The Kindly Ones, by Jonathan Littell

September 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

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The Kindly Ones is a French novel from 2006, written by American-French writer Jonathan Littell. The English translation has been done by Charlotte Mandell. Of all the places in the world, I chanced upon mention of this book in a Slavoj Žižek text, but Žižek, past the layers of willful obfuscation, is always good for wily asides and references, and I’m particularly grateful to him for introducing me to this work.

The Kindly Ones is set in the very middle of World War II. Over the course of this magisterial work of historical fiction, Littell takes us on a virtual tour of Hitler’s empire, beginning with the ill-fated decision to strike ever farther into the East; the events  are related from the perspective of one Maximillian Aue, an officer in the Nazi Sicherheitsdienst, the intelligence arm of the Schutzstaffel. By way of his rise through the bureaucratic apparatus, we become privy to Germany’s ever-intensifying struggle to finish what they started, a task as good as lost once the United States entered the war with her superior manpower and resources.

Right off the bat, Aue announces that despite the endless atrocities that he, his party, and the whole of Germany stand accused and guilty of, he isn’t very different from the reader. In fact, he’s just like us all. The banality of evil was a phrase popularized by Hannah Arendt, suggesting that evil does not necessarily have to reside in the mind of a psychotic monster, but can be found in the most common and unremarkable of men. Littell’s achievement in this tome of a book (994 pages) is to make the reader identify with Maximillian Aue on some remote, psychosomatic level. No mean feat considering Aue, contrary to his pleas to normalcy, is not an everyday protagonist at all; he is homosexual, he has an incestuous relationship with his twin sister, and he probably commits matricide somewhere along the way, too. And yet, Littell fleshes out his character, warts and all, to such an extreme that he compels the reader to look within himself before he turns away in repulsion and moral sanctimony.

There are far too many individual incidences worthy of note in a book as big in length and rich with ideas as The Kindly Ones, but a few still manage to stick out in memory. Aue pontificates on Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, which, to say crudely, is nothing but a universal moral obligation to do the right thing, regardless of personal desires. In a conversation between Aue and Adolf Eichmann (the subject of Hannah Arendt’s book, and a chief organizer of the extermination drives), the suspension of Kant’s categorical imperative during wartime is brought up. Eichmann says that in war, we do exactly that which we wouldn’t want the enemy to do to us, a break-down of the biblical “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Aue works around Eichmann’s doubts by invoking National Socialism’s total debt to the volk, or the nation and its people. National Socialism, moving past the primitive idea of God, instead substitutes it with the nation, and its ultimate representative, its Fuhrer. As such, anything and everything done with the explicit or implicit approval of the Fuhrer warrants no dissent on the subject of the categorical imperative; works done in the service of the volk, and only those works, become the categorical imperative.

Many other discussions of a similarly philosophical bent exist in The Kindly Ones, raising fascinating questions about the mechanisms of indoctrination, and the schism between individual responsibility, and unimaginable things committed in the name of a greater good. At a later point in the war, when the writing was on the wall, Heinrich Himmler summons the SS bigwigs, and in no uncertain terms, makes the realities of the Endlosung, or The Final Solution, clear to those assembled, going to the extent of recording them, in the process irrefutably incriminating the party hierarchy (see: Posen speeches). Aue registers the uncomfortable shock registered among those present; upto that point, most of Germany had continued to naively, perhaps conveniently, believe that Jews and undesirables were being moved to the East for resettlement, but Himmler almost sadistically dispelled the country of its naivete, making The Holocaust – yes, women and children, too – a reality to come into their homes uninvited, leaving no conscience unnettled after the sun went down.

Alongside The Kindly Ones, I also read Hungry Bengal, by Janam Mukherjee, a documentation of the Bengal Famine of 1943 orchestrated by the British in India. Bengal is a state to the east of the country, its primary crops being rice and jute, cultivated along its extensive coastline which opens into the Bay Of Bengal. As Japan started registering its successes in South Asia – Singapore, Burma, Malaya fell in quick succession, much to British chagrin- the British feared for the price jewel of their colonial empire. To deprive the Japanese of making use of local agriculture in case they landed on the extensive coastline of the Bengal countryside, British state policy mandated moving all ricestock out from the coast, hoarding it, and driving inflation through the ceiling. Boats, which formed the primary means of transport along the complex, river network for coastal villagers, indispensable to their supplementary fishing trade, were destroyed en masse, so that the Japanese couldn’t avail of them.

