Why black metal is dead

August 22, 2016 § Leave a comment


Black metal arose out of the maladjustment and disenchantment of a young generation with the over-the-top commercialism of the world around them. This angst found release in the techniques that black metal innovated, and the stubbornly lo-fi and inaccessible forms in which the music presented itself. The first sought to sufficiently differentiate black metal from death metal on the musical level, to evolve a more narrative style of metal that previous incarnations were incapable of. The second, however, along with accompaniments like corpse paint and pseudonyms, in many ways captured the true black metal ethic: the killing of the ego, the subordination of the personal to the external, a steadfast and impenetrable elitism, designed to be inaccessible to all but the most dedicated.

In time, both these pillars of black metal came to be thought of as pastiche, or a passiondead sine qua non. Bands, perhaps up to the early 00s even, continued reproducing both facets with diligent study, however, the impetus present to the original bands was lost. Not only did the techniques which black metal created to assert its identity lose their orientation and slide back towards the percussively choppy realm of death metal, but, in even greater contravention of its natively iconoclastic spirit, black metal came to be a by-the-numbers endeavour to be made with pristine clarity inside a state-of-the-art studio.

The public latched on to this incremental accessibility and showered their heroes with great adulation. The instant that black metal musicians themselves grasped this development sounded the ultimate death knell for the genre. When relatively slight concessions could bring in such favour, imagine the rewards that might lie further down the road of mass appeasement! Of all metal sub-genres, black metal musicians of the modern era are perhaps the most adept at tailoring their music to the demands of a varied clientele. In this pursuit, they try to democratically meet their fans’ expectations by reducing their music to a chemical experiment in the laboratory, an assiduous toying around with the beads of an ABACUS scale, to arrive at just the right compound.

Is all of this a purposely cynical fraud perpetrated by black metal bands in secret congress? That would be stretching credulity, but collective consciousness in a subculture waxes and wanes in direct relation to its environment. But isn’t the environment today, if anything, even more crass and whored-out than it was during the birthing of the genre? Where all discourse has come to be subsumed under a uniformly egalitarian, transnationalist, “intersectionalist” rubric? What stops modern black metal bands from regaining some quantum of the vitality that spurred the originals? What is it that I mean by “the impetus is lost”?

The challenges of the world don’t stay constant. What existed thirty years ago was an isolated, localized world; what exists today is far more inflated in scope, but also, paradoxically and perhaps as a direct outcome, far more intrusive on the personal and communal plane. People like Rob Darken and Varg Vikernes have realized this, in thought and in their music, with varying effectiveness, but in both cases by avoiding the stagnancy that surrounds them, by eschewing almost entirely the ambit of traditional black metal.

To the rest of the field, playing black metal has become a job, with all the stultification of the mind that a job entails. Playing black metal today is like getting up in the morning, taking a shit, brushing your teeth, putting on business casuals, and heading out for the 9-5. But what stirs the spirit in any of this? What inflames the passions? What is the one monumental, waking thought that occupies the mind? Does black metal, the way it is today, believe itself to be a catalyst for any kind of sublative, transcendent movement?

These more than anything else are the questions that black metal musicians ought to be asking of themselves. And if the answers lie outside the purview of the style, then so be it.


August 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

william blake good and evil

I think we err in thinking of values as being unimpeachably universal, homogeneous principles. Rather, consider that values aren’t atomic units, but receptacles into which aspects of the collective human experience pour into. A value ought to arise of a weighing at the scales, of discrete yet tangentially-related events and considerations, which then coalesce around each other to create a composite, namely the said value. As then follows, values aren’t eternal, static placeholders; instead, they exist in a state of flux over different epochs.

I explicitly say the collective human experience, because it is only when one begins to view a human being and his acts in conjunction with other, similarly sentient human beings and their acts, that the concept of value becomes crystallized and achieves real meaning. Good and bad are the dichotomies to which all consideration of values eventually devolves to, but what could they possibly mean to a hypothetical someone who chooses to live away from human contact?

