If there’s one thing Metal Twitter™®© is good for, it’s manufacturing non-controversies within the scene. The latest of these flare-ups occurred when Philly-based death metallers Pissgrave unveiled the cover art for their new album Posthumous Humiliation, set to be released March 1st via Profound Lore.
“Mature” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of brutal death metal, hell it probably isn’t the five-hundredth word one thinks of. But I’ll be damned if Parables of Umbral Transcendence, the debut full-length from NY/FL-based project Swine Overlord isn’t a shockingly mature slab of BDM. The band has largely shed the slam leanings and cartoonish visual imagery of their earlier recordings in favor of a more pure brutal death metal sound accompanied by science fiction-influenced artwork, and as a result have released one of the genre’s best albums of 2014.
Somehow, VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show has been running for twelve(!) seasons. If you haven’t seen this show, let me give you a brief rundown: two horrifically unfunny comedians (Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine) wearing band t-shirts a stylist picked out for them attempt to talk metal and hard rock with a portly radio personality (Eddie Trunk) who prides himself in knowing everything there is to know about said genres, but instantly transforms into a butt-hurt five-year-old when it turns out he doesn’t know something, or when one of the comedians makes fun of him, or when one of the guests makes fun of him… basically he spends around 80% of the show being butt-hurt. Guests, which are occasionally people you’d actually want to see interviewed (e.g. Lemmy, Paul Di’Anno, Ace Frehley, Rob Halford, etc), but typically consist of a who’s who of hair metal has-beens, come on and have their asses kissed like they’ve never been kissed before, which is probably wonderful for their egos but pretty annoying to just about everyone else.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my couch watching the Bad Religion episode of Guitar Center Sessions. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the show, it consists of the band playing their “hits” in an intimate setting interspersed with interview segments. As I watched Greg Graffin, Brett Gurewitz and Co. rip through “Generator” and “21st Century Digital Boy,” all I could think is “goddamn they look old.” The same thing occurred to me when I watched Animal Underworld, Henry Rollins’ new show on Nat Geo (which is fucking awesome, by the way). Sure, Rollins looks like he could still kick the living shit out of just about any mere mortal, but his hair is mostly grey and his face is showing the kinds of craggy lines that only come with advancing age. He definitely doesn’t look the same as when I started going apeshit over Rollins Band videos on MTV in junior high, or even when I saw him speak at my college.
Continue reading “Blitzkrieg #10: Old Gods Almost Dead”
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, metal gave me the strength to accept my budding Atheism during my youth. I wish I could say there was some epiphanic moment that came late one night while listening to Reign in Blood, but the truth is that metal’s part in the formation of my beliefs was much more subtle. Reflecting back on those times, I’ve come to realize that my Atheism manifested itself long before my love of metal did, and that metal only helped to cement those beliefs.
I went to Catholic school from kindergarten all the way up through my senior year of high school. A lot of people still have some interesting ideas of what Catholic school is like, but I can assure you there were no draconian nuns in black lording over us with yardsticks and paddles, nor were we forced to go to church every day. That doesn’t mean that the presence of the almighty didn’t loom over us on a daily basis. We did have an extra period for religion class, and although we didn’t go to church every day, there were still multiple opportunities to kneel before the saviour, any excuse to have a mass in the gymnasium or set up confessionals in the auditorium.
I tried my damnedest to believe. I folded my hands, closed my eyes, drank the grape juice, ate the stale crackers (why does the body of Christ taste like cardboard and glue?), and none of it worked. I participated willingly in the three c’s, communion, confirmation and confession, but felt no closer to any “God”. For the longest time, I felt like there was something wrong with me, like I was the only one in the world that didn’t believe. There was nothing I could do about it, no one I was comfortable talking to. If there were others like me, they were keeping it well hidden.
Continue reading “Blitzkrieg #7: Metal vs. Religion”
I’m tired of metal nostalgia. I’m tired of new bands trying so hard (and often failing miserably) to sound and look like old bands. I’m especially tired of seeing two of my favorite bands, Mercyful Fate and Entombed, being shamelessly ripped off by new bands that seemingly come up out of the woodwork on a daily basis. I’ve most definitely had it up to here with metalheads going on and on about the fucking eighties and early nineties, especially the ones that were children or worse yet not even alive at the time. As I’ve previously documented, I’m too young to have been a part of the “glory days” of tape trading and fanzines or the dawn of death and black metal, so I have to take other people’s word for it that it was such a great time for metal. I was only ten years old when the eighties ended, which means I discovered this music in the mid-to-late nineties. I come from a time of cassette singles, CDs in cardboard longboxes, RIP Magazine, Riki Rachtman, and MTV playing Metallica and Megadeth videos during the day. I thought it was great at the time, and I still love many albums from that period (as well as the eighties), but I have no interest in fetishizing it. I also have no interest in this culture of regression that is currently so prominent in the metal underground, or in listening to a bunch of bands whose music serves no other purpose than to emulate a bygone era.
