Saturday, December 14, 2013

What's Heavy Metal still around for?

Retro-thrash, True Death Metal,  NWOBHM worship, so much god-darned black metal. For every record that you ever loved, that ever sounded vital and important to you there are now 20 clone bands that will play the same thing, dress it up in the same way and perform and produce it better. To match your expectations, no, to match your inflated recollection of how it sounded at the time. Yet, curiously empty a feeling when the music is actually played.

I finally get it. The reason these bands exist is not to cynically make money or to be famous or to get respect by their peers or anything like that (well, not primarily, at least). The reason these bands exist is because they're trying to protect metal music. They're trying to protect a tender part inside of them that resonates to it. A youthful, teen-aged part of themselves. From Watain to Municipal Waste, there's no more perfect way to explain why they're here. It's not to overcome the past or to take a tangential path outside of it for its own sake. They're here to protect a memory.

The access point of memory is in performance. To be more exact, if memory is an internal process - the reminiscing or recollecting of something - the externalization of the forces that are triggered by that memory must be a gesture, a movement, a symbolic action, in order to awaken a similar memory in others. Heavy Metal people lack the tools to make this performance radical and it is only due to their youth and the cultural zeitgeist that they ever did anything radical back in the '80s and '90s. This is clear, aside from the experience with the thing-in-itself, also from countless interviews where famed metal musicians exhibit a startling intellectual and spiritual vacuousness. Were these people really the ones making these amazing records? No. It was the time and place conspiring just as much as any one person's talent that made these records.

Ingrained in the tradition of Heavy Metal as we understand it now are none of the political or philosophical tools required to overcome the power of history itself, as nobody put them in there. The era is passed and without it the necessary analytical tools to re-contextualize the inherent pathos and rebellion of Heavy Metal are gone. Heavy Metal is now ingrained in culture as something eternal. Isn't that what we always wanted? Well... eternity's getting pretty old, you know? Olddd. It has a lawn and a mortgage.

It's a bitter thing that progressive metal, the closest we ever got to iconoclasm, is now normalized as just one more evolutionary path in the great benevolent tree of Heavy Metal where all genres like each other and the savvy metalhead picks their favorite fruit from any equal branch.

So, a performance to protect something tender inside the soul of a lonely person. The way to protect is by shielding the perimeter. Take a music that is inherently contradictory, sometimes ambiguous, vague, sometimes outright nonsensical and surgically remove all these aspects to its form and content, leave only the strong, the firm, the muscular tone, the terror of its texture. I dare you: nearly every record you love from the classic Heavy Metal pantheon has something to it that you would get embarrassed about. Tinny production. Off-key vocals. Bad drumming. Nasty solos. Idiotic cover. Questionable lyrics. Awful outfits.

New Heavy Metal music has been made robust, it has been made something to be proud of only in retrospect, only via retconning. The masculine performance that we desired our teenage years to have been, now magically is here. We can pretend that's how it always was. It's Kenn Nardi overcompressing the hell out of a weird record that was of a place and time. Of course that's how it always was, otherwise we must have been confused teenagers lost in ourselves, clutching at something, anything in the darkness sharp enough to carve a hole in our chest.

Romance is a black stone. It sits at the bottom of the mirror pool. A lying reflection of the moon that many a beautiful (and some not so much) youth followed to their drowned end. Strike the stone and blood will pour out, a river of blood that streams forever. That red mistress demands one thing of youth: "Destroy yourself, so that you may live forever".

Tall order! We can't do that! We hear the call. We're not 30, 40, 50 years old. We remember the call. But we can't do that. So we will hide this wound that will not close, we will build walls just as endless, dams infinitely big to hold the blood within. Nobody will get to our hearts if these walls are just perfect.

So, here's to occult black metal. Here's  to Incantation-clones up the wazoo. Here's to a million thrash bands playing the Exodus riff. Here's to more tenor power metal that any stomach could stomach. Here's to a million doom bands playing the same morose pentatonic riff. No weirdness. No nonsense. No ambiguity. No answer to the unanswerable question. No hubris. No exit. No point.

Modern Heavy Metal is here to make us feel better.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Running down the memories
Wrapped up in desire

Oh, where to start. Where to begin.

Was it when you rejected me? Was it when you told me lies? No, before that, before anything. Was it when I realized I am alone, that I'm not an appendix to mother/father? Was it when I was born?

In the early '90s Heavy Metal had gone through three formal transformations. It went from a grassroots, do-it-yourself movement in the UK, inspired by (and often interchanged with) punk to an integrated marketing item during the glam/thrash years and finally it tried to negotiate (with itself, within itself) what it means to be successful and what it will mean for now, towards the future, when the eye of the public will move on to the new trend. What will Heavy Metal be now that it can no longer be innocent?

Because that is what it was in the early '80s, it was spontaneous and more than a little bit silly. Guys with bad guitars and drums and bad voices cutting a 7 inch vinyl record about the Castle of Some Wizard. Let's say that was the period of a little boy playing with their toys alone.

Let's then say that success in the mid to late '80s is mother/father finally taking note of the elaborate constructions, dioramas and vistas their gifted-if-a-little-weird child has created in solitude. Acknowledgement and function warp the form. The difference between a toy and a game is that the toy has a masturbatory function. A game is to be won or lost, instead.

And Heavy Metal lost. How could it not? Mother/father demanded too much. The potency inside the little boy's reconfigured toys was ambiguous by subconscious design, disaligned with Reason and Truth. Mother/father demanded that the insane pathos therein be transformed somehow in an understandable patron design, to be reproduced and enjoyed by adults that live in the Real World, only, responsibly so, perhaps on the weekends, perhaps on a rowdy night out, then back to the office.

Heavy Metal became a fully formalist pursuit circa 1990, with the gravestone being - of course - Metallica's Black Album. Finally, a Heavy Metal record that a marketing executive could enjoy without feeling bad about themselves.

So the teenager Heavy Metal, at the time, tried to appease mother/father. But then they had a second child (grunge and indie rock, whatever you want to call it) and *they* were illogical and impulsive and their toys where ambiguous again and mother/father had a new problem child to solve.

Heavy Metal entered its most volatile, disgruntled teenage phase. It said FUCK YOU MOM/DAD, but it didn't really mean it. It went back to playing with its toys, but when it thought nobody was watching, it took hidden glances towards what mother/father were up to, hoping they were looking back. Not too much, but at least once in a while, to let him know if the grown-up world was outraged/pleased with how the game was shaping up. Either could do.

1. In the '90s, Heavy Metal tried to kill itself to live forever. A norwegian young adult was murdered by another. Churches were burnt down. To assuage the gods, the ablation will be blood. Boys and their toys, oh what will they do for mother/father to pay attention to them again? It's very boring being a teenager, you know.

2. In the '90s, Heavy Metal also tried to stop being Heavy Metal. It tried to become Something Else Metal. Atmospheric metal with gothic touches, industrial noises and new-romantic pop frilly shirts. Or Progressive metal, modernist, abstract, ambiguous like a cubist painting, fey and fleeting. Hang me in a museum.

There was never a time where Heavy Metal overextended itself so much as during the '90s. Toys became games, games became enterprises, big dreams were crushed and unexpected success came for many that had hoped for self-destruction instead.

There was a German band, once, called Secrecy. They started out as a thrash band, like a great many others, slightly late to the party in 1987. Germany in 1987 was not a fun time, kids grew up fast, even if they wanted to play Heavy Metal. As was the paradigm for many German thrash acts of the time and place, Secrecy played a very precise and well-designed type of thrash, one possibly inspired by the then just released "And Justice For All..." by Metallica. As evidenced in Secrecy's first demo "Like Burning One's Boats", Secrecy were trying to take that techno-thrash mold and push it even further in a emotive direction. As far as I've noticed, they were the first to do so, and even now in 2013, ones of the very few to ever attempt this.

In that rapidly reforming state that Heavy Metal was in circa 1990, Secrecy very quickly shed the remnants of their thrash past and quickly assumed a fully progressive metal attire. They got signed to Noise Records, the place to be for their sort of music. They were smart people because thrash was indeed dead in 1990. If you wanted to go the savage route, you would have to play death (or if you were really forward thinking, black metal) at that time. If you wanted to pursue more human topics like those first touched upon in techno-thrash, you would have to become even more melodic, more artistic, more grown-up. Secrecy put their money in that direction.

As early as on their first record, "Art in Motion", Secrecy had created a masterpiece of modernist Heavy Metal. The band is now largely forgotten, and they have not been influential even in underground circles. There are no Secrecy clone bands, there is nobody trying to play progressive metal like this that I know of. It is worth our time to discuss why I consider their material so successful and also why then, would such a successful effort not reach a wider audience.

Secrecy's thing on their first record (and to some extent to its follow-up) is that they play very muscular, well-defined music, very rich in harmonies and with melodies that extend and complete themselves beautifully. The rhythm guitar playing here fills every verse space with sharp triplets, but takes care to open up for the choruses to breathe. When the drummer does a drum roll, the guitarists will palm mute its approximation. They always take care that even if a melody goes through unexpected directions it will resolve itself in a clear manner. Unlike many other progressive metal bands, they are not complicated for complication's sake. There's very little formal abstraction in this music - I can envisage it performed by a string quartet or small orchestra without major alterations. Sure, there is aggression - in fact I would say that on the first demo and on a few cuts from the debut they reach proper thrash metal band levels of push. But even their aggressive parts are always considered as means to create contrast with their more emotive melodic themes. Now, this was a new thing for Heavy Metal.  Take Watchtower, techno-thrash and progressive metal stalwarts. Their music was much busier than Secrecy's, and it was, for the most part, always so. There were dynamics, but usually the contrast achieved (and desired) was one between abstract, fluid chromatic solos over bright clean guitar arpeggios and then, their full-on, compact, over-composed, every instrument independent, on the brink of collapse style that made them notorious. Watchtower were not an emotional band. Secrecy were very much about conveying emotions and they used the shell of thrash and Heavy Metal to do so.