The result was a famine that killed three million people over the next two years, destroying the social, economic, and political fabric of the state, leading in many ways to the brutality of the riots that ushered in Partition. As skeletally emaciated victims of hunger from the coast and interiors started filtering into Calcutta, dying on the streets of the British Empire’s Second City on a daily basis, the sight became as much a source of sorrow as acute embarrassment, to both the British and vested Indian business and political interests. The victims barely looked human, alive or in corpse form; what chance then did they have of figuring into calculations of war and the profits to be derived from it?

The reason I bring up this event is because it shares certain parallels with The Holocaust and how Littell transcribes it through Aue’s eyes. Dehumanization of the other is a premise much beloved of critical theory, but that doesn’t detract legitimacy from it being a prerequisite and a precursor to all events of such ghastly nature; whether it be the genocide of 800 million Hindus by Muslim invaders over five centuries of religious persecution, the plight of gypsies, Jews, and social undesirables in Nazi Germany, the unfed, unwashed poor in Bengal subordinated before the throne of Mars, the Hutus calling the Tutsis cockroaches in Rwanda, or the Bosnian crisis of the 90s, setting up the target of ire as somehow different and worthy of revulsion, is the signature of this unfortunate chain of accidents. The real causes, however, almost always hint at either a need for material resources, or a collective psychological injury that aims to redress itself by destroying that other.

Jonathan Littell thinks as much. Aue describes a group of Bergjuden, or Mountain Jews of the Caucasus, who have been shortlisted for extermination by the powers-that-be. The Bergjuden, however, have been living there for hundreds of years, and have come to linguistically resemble the Turkic peoples with whom they share the mountains. Aue looks on as a special group from Berlin, designated for solving the Bergjuden question, is sent to the East. The Bergjuden invite their would-be executioners  to their dwellings, organize food and entertainment to show them how similar they are to the other genteel tribes, to prove their non-Jewishness, as it were. It is a desperately pitiable sight, but also a sad one to see these simple folk, so distanced from political wranglings, stripped of all pride, scrounging and bargaining for their very lives.

That feeling of sadness and futility resonates through The Kindly Ones, not because Littell overtly manipulates his readers’ emotions, but rather trusts them to their instincts by providing an eloquent meta-commentary on his characters’ experiences. The common theme is that extraordinary circumstances elicit extraordinary responses, even from the most insignificant among us. We should only consider ourselves fortunate in the extreme if we’re not confronted with them with regularity, but reality isn’t so lenient, is it? The line between empathy and expediency is exceedingly thin, and who would want to adjudicate where that lies?

 

Cóndor – Sangreal (2016)

September 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

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This Colombian band’s trajectory over three albums has seen them continuously filter out elements that may have been considered extraneous to their sprawling, ambitious vision. That vision is one quite palpably dripping with melodic information, where the idea of stasis is foul, and the music develops themes in the way of progressive rock, but also reaches further back into classical tradition for inspiration. Like the previous two albums, it is sometimes exceedingly hard to reconcile Sangreal with the isolationist, recalcitrant stance of heavy metal; the band uninhibitedly borrow from metal styles, but it also feels as if Cóndor occasionally, willfully, take a step aside from the metal idiom, without disrespecting it whatsoever, to do what is needed for creating a peculiarly physical listening experience.

This physicality is the smell of wet soil after the season’s first rains, the raw sensation of sand curling up between one’s toes along the sea front. Perhaps it is revealing that Cóndor express their admiration for Czech composer Bedřich Smetana. Their music also possesses something of the scenic rootedness of romantic composers like Smetana, Antonin Dvorak, and Hector Berlioz, intensely evocative of the individual’s experience of his environment, experience which is sensually incremental but, paradoxically, co-extant in it, too. By frequently making the lead guitar the chief instrument of their melodic agenda, Cóndor upend the conventional chordal-rhythmic substructure of heavy metal; in the process, they liberate and simultaneously enlarge the melodic space which these songs can potentially occupy, thus making for a constant undulating and undraping of ideas.

