what Carnivore have to offer to them. They don't need fantasies, they're living them) but instead to feel powerless and alone. When people go on about the ethics of art, the moral obligation of art as they see it from their privileged consumerist point of view I want to throw up because that's not what art is here for. Art never told anyone how to live their life (or as a correction, it shouted to everyone on how to live their life and then nobody tried to do this at all). Art is here to make manifest desire and desire can be senseless and idiotic but is most importantly above anyone's petty moral scrutiny. Desire comes before anything else you've ever felt, pay it some respect even if you can't bear its full weight. Who can? Isn't it funny that we have inside us a black hole that pulls the outside to crush the inside? Funny, funny, funny. Loneliness and alienation are funny too. Feeling ill at ease inside your own material shell is hilarious. Being misunderstood by your peers and family is a riot. Sudden death is the ultimate punchline, but this'll also do:

After the war I come home weak and sore
I fall into your arms
We lie by the fire
You feed my desire
With me, safe and warm
Outside the wind blows cold
Inside the embers glow
Shelter from the storm

Years been away I fought night and day
For my land and my king
Woman it's true
I do battle for you, you my everything
When on the fur I make love to her
How her body sings

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dark Quarterer

Quarter are mighty. In their own special dimension they are probably the most important Heavy Metal band there is. Fact is though that this dimension is not well populated, as they're relatively unknown. That is wrong and unfair and therefore this article is fair and just. I don't often try to sell bands to readers on Poetry of Subculture but this'll be as close as I'll get because Dark Quarterer are still active (unlike most other bands covered here) and most importantly are putting out wonderful music that's very much worth the attention.

This Italian band reputedly came together circa 1974 but they waited for more than a decade before they put out this, their debut album. Though I can only theorize as to why such a delay was necessary, my theories are to do with the basic troubles of say, procuring a multitrack sound board in Italy in the late seventies to record your Heavy Metal record. In 2011, and especially for say, a reader from the US, those sorts of problems might be considered positively banal but hey, Italy's right next to Greece and it still isn't the easiest or cheapest thing to get together the resources to record a debut here, so I can sort of understand it. There's good in the bad, however, because Dark Quarterer probably benefitted from spending ten years in the proverbial woodshed. Their sound is a parallel evolution from the rest of 80's Heavy Metal. I'm getting the feeling that they started out as a progressive rock (or pomp rock) act and got into Heavy Metal exactly as it was emerging in the early eighties. There's a curious meeting of influences here, half Manowar, half Genesis. Not to scare anybody off though, this isn't to say that the record is confused. I'd say, from an aesthetic point of view that Heavy Metal (that is to say, Manowar) "won" in this mixture. This debut is resolutely concerned with the high spirit, the illogical romance, the almost magical potency of sound that can be captured only through low cultural trends that nobody important really pays attention to. The many parallels between progressive rock and metal aside, it's certain that bands like Genesis and Yes were aimed for public scrutiny from their conceptual beginning (progressive rock doesn't work in cryptic light) whereas Dark Quarterer were so obscure that even when this record first came out it sounded like a curious relic. 20 years later we'd have trouble to imagine a record with such an unrefined sound at all, it's an almost impossible mixture of peaked treble, dueling bass and guitar, reverb-heavy vocals, clearly recorded live without many overdubs, mistakes included and all. It somehow works, though this is a sound that makes the listener work for it. Modern mastering practices dictate that everything must be clear and fried, bass kicks go there, distorted wall of guitars goes here in the front, there is no bass guitar. That is the current sound of metal and against this calculated and safe extremity Dark Quarterer sound as aged as they are. No, not even aged, this record's probably confounding for people that expect a mix to make any sort of sense. It's a fossil. Like a vestigial organ of an older permutation, it survives as information. Like a wing on an animal that chose to crawl on the ground for the easier nourishment of worms, it withers with every generation, atrophying to nothingness in disuse, all but for a memory of where once its blood had traveled. But wings exist to take to the air and so even 20 years later, the promise of Dark Quarterer pulsates with raw life. It takes work, but there's magic here.