Could then Secrecy then best be understood as a post-thrash band? I do not think so. I think a staple of post- anything bands is that they appropriate surface formal characteristics of the music they're about to turn inside out, and then they create art that is dialectically opposed to the function of the original music. So far, so good, that's exactly what Secrecy are doing. But here's the problem: post-x music cannot be appreciated as an object belonging to x genre de rigueur.  SunnO))) appropriate black metal tropes and can be seen as a post-metal endeavour, but they cannot be enjoyed as a black metal band. There's simply not enough there, there's only surface textural characteristics of metal (or black metal). There's no depth to the content, when looked at as metal music.

This is a common issue with post-modern art, I'm not pretending I've made a startling realization here when examining Secrecy's music. The case is that Secrecy's riffs and songs are too well constructed as thrash or Heavy Metal music to be seen as post-metal anything. In fact, were the listener to be selectively deaf to the vocals of Secrecy and a few select musical passages in their debut, they could place the record historically, in the Bay Area circa 1987 without much trouble. Anthrax were often as melodic, for example.

So if Secrecy know their Heavy Metal inside-out and they can compose 10 Accept hit songs in their sleep (I am not exaggerating, this is the caliber of the composers in Secrecy) then we have to beg the question. Why are they juxtaposing harsh, muscular thrash edge with this meek, teenager voice and why is their lyrical subject matter so decidedly teenaged?

The answer I've come up with is actually pretty simple and that's a big part of why I think it's the correct one. Secrecy were playing a gambit. They looked at Heavy Metal circa 1990 and they tried to think which of the then nascent 'exit-points' would become the most popular. Would it be romantic, nationalistic and often reactionary returns to blood, guts and sorcery? Or would it be humanist, modernist Heavy Metal-for-every-thinking-being? Secrecy thought the latter, bless their hearts, and set out to create one possible patron of that ideal.

This isn't to say that they did not believe in that direction, I don't think it was a calculated, cynical affair. I would bet that Secrecy - or at least the chief lyricist, pulling the rest of an uncertain band along? - really believed in themselves in all of this.

The lyrical material on Secrecy's debut is not well-written. This further mystifies subject matter that is ambiguous to begin. What I've gathered - and perhaps most importantly the function I use it for, the type of emotion I want to have when I listen to them - is that Secrecy are recounting the various existential wounds of teenager and young adult life. There's a real sense of hurt to this music. An accusatory tone that turns outward and inward at the drop of a dime. It is remarkably successful how just keywords, and the singer's singing voice are capable to evoke such an emotional response in me. In the past I've rambled about one of my first failed love affairs while Secrecy played (I will not reproduce the text as it is in Greek) and I just can't help but summon those uncomfortable feelings of alienation, loneliness and mistrust of my own teenager experience when I listen to them.

It's extremely potent to put these feelings not on top of some mope rock or gothic pastiche, but instead over crystallized Heavy Metal power. It is not just a good tool of vengeance, it is life-affirming. Secrecy take the shittiest parts of being a teenager, the shittiest part of being under the thumb of mother/father, or that of the school system, or being pressured this or that way by your peer group and they place it on top of a towering artifice, kaleidoscopic in its beauty and seemingly eternal. It will stand upright forever, and the most tender and wounded part of a child's heart will be there, on the top, for all to see. Defiant and beautiful. No Secret.

Secrecy were wrong, we know now. They succeeded completely in creating the avatar of emotional, warm, complex, prickly on the surface yet still tender-hearted Heavy Metal. Their songs are a joy to listen to purely on a 'whee, Heavy Metal!' fun way. But they're very deep and thoroughly composed. The voice employed is the voice of someone's childhood. It is so brave to put this voice, singing these words, on top of their quasi-thrash. It is, in fact, too revealing of their intentions. I can imagine a rowdy, denim and leather clad beer-guzzling hesher saying "turn that shit off" if you played them Secrecy, because it would make them uncomfortable. Secrecy are uncomfortable to idiot metalheads exactly how a homosexual person would be uncomfortable in their midsts. Playing Prostitute Disfigurement for them, that would be fine, it wouldn't make them uncomfortable at all. But Secrecy? A fey teenager girl voice whining on top of muscular, compact and composed thrash? Filth, just filth.

This is the triumph of Secrecy, that you have to confront a soft attack. You have to learn something about yourself to understand them. You might find yourself lacking. There's no two ways about Secrecy. If you like Heavy Metal, it's impossible not to like their SONGS. If you're trapped in some perpetual masculine performance, it's imposible to like their tone and their message. Secrecy will let you know that. They have truly taken a thesis, an antithesis, and structured a synthesis out of the parts - how Marxist of them. There is such internal tension in Secrecy's music but there is no disagreement in it. It is What It Is. A remarkable achievement.

I bet people couldn't stand them - I bet they ran as fast as they could back to their Destructions and Sodoms, to their comfortable fantasy escape, to the occultating mists of mysticism. Back to their toys. Eyeing mother/father, are they paying attention? What use is Heavy Metal if it illuminates the most tender core of the teenager heart?

Well, a lot of use, it turns out, now in 2013, that Heavy Metal is spent and over, now that it is a civil war reenactment, now that there are a million bands whose sole raison d'etre is 'to be one of a million bands'. I look at Secrecy's brief two-album trajectory and I am humbled by what is achieved in such a brief time. More than that, I am inspired.  The clarity of intent, the musicality of the songs, the emotional capacity of the awkwardly written, yes, lyrics. I want there to be more of this type of Heavy Metal, because it is most needed than ever before, unlike, oh, 99% of the other, oversaturated metal genres. The tender heart still beats because how could it not? History has ended, capitalism has won, but injustice is still here, injustice is still experienced daily, the wound is there. How will we address it?

Naturally, on their second record, "Raging Romance", Secrecy have an answer. They are mostly preoccupied with their faith in God. Did you ever doubt that this would be the end-point of their story? Angsty teenagers against everyone, rebelling against Reason and Logic as much as they were to nonsensical posture and bravado in the metal scene, what would be left to them but the ultimate alienation of their peer group? Christianity it is, then.

There have been many "white metal" bands over the years, many of them playing to their home crowd (christian communities that liked the form of Heavy Metal but detested its message, easy to market to, right?) but there has been no other band like Secrecy, who used finding-God as the ultimate punchline against everything that Heavy Metal stood for, and did it with such panache. As you would expect, there was no third record.

The band is rumored to be back together again, and unlike most reunions, I am half-looking forward to another record by them in 2013. If there's a band that can push forward from their past glories and become vital, upsetting and offer something new in 2013, it's Secrecy. But it's equally possible that they will be trapped by self-conscious issues, their 'legacy' as a band, and create "Raging Romance pt. 2". It would be such a shame, as the music would be good, I bet - nay, stellar, possibly - but it can't be about God. Not in 2013. I refuse to believe that the tender heart of Secrecy resonates to the calling of God. It can either be charred and withered by now, 45 to 50 years old, conservative and slavish to authority, or it has to have forsaken the lord, it has to be irreverent, impossible, brighter than the sun.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

How to Appreciate Death Metal Dialectics

Let's play a little game. Read this first.

Now, let's go down the line, one by one:

1. Pay Close Attention to the Tearing Guitars and Unusual Vocals. What could it be that urges these musicians to perform in this particular way? If they were going to play classical music, they'd have played classical music. But instead, they're playing death metal. What are they screaming about? Pay attention to the attack of the music and the particular themes of the lyrics. There's a question begged in all of this, and you shouldn't disregard any aspect of the whole to appreciate the whole. If the severity of the music or the inhumanity of the vocals annoy you, that is great. Never listen to death metal again, if you can. If you find yourself drawn again to this music though aspects of it startle or annoy you, that's good too. What does either response say about you?

2. Do Not Watch Any Live Performances by Death Metal bands. Do not observe how band members manipulate any of their instruments. There's nothing that should impress you in the process of making these sounds and it's the crutch of intellectual frauds to defend something that sounds like this by saying that it takes a lot of skill to do it. If you want to pursue something that will provide tools of understanding all music, study melody and harmony and the history of music on the whole, not idiots pressing fingers on fretboards. Studying the history and guidelines of music composition will illuminate that most death metal is too much fuss over very little. Playing in little chromatic boxes, moving hands up and down fretboards in a confused masculine performance.

3. Most Death Metal bands do not write their own music. They're regurgitating the same ten tricks that the originators of death metal came up with, with slight variations in technique or aesthetics. Most of their desire to be in a death metal band stems from 'the desire to be in a death metal band'. This means their music product itself is secondary to the performance of the role of the creator of the product. They need no more respect for indulging in their vices than any other pop music performer that's outright reproducing earlier material.

4. Take the context and subject matter completely personally. These songs are exactly about you. If they were not, they would not have reached you. In their function as products that enter the culture, their truth is communicated. There's nothing useless on a death metal product, everything about it tells you what it is. At the same time, there is nothing behind the curtain. Do not trust people that say you need to 'get' something to appreciate it. There's nothing to get. How do you feel listening to some suburban white man's fantasies of gutting prostitutes and raping the bastard Nazarene? If you're offended, take that offence seriously. If you like it, take that attraction seriously. What does it say about you?

5. Learn nothing about sub-genres. And never engage a metal fan in conversation about metal sub-genres of any other such trivia. Instead ask them how they feel when they listen to music about gutting prostitutes. Don't let them off the hook. Earnestly ask them to explain the joke, as it were, and watch them crash and burn. There are many fascinating things to explore about death metal and almost none of them have to do with the discussion of the form.