Of course it isn’t just new bands sounding and looking like old bands. Various labels have been digging up and reissuing albums from seemingly every forgotten, mediocre death metal, thrash and NWOBHM band in existence in order to capitalize on the retro fever that’s sweeping the scene. Some of these reissues, such as Uncanny’s excellent MCMXCI – MCMXCIV compilation (released by Dark Descent in 2010) and Hell’s Human Remains (technically re-recordings of old demo tracks, rather than a full-on reissue) shed light on the discographies of bands that were unjustly buried by time and dust. The majority of them however, make it pretty apparent as to why these groups never ascended to greater heights and were subsequently brushed aside. They also serve as a reminder that the legendary bands of their respective eras are legendary for a reason. For whatever reason, these retro-fetishist metalheads lap this shit up, no matter how crappy the band in question might be. In their eyes, “old = good”, end of discussion. At this point, you could probably put out a limited edition, triple splatter vinyl box set of boombox recordings of the bowel movements of some teenage Swedish death metal band from 1991 that never made it out of the garage (do they even have garages in Sweden?) and make a fucking fortune (of course this also ties into the “Antiques Roadshow/Comic Book Guy” mentality of metal, but that’s a whole other post).
The question we need to ask ourselves is, why is this happening? Part of it can surely be attributed to the good ol’ “music is cyclical” argument. metal is just now getting to the stage where it is old enough to experience this, and we first saw it with the re-thrash movement that started (and quickly petered out, save a few bands) a few years back. Now it’s death metal and traditional/NWOBHM metal’s turn. How long these two will last is anybody’s guess, but it seems like we are already reaching our saturation point of bands shamelessly aping the sounds of yesteryear, but largely lacking the songwriting panache to get the job done. Not only are bands like Entombed, Mercyful Fate, Killers-era Iron Maiden and early Judas Priest legendary, they are completely untouchable. Your band will never be as great as their band. Then again, I’m not even sure that retro copycat bands aspire to greatness. If they aspired to something greater, they’d be blazing their own trails the way the aforementioned elder bands did, instead of riding coattails.
The other likely reason for retro metal mania is that metalheads aren’t happy with the direction so-called “modern metal” is taking. They prefer the old classics, but the old classics are finite (you can only listen to Left Hand Path on repeat so many times), so they gravitate towards bands who sound like the old classics. I can hardly say I blame them, being that a good portion of modern metal is nauseatingly saccharine. Many labels have thrown their remaining weight behind bands plying a combination of subpar At The Gates-worship and boy band vocals that calls itself metalcore these days (remember when there was such a thing as good metalcore? I do). Death metal has become bloated, overly technical and overly produced. Shit like deathcore, crabcore, slam death and assorted other types of bro-mosh friendly bullshit is parading around as the future of metal, being perpetrated by kids that look like some bizarre combination of wigger, circus clown and Hot Topic employee of the month and behave like they have the mental capacity of toddlers. I still don’t know what the fuck “djent” is, and I hope I never find out (I didn’t read it, I just linked it). Even nu metal is still alive and well on your local hard rock radio stations. There’s a lot to be disgusted with, so it’s no wonder that fans of “real” metal are adopting a culture of regression, when everything that’s happening now is telling them that it “was better back then”.
Regardless of what “the kids” are doing, or how little we may think of metal’s latest bastard subgenres and their practitioners, regression is not the answer to the genre’s woes. We must push forward, we must carry on. Bands such as Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, Thorns, DHG, Godflesh, Death, Opeth, Voivod (to name just a few) and a slew of others have successfully proven throughout the years that compelling, worthwhile progression within metal is possible. The envelope is continually being pushed, and in some cases, ripped to shreds. Of course, not every band can be expected to blaze their own trail, but I would respect a band that at least tried to do something original a hell of a lot more than the self-consciously retro shenanigans that are currently flooding the market.
I’m interested to hear reader opinions on this stuff. Is metal hopelessly slipping into regression and as a result, self parody, or is this merely another flavor of the week trend that will die out in a year? Is the “music is cyclical” argument complete bullshit?Are the Blut Aus Nord’s and Deathspell Omega’s of the world enough to keep pushing metal forward, or is some kind of paradigm shift needed? Tell me.