The aversion to stasis is a constant throughout Sangreal; sections, slow and fast, contain a seething inclination towards a different place, and yet there is little stench of distraction in the proceedings. Where Nadia suffered, on occasion, from ill-affected blues and jazz flavored breaks, Duin largely ironed out those deficiencies and established the definitive template for the Cóndor sound in the future. Sangreal feels like a coagulation of Duin‘s virtues, but also more assertive of its identity and aspirations, both native/cultural, and, gratifyingly, as a band in metal. With such ambition naturally comes the odd misstep, but Sangreal, remarkably, is of a piece, a genuine gestaltic phenomena where familiar parts are organized to create something different from the norm.

 

 

Atonality, serialism, and death metal

September 22, 2016 § 5 Comments

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Atonality in music is the lack of adherence to a tonal center for the duration of a piece or section. Tonal music functions within the framework of a specific key and the modes that are derived from it. Atonal music is an attempt at breaking away from this framework and making the relationship between notes far more liminal, transitory, and low-level. The seven notes of the diatonic scale hold a special, physical consonance to the human ear and mind when sounded against each other in fixed configurations; atonal philosophy, however, considers all twelve pitches or notes of the chromatic scale as equally legitimate, and revels in the interplay between them. In doing so, it upends the listener’s expectations of being grounded in a readily recognizable environment, surprising him with fresh challenges at every turn.

Atonality in music is closely linked to theories of serialism that began circulating in early twentieth century Europe. Serialism is atonality taken to its logical extreme, its most renowned exponent being Arnold Schoenberg and his equally illustrious school of disciples. Serialism is a musical-mathematical premise based on the principle of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale. These notes, in a starting arrangement of the composer’s choosing, together comprise what is called the tone-row. The main thrust of serialism in music is to circulate through the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, and to not repeat any one of them before the entire series has been completed. Different mathematical operations like retrograde, inversion, and retrograde-inversion are applied to the original tone-row to come up with additional tone-rows. Essentially, these mathematical operations serve to subtly change the configuration of the original scale, therefore adding more color and variety to the music in which they are employed.

Josef Matthias Hauer, an Austrian composer and music theorist from the era, was one of the first to elaborate on such matters. According to Hauer, music achieves its true multi-dimensional fulfillment on the mental-spiritual plane. A composer conceptualizes music in his head, and then translates it to the best of his abilities on to an instrument. However, like the Platonic forms (the circle, for example) which have no real existence outside the mind, this transfer of music from the composer’s mind to the material realm is at best an approximation. The onus then falls on the listener to “reassemble” this crude, material musical form back into something accurately resembling what the composer may have initially visualized. The degree to which the listener succeeds in doing so is related directly to how his perception interacts with his innate intuition, further to which lie his talents of absorption and assimilation.

In Hauer’s opinion, all music consists of two chief components, rhythm and melody. The two as pertaining to music can be imagined in terms of a continuum, where rhythm occupies one end and melody the other. All music would then naturally fall somewhere along this sliding-scale, depending on the predominance of one or the other component. Hauer says that the element of rhythm represents the material aspect of music, while melody denotes the spiritual and thus holds the more noble position in this two-fold dynamic. Any two notes sounded in succession by default are imbued with an element of rhythm, for the duration between the notes, however protracted or attenuated, by default lends them a temporal character.

Hauer was an early proponent of twelve-tone serialism, and in its defense executes what, to me, seems like a circuitous leap of faith. Hauer says that tonality by definition subordinates all other notes to one overriding pitch, or key, and therefore establishes the rhythmic component of his rhythm-melody bifurcation as the predominant element. Twelve-tone serialism, on the other hand, by circulating over all twelve pitches without bias creates a musical environment which is overwhelmingly melodic and therefore spiritual. Atonality, to Hauer, then, triumphs over tonality as a purer, more undiluted expression of music.

To me, atonal passages in music register greater impact when they are grounded in a sea of tonality. Perhaps a third element to be added to Hauer’s rhythm-melody scale is contrast. Contrast is of the utmost importance as a navigational aid for the listener. What creates contrast is, paradoxically enough, a sense of verisimilitude. One needs to be acquainted with familiarity to appreciate the little changes in color when that familiarity is abruptly rooted out out; without that familiarity, there is no exhilaration at encountering something alien, nor is there any longing to return to home pastures.