6. Show absolutely no respect for the artists.

Thumbs up.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Masculinty, Inhumanity

I've noticed over the years of participation in the Heavy Metal subculture that there is an implicit consensus by fans on bands that may been once considered Heavy Metal but have over the years lost this status. They're usually relegated to the bargain bin of 'rock history', whatever that may mean, and though the more historically minded proponents of the scene may pay them lip service as forefathers (choice of term very intentional), it's understood that a modern metalhead would not think of them as hard or heavy enough to qualify as metal.

Of course there are those who wholeheartedly embrace the 'weak' Heavy Metal of yesteryear because they do not only like it for what it is but also enjoy being contrary to the mainstream assumption of metalness. If there's one thing that the Heavy Metal mistress demands - aside from a metaphysical holocaust or two - it is that potential suitors be petulant teenagers at the perpetual cusp of a rebellion that is not just without-a-cause but without-an-effect as well. No other rebellious symbol would best do the job that debating the is-it-or-is-it-not of metal itself. Useless.

But for the sake of clarity, let's not discuss this contrarian obligation of metalheads now. It's a subject for a different article altogether. Let's instead assume that the internal debate over the metalness of the rock bands of the past is a surface activity that has different goals than to actually ascertain such metalness; Let's take it for granted that all sides of the ongoing debate really in the end know and agree that these old rock bands are indeed no longer metal bands in the eyes of the new. They just like to disagree.

Case in point: Rush.

Rush are an interesting band because they were late to both the Heavy Metal party and the Progressive Rock party and though they straddle an uncomfortable place in the middle, they're wholly an entity into themselves (or so became in time, at least). People that love Rush might not love Heavy Metal. Or they might not love Progressive Rock. But they must certainly love one of the two. In this way, Rush are a bridge between two strands of rock music that share certain aesthetic assumptions but are divorced by very real ones as well.

Our particular interest in Rush here is this: from the vantage of a mid-'70s metalhead, Rush would very much be considered a Heavy Metal band. For the modern metalhead, Rush cannot anymore be considered such.

The argument that is often made on this subject is that the standards have shifted in sound production & design, so anything that doesn't have enough distortion, double bass, screaming, wild solos or whatever else is no longer metal. This argument rests on an erroneous assumption that dead-ends the discourse: that these shifts in standards come about naturally, as if Heavy Metal is an organism that evolves towards a best state for survival in its environment and that's that.

This is not only false within the normative boundaries metalheads like to discuss their culture and music (see the vapid Metal: A Headbanger's Journey for more of this anthropology-for-idiots approach - or don't) but it is, more importantly, specifically designed an approach so as to not touch on the forces that actually do shape culture.

I will posit here that the prime activator of movement in what is considered heavy and metal enough is the heteronormative concept of masculinity. Let's consider again, Rush in this light.

Rush have very high, falsetto vocals with a very rapid vibrato. Geddy Lee looked up to Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin, whom also often sang in a high fashion. Robert Plant was considered a very masculine rock n' roll icon and enjoyed great success with female fans. However in the '70s rock and glam context, a degree of androgyny was manufactured as a further staple of male sexual prowess. Latent homoeroticism (and not necessarily homosexuality) was seen as a further boundary of exploration of the male libido. Surely, a 'rock god' would embody Otherness, would shapeshift according to desire. Desire, in the '70s was a inner and outer cosmic exploration, after all.

For Geddy Lee, I am certain Robert Plant was a sexual God in the same way that it was for any of their hundred thousand female, heterosexual groupies. I do not think for a second that Geddy Lee thought "gosh, Robert's singing pretty high in this, I would tone it down if I were him, I wouldn't want to be considered a fag or anything".

Yet, Robert Plant vis a vis Geddy Lee becomes a different thing. The rapid falsetto gives him an edge of hysteria, his vocal phrasing and - of course - the libertarian lyrics he was to sing, as penned by drummer Neil Pert, gave him a decidedly non-sexual tint. Not even that, Rush sounds decidedly hostile to sexuality. Robert Plant would coo and moan his way through your back door whereas Geddy Lee would be the guy with the clipboard politely but insistently knocking on your front door because he just had to let you know.

The audience of Rush mirrors this psychodynamic archetype. Lonely nerds as much into D&D and sci-fi as they were wary of girls. They would be into Heavy Metal exactly because of the homoerotic tension therein that subliminally conveyed that the dignity and strength required to go on an ingressive journey must necessarily be gathered by sublimating the libido. Robert Plant would writhe around his microphone, semi-erect in his tight pants and occasionally touch the godhead due to natural grace - but his raison d'etre was always to capture the attention of female fans. For Rush, there was nothing natural about Rush. No grace and no groupies. There was only effort, concentration, structure. They did not want to catch a sideways glimpse of the divine by fortuitous accident, engrossed in the dionysian splendour of rock n' roll excess. No. They wanted to build a bridge there. A Tower.

You can traverse a bridge and you can climb a tower, if you're strong enough. And the tower will not collapse. The bridge will hold you as long as you believe it can hold you. The carnival of rock n' roll excess provides no such stability.

Rush are nerdy like a Heavy Metal band. Rush are strong like a Heavy Metal band. Rush are lonely. Just like you.

But Rush are no longer considered a Heavy Metal band. Why? Vocals too high. Not enough distortion. Not enough riffs. Look at a solution an ironic fan came up with, it's very illuminating:

Rush slowed down, pitched down. Everything slower, harder, more masculine. Now, Rush can be a Heavy Metal band again. through this revisionist lens.

Why did this happen, and for what reason? Before we continue, I ask you to listen to the real Working Man if you haven't. The contrast is very startling. Can you take '70s Rush seriously, just this second, just this very moment right after you've heard the grown-up Rush, with hairs on their balls and the swagger required to take their time?

I believe this current concept of what Heavy Metal must be comes from the cultural shift from the '70s to the '80s and beyond and is very much connected with that Heavy Metal survived shifts in trends in the music industry exactly by fantasizing about its own metalness and fashioning a guide for it to remain inalienable. And I believe that the "Heavy Metal guidebook" is very much concerned with heternormative masculinity.

In a previous article I briefly explored sexism in Heavy Metal, exclaiming some suspicion as to why a culture built on individuality and rebellion towards authority would buy into the heteronormative concept of masculinity and femininity so completely wholesale. How could music that proclaimed it was all about providing and celebrating the tools for any one human being to find their own way through the epistemological haze by pure willpower would append to that glorious premise in tiny print "if you're a guy and no homo, though...".

Looking at the culture shift in the mid'80s in Heavy Metal for the answer. The Grand Narrative that metaldom devised can be found in the moment (or series of moments) where glam metal and thrash metal were trying to find market footing as dialectic entities in the Regan/Thatcher era. At the moment where metalhead would look upon another metalhead (a mirror to themselves) to see if there were any chips on their armor, if they enjoyed any of these power ballads, if they thought girly makeup would get them girls, then they weren't true enough.

There is no truth or false in an aesthetic concept. So 'true' in Heavy Metal terms must not be about aesthetics in themselves, it must be about an ethical axiom that the aesthetics either support or betray. I posit that any concept of 'true metal', is inquiring as to its affirmation of a gendered stereotype of masculinity. Either you are a man, strong, determined and alone, or you're a woman, weak, dependent on a group and willing to follow orders. There's good and there's evil, and there's no in-between. Heavy Metal is conservative in values and that's the only throughline that goes from the '70s to today. It could be said that it's why it survived the '80s at all and why it had such a difficult time in the '90s.

The conservative metal '80s built on this foundation of masculinity in metal. Every year metal must now become harder, deeper, more machine-like, more blatant and more direct to be understood as 'true'. In this constant push-pull of structure, a band might become overtechnical and then be considered false because they're no longer direct enough. Or they may become too clean-sounding and considered false for not being savage and filthy enough. Or they may become so fast and hard they're no longer considered coherent enough. As with any concept of masculinity, it's a tall order that nobody can adhere to for long. Every band that is trying to prove their trueness is therefore destined to fail - because the fantasy of masculinity is built on the very real failure to be masculine. Heavy Metal bands that are considering themselves as this in the modern context will either have to stop being Heavy Metal bands to do any self-examination on the issue of masculinity, or they will embark on this priapic journey of being ever-more-true every time they play, record or release anything, with always diminishing returns.

What is the end-game, here? Well, this can be seen, historically, that it is death. The outmost request of the mistress is, after all, holocaust. Mars, the god of war, masturbating in rage cuts off his own penis and testicles and bleeds a long river of decay. Beautiful flowers bloom in the carnage, irony irony, such is life, oh well. Heavy Metal reached every peak of masculine terror it could, with all its various shapes of brutal death metal, cavernous cacophonies of black metal and such. And now the godhead has hardened into a gigantic fossil for all its progeny to look up to and feel inferior to its inches. New bands are putting on their museum of natural history freakshows, reprising past glories or incestuously mixing and matching and pretending they're making something 'new'.

As long as Heavy Metal holds inside it a certain stereotype of strength, based on whiteness, heterosexuality and right-wing, libertarian politics, it will never create anything 'new'. 'New' cannot even be a concept within that stagnant epistemology. There is no history, there is no change, all there is is power. Borrowed power, look up to your elders with respect. Pitch them down and slow them down if you have to, because now you're grown up and your own tenor matches that of your father, so what is there to elevate them as patriarchs? If there is nothing, we must surely invent something. Can we put double-bass under Rush's Working Man? Can we put a more screaming solo? Perhaps some death growls? Let's do that in 2020 and commend ourselves for keeping Heavy Metal alive and well.