One could say that for such a hermit, the idea, and even the practical application, of good and bad can be simplified to a binary, algorithmic choice, but this can be so only when the individual thinks in terms of his self-interest and nothing else. But what is good for one may be evil for another; such an elementary concept of values then necessarily becomes untenable as the individual’s sphere of interests expands and comes to include other individuals.

For any holistic, all-encompassing edifice of values to exist, one that can bring under its aegis a wider community – a nation – it is important to realize that the idea of good and bad cannot exist in a vacuum. Instead, it needs to be generated by a lateral dissection through layers, of both time and space, much like a metaphorical white oak spreading its roots through the undersoil, unseen to the regular eye. A course of action – and courses of action, by definition, are designed out of a desire for the greater good – needs to reconcile itself with the chain of cause and effect in historical space that has brought it to pass. This requires a shedding of the temptation to easy categories, a willingness to introspect, to confront our past, and to simultaneously circumscribe that chain of cause-effect and our sphere of interests, as they relate to each other, and pertinent to what we want our future to be.


Garroted – In The Court Of Nyarlathotep (2016)

August 17, 2016 § Leave a comment


Click to hear In The Court Of Nyarlathotep

Garroted‘s first demo attempts to be restlessly progressive death metal by virtue of sheer rate of turnover of riffs, but comes up short on creating a consistent narrative of rolling highs and lows. The inherent nature of these riffs is a twisting, corkscrewing one, but that of itself is no reason for pillorying a young band’s hyperactive efforts; a packet of notes, a riff, can be as convoluted as one pleases, provided the next packet commences in key or in the same consonant space, either ascending or retreating in mode. It is the stuff in the crevices – the “bridge” on a microcosmic level – that makes the experience seamless, but Garroted on more than one occasion give this aspect short shrift.

Let it be said that death metal obviously doesn’t work by such strictly melodic rules. There is much to be said for an occasional rupture in the fabric of harmonic convention, for it kills lethargy, and breaks open a song in ways that wouldn’t have existed by following the safe road.

But any one song can only sustain so many of these breaks. And when the breaks occur in a songscape almost entirely absent of memorable motifs for the listener to orient himself around, where riffs don’t have real evocative cadence, and are caught in a perpetually transitional role, the effect becomes an intensely alienating one, and any aspired-to progression, gratuitous.

If there are a few questions that I can be allowed to ask of Garroted, they would be whether composition flows predominantly from one mind, or if there is a more democratic spread in writing duties. Whether riffs are written first , with the best of the lot assembled into songs, or if the skeleton for a song exists at the outset and is fleshed out as the process develops. My hunch leans towards a speed metal-like patching of discrete riffs and sections written at different stages in time, which ultimately makes for a jarring listening experience.


The Wakedead Gathering – Fuscus: Strings of the Black Lyre (2016)

August 14, 2016 § 1 Comment

The Wakedead Gathering

Old extreme metal bands used theme – be it death, horror, violence, or mythology – as a coloring and driving agent for their music, without it detracting from the pursuit of the music itself, with all its preset white-knuckled aggression. New extreme metal bands, on the other hand, try to bring as much of their lyrical imagery to life in their songs. Once one begins to understand this, the staccato, willfully atmospheric nature of much new metal becomes comprehensible in a new light. Newer bands attempt movie-metal, instead of simple metal, and therefore are forced, by weight of expanding interests, to invest in experiments of tone and texture.

But metal is not a movie, therefore, to introduce soundtrack-like elements, not as mere prop for interlude, but as a part of the songwriting itself, convolutes and more often than not destroys the impetus on which metal thrives. There are things to like about The Wakedead Gathering‘s latest album when they’re intent on being blackened death metal; songs have something approaching an identity, and even evoke the portentous unease that the band is after, without degenerating into the kind of unmelodic, white-noise mush that other bands frequently become. Basing its sound around the swamp theatrics of Autopsy and Incantation via old Finnish death metal (of both, Abhorrence, and Demilich strains), The Wakedead Gathering frequently uses thrash technique to pull a slow-moving part out of the morass, in the process imparting a very real will to motion to their music.