Death metal presents a fascinating example of atonality in metal. Death metal subscribes to a tangentially-related take on atonality. While death metal has no explicit, theoretical dogma about it, it also shows no favor to tonality or the role of chord progressions of popular music. Death metal works on the level of the riff, so it is natural for the style to have certain ideas repeating through the course of a song. But the composition of the riff itself, as can be heard clearly in the case of bands like Deeds Of Flesh, Immolation, Averse Sefira, and Crimson Massacre, involves the use of a sort of abridged tone-row, where the riff cycles through a series of notes from the chromatic scale without discrimination.

Come to think of it, “without discrimination” is the wrong choice of words. Good death metal cares greatly about riff closure, expressed through a tonal concept of a return to the riff’s tonic or root. One is almost tempted to say that death metal creates tonality out of atonality, and this wouldn’t be an entirely inaccurate way of surmising the genre’s spectrum-skewing musical philosophy. Innovation occurs at the micro level and in terms of arrangement, however the bridge between the two is repetitive. This concept of the refrain, so long as it communicates something tangible, is of far greater importance to death metal, in fact, to all metal, than any ascetic denial through obsession with note choices.

Blues, Metal, and SJW outrage

September 16, 2016 § 2 Comments

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A namby-pamby SJW from Bangalore, India, recently went on an ad hominem tirade against the perceived rejection of African-American blues as a founding element of heavy metal by a certain fringe, right-wing element. The accusation in all likelihood was aimed at Death Metal Underground and The Dark Legions Archives‘ stand over the years, that being the blues were not a black American invention inspired by the experience of slavery, but had their origins in the folk music of Europe and the Western Classical tradition. For some reason, this ridiculous critter then went on to include me in his outburst, likening me to an Uncle Tom, presumably because I do not entertain censorship in art, and therefore am an apologist for white prejudice. The epithet Uncle Tom derives from the title character of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1851 novel, but has since then gone on to assume a negative connotation; today, it signifies someone – more specifically, a black person – who ingratiates himself to his masters, white folks in this case.

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The subject of African-American blues, in metal or otherwise, has never been broached on this blog. Identity politics tend to bore the piss out of me, so I stay away from them. As for the blues themselves, if I disliked the blues, or denied the pentatonic scale’s primacy to traditional heavy metal, I would not be such a fan of early Judas Priest nor would Bomber be my favourite Motorhead album. Those who have cared to follow this blog know that I have always considered traditional heavy metal as its own ineffable art form, distinct from death metal and black metal. I have gone to great lengths to emphasize that traditional heavy metal needs to be dealt with a dissectional analytic entirely separate from that applied to the more extreme styles. My contention against the blues in metal has to do only with the boring, stultified stoner doom that is all the rage today.

This caricaturesque jellyfish, who otherwise specializes in posting selfies, and moaning endlessly about how he has lost all drive for writing bad, hackneyed prose, then goes on to make inane assertions about how the “boogie-woogie” is a legitimate part of all metal, going so far as to say “even the coldest northern black metal owes a good part of its originating impulse and current idiom to that fact“.

Now, I have firmly held that there is a common spirit that runs through all true metal, but to extrapolate that to mean a musical style like the blues and big band “boogie-woogie”  has impact on extreme metal is disingenuous. Does the attention-whore tapeworm imply this at the level of surface adornments like guitar solos, or does he mean to suggest that death metal and black metal are influenced by codified, cyclical, blues bar forms on the level of composition?

If it is the first, which it probably is considering this scheming pansy’s shallow interpretation of metal composition, then I would grant him some credence, seeing how guitar soloing has a deal of individual idiosyncrasy about it. But even then, the use of the blues’ diminished fifth, in specific blues format, is rare, if not outright non-existent, in extreme metal. Bands like Dismember, Entombed, and Brutality have made use of minor pentatonic patterns in their solos, but the pentatonic scale is prevalent in all non-microtonal traditions.