In that bleak picture let me daub aimlessly with the garish brush of hope, if you don't mind. I do mind, I loathe it, but I must say that throughout the late '80s, all of the '90s' and some of the '00s, artists in the genre were trying to find a way out of this conundrum, even if they didn't actively think of it in the terms I am presenting here. They were trying to break out of the masculine stereotype, so to speak. The types of music they created were canonically weird and because they were confused they often sent mixed messages about it all. Look at Norwegian black metal, with its vague ambiguous musical landscapes, its reverberating witchy vocals in full hysteria - this cannot be said to be the masculine path that death metal took. Yet, very much invested in being considered Heavy Metal studs, the artists in that scene overcompensated for the queerness of their music by making loud statements in the press about their sexual prowess, about their hatred of women and so on.

Better fared certain artists of the progressive metal genre whom retained vestigial characteristics of masculine metal in their instrumentation and approach but consciously tried to tackle modernist topics in their lyrics and with a vocal approach altogether divorced from the usual rigidness. But in total '90s fashion, this ambiguity could not a tower hold, so the best of these artists escaped the Heavy Metal trajectory completely, only recently returning with their tired reunions and live shows showcasing a record they made when they were 19 in its entirety, for goodness' sake.

Of course these outliers will in the future be considered not-metal-enough, if they're not already. Do Mayfair register at all as a Heavy Metal band to listeners in 2013? Do Dornenreich count as a viable solution outside of 'trueness'? Or have we constructed enough language as metalheads to pretend that the grand evolutionary tree of Heavy Metal has branches that are alive and ones that are dead and the selection that chooses which is which is natural and faceless and not subject to market and culture forces?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

English as a Second Language, Heavy Metal as the First

This is an article in defense of the often awkward language used in lyrics by a great number of Heavy Metal bands that were not native speakers.

Does such a defense need to exist? Yes for two reasons: one is apparent. Heavy Metal is often assaulted on grounds of aesthetic or lyrical frivolity. People say that metal bands sing about escapist bullshit, dragons and rainbows and whatever, and they don't even do a good job of it because those topics have been covered eloquently in romantic and gothic tradition for hundreds of years. Parts of that statement are correct.

The other reason such a defense is needed is because when people try to deflect the above criticism, they do it by providing examples of Heavy Metal lyrics that they think would stand up as poetry. The results are often hilarious because in most cases they do not and the only one that can't see this is is the metalhead that hasn't really read much poetry. Such congratulatory self-defeat ("I am bleeding, making me the victor") is endemic in Heavy Metal circles, so here's a different way to approach the subject.

Bad Heavy Metal lyric and good Heavy Metal lyric best are both approached through Heavy Metal, not outside of it. This might seem like an obtuse statement, so let's illuminate it a little with a few examples of great lyrics by foreigners, speaking through Heavy Metal as their first language:

The buildings are made of gold
The sun shines bright
Out of a blue, a clear blue sky

The streets are clean

The people laugh
The animal are free

No hate - noone cries

No industry polluts the water
The sea is filled with movement and life

No more distrust

No more disgust
And no more war

Peace forevermore

The goverments scrap all the useless weapons
They are not bribable any longer

Everyone is happy

No more pain

But suddenly it's fading away

I wake up it's 12 o'clock

This is literally the writing level of a five year old. Protector were German. What they're communicating here is not something a five year old would try to communicate. They're not a punk band, they're not very smart about what they want to say but they said it anyway.

What is achieved? I ask that we look at the cover of the record, the name of it, and listen to the song while we read these lyrics. On the cover we have some insane looking monstrosity clawing its way through a painting or graph of a skeleton. It's as if the image is violently animated, a concept is made flesh in the shadows. The actual expression of the being is somehow humourous, to me, all wide-eyed with shock. The being, possibly the titular "Urm" in this light, seems fitting to the concept and execution of the above lyric.

Remnants of Protector's rote satanic Heavy Metal past remain on their logo, what with the red pentagram. Protector have nothing satanic to offer on this song (and record, if memory serves). Confused ideology, again is fitting to what they're singing about above.

And finally to the performance itself, Protector's music is so alienating for anyone expecting any type of 'fun' in their thrash metal. The guitar tone is singularly ugly, the composition completely dry, the vocal execution cavernous and very simple, a recitation of words. No flow, no emotion.

And this is exactly why this is such a spectacular success as a song and as a message. Because every aspect of its form supports its content. The content itself is really bereft of a political message, there is absolutely no attempt to contextualize who these 'goverments' are that scrap their weapons are, and whatnot. This is an expression of existential angst in its purest form with the added revolutionary quality that somehow Heavy Metal allows for: there is no resolution to this angst, this angst is all we have. Nothing will ever change.

The context can easily be researched. Protector were German, operating circa 1986 to 1989 (When this particular record came out). The Cold War tensions inherent in that setup are evident, yet there is no retelling in this particular song. Would there be, if Protector could actually articulate themselves in a second language? Probably (check a great many sociopolitical German thrash bands of the time, with Sieges Even being the absolutely most notable on their song "David" off of "Life Cycles"). But that speculation is moot as what we have at hand is exactly this, no less no more.

Those that want to make a case for erudite Heavy Metal lyrics can turn to Sabbat and early Fates Warning and they can attempt to explain how these songs aren't *really* about dragons and escapism. I can do that and might in the future, but for right now, what we need is a defense of Urm the Mad, Urm the Five Year Old, Urm the Child that doesn't understand why the world around them functions on regurgitation of past trauma. Not great poetry? Sure. Great art.

Another example, much better known:

All together now:

Obscured by the sun
Apocalyptic clash
Cities fall in ruin
Why must we die?

Obliteration of mankind
Under a pale grey sky
We shall arise

I did nothing, saw nothing
Terrorist confrontation
Waiting for the end
Wartime conspiracy

I see the world - old
I see the world - dead

Victims of war, 
Seeking some salvation
Last wish, fatality
I've no land, I'm from nowhere
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Face the enemy
Manic thoughts
Religious intervention
Problems remain

This faux haiku delivery of the notoriously English-impaired Brazilian thrash/death behemoth, Sepultura, defined the early '90s in what Heavy Metal is, so pay attention. This videoclip is to blame for many of us here thinking Brazil is some post-apocalyptic wasteland in our teenager years. Here in Greece, Sepultura were decidedly the landmark band that shaped what our own country was doing in extreme metal and you could find three-or-less word condemnations of politics and environmental paeans in every second thrash metal demo. Their message survives through language barriers by sheer force of will.

And how can you not love this delivery? OBSCURED BY THE SUN! APOCALYPTIC CLASH! RELIGIOUS INTERVENTION! PROBLEMS REMAIN! This is pretty much life defined. The resolute power of this song would be nowhere near as impactful were the lyrics written by a native speaker. And we have proof of this in "Stronger than Hate", a Sepultura cut from their prior record "Beneath the Remains" with lyrics by Kelly Shaeffer from Atheist.

I shall redeem myself from the clutches
That grasp at my inner self

No tomorrow will ease my oppression
My streak of hate leads my way

Look at me
My feelings turn
Stronger than hate
I can't decide on which way to turn
My choices are few and far between
A lifetime of remorse

There's no place that I've ever been
I stand above their remains
My vengeance I have regained

I don't know what lies on the floor
I won't be locked up anymore
Standing here I've lost all faith
I have no social equality

To live again would be a lie
My life is not worth the pain

Much, much worse, if you ask me. Bring back the Apocalyptic Clash. And you know what the above lyrics by Shaeffer remind me most of? The type of lyrics people bring up when they want to defend how great 'the right' metal lyrics are. Heavy Metal is at its best not when it's underperforming poetry, but when it's elevating its stupidity to the profound. This happens through musical and extra-musical means, this happens with record covers, and band photos, and interviews, and liner notes, and it comes from concentrated listening and the awe brought upon the listener when they do the deed in solitude and outside of normality. When people are looking for great Heavy Metal poetry to defend their hobby to outsiders, they're ripping out a surface text from an experience that is multi-faceted and most importantly, unapologetically unwieldy and crude.

Of course there is smart Heavy Metal, and there's smart Heavy Metal lyric. The aforementioned Sabbat often employ clever wordplay and have a healthy message amongst all the thrashing carnage. And there are also native speakers writing in Heavy Metal bands, after all the world's most important HM bands are American and British. But I think I'm hitting on some truth when I say that we need to recontextualize the 'bad Heavy Metal lyric' and see what it achieves from within that context where it is necessarily for it to be bad. Not a problem to be fixed. It is I believe an error to cherry-pick the few examples of craftsmanship in our genre and fashion a critical shield with them. Instead, demand that the critic experience the context of the dumb lyric to see that they're not really missing out on some profound message that only the initiated can grasp. Heavy Metal is truly often as stupid as it seems. But it is also powerful for it, because that dumb song some Germans over the Iron Curtain came up with? There was tremendous personal sacrifice for them to be able to put it on vinyl in 1989.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Metal Inclusivity

So, here I am, 29 years old, more than half of my life spent listening or creating Heavy Metal music, and I am now acutely aware that what what people say when they use the term 'metal' does not correspond to my Heavy Metal experience. I am not upset or annoyed at this, but it does make me think on how that happened.

This will not be a text about how Heavy Metal was better in the old days. I'm not interested in eulogizing a view of the past that is more than anything else coloured by nostalgia. Nostalgia is a treacherous emotion in that it's weight in a memory is arbitrary and unconnected to the value of the original experience. I am equally likely to feel nostalgia for when I first watched a seminal piece of cinema like, say, Blade Runner as I am for watching Superman IV: Quest for Peace.

There are those, I've found, that surrender to nostalgia wholesale. They will idolize any artifact of their past with equal fervor. This creates an obvious problem when discussing Ye Olde Heavy Metal, because those rose tinted glasses can strip away the awfulness of this music and just leave, say, that one good riff or nice solo to shine. This selective view of the past will not help us in a discussion of where exactly *my* Heavy Metal and metal at large became not just disparate, but antithetical entities.