Equally frequently, however, The Wakedead Gathering let songs wander without any conceivable aim, in quest of that elusive atmosphere; what irony, however, that the band succeeds in achieving that same atmosphere when they are, in fact, being death metal proper, linear in execution, and trusting the listener to exercise his powers of imagination, to extract what he needs from the narrative, without having every twist in plot spoon-fed to him.

A week of Sabbath: Sabotage

August 13, 2016 § Leave a comment


Sabotage is easily the original Black Sabbath‘s most focused and consistent album, and a logical culmination of all the progressive tendencies that had been steadily creeping into the band’s arsenal. When Sabotage is in metal mode, its aim is true and brutal, perhaps more so than many of the band’s lauded classics, displaying a startling growth in melodic awareness and ambition,  and, in many ways, officially handing over the baton of heavy metal to an eager Judas Priest following in their footsteps.

There are four classic songs here, notable for their role within the Black Sabbath canon, and the possibilities they afforded a young heavy metal genre, beyond simple bludgeoning power.

Symptom Of The Universe‘ is the down-picked cousin of ‘Children Of The Grave‘, with good claim to being the most metal song the band ever wrote, but it is no mere reprise of the older track; Bill Ward’s frenetic fills punctuating the end of the riff cycle, and Tony Iommi’s evolving guitar chops anticipate the work of a band no less violent than Slayer, still some eight years in the future. Of particular relevance is the use of descending triplets used in the break from the main riff, directly leading into what can only be described as a power metal gallop which Iron Maiden, in turn, would come to own.

Supertzar‘ is quite literally the music of revolutions (and, maybe, the real companion-piece to the Mario Bava horror movie the band named themselves after); a quasi-Wagnerian, orchestral sprawl that reverses the triplet formation from ‘Symptom Of The Universe‘ in harmonic crescendo with the accompanying choir. Slayer would play around with this idea in their dissonant, speed-metal fashion, at first tentatively on the main riff to ‘At Dawn They Sleep‘, and then with greater predominance on South Of Heaven and beyond.

Megalomania‘ is masterfully built, going against the tradition of Black Sabbath songs progressively retreating in intensity from their initially visceral high. ‘Megalomania‘, instead, starts slow, but then rises and rages, and never relinquishes that momentum. in the process charting the course for all metal to come. Does it make sense to slow down? Does the song need to change tack? What’s the process? Important questions, all, that more bands could ask of themselves.

Hole In The Sky‘ is perhaps the ultimate template for all the NOLA-stoner doom breed of bands, and it does carry that Southern-fried flavor more than any other Black Sabbath song, but treated on its own terms, as it should be, it is simple but furious, verse-chorus barn-stormer, and perfectly representative of the Sabbath ethos: “the power of the mighty riff”. A somewhat suspect and hackneyed proposition when taken far too literally by modern bands: the riff is but one component of a metal song, and rarely carries enough currency to offset an otherwise shambolic song construction. Black Sabbath‘s riffs may have had an aspect of the Biblical about them, but this truism is borne out in even their, at times, clunky song writing.

Time has been very kind to to this most architecturally fascinating of Sabbath album, and with a hindsight of forty years, one can begin to see it in the light of its role in shaping heavy metal.

A week of Sabbath: SBS

August 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

Feeling a little run over after Stateside debaucheries, Black Sabbath returned to their native England, and booked Clearwell Castle for the recording of their fifth album. As lore has it, the castle was haunted, and the band that spent the previous four years scaring the daylights out of puritanical parents and priests, took to leaving the place before sundown to avoid its unfriendly, spectral keepers.