If this gormless fool means that the blues have influenced extreme metal on the level of composition, then his claim should be laughed out of sight. The early works of a band like Immolation have as much in common with the riotous clash of color and chaos of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring as with immediately preceding developments in metal. At The Gates‘ best work, Sacramentum‘s Far Away From The Sun, have the same contrapuntal philosophy and composed, thematic richness evinced in the fugues of the Western canon, from Bach to Debussy. It is obviously in a far more elementary state, because it needs to meet the visceral prerequisites of metal, but it is also a tangible break, in ambition and execution, from the simple, parallel harmonies previously played by the likes of Iron Maiden.

Death metal liberated metal from the tedium of predictable, popular chord progressions by making the riff the primary agent of motion, and by adopting the concept of motif and developmental variation, again from Western Classical music. Black metal amplified the ideological component of metal and, in the hands of the second wave of Norwegian bands, enlarged it in scope and musical profundity beyond all previous accomplishments in the genre. Both are radical developments in the field, which, while not making traditional heavy metal any less pertinent, do certainly enrich the metal tradition.

Nowhere in this do I detect the influence of the blues on extreme metal composition. Maybe this androgynous jackanape has happened upon some hidden meaning which he can fill me in on, but I’ve heard my share of metal and I think not. The SJW mindset is fundamentally needy and craves approval. It occupies a narrow mental bandwidth, unreceptive to ideas that may differ from its cherished notions. Instead, it prefers to lock itself in an echo chamber where those notions are bounced off more of its kind, a shameless orgy where everyone is only too willing to indulge and reinforce each other’s neuroses. A gaggle with a cause to enhance their flagging self-esteem. And since that already-shaky self-esteem depends on their cause of choice, they leave no stone unturned in creating false equivalencies and shoving their preoccupations into the most inappropriate of places.

On racism vs nationalism

September 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

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The reptile part of my brain insinuates prejudice against certain groups of people, especially under specific, extenuating circumstances, but I like to think that I’m not a racist – and I use the subject of race interchangeably with genetics for the purposes of this post – when I’m interacting with other human beings on a case-by-case basis. Discriminating against individuals based on race seems particularly pointless to me; not because I think everybody’s the same or because I overestimate blank-slate theory, but because of simple pragmatism: we’re here, we are who we are, now what do we do? There’s no choice or effort involved in belonging to a particular gene pool; it is a lottery, an accident of birth, so to take pride in phenotypic traits or in whatever percentage of intelligence is predicated by one’s genes seems a bit like missing the forest for the trees to me.

On the other hand, there is definite collective will and enterprise involved in forging a civilization under a common religion and family of languages, and the culture that flows from them. As such, this endeavour of the ages lies a few rungs higher on the ladder of cosmic chance on which institutional racism as a practice is based. Liberal platitudes, under their motto of individualism, would take away any remaining vestiges of pride in the accomplishments of one’s people, but people of all groups should rally under the one true spiritual banner that unites them.

Some might argue that the form which a civilization takes itself hinges significantly on the mean genetic constitution of its people, in association with environmental factors, and as such civilizations as a whole can be treated on a racial level, too. This may be so, but it is also an unconducive strain of thought, seeing how it confuses race, and, by inevitable conjunction, racism, with a legitimate pride in one’s heritage i.e. nationalism. It also contains no small dose of irony, in that both liberals and those subscribing to race hierarchy end up creating this equivalence between racism and nationalism, albeit for entirely conflicting reasons. Liberals tend to set up a boogeyman, imagined or otherwise, and then inflate the umbrella under which the boogeyman resides so that it comes to include various other -isms that liberal philosophy disagrees with. So, according to a liberal, racism is the same as fascism is the same as nationalism, and who’s to know, the same as sexism, too. Conservatives, though they resist falling prey to this illusion, unthinkingly, perhaps unavoidably, play into the liberal whitewashing agenda by equating race – and in liberal opinion, racism, too – with civilization and nationalism.

The difference between racism and nationalism is simple enough to understand: racism implicitly involves an inferior other, or a subaltern. Nationalism, however, is an insular, close-looped idea; it is a concept which is often conflated with coarse jingoism, but real nationalism does not concern an other. Rather, it is an awakening to the call of your people’s past, an introspection of who you are and where you come from. Nationalism is self-acting; meaning that unlike racism, which is an instrument of leverage for material gain involving more than one actor, nationalism is solitary, and strives to create a sense of identity and pride in its subjects, and what they have to offer to the world.