The angle I'm interested in instead is to look at what is gained, socially, by metal inclusivity. What is gained in the modern pop culture dialogue over metal in erring on the side of including outsider bands in the increasingly broadening metal canon. Who benefits, and what exactly are the benefits?

The parties in this social structure, real and symbolic, are: 'metal music' as a genre, the bands that play the music, fans, journalists and finally, society at large.

So let's say there's this new, interesting band that seems to play vital, exciting music. Let' say they're called Pinkish Black. Let's say that they've come out with a new record, and it's ostensibly reviewed and talked about in metal circles, signifying that they're metal, at least to some extent. A cursory listen to them will reveal they're a formalist hybrid of many different genres of music, yet we are encountering them in the metal press, as a metal band. So let's see who benefits and how they benefit from the inclusion of this band in metal culture.

First, our conception of 'metal music' benefits from the inclusion of Pinkish Black in that we have now another reason to suggest that metal is alive and vital and still branching out and producing culture capital. It means metal is music to pay attention to, and most importantly it means it's music to pay attention to if you're slightly on the outside of it and you want to see if it now, with Pinkish Black (let's say) you are also a little bit more included.

Fans benefit from being inclusive in what they consider metal because in this way they appear open-minded and that they're supporting a growing type of music. For their bravado, metal fans have long carried a persecution complex (it could be said that that is the core of the metalhead social personality, really) and as long as a narrative is sold to them that they're being embraced by the mainstream on their own terms, they lap it up eagerly. Their own terms in this case basically means as long as there's an illusion that the mainstream is coming to them, they're not going to the mainstream. And that may not be as completely illusory as I at first expected.

The metal press benefits in that they're covering a wider scene, there's more articles to write, more bands to market, more shows to book, more culture product to spread. For the metal journalist there is nothing worse than the realization that their niche of culture is dead. It is better to invent a new metal than to accept that it is dead. Ironically, this large-scale inclusion policy in most metal sites have contributed to their unreadability. Too many album streams. To many live show write-ups. Too many interviews on what books band people read. To mask the lack of actual discussion of metal music for what it is and where it's heading.

Society at large benefits from metal being more inclusive because that means it'll be more watered down. For all its social uselessness, the scary ghost of Heavy Metal was indeed, that. Scary. For a while at least, culminating with church burnings and homicides. What can society do with that? It can feel the dark reverence towards death, of course, but it can't sell that shit if it gets so (un)real. Now, costumed clowns that play music that isn't so far removed from that of Limp Bizkit, sure! They can be the new metal.

The bands that are now branded as metal benefit because they're exposed to the metal audience. It may or may not be the case that other audiences they could reach for would not support them enough or support them as they would like to be supported. This is a really curious thing for people of my age that were into Heavy Metal in the mid '90s because back then (and for a long spell afterwards), actual metal bands were trying their hardest to distance themselves from metal and if you told, say, a stoner rock musician that they liked Iron Maiden, they would take great offence.

So, what changed? Why is now the metal audience a desirable one for outsiders? Has the Heavy Metal stigma been lifted?

I believe that the case is that metal music has resisted - for good or worse - marketing extinction campaign during the grunge era. Don't reach for your tinfoil hats here, people. I am not saying that The Man Hates our Truth or anything. I am just saying that the market recognised that if loud music is here to stay, can't we at least have a more palatable version we can sell, and to a wider audience? Hence the grunge fabrication (which was peddled on the backs of some fortunate and many more unfortunate american punk bands).

That metal has continued to sustain a core audience mainly due to word of mouth and grassroots communities online has proved to the mainstream that it's here to stay. The reason that it's here to stay is that metal music carries a Romanticist torch and though not everything it inspires is beautiful, enough of it is. Beautiful art that pretends to be about ageless natural truth and imagination apparently won't go out of style. New generations of metal listeners are introduced through the classics (Sabbath, Metallica, Maiden) in the same organic way that they enter puberty. Since the attempts to ameliorate the rough edges of Heavy Metal and sell it like hair metal or grunge fell through, in the first case because the saccharine coating was completely cynical and in the latter case because the depressive self-destructive tendencies were entirely too real - the only real way left for metal music to be integrated in broader culture was to be accepted. Somewhat.

So, metal music won. And that's why Heavy Metal has died. The antagonistic ambition of Heavy Metal (of Romance itself) is such that it cannot thrive without the adversarial role. Heavy Metal has a long history of inventing the enemy it needs to function (posers die, false metal, rap music, etc.) and never before has the war cry against something, anything, felt more hollow than in the last ten years or so. This acutely explains the rise of National Socialist Black Metal. If people won't believe that posers must die and those that are false must leave the hall, then all that is left is to say that our racial identity is under attack and the most enduring form of the Other is our enemy (the Jews).

Truthfully, there's nobody left to hate us. Most people enjoy at least some metal-influenced music, some sort of angry loud formalist take on what Judas Priest came up with. The collapse of Grand Narratives after the fall of the Soviet Union removed from the culture the aspect of 'mandatory ideological struggle' as a signifier of grreat art. This may have happened gradually and not without illness, but it happened. In a world where Capitalism won, was there really much difference left between those of 'true heart' and those that were 'false'?

I am not advocating for another fabrication of a comfortable enemy so that Heavy Metal again may live. It's ridiculous. Capitalism seems to be having enough trouble winning without an opponent that I am sure the Western World will again live enough tragedy and turmoil that angry, rebellion-based culture will find a real foothold again. I am not really looking forward to this either. I just wanted to add to the dialogue over 'what is considered metal' these analytical tools that explain that perhaps the real reason we're reaching out to outsiders to fill in for metal is that metal has been missing in action for a reason that is meta-cultural and larger than any 'us vs them' narrative would have us believe.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sexism in Heavy Metal

We must be very skeptical when we see Heavy Metal express conformist ideological positions.

If language is the domain of domestication of experience - and by that I mean, if language is a tool for making faux-sense from non-sense - then what is Real is what is left unspoken; Therewithin lies the enduring necessity of art and especially music: in expressing the inexpressible, a sideways glance inside the wound of existence. Heavy Metal is a wordless scream. It is pointing at the horror of life. From blatant forms of death and decay and zombies to the more modernist depictions of middle-class ennui and urban alienation.

Heavy Metal tolls the funeral bells for 43 years now. Surely the danger it prophesies must have occurred by now, right? If not, then the danger is time itself, experience itself, the horror and awe of sentience.

Warning, Humans: The apocalypse is at hand, it has forever been at hand. There is no final count, no absolution, no yesterday and no tomorrow.

Romance is the tool of Heavy Metal, a modern sort of music with an ancient conceit. In that space, the nationalist tendencies of it can be best understood. In that space, men are Men, women don't really have souls and the world is there to conquer and forge anew with willpower. Imagine that Victorian dolt on the painting standing with his silly suit and cane on the top of the mountain gazing at the clouds. Actually, don't just imagine, here it is

Ahh... not a single woman or nigger in sight!

Heavy Metal subcultures are rife with racism, but have been making some progress. There is a political precedent that allows for some limited progress in that aspect and it comes via Rush: Ayn Rand-type Objectivism. Because that strain of thought persists and informs Heavy Metal, listeners are prepared to accept an individual of color as part of their tribes if they show a strong will and moral sense *akin to that of the white man*. In this way, people from other races are allowed in the clubhouse if they understand and can further the memetic ancestry of individualism, capitalism and Manichean ethics: If you believe in the Strong, if you believe in free commerce, if you believe in Good and Evil, you can be part of the metal hordes.

As problematic and colonialist as all this sounds, there can be a discussion and progress from such a basis (and there has been). Such a basis can be radicalized. What is needed is higher level discourse by the proponents of Heavy Metal subcultures to take it there. Now where these people are and why aren't they writing (or composing and performing) to that end is it's a whole different issue and article.

But even a staunch nationalistic and ancient-loving point of view in Heavy Metal is not a conformist point of view; It comes in contact with modern living and there is friction. From this friction, sparks of interest can arise. Heavy Metal doesn't need to be correct (or even very nice), it just needs to collide with preconceptions in a spectacular way so as to inspire individuals to seek their individual truths., for example, a hornet's nest of neo-nazis and misanthropes if there ever were one, has had a brief positive influence on me not due to the letter of its content, but its counter-cultural spirit on the whole. In the outright lunacy of suggesting Heavy Metal carries the torch of classical composition and not blues-based rock n' roll (which is left to the loathsome blacks) I learned "well, if this person can re-contextualize the narrative of Heavy Metal in whatever way they like, then so can I. Who is going to stop me, Lemmy?".

That is the seed of radical thinking and self-definition that Heavy Metal trades in.

But when it comes to ingrained gender roles, Heavy Metal isn't even inspiringly over-identifying with a  bigoted point of view. It has no extreme message. It doesn't push anything.

Heavy Metal agrees with an American home-owner from the '30s on the role of Man and Woman in life. The man is the hunter out in the wild. The woman tends to the cubs inside the cave.

When Heavy Metal express conformist ideological positions, we must be very skeptical.

An over-identification that could have been useful would be for a Heavy Metal band to be defiantly pro-homosexual and call for the destruction of womankind on the whole. That's the sort of nonsense you can work with.

But this middle of the road misogyny just breeds lukewarm contempt from those of us that are anti-sexists and a lurid confirmation bias from those of us that have been traditionally sexist to begin with. This sort of sexism that Heavy Metal endorses is ass-patting the worst aspects of male listeners, it provides no challenge, it provides no restrictions and no transcendentalist goal; It just reiterates on the common old narrative that women are inferior, weak of spirit and desire and can only be sexually acted upon by Proud Mens. The only women it accepts are glorified sex objects and/or (be very careful with the 'or' proposition here, it is extremely potent psycho-dynamically) women that have taken upon them the role of men so as to survive. Imagine some boy looking up at his mother's thighs. Imagine her all decked out in chains and leather and spitting out a sickkkk guitar solo, imagine a boy's erection turning to a man's erection.