Also instructional to note is Tony Iommi’s debut case of writer’s block, and the much-heralded “riff that saved Black Sabbath” that came out of him wrestling with his creative demons. There must obviously be great frustration contained in any such struggle, to find the spigot run dry where once riffs gushed out at the slightest suggestion must bewilder and emasculate any real artist. An eventual victory over such a struggle, then, must naturally liberate tremendous amounts of energy, individual and collective, and the band has held testament to this narrative over the years.

To me, however, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, the album, has always felt like a deescalation of hostilities from the band’s previous work. Oh, it’s a fine, even great, album in its own right, and it contains two of the best songs the band ever wrote, but it also seems curiously front-loaded – or should I say transitory, even distracted- in metallic intent, for all that. Black Sabbath were always known for wild transitions in mood within any given song, but those transitions worked and were anchored within the unshakeable, impossibly heavy righteousness of the Sabbath riff. There are riffs aplenty here, too, and none heavier than the two found on the eponymous song and ‘Killing Yourself To Live‘, but there also is a greater dependence on dream-like textures and progressive grandeur than before. Doesn’t the orchestral ‘Spiral Architect‘ remind you of Rush‘s ‘Red Barchetta‘ in its pastoral build-up, choral refrains, and general arrangement?

But those two riffs; you know, many people love Black Sabbath, and not just dyed-in-the-wool metal fans, either. More power to them, but it is my sincere belief that you would have to be a metalhead to understand the attitude and potential for self-empowerment that these little phrases contain. Because what they convey, without the aid of words, as absolute metal, is thoroughly compliant and congruent with the world and philosophy that metalheads have built around themselves and the music in the ensuing forty years. Slice them out, loop them over, bury them as a time capsule, or send them into orbit for little green men to discover when earth is an arid waste, and this will be just as true. The mainstream may have co-opted and packaged the fuck out of them, like they do with everything that is originally flagrant, but Black Sabbath belong to us.


A week of Sabbath: Vol.4

August 12, 2016 § 1 Comment


What you get and what you see
Things that don’t come easily
Feeling happy in my pain
Icicles within my brain

So begins the first verse on ‘Snowblind‘, succinctly capturing the essence of the most unassumingly seductive of Black Sabbath classics. It is a song of big, discrete ideas, on an album that follows the same philosophy, in no small measure spurred on by the hedonistic excesses of a young band on the rise. A quilt patchwork of themes, with no right to work as well as they do, come together of will, or altered states of consciousness, becoming irreplaceable and unforgettable to the greater score. The doom persists, undeniably, and so does the attitude, but it is now as a rich, seething vein under a more expansive ambition, a bastard of 60s psychedelia and nascent heavy metal thunder that suits the hopeless nihilism of the lyrics.

Life’s an illusion, good things exist only as prelude to the bad, people let you down, substances might help you to get through till they, too, turn on you, but, ultimately, you only have yourself to fall back on in an unfeeling, uncaring universe. Before the other-dimensional writings of H.P. Lovecraft came to be widely embraced by heavy metal bands, Black Sabbath articulated much the same premise, in a more egoistical, everyday manner. Resignation is followed by a spurt of self-empowerment is followed by realization is followed by resignation, again. Is followed by death. Every Black Sabbath album during their glory phase was a constant battle between the best and worst of human tendencies, and all the flaky stuff of life that goes in between.

Sinuous bass, muscular drums, riffs from Thor, and a banshee’s sad wails, all descriptors that can be applied to any Black Sabbath album with the classic line-up, but is there not an even more pronounced sense of desperate urgency and paranoia to the band’s performance as a unit, here? Hear how ‘Snowblind‘ picks itself out from its middle to reassert the original refrain with supplementary mellotron, hear how the bookending codas ‘The Straightener‘ and ‘Every Day Comes And Goes‘ break off from the main thread and foist their own narratives as if they couldn’t give any less of a fuck, as if what they had to say couldn’t be held in any longer. Hear ‘Supernaut‘, for the love of God, the irrepressible precursor to ‘Killing Yourself To Live‘!

So many bands have copied the plodding power chords of Black Sabbath, yet no one but no one has been able to reproduce the composite whole of their sound, and therein lies the futility of mindless aping. Events as they originally transpire are left far behind in the rear-view mirror, existing all by themselves in an isolated pocket of time with its own idiosyncrasies. Modern technology gives us the opportunity to revisit those events and make something more than just wistful memories of them, but this is like the video transmissions that might belatedly reach a spaceship moving ever further away from its home planet. Those events don’t belong in our immediate time frame, the actors involved have long since moved on, what we are, in fact, witnessing is history and a snapshot; and history, by definition, is static as soon as it “comes into existence”. In it is inspiration to be had and the eternals to be appreciated, undoubtedly, but the present is its own entity and needs solutions tailored to its unique dynamics.

Old Mornings Dawn

August 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

old mornings dawn

Dew on shivering leaves. A cold dawn draped in mist. Horses nuzzling in a wind-hurried drizzle of rain. Life teems anew, in rock and reed. In the lowly puddle of water dispensing its centripetal dialogue. The smell of wet soil. A time-displacing anachronism. Ethereal. Weightless. Like a gossamer veil woven outside of reality. Like a shimmering mirage. Like spindrift. Step through. Escape. Mystical. Magical. A dream? A phantasm? An enchantment.

The windy years have strewn down distant ways
And in the halls still doth thy spirit sing
Songs of old memory amid thy present tears,
Or hope of days to come half sad with many fears.

Kings, queens, and Gods, we did away with them all, for the right to rule over ourselves, but look at us now. Clawing, biting, digging in trenchant, nails raked across our backs in the dark. Something ails us, but what? Where are the answers? Do we even remember the questions? And if we do, can we bring ourselves to ask them for this time? Do we want to go back while continuing inexorably forward? Is the past worth revisiting? Is the future worth investing all our faith in? Is linearity all the choice we have? Can we step sideways of ourselves and look on our lot in the present?

Though along thy paths no longer runs
While war untimely takes thy many sons,
No tide of treason can thy glory drown
Robed in sad majesty, the stars thy crown.
I am the blood!

Is a life without mystery any life at all? And those that would renounce mystery, what would they have in its stead? Is all the bounty of the earth enough to last their living years? Materials possess energy, but materialism dispossesses the mind. Dissociation, compartmentalization, pilloried words, both, but, perhaps, a life well-lived, a life humanly lived, is one that can indulge in a knowing, winking, acknowledgement and reconciliation between the real and the unreal.

The misty stars thy crown, the night thy dress
Most peerless magical, thou dost possess my heart,
Old days come to life again
Old mornings dawn

Dark Ages – Rabble, Whores, Usurers (2013)

August 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

dark ages

Dark ambient from the man behind DrudkhRabble, Whores, Usurers is what all bands like Drudkh, purporting to be black metal but more at home with a milder form of expression, should realign their lines of sight towards. Perhaps, it is the natural path of progression for all black metal, even the more caustic strains, for what else is there to do but meditate – maybe on reconstruction, maybe on the ensuing void itself – after exposing the decrepit spirituality of organized religions in their dotage? There are no twenty-year long black metal discographies of consistent quality; surely that tells us something about the exponential erosion in vitality over time that conventional black metal is susceptible to.

Little tonal movement occurs across this album’s length, too little, perhaps, but there is a definite. uniform, melodic identity to all seven pieces here; awash in a harmonic, choral, quasi-Gregorian synthesizer drone in the background, seemingly innocuous bells and chimes, here a step up, there an octave down the scale, act as mottled daubs of color and contrast on a vast canvas. The atmosphere this simple technique creates is heavy and pensive, and, in some abstract way, indicative of the austerity of medieval Europe that forms this project’s platform theme.

Like Burzum‘s Hliðskjálf, this album is representative of music as physical frequency. Out on a jog the other day in the early morning hours, I came across a mynah bird. perched on an overhanging telephone wire, chirping away its humble song in unconscious yet naturally-tuned consonance. There was no ambition in it; well, that’s not entirely accurate, for this warbling must have been a mating call, seeing how it is the monsoons here, and so carried the ambition of life, itself. But it held no pretension of architectural grandeur, and came out as a simple mingling of sounds, of nature distilled to its elements.

I won’t say Dark Ages come close to approximating that kind of purity, nor that their music contains the sheer joy so obvious in that little bird’s singing. Rabble, Whores, Usurers is night-music, to be sure, but it works on the same minimalist principle that is found in nature.

Buying original metal CDs: Why labels and artists guilt-trip their audience

August 3, 2016 § 1 Comment


There are many criteria for judging true fans of heavy metal, but, funnily enough, the size of somebody’s record collection has never been one to occupy first place in my book. The hows and the whys, the sincerity underlying the gimmicks, these are the things that start mattering the more you engage with the music. In any case, long-time, real fans of metal invariably end up buying metal. It’s a fait accompli to this music: METAL BREEDS LOYALTY. Though life becomes adverse to this pursuit in spurts, for a wide range of reasons, die hard fans, given large spans of time, manage to funnel enough aggregate revenue into the genre. Those that don’t, simply don’t feel strongly enough about the music, so, if you think practically about it, their abstention doesn’t comprise any real loss to the maker or the seller.

Casual, fairweather, and pirate listeners represent little more than a fictional, potential pool of income existing only in the maker-seller’s mind. Admittedly, it’s a tempting fiction to buy into; every illegal download, after all, is money that the maker-seller will never get to see. Considerations pertaining to the consumer’s ideological allegiance and sincerity – important considerations from a long-term buyer-seller perspective – don’t enter the equation, because the maker-seller begins to view his offering as a physical commodity. This purely materialistic interpretation then naturally follows into aiming to move that physical commodity off the shelves as fast as possible, so that the costs that have gone into the making-selling are recovered, thus freeing up the maker-seller to continue his business cycle.

This model makes obvious sense in a market environment with competing products. In such a setting, there is genuine incentive in selling product as fast as possible, so that returns are invested to expand the existing base of capital, continue meeting consumer demand, innovate to stand out, and, if possible, diversify.

Where the metal maker-seller errs is in conflating his product i.e. art, with a market of physical products that are fundamentally unsentimental and “mechanical” in nature. The more he subscribes to this fallacy, the more he thinks of music in the short-term, as a perishable product that has to be disposed of quickly to make room for more. Like ketchup.

But art, by definition, is imperishable! It does not have a shelf-life, it is not bound by spatial or temporal rules. It does not even have to actualize its full potential in the moment that you purchase it; it can exist for years, in limbo as it were, before finally coming into its own real effect. By not treating art so, however, the maker-seller conjures a phantom competition in an area of experience where there can’t be any competition, at least not any that can be measured by tangible means.

But the maker-seller needs this competition because of the market philosophy that he has so gleefully embraced. To that end, then, he begins selling sophist platitude and sensationalism to peddle an inferior product. The self-driving spiral that he has launched himself on requires that he flood the market with poor imitations and outright debaucheries, because, by this stage, he has stopped caring about metal, and has started obsessing over money and saving his skin, instead. Guilt-tripping and fooling the gullible into supporting his shill-like mechanisms effortlessly become his twin promotional appendages.

Metal is not pop, therefore it offers the maker-seller no guarantee of immediate compensation. It is a multi-generational, bittersweet transactional dynamic, remuneration from which the artist in question might not even see in his lifetime. To even think of entering into the making-selling “business” without adequate recognition of this fact, is pathetic naivete. To attempt twisting somebody’s impressionable, half-formed conscience so you can meet your break-even figure is a dirty con job. The overwhelming elements have to be love and respect for the music, and a zen-like acceptance of market and genre reality.



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