 

 

Beithioch – Ghosts Of A World Long Forgotten (2016)

September 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Ghosts Of A World Long Forgotten

There are many noteworthy components to Beithioch‘s craft, one of which is reminiscent of the caustic technique used by Ildjarn on Strength And Anger, and Forest Poetry. Ildjarn‘s achievement, shunned by many because of its rudimentary exterior, was to plant the germ of insinuation in the middle of an unbelievably harsh aesthetic. Similar to Transilvanian Hunger, but far more insistent in execution, Ildjarn created a music of trance-like increments, block on block, upon block. A guitar tone drenched in gain and feedback served as an analogue for the continuous drone accompaniment common to Indian classical music, but under its bubbling, viscous surface moved and writhed riffs of real danger and gravity, yet not without a certain unassuming elegance and logic. Drums were all but divorced from these riffs; absent of technicality, little more than trace outlines, like the vestiges of prehistoric art, they were a throwback to the original intention behind all human percussion in music; to keep time, but also to lose oneself in spiritual delirium by exercising the body’s inner rhythms. (in fact, in shamanic tradition, the drum, made from animal skin and bone, was meant to house the spirits of one’s ancestors, its beating, a plea for their benevolent intervention in matters of the earthly realm)

This preamble may appear as much ado about nothing, for Beithioch, on the surface at least, are a vastly different band from Ildjarn. They incorporate elaborate melodic movement for one, their music boasting a composed character far more pronounced and learned than the punkish explosions of anger that characterized the older band. Conscious experiments in counterpoint abound, at times manifesting a rustic Neapolitan aspect, at others, a cinematic ambience; in the process is cultivated a rare sensuous and intellectually-stimulating experience that does no ill favour to Beithioch‘s credentials and aspirations as a metal band worth seriously investing in.

Yet, what really enhances Beithioch‘s syncretic take on classicism is when they build these machinations on just the kind of bedrock carved out of the Ildjarn monument. A naturally acute sense of melody and the gift of lateral prowess that comes with it, combine with Ildjarn‘s brute vehemence to build songs to a crescendo, sometimes with as many as three colluding voices. Fortunately, a premium is put on coherence and attack, eliminating most of the self-indulgence that made the preceding Conquest less than what it should have rightfully been.

 

This music we love…

September 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

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I wrote about a young and promising hardcore band earlier today, but ever since then have drowned myself in the sounds of bands like Funebre, Necrony, and Soulside Journey-time Darkthrone. And the one thing that comes over like the warm embrace of revelation is the great intellectual divide that separates populist forms of music from metal, but good extreme metal in particular. And that is an aspect which is not stressed and defended enough by fans of extreme metal when confronted by the smug, caricaturesque chorus of “metchul” orchestrated by those who would have this music mean less than the revolution in thought and ambition that it really is.

This is no slight towards punk, hardcore, rock, or pop; they are what they are, and play to the best of their abilities according to the rules of the board. But, as touched on in the previous post, these are fundamentally egoistical forms of expression. Their chief concern is the individual and his immediate sphere of relations, thus they regularly serve as his mouth organ and report his experiences in the manner of a gonzo, first-person poetry from the field of action. In keeping with a prosaic memo like this, the music that such “bands of the people” create has to be suitably accessible and streamlined in order to communicate its earthly agenda to the masses with clarity. The idealisms remain embedded in the message, whereas the music itself becomes a clinical demonstration in virtuosity and appeasement.

But extreme metal – and this should not bear stressing by this point in time, but by extreme metal I almost exclusively refer to that of the classic vintage – reverses this relationship between message and music. Great extreme metal trusts and respects the intelligence of its audiences enough to allow them to draw their own inferences. Though fine lyrics and peripheral agendas no doubt exist here, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding; extreme metal purposefully distorts its delivery, and embraces, in spirit. the ethos of progressive rock and by association the classical canons, striving to create a music in bloom, morbid though its external demeanour may be.