So either women as sex objects, or women as sex objects that double as male tyrants.

How can this base be radicalized? From the esoteric/occult aspect, I would expect Heavy Metal bands to posit a message of full abstinence from sexual activity of any kind. Heavy Metal tends to look at human beings as spirits first anyway, it would be very useful for a musical subculture to strip any gendered identifier from its fanbase and aggressively police a no-joy, no-fun, anti-human, anti-life approach. Of course this would be short lived and its results horrible in a whole different way, but from a point of view of cultural theory, all that fallout would be useful to work with and to push forward from, as a building base. 

Another approach would be to de-centralize the narrative of 'Man is Strong, Strength is everything, Will is everything, Willpower is therefore masculine' in Heavy Metal. A Romantic core can be separated from those 'might is right' nationalist conceits because the core of Romance is not strength. It is dread, terror, awe. It is the unmentionable, that which can only be glanced at sideways. If anything, the ablation of such horror and torment can only be the existential solution: I remain close to this terror, I remind myself of this terror, if I forget this terror, I have lost my way. There is no right and wrong, I must make of my existence what I can with full knowledge that life and death are the same thing.

Furthermore the most direct method would be to aggressively recount and attack gender stereotypes in Heavy Metal via pure fucking Modernist/Humanist holocaust. Do we still have any progressive metal worth its salt? Can they make a few concept albums about say, the journey of a transgendered individual through life? How about progressive metal about sexual dysfunction and alienation directly? Where's my prog metal opera on the debunking of biological determinism? Heavy Metal stands in proud opposition to teleological determinants describing sentience, after all. Life is horror, life is imagination, life is life, right? Can these tensions be either lessened or absurdly stressed to the point of deconstruction?

Before any such forward-thinking reconstruction of Heavy Metal can occur we sadly have to deal with a much more banal but pertinent issue. People love their comfort-food-art more than they love other human beings, even in the abstract.

This can be seen online every day, in social media. If pressed, people will prefer for Game of Thrones to continue existing than the whole gender of women.

If you criticize the culture they use as self-identification, you are criticizing their being itself. People are very quick to react to this in the worst ways.

The first thing we have to discuss, for a long time, until people understand it, is that you can both like -or even love- a type of art and at the same time have the necessary distance from it to see the ugliness in its inner workings. Be it music, video games, movies or tv shows, whatever you love is also hurting you. Too much distance is obscuring the vital connection we have with art. Too little distance makes the art we love so integral to our being that it takes hold of us and leaves us to the whims of market capitalists selling product. Believe it or not, critique of culture and an examination of media can contribute to radicalization but we first must understand our relationship to the media itself, regardless of the content of media. It is impossible to discuss the problem or sexism or racism in Heavy Metal before all parties agree that human beings are more important that Heavy Metal.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Four Reviews of a Tile


This tile makes me feel bad when I look at it. I don't know what it is about it but it's unsettling to look at for long. Thankfully I only had to look at it once to write my review. I don't like it when tiles make me feel bad things and I'll go as far as to say that the majority of other tiles I've looked at once made me feel better than this, I think... I am a human being with a capacity for emotion, but I want my tiles to make me feel good things. Bad emotions scare me and unsettle me.


This tile makes makes me feel bad when I look at it. I don't know what it is, perhaps it's too grey or the pattern is too ordered, but it's unsettling to look at for long. Perhaps what I am feeling is a sense of loneliness that I associate with bathrooms, we all go to the bathroom alone, usually, right? Is there really a tile that would make me feel not bad to look at? Certainly, I have the memory of better tiles than this, perhaps with a nice floral pattern? Or perhaps its the isolation of this tile from any other elements of its usual context that makes me feel lonely with it. In any case, as a being with a capacity for emotion, I will look at this tile twice to hone in on this particular emotion before I discount it as a negative one. I am a being with capacity for contradictory emotions and I am not afraid of a little loneliness.


This tile makes me feel bad when I look at it. I don't know what it is, perhaps it's too grey or the pattern is too ordered, but it's unsettling to look at for long. What I think makes it unsettling is the front-face flash photography lighting, which makes me think like I'm looking at the floor or a morgue or other sterile place. I'm thinking of the machinery involved in the production of this tile now and what functional fundamentals are involved in the necessities of this tile. The necessary modularity of the panels, the slight texture that is easy to miss when just glancing at the tile. Why do human beings need to make even the simplest, most functional mass produced item have a granular surface? I am now imagining a world in which every surface is of the same Platonic substance and texture, perhaps that of a grey egg. I am thinking of how perhaps this is sometimes how we compose images in your dreams. Now I'm back to thinking of a factory and a production line of these tiles. I think of the imperfect ones that the machinery creates and a human worker has to fish out and discard manually. I am now considering a human being defined by that characteristic, of their capacity to make aesthetic distinctions, and of where they would extend. Does the worker discard a tile with no functional blemish other than that the randomized texture it got from the machine is arranged in a way that displeases them?

And suddenly, from this train of thought it hits me and I know why this tile makes me feel sad. As a child I often looked at such manufactured surfaces and my eye would hang on faces I found in the texture, usually grotesque or comical faces. I would look away... and then look back and see if my mind could find the faces again. This was an insane little game. I remember doing this in hotels, in hospitals, in school. A restless mind in isolation. Children are often taught to sit and be patient and patience is a very difficult thing for me, I suspect as a child it was unbearable.

I am thinking now of a piece of glimmering mineral in some fractalized shape and how holding one in your hand and slowly rotating it would catch the light in different ways. I am thinking of a concept, an image, a gestalt image, and its inverted form. I am thinking of something Correct and something False. How you can turn something Correct completely around and it is now False. I am thinking of how much the Correct and the False thing would retain their contour, their outside shape in this way, how the polarity might be inverted but the function remains the same and equally opaque.

I am thinking of the tile, slowly rotating, instead. Not locked in a binary shift, instead kaleidoscopically rotating on a mad axis, light catching on its edges, shadows making grotesque caricatures dance, front face and back. I look away, and then I turn by head again.



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Awe and the Grand Narrative

Heavy Metal has a romanticist conceit and a modernist tension inside it. The romance is ancient, or at least it pretends to be. It has a manufactured fantasy of an long-lost age of wisdom which post-temporally inspires and is inspired by it. In that ancient past, the Gods were all around us (and indeed, within us), nature was Beauty and Beauty was Truth. The horror, the awe of death is as beautiful as the bliss of birth. Not events to interpret, but symbols of inalienable Platonic ideals. That ancient, imagined script holds resonance for the listener of Heavy Metal. In a world without gods, the point of religion is access to Awe itself.

Heavy Metal is a modern type of music, it came to exist in the tail-end of the modern era and held, at least half-heartedly a conceit inside it that what it had to say was applicable to the modern world, even if in antagonism to it. It said 'this is the right way to live, or at least to imagine life, in this decrepit world'. And, of course, it faced the effects of deconstruction along with other forms of modern art (pop or not) in the decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

With the end of the Cold War and the victory of capitalism, western society entered into the era of endlessness, the death of history. Art, like everything else was shaped by commerce, the prime tool of capitalism.

According to where you live in the western world and your educational level, this process might have come early or later, be more transparent or opaque. For many readers it is quite possible you weren't even born before the change was complete and do not remember a world which still held Grand Narrative ideals at heart. To offer a brief description, this is to say we now live in a world where truth is relative, there is no universal goal for humanity to agree upon, there is no clear distinctive direction for progress of the world and everything that means something can only mean that in relation to something else and also in relation to whom it is supposed to mean that and other orbiting forces and pressures. 

The line drawn between modern and post-modern art is important for us that discuss Heavy Metal. It is important because it's very different from art that is self-defining as modernist and post-modernist. Just as we live in a post-modern world regardless of whether we ascribe to postmodernist philosophical points of view willingly. The post-modern state is non-negotiable. And art that retains a modernist (or even worse, romanticist) mindset in this context faces challenges that would be alien to same art in 1970 or 1980.

To understand why post-metal rings hollow in the ears of old-school metalheads, you have to look to post-metal as willingly post-modernist music. It uses the sonic tools of metal (distortion, double bass, screams, etc) to ends clearly not modernist and not romanticist. It has no truths to offer and no ancient paths to long for. It is instead highly personal, cryptic, avoidant of any solid stance or ideal. It is music which references no Grand Narrative, it has no secret inside of it, it doesn't promise a hidden glimpse towards something bigger, whole, all-encompassing, Beautiful.

This doesn't mean that it can't be beautiful, for it often is. But the beauty is in its form and not its message. It's like architecture of a space in which no humans are meant to live. Beauty in itself, but no wonder the fascination with such curiosities does not last.
And before we boo and hiss at post-metal, let's look at modern resurgences of old types of metal, like neo-thrash, new old-school epic metal and so on. That music is not post-modernist willingly. It is however, not like the old music. It's a copy of the old music, in a post-modern era. It rings hollow not because of false ideals but because the concept of 'true ideals' in a post-modern world is suspect in itself. As odd as Heavy Metal could look and sound in the '80s, it was taken at face value by listeners because that was the way to treat art at the time. Today, when a band puts on the denim and leather and patches, all these signifiers are very clearly a surface reconstruction of elements of a deconstructed past. Truth is not at stake here, instead aesthetics.

All of modern Heavy Metal, be it post-metal or the staunchest manowar-like epic metal, is concerned with aesthetics. It knows exactly what it's trying to reference and judges itself with how closely it can achieve that predefined aesthetic vision. 

For every one of your favorite '70s and '80s Heavy Metal records, there's today, and I guarantee it, a clone band's clone album that is twice as well-played and produced as that, but without any of the spirit.