Over the past twelve months, I’ve been thinking a lot about death, due to the untimely passing of several friends and loved ones. You’d think that the last thing I’d want to do is listen to death metal, let alone go to a death metal show. But you see, I never thought of death metal as music that makes light of, pokes fun at, or otherwise devalues death. On the contrary, death metal (at least the good stuff) is a celebration of life, a potent cultural reminder of our own mortality, that life is often too short and should therefore be lived to the fullest. I can’t think of many things in life more exhilarating than blastbeats, heavy riffs and careening guitar solos. So going to a death metal show is exactly what I did when the recently re-animated California gore lords known as Exhumed brought their patented brand of musical malpractice to my home town.
My wife and I arrived at the Vaudeville just as the first of the opening bands was finishing up their set (why do venues/bookers insist on cramming so many bands onto these bills?) and it was already sweltering, the pitiful excuse for an A/C unable to keep up with the heat-advisory level temperatures we’ve had here in the sweaty asshole of the Midwest of late. During what is apparently to be one of the final sets from local death/grind stalwarts Black Market Fetus, I had the pleasure of meeting Exhumed mastermind Matt Harvey, who is an old acquaintance of my wife’s. It’s always great when a musician you admire turns out to be a genuinely nice guy as well, and Harvey was one of the most friendly and down-to-earth I’ve encountered during my years doing this metal thing.
When Exhumed finally hit the stage however, Harvey was all business, leading the rejuvenated band in storming through a career-spanning set. Having long-since surpassed their origins as Carcass-worshippers, Exhumed are a death metal force to be reckoned with, as evidenced by the pure ferocity and precision with which they attacked their instruments, in spite of the oppressive heat that threatened to sap the show of its energy. The band showed no signs of faltering under the brutal conditions, and the crowd responded in kind, whipping up some serious (at least by Iowa standards) pit action for much of the set.
Of course, professionalism will only get you so far in death metal. If you really want to stand out from the pack and get the heads banging, fists pumping and beers pounding, you’ve got to have songs. Exhumed has always had them, and this night they deployed some of the gnarliest hooks in all of death metal. Tracks from the band’s back catalogue, such as “The Matter of Splatter” “Decrepit Crescendo” and “Necromaniac” are as catchy and fun as they are overwhelmingly brutal. Exhumed also unleashed a battery of songs from All Guts, No Glory (their first album in eight years, not counting covers collection Garbage Daze Re-Regurgitated), with “As Hammer to Anvil” and “Through Cadaver Eyes” demonstrating an even more refined songwriting approach. Call it murderous yet memorable, call it stadium rock for flesh eating zombies or just call it gore fucking metal, as was emblazoned on the backs of the band’s guitars.
Speaking of guitars, the six-string work of Harvey and Wes Caley (ex-Uphill Battle, Fatalist) was in stellar form throughout Exhumed’s set. Caley treated the crowd to an extended solo in between songs, proving that it’s possible to play your ass off without degenerating into the ludicrous tech-death wankery that plagues today’s DM scene. Caley and Harvey traded off on lead and rhythm while laying waste to the stage, slicing through the mix with a blitzkrieg of bent strings, punishing riffage and whammy bar abuse. The band as a whole was incredibly tight, but as a (painfully mediocre) guitarist myself, it was a pleasure watching these two demonstrate such a high level of axe-mastery.
As the band blasted through the remainder of their set with reckless abandon, the intensity never waned and I found myself totally lost in the sonic bloodbath, throwing up the horns and headbanging to the point of exhaustion. By the time Exhumed concluded the evening in a barrage of distorted cacophony, I was dog tired and sweating bullets (and that was just from being in balcony, I can’t imagine what it was like on the floor or on stage), but extremely satisfied. Some death metal was exactly what I needed to feel alive. Exhumed delivered and then some.
Exhumed 2011 North American Tour (remaining dates)
Jul. 25 – Milwaukee, WI – The Rave Bar
Jul. 26 – St Paul, MN – Station 4
Jul. 27 – Winnipeg, MB – The Royal Albert Arms
Jul. 28 – Regina, SK – The Exchange
Jul. 29 – Edmonton, AB – Pawn Shop
Jul. 30 – Calgary, AB – The Distillery
Jul. 31 – Kelowna, BC – Sapphire Nightclub
Aug. 01 – Vancouver, BC – Rickshaw Theater
Aug. 02 – Seattle, WA – Studio Seven
Aug. 03 – Portland, OR – Branx
Aug. 04 – San Francisco, CA – Slim’s
Aug. 05 – Sparks, NV – The Alley
Aug. 06 – Las Vegas, NV – The Cheyenne Saloon
Aug. 07 – Hollywood, CA – Key Club