Concentration is key. Dark Quarterer hold within their sound the performing quality, the easy fingers of a progressive rock band from the 70s. They do not play in the stiff, monophonic manner that was in vogue in Heavy Metal the year this record came out. Instead they flirt with after-the-beat accents, syncopated rhythms, chromatic enrichment of their phrases. These things come naturally, they flow through their songs as if to say "This is the only way to compose and perform Heavy Metal". Dark Quarterer, in a curious way, then, hold in their ranks highly prized Heavy Metal virtuosos: far from the stereotype of limp-wristed egocentric shredders wanking away in the limelight. Instead, capable performers that translate their personal desire through the focus of group concert. Nobody is overplaying on their own, they overplay all together, all the time. Most bands of that era would wait for a solo section to attempt a humble counterpoint between main melody and their embellishment. Dark Quarterer, with a gusto that makes it seem more easy than it is, navigate through parallel melodies, key changes and bright variation of their main phrases that would be the envy of various self-declared serious composers. They're just a power trio, and all this is achieved with sweat running down foreheads, with a manic urgency that signals a personal end, with a passion that can only manifest when someone is for real.

Every moment of this record is epic in the sense of the word that predates the conception of "epic metal". I am talking about goosebumps and emotional elevation. Pathos overflows. Their dazzling singer, Gianni Nepi, whose high-pitched scream one would expect to dominate, is in conversation with every solo, every drum fill. This band sings in concert and when one is finally used to their song and their antiquated sound and their quirks, it is moving. Their antiquity becomes a return to the sky, their oddness becomes their idiosyncrasy and you love them for it. You are in their universe and you are listening to the greatest Heavy Metal band there ever was. I guess this is what happens when a talented band takes ten years to record their debut?

In records of this caliber there usually isn't any filler. The opener, "Red Hot Gloves" destroys barriers and its monstrous brother, "Colossus of Argil" sets siege but it is "Gates of Hell", the third track, that conquers me, finally. Follow the music along with the words:

I have decided
To live as a rebel
Without showing
Never my face smiling

Without giving my help

To live as the worst man
And slandering all my friends
Hating who is loving me

Don't try to change me
I don't believe it may be
Let the evil be my food

I have decided
I don't ask your pardon
And every time I take my revenge
For all the good around me

And I shall dress myself

In red and black
As Blood and Death
Before the last breath
Gates of hell will open

And I shall fly
Into the deeper place
To usurp Lucifer's Throne

These words in the hands of a simple Heavy Metal band would be adorned with the arrogance of those that have lived nothing. Not to say that anyone in the band has had the experience of sitting on the throne of the underworld, but here's the thing: when Dark Quarterer were singing this on their debut, they were old men already. This isn't a lyric from a teenager that somehow made it to the debut a couple of years later. They mean this shit. Where the premise of this song by a young Manowar would be performed with a lofty, aristrocratic morbidity, here instead Dark Quarterer present it with a Doric stoicism. Heavy Metal is about skeletons and demons, blood and violence, right? Dark Quarterer rise above the popular status of their genre. The funeral drum beat emerges from the sound of the beating heart and signals a melancholic pride about ones damnation that even the damned mourn but willfully carry. This has been the choice and let it be remembered forever that it was a horrid one, cursed and lonesome. The solo after the chorus seals with its fervor the passion and honesty of this admittance. This song has been for me one of the greatest of the genre and it has opened my eyes, when I heard it years ago, as to the potential of Heavy Metal. I've returned to this song again and again, no less impressed and no less affected. How high a somewhat clumsy lyric can be elevated through passion and performance and emotion. As I fantastically pursued the path of this damned protagonist and at the same time, felt repulsed by the shards of dark matter that surround its chaos core: lord of light, usurper of Lucifer's throne - I wondered how that life would be.

This song, with its kind way, shaped me. It shaped me in a way that peers, school and family rarely managed. It urged me to confront the worst aspects of my character and realize that choice is much less the issue than it is to bring to the light the dark glamours that influence every one of them. It's not a song about what is right and wrong, it is a song about desire and tragedy. Fantasy, at least, should be free to travel all trajectories of choice, it shouldn't be ridiculous to wonder how that life could be. There's a lesson in everything deemed ridiculous and unworthy of attention by modernity.

That is the power of Heavy Metal for those that love it: It tears away the many layers of identity and found labels and all the other bullshit we citizens flatter ourselves with and it takes us back to when we were children and our spectral wings had not yet atrophied. It makes us face the limits and the desires we have yet to conquer. The promise in Dark Quarterer - and every great Heavy Metal band has in its premise a promise - is that it will hold inside it that memory, even 20 years later when we are old men. It will never lie to you or let you forget. That the song ends as it starts - with the sound of heartbeat - tells us so. We should remember that we are still alive and we should be glad for all the good things around us, yet as the long shadows of aspersion are cast and contours of a madness take shape, concentration is the key, the awareness that every story we imagine can be for a time, ring true. The lessons found in fantasy.