And this spirit is not a metaphysical demand from me that's strictly relevant to Heavy Metal or whatever, it is the spirit of the whole of the twentieth century that has perished.  

This is the clearest way to explain why Heavy Metal is dead and we are simply toying with the corpse.

Does this mean there can no longer be any Heavy Metal with spirit, vitality and importance in 2013? I think there can be, but not for us. Perhaps for young people who somehow inexplicably emerge with a belief in a new Grand Narrative, however dumb. For us that have survived the death of the old Ideals, Heavy Metal can only function as a time-machine. 

And the young people for whom x New Wave of New Wave of British Heavy Metal is like, so awesome, give them ten years in capitalist society, that'll fix their view on truth, beauty and progress. They will realize their heroes lied.

Now, of course, the jack in the deck is capitalism itself. It's not doing too well, lately. If it could be said that the last 20-30 years in Europe were the promised capitalist dream where enlightened individuals (never groups) rise above their peers and achieve wealth and freedom while their lessers toil at the lower classes, then we are entering an age of the capitalist nightmare, where the most the enlightened individual can hope for is to have food and a place to stay, while nine out of then of their peers simply die in the streets, deemed permanently unemployable by conglomerate banks and other overarching systems.

Could there be a resurgence of the concept of history itself? Will 'progress' again mean something and if so, what would that be? 

There are many left-field activists and politically aware people who will say to what I write that for them history never died and that their Grand humanist Narrative was always an enduring truth. To those quasi-theoretical people I can only say "yes, perhaps... but when did you last go to the cinema? When did you last watch those downloaded tv-shows from America you so love? When did you last read a good book describing the valiant ascent of an enlightened individual to the top of society? How much did you enjoy these products of capitalism whose main function is to deconstruct your social identity?" I am, myself quite on the left end of the political spectrum, but I have a sense of humor about this because I am truly a product of capitalism first and foremost. I recognize my memories of the glorious past are fantasies, and my belief in Humanity at best schizophrenic. Fervent to endorse and fight for the rights of the downtrodden, of women, of homosexuals, of immigrants, and at once mad with rage against the majority of humans that obstruct this path of ideals. The Grand Narrative is in shambles inside of me, both alive and dead at the same time. I am toying with the corpse.

These tensions might or might not be resolved (or made clearer) in my lifetime. Greece (my home country) is in complete disarray right now. The crisis is pan-European. America's not doing too hot either. Will capitalism be salvaged, the banking systems reconfigured? If so, at what cost to the system and what to the populace? Or will the reign be pulled even tighter and throw parts of the western world into outright chaos and war? Will we, to the march of the war drum remember old, manufactured Gods and nature and worship self-evident symbols of truth because we need them, again like good old fascists, or will be regain our social identity and fight for worker rights and a humanist future like good old communists? And what of that sneaking, crawling suspicion inside me that both of these paths we can take at the same time because we can not fully believe in anything anymore and we will mix and match as it suits us with the post-modernist tool-set that we have been given by inheritance?

Monday, April 29, 2013

In art, nothing is as stupid as intelligence

So how stupid is Heavy Metal, really?

I've found that a key to understanding the perception of this genre of music rests on the public preconception of it as dumb or 'low' art. And to a degree the appropriation of Heavy Metal tropes by outsiders via 'post-metal' was an attempt to smarten up Heavy Metal so it can finally be appreciated by those who feel a magnetic pull to it but would rather not be seen in public with it.

(Oh, such malignant enjoyment I take from seeing them fumble about with instrumental post-shoegaze ambient black metal/indiecore to somehow reconcile their fascination with, say, Manowar.)

It took me this long to talk about this because, honestly, as an issue it has been invisible for me for the longest time. I grew up with Heavy Metal first and foremost, so aside from a few works of philosophy, I am exactly as smart/dumb as it is.

I've been confronted, over the years with variations of a piece of back-handed flattery I find especially tickling. I've been told that I am a metalhead 'unlike the others'. That though I do not try to distance myself from the perceptually lowest core of Heavy Metal (I proudly listen to Carnivore, say) I do not seem to fit the cliche of the vinyl-gatherer in arrested development they understand metalheads to be. I am kind and a good conversationalist (on other topics, even!) and seem centered. From the complement we can draw two conclusions.

1. Were a metalhead to be able to distance themselves from the idiocy in the core of Heavy Metal, they absolutely would. In effect they would stop being metalheads and become one of those ironic widowers who now listen to one of the various permutations of post-metal. Certainly, Heavy Metal has died, one has not to just remarry but also hastily bury the decomposing corpse.

2. That they do not do this is due to incapacity. Probably because of stupidity or some other sort of fundamental character flaw. It is impossible to take this music seriously without some defect fueling the interest.

I am not going to attempt to combat these assumptions as fervently as the reader might expect. I do believe - as I've written in the past - that Heavy Metal has died and we're just dressing up the corpse in cute ways, a little bit of neo-thrash, now an occult robe, oh how nice. Perhaps the corpse appears animated to a sixteen year old that just bought their first Municipal Waste album just yesterday. And I do think mine - or anyone else's - continued interest over decades betray a morbid fascination to say the least. You can do two things with a dead thing. One would be to cradle it nostalgically and mourn forever the crystallized past. The other is nekromantia - divination of the future in the innards of a gutted rat.

But the aspect of the above assumption I will challenge is that the defect that drives the metalhead is a lack of intelligence of some sort.

Heavy Metal is difficult to parse for many because it seems preoccupied with low drives. Death and butchery, hedonistic lust and driving motorcycles and/or dragons. Difficult topics to make a defense for. But then, why are people whose trajectory passed close to Heavy Metal still so compelled to even talk about it, even if it is in the most damning terms? There is something dark and strong in there and a surface read of dragons and motorcycles doesn't seem to diminish the allure.

The profundity in Heavy Metal lies in that it is dumb and smart at the same time. This happens in a startlingly simple way (and why it's difficult for us to come outside and look in to see it): take inherently sensitive and intelligent people and do not give them socially positive ways to express that intelligence. Supress them. Give them fifty pages from ten different philosophers, give them horror movies and dungeons and dragons and tell them that's their lot. The sort of intelligence they will develop will be somewhat dysfunctional and unrecognizable if held against the paradigm of intelligence as means of social success and upwards mobility. Heavy Metal is smart in the dumbest way possible, in the most useless way possible.

So the best Heavy Metal artifacts are monuments to that savant brilliance. Those that feel drawn to this but yet are disgusted by its low level are victims of an illusion that Heavy Metal willfully creates. They see before them an entity that burns darkly from inside, it has no outside activator. It did not go to college, it doesn't have many friends, it is mis-educated at best. Yet, somehow it can divine a future in the guts of a rat. It knows allll about you. The illusion is that Heavy Metal (and its people) seem to have been born this way, or if not, to have carved themselves in this image with pure willpower.

This is the great defense of Heavy Metal. How can a stupid record from the Czech Republic capture the ethos of Nietzschian thought without the people that made it having read any Nietzsche? And why does it still have a sacrificed goat on the cover? How can a stupid seven inch NWOBHM extrude an air of otherworldly dignity and strength when the title of the track is even misspelled? How can this black-clad longhair smile to me with such kindness? How can these people be everything I was told not to be and still function?

The illusion is that they function. Nobody functions, it is impossible to function in our modern world. But that's the spell that Heavy Metal casts, that's what metalheads gave their souls to buy, that disarming semblance of inner strength, conviction and drive.

Heavy Metal is dumb and yet ambitious. Never before have there been less equipped artists attempting more lofty artistic goals. Heavy Metal is uneducated and socially inept but with the very little that it knows it creates a world in itself. It is a self-sustaining system.

That is where it is dangerous. What Heavy Metal asks of you to give you this self-sustaining system is an impossible task: Destruction of the self, so that the self may live. The 'other' metalheads you know whom you find so easily dismissable and abhorrent, married to their leather jacket, who have a thousand words for riff but not one for pathos, they are the mutants of this chaos process. The 'almost got there's, they are the Renfields to Heavy Metal Dracula, eating vinyl insects to survive, wondering when their master will come to imbue in them eternal life.

And so Heavy Metal is dead. The Dying Bride has finally perished. The wedding dress is damp with old decay and red with rust. Why haven't these people (mutants all, successful or not) given up? Why do they still listen to a record from 1986 as if it's important? A corpse is a corpse and a corpse will not rise. The horrible craft left to us, those 'metalheads unlike the others' is just that of divination.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Morbid Angel - Blessed are the Sick

Released in 1991 by Earache records.

David Vincent - Vocals, Bass
Trey Azagthoth  - Guitars, Annoying Midi
Richard Brunelle - Guitars
Pete Sandoval - Drums

Do you think your life is fair? Do you think you deserve the hardships that befall you? Do you think your life will ultimately make sense as a narrative, and whose will be the authorial intent that dictates this narrative? Will it be God that kisses the boo boo and makes everything alright? Will you be rewarded with an afterlife of bliss for your service? Surely, for life to be so cruel there must be a reason. We can't be brought to this world of screams through coincidence and non-sense and we can't be just left to fend for ourselves. Surely, someone must be governing our rise and our fall. Someone must be keeping score.

What if there's no one? What if there's no God, or at least no God that is good, that cares about us and that is going to make everything plain and clear upon our reunion with Him after this world of lies goes up in flames? What if nobody understands anything? What is this world then, but a wound - an open wound that, were you to look directly inside it, you would grow mad from disgust and anguish?

The concept of the world as absurd. We toil for no master, to no end and then we die. The gods - if they even exist - extend at most a cruel laughter in our general direction. We can strive to do no good because there is nobody that can prescribe goodness. To toil eternally in an empty grave, to enduringly lament.