Make no mistake; the keystone always is, and has to be, aggressive and extreme. Death is extreme, it is the last stop before negation, and what better negativizing feeling to express this than violence and aggression? But like the famous Metallica song says, ‘To Live Is To Die‘; every instant lived entails a simultaneous death, for that instant lived recedes into the past, never to be lived again. One life, and a multitude of deaths to be endured. The revolutionarily obsessive mandate of death metal and black metal, however, so different from all music that has gone before, is to not think of death – either as successive increments, or ultimate punctuation – as a phenomena to be suffered, but rather to be reveled in.

I’m hearing Necrony‘s Pathological Performances as I write this, a band whose drummer would go on to form the highly influential, but to-the-point Nasum. And yet, Necrony were anything but to-the-point. The reaction of the hipster when he sees the song titles of a band such as this and others would be to roll his eyes and say “here we go again!“. But Necrony‘s music was a rich, continuously undulating tapestry of strategically implanted phrases, one that, to err on the far side of hyperbole, would perhaps make an interesting case study for musical linguistics if such a field existed. The casual listener might remark surprisedly at the jazz-tinged guitar solos if they make it in so far, but even before those scene-stealers make an appearance, the band has made its point. And it makes one wonder: what could possibly impel a group of drink-sodden teenagers to make music so complex, layered, and abstract in tenor?

Ambition. I hear Minor Threat, then I hear Soulside Journey, and I can’t help but be struck by the sheer expansion of musical scope so obvious in the latter, and it certainly doesn’t need an Ian Mackaye haranguing at my back to register. Extreme metal, in direct opposition to popular music, is a spreading outwards. Everything it does is on a grander scale. Times are considered in the span of ages, space is dealt with as the endless cosmic expanse that it truly is. Extreme metal encapsulates that stirring of the young spirit as it realizes that the limits it once perceived against itself can and should be trespassed, by degrees, for something a little more transcendent.

Which also leads me to question bands who have once known such transcendent space, but who are now content to pay simple homage to their influences. At what stage does man decide that he is content with his lot in life, at least as pertains the things he says he loves? At what point does he stop trying to better himself, in thought or deed, and if he does indeed do so, does he even fit the label of man anymore? At least that has never been the extreme metal spirit apparent to me, which is why the actions of a latter day Darkthrone seem so inexplicable; how does a band that has known just such a transcendent space suddenly become content with offering watered down tributes to an era which they themselves asserted an ideological superiority over? To respect one’s elder foundations is admirable, don’t get me wrong; but those influences should be encapsulated as an abstraction in how you conduct yourself and your art, not be pandered to in pale imitation.

Maybe – sardonically, to wax ironic – in this too, extreme metal emulates life. Elders reaching dotage seemingly slip back into infantility; an extreme metal band like Darkthrone, perhaps, once it has reached the end of its tether, longs, too, for the safe cushion of the womb from which it once drew sustenance. But this wrestling with nostalgia does not warrant respect from a mindset that is truly extreme metal. Forever upwards, forever onwards; that, if anything, should be the motto for this music.

It really is a philosophy for life if you invest enough thought and energy into it. To know it, don’t look at what has become of this scene today. commercialized and beset by identity politics as it is. The old bands, though, conceal immense treasures of sublimely iconoclastic thought and aspiration, as relevant now as they ever were. What makes such a space of mind accessible? Whether one believes that this music warrants such overwrought mastication. There are only two answers to that question, and they lie at incompatible extremes.

Death By Fungi (India) – In Dearth Of (2016)

September 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

death-by-fungi

In Dearth Of can be heard here

I’m clueless about how hardcore has evolved over the last twenty years, so I will only share an impressionistic opinion of the brand played by Death By Fungi. Trace elements from forebears like Black Flag and Minor Threat anchor these four songs in the past simultaneously as they are pervaded with the genre-bending spirit of Refused‘s The Shape Of Punk To Come. Fleeting nods in the direction of Siege and Hatebreed amplify intensity when the band so chooses, but, if all these influences weren’t a heady enough concoction already, Death By Fungi also incorporate a healthy dose of Iron Maiden-style major key melodies done in the right manner, and what I can only surmise as being a hangover from emo.

What ties this glorious mess together is the band’s undeniable ear for crafting melodies and harmonics without appearing insincere or trite. Yes, In Dearth Of proudly boasts of the self-referential and self-righteous tone common to all hardcore; this is music about the individual, centered in the moment, and so is prey to the usual bouts of ‘I, Me, Myself‘. But for all that, I can’t fault the band’s intensity and skill at conveying a consistent platter of emotions over these short, explosive bursts of energy. Few Indian bands to my knowledge – metal, punk, or otherwise – have come close to capturing this visceral, urgent appeal, and I look forward to what Death By Fungi have to offer in the future.

Leper Messiah – Invocation For Gods…From The Real Abomination (2013)

September 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

leper-messiah

Leper Messiah contains members from Necroccultus, but this debut is quite different from the feverish, distinctly Finnish vibes heard on Encircling The Mysterious Necrorevelation. There are no pretensions to atmosphere here; Leper Messiah are squarely rooted in the American death/grind camp, possible references being bands like Cardiac Arrest and the latest Embalmer. A slight melodic flair, and squirming, “love of lava” guitar solos perhaps differentiate this band from their northern relations, but the core MO remains the same: a short, no-bullshit grinding battery on the senses harboring no illusions of sophistication or subtlety.

Maybe that’s an obliquely harsh commentary; there is a definite niche for bands of this ilk that give no quarter to delicate sensibilities. In many ways, this is an unacknowledged part of the genetic material of death metal, and I can enjoy it in the spirit in which it is intended to be heard, but my only misgiving, especially with musicians of relatively proven pedigree such as these, is the sheer dearth of sideways movement in songwriting. Other than some slower sections thrown in for custom’s sake, there is practically nothing here to tell one song apart from another. In such a situation, bands like Cardiac Arrest, Embalmer, and Leper Messiah, become appreciable more as a stake in the sand for reclaiming an extreme metal scene increasingly beset by the effeminate element in the subculture, than for any redeeming musical qualities of their own. Some might say that is a yeoman service in its own right, and I would concur, but I also wish that these bands exercised a little more creativity in their music.

Metal as power

September 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

power

Words get thrown around without due consideration. Flippantly do people say that metal is powerful, that metal is self-empowering, but do they understand what the word power signifies? Power, by definition, implies a superiority and a triumph, either over a past version of yourself, or indeed over another individual. When it is the first, we euphemistically call it self-improvement, when it is the second, we call it competition, or, worse, subjugation. A third expression of power would be when it is handed over to a group of people as a result of changes in the consciousness of society. Affirmative action would be an example of this type of power, an ordinance which tries to raise previously disenfranchised people to the level of the mean, whatever that may be.

But, as should be obvious, this third form of empowerment is unlike the first two, and has an element of realpolitik and charity about it; the catalyst for this kind of empowerment has to come from outside of the individuals that are its subject, chiefly because those subjects themselves are far too malnourished intellectually, owing to history or nature, to effect the changes they wish for themselves. Indeed, there is an argument to be made that this wish to bestow empowerment on the underprivileged comes more from a neurotic blend of guilt and a messiah complex on the part of those acting as benefactors of society, than any real spiritual unrest in the ones under the yoke.

Which might not be such a bad thing after all; great good can come from dubious motives, and who among us that comes from a land with a sustained history of a thousand years or more would not want for the rest of our countrymen to be brought up to par? Affirmative action might be an opportunistic and myopic device that deludes itself into believing that it is visionary, but, in any case, the responsibility to the nation – if one believes in such a thing as a nation – ought to be to teach the people to learn to respect themselves, and to earn their standing in society and as members of a civilization with a storied history.

Power, then, in all events, is a break from parity, and an assumption of mastery, earned or not. But, to the best of my knowledge, metal has never advocated the third kind of empowerment. The sound of metal, in all its incarnations, conveys self-realization, liberation, and, ultimately, domination, aspects belonging to the first two categories of power. What metal has emphatically not been is a beggar’s yelp for hand-outs and reparations and corrective measures. Metal is proud, above all else, and expects its audience to display some of that pride, too. Metal demands an awakening to be fired from the individual’s core, and shuns all compulsorily foisted solicitude.