At the face of this realisation we must stand forever shocked. For those of you that think now "what a banal point to make" I dare you to revisit it from the vantage of yourselves as ten year olds, if you can connect to your past at that age. Try to hone in on the first memory of pure injustice, of unwarranted pain and loss you've experienced. Did your puppy die of cancer? Did your mother send you to live with your drunk father? Did your best friend get killed in an auto-mobile accident? Did you realize you were of one gender trapped in the body of another? Don't just reflect on that feeling, relieve it. And then loudly say, in your full grown-human voice "there is no reason why this has happened. It has served nothing and no one". I dare you to say this to that negative being in the room there with you, that shadow-self, that mirror into nothingness. Go on, tell them that your whole life's story, so gloriously pivoting around your personal narrative of sacrifice and loss is just pure nonsense. Smile to the darkness.

If we are to move away from this feeling, it we are to remove either part of this hellish equation, we are intellectually bankrupt. We can't unlearn what we already know, so if we know there is no God, we cannot invent one. If this world is absurd, we can't pretend it adheres to some system of morality. There is no good and evil. Whatever hope there is, it is inside us. The will to exist, the drive to live, it is the uroboros snake, it gives birth to itself and in the end it will consume itself.

All systems of belief and systems of ideology pretend to give a more comfortable answer to this question by avoiding either premise. All spiritual overbeings are variations of the Gnostic Demiurge. A flawed god, with human qualities, looking over us, for good or worse. An intermediate step of consciousness between us petty humans and the killing light of a true, uncaring God. Oh how we miss our daddy, all of us.

And the satanist? Oh, the satanist is their own daddy. Talk about a snake eating itself. Such a bright, burning flame will surely burn out fast. How many great records can a satanist make? Judging from Morbid Angel, at best, two.

Here we will look at their second, aptly named "Blessed are the Sick". There isn't much poetry that I will conjure, dear reader. We can instead look at the text-as-it-is:


Another me, born to serve
To plague 
So many years 
My seed condemned
Now free to roam

Will is yours? 
So, creator
No intent could shadow
Shadow my disease 
And everlasting pain

World of sick
Blessed are we to taste
Life of sin

My touch inhumane
Nocturnal beast inside
Devoid of light
And empty shall remain

There is something very suspicious, here. Parts of the text seem to say that the prototypical "I" subject of the song is becoming something less than human through this Luciferian fall, but what is the full impression of the thing (especially if seen and heard in the accompanying video-clip) It is of Lucifer triumphant. To become less-than-human is to become a god. Morbid Angel here are eulogising the passing of human weakness, as they understand it. The empty shell that remains is an animal or, to state it carefully, a fantasy of an animal and animals are purer beings than humans.

The root of this approach to Nietzscheian thought is clear. To put it in a less useful but knowing way, this is "How to become a cat". Do you wonder why philosophers are so taken with our feline guests?

What is the human weakness, whose passing Morbid Angel so triumphantly extol? The answer to this question is found in the chorus: World of sick, blessed are we to taste life of sin. What they abhor is morality and ideology, the schizophrenic tools of self-negation that are so endemic in Nietzsche's slave mentality. Pure beings, beasts of darkness claim their killing power directly. Those of us that are weak and cowardly instead congregate under their tyranny and declare our weak bodies to be one, and in our death we triumph as martyrs. God listens to us. God will make this story cohere. God will reward us for our tragedy.

Hot wind burns me
Burning as I fall
Cast away speechless 
In the holy way
I survive the scourge 
And banishing
To scorching land
I am lord, I take command

Fall from Grace

Forgive me not
This knowledge 
Makes me strong
To resurrect
The cities of the damned
All the treasure of Sodom
Now belong to me 
Celebrate, fallen angels 
Take my hand

Whores long for my flesh
And my desire
Lust anointing me now
Consume my soul

I ride the flesh and the sinners of hell
I am Belial
I bend knee not before my selfish desire

Forgive the flowery prose, as the flowers of evil are want to be sickly sweet, after all. Morbid Angel are the best Heavy Metal has to offer in representation of malignant beauty. Their death metal is aeons apart from the crude, angst-driven odes to meat & death that most of their compatriots were concocting concurrently. It writhes wryly and so sensuously slithers that perhaps it even justifies a nipple ring or two in that video above. The answer that Morbid Angel have for the absurd world is "my might shall make the world right, but what is might if it is not beautiful". This is their contribution to our world, to make such twisted and odd-sounding music that still sounds beautifully constructed. Form justifies content. Underneath it all, Morbid Angel want to subvert the listener's preconception of beauty, they want to tell you what is good and what is evil. They want you to taste the forbidden fruit.

Gods transform me
The storm will cleanse me
Civilized I shall not be
By this holy strain of laws

For I'm no human now
I burn the ways conform
The gods are pleased with me
They speak my name in tongues

I am the seer
I know the texts divine
Thunder words
Demons race into my hands

Lend me your wings of twelve
I shall fly into the storm
I, son of fire, in anger become
The lightning bolts that strike the earth

Like good LaVeyian satanists, their odes to self are fully founded only in how convincing they can be for pedestrians such as you and I. Most apocryphal esotericism desires an audience to whom it shall meter out secrets prudently. A Morbid Angel without a crowd to worship him is worthless. Why the hell did he ever leave God's side if not for humans to worship him? Consider for a moment a very attractive celebrity of your liking (for their power is esoteric to the highest degree). Think of them withered and old and lonely at age 80, incontinent, senile. Well, Morbid Angel suffered from an advanced case of progeria because it only took them a couple of years to turn from Dionysus to husk. The moment their audience stopped taking them so seriously (and that moment is very closely connected, I theorize, with the slaying of one black metal personality by another in far-away Norway) it is they stopped being Belial and just became a few dudes into alternative sexuality. According to your vantage point, objects may appear bigger than they are, after all. Or smaller.

But this record has survived the perspective shift. What is conjured in this offering is an entity altogether divorced from a David Vincent or a Trey Azagzoth, much to their chagrin  Isn't it ironic how their egos have fallen but this testament to their virility and prowess stands erect fully of its own volition? To this world absurd there is another answer, one that doesn't, like a pathetic satanist's, revolve around the negation of weakness thru deceleration of strength alone . It is to offer tributes to hope itself, outside the self. For what are these endless paeans to self-empowerment you've read if not paeans to hope of self-empowerment? After all, no member of Morbid Angel managed to pass through a solid wall (regardless of what rumours you might have heard). A smarter man than David Vincent would have, immediately after Blessed are the Sick either left the band, or have made a record that has a sense of humour about how much more powerful his music is than himself.

What is so different in believing in yourself-as-seen-through-a-metal-album-you-made and believing in a deity of any stripe? This knowingness that your conjuration of this entity is false and can only serves a finite end. That of coping. The absurd wound is there. You own it. You're looking inside the wound sideways through art that is inherently vague, a curved mirror. What is left of any enduring quality in the end of this process is not an ascended being, it is the beauty of the effort.

What Morbid Angel achieve on this record is difficult to appreciate by a modern Death Metal listener, jaded as they presumably are by constant shows of instrumental dexterity. But Morbid Angel were the first to play such wrong-sounding music with such precision and drive that they made me think "p-perhaps this is right, after all?". It's easy to juxtapose a loud part and a quiet part (a la "Smells Like Teen Spirit") to propel a pop song dynamically, but Morbid Angel achieve full thrust without ever really putting two disparate parts against each other (and when they do, it's not the main propulsion point). Instead they keep in one mode but they streamline their form and they play them thus that they are aerodynamic. Think of how a snake slithers seemingly effortlessly. This is no mean feat. in fact, almost all of the modern technical brutal death metal I've heard fails at this.

But to have dynamic song-writing wouldn't be enough for this record to retain such glamour after all these years. The master-stroke here is that, as unsatisfying as the satanist's guidebook presented therein ultimately is, its main thrust comes, well... timely. The mechanics of this music's morphology excite and the lyric (which Vincent, one of the best growlers then and ever, took great care to be audible and understandable) gives a direction for this excitement. Simply put, it is very hard for me to listen to this record and then not feel immediately more powerful and focused. Of course I strip out the "Altars of Madness" retreads and the indulgent midi keyboard instrumentals.

This group would never achieve anything like this, and without careful examination it's hard to see why. After all, the record just after this has many of the same graces. It's called "Covenant", which is kind of a bad name but at least had an apt cover. The record after that, however, is idiotically called "Domination". If you have achieved such in your first two records, you're only going to set yourself up for failure by naming your fourth record "We are the best". Even "Domination" has some bright spots, but what I've found goes wrong in most of the songs in those follow-ups are that the dynamics are not there or when they are they do not connect with a triumphant message. "World of Shit"? Seriously? I thought your lightning bold carved the mountains and drained the oceans. The best you could do is "World of Shit"?

Needless to say after that third record, the rest don't even ever try to portray any malignant beauty, settling for otherworldly chaos and malice instead. And there's some racism thrown in there because David Vincent hasn't misunderstood his own message circa "Blessed are the Sick" enough, it seemed. Anyway, the crawling chaos and darkness was best conjured by many other death metal (and ironically, black metal) bands instead. The band's main writer, guitarist Trey Azagzoth never had a strong aesthetic vision. The person responsible for the warped beauty here is David Vincent, but he also - like all the satanists, in the end - became overfed on his own prowess. They are back together in this band now but I doubt they'll be able to recapture the spirit of this material, even live. Too old, too complacent, too distanced from youthful arrogance (an altogether different thing from middle-aged arrogance). But it only takes one such masterpiece to elevate Morbid Angel to the pantheon, after all.

If you do listen to this for the first time, grab the remastered version. Listen to the whole thing and then experiment with listening to only from 'Intro' to 'Thy Kingdom Come' (excluding also "Doomsday Celebration") and then tell me I